Game Reviews D

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The email addresses used are those submitted with the review, so naturally some of them may be out of date.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

Damnatio Memoriae Dangerous Curves Dark Mage Dastardly Dawn of the Demon A Day for Soft Food Dead Reckoning (by David Whyld) Deadline Deadsville Deena of Kolini Deep Space Drifter Deephome Degeneracy Delightful Wallpaper Delusions Demon's Tomb Depravity Bites Desert Heat Detective Detective: An Interactive MiSTing Die Vollkommene Masse Dinner With Andre Distress Ditch Day Drifter The Djinni Chronicles Dr. Dumont's Wild P.A.R.T.I. Don't Be Late! Doomed Xycanthus Down Downtown Tokyo. Present Day. Dracula: The First Night Dragon Resources Stories Dragonlord Dreadwine The Dreamhold Dungeon Adventure The Dungeon of Dunjin Dutch Dapper IV: The Final Voyage

Damnatio Memoriae

From: José Manuel García-Patos (josemanuelinform SP@G Review appeared in
SPAG #44 -- April 30, 2006 TITLE: Damnatio Memoriae AUTHOR: Emily Short EMAIL: emshort SP@G DATE: March 1, 2006 PARSER: Inform 7 SUPPORTS: Z-code (Inform .Z5) interpreters with blorb support AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: VERSION: Release 3 Once upon a time there was this guy in Greece -- ancient Greece, that is -- who set fire to some very important temple (Athena, maybe?). The reason why he did so was simple: He wanted to be famous. What did the other Greeks do? They forbid any mention of the incendiary's name. They condemned him to oblivion. That's what the title of the game, Damnatio Memoriae, means. And that's what the player must avoid in it: To be forgotten. No, that's not true. The game's real goal is not to get caught by your enemies, as in any other game. Posterity is secondary. Let's say it's a plus. I don't think that's a flaw, but I would've liked a *** You have died ***-like message every time you had managed to survive but not to save your memory from destruction. I would've liked to see a game where your life wasn't the most important thing at stake. (Has a game like that ever been written? One where the last message would be *** You have died, but you have won ***?) Also, I would've liked to read some thoughts on the subject of fame and posterity, because the story really had potential for that. Damnatio Memoriae shares a similar design pattern with Galatea. In the latter, the reactions of the NPC depended on several variables, and the ending was the verbal expression of the final values of those variables. Here you have your life and your fame. And the ending depends on the final values of both. This always reminds me of this Japanese show, Takeshi's Castle, where participants were put inside a giant ball and thrown down through what looked like a Tartaglia's triangle pinball. The outcome depended on whether they fell on safe or death spots. With this system, it doesn't really matter if you choose A or B, because the result is the same. Only the value of the variables change. Also, you can end up taking the B path even if you had chosen A earlier. My own storytelling concept is quite different. I think of interactive stories as trees. And trees are nothing but lists with a common root. So, interactive stories are a bunch of different linear stories that, depending on the player's choices can lead to lots of different endings. I find games designed like this easier to write and to plan, and more human, because it lets the story evolve almost without constraints. Doing things the other way seems confusing to me. And now that I'm dealing with theoretical aspects, let me mention a detail that I consider a wrong way of doing things. If you have already played Damnatio Memoriae and the ending ever caught you in the other location, you'll have noticed that you're brought back to the original room and offered again a full description of it. The reason why I think this is wrong is because it breaks the rhythym of the narration. I'm not talking about this particular game or about the author, but about the system that produced it. Why are Inform games organized by location instead of being organized by sequence? Remember the opening sequence of Touch of Evil? Why can't IF games do things like that? Let's suppose you have this PC who's talking with a friend while walking down the street. Are you going to interrupt the conversation every time they turn a corner? Let's suppose you have a PC who's being chased by the police. Are you going to interrupt the chase every time the player types E or S to offer a boring description that nobody would care about at that particular moment? If games were organized by sequence, only each one's opening location's description would be offered and the rest could then be simply asked for. To me this makes a lot more sense, and also leaves freedom to the author to write a narrative text and make the story advance instead of offering a description that's always more or less the same. But, finally, the good news. I liked the game. Really. I did. It was short, so it didn't get boring. Actually, when I reached the ending for the first time I thought: Hey,this is it? I want more. Also, it was easier than most of her other games. By easier, I mean the interaction was easier. For example, in Savoir Faire the non-standard verbs drove me crazy. It was like watching one of those pretentious B/W indie movies. It's not me the one who has to adapt to your style, it's you to mine, stupid filmmaker! But in this case, I liked the story (I love the Romans) and I could take the time to learn how the special commands worked, because the learning gave almost immediate results. Also, I think it is Emily's best written game. [Final note: Oh. In case anyone was thinking: You uneducated freak! It was the temple of...! And the guy's name was...! I know perfectly well who the temple was dedicated to, and who the incendiary was, and even the exact date when that happened, but I'm not doing him a favour even by giving you hints about him.] Blorbed ZCode game file PDF instruction manual

Dangerous Curves

From: David Myers <dmyers SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #24 -- March 24, 2001 NAME: Dangerous Curves AUTHOR: Irene Callaci EMAIL: icallaci SP@G DATE: June 2000 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-machine interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: VERSION: Release 8 This game's been on my mind a while. I just can't shake it. She's like a five-martini hangover that just won't go away. For just about any subgenre of IF, in general, if you wait long enough you will eventually see a game that "nails" the subgenre. For those of you groaning, I assure you that (1) this review is not entirely ranting if-crit, and (2) not a total slobber-fest proclamation that Dangerous Curves is the best detective IF ever made. But let's face it, sometimes a game comes along which makes it really hard for others to stake a claim in the same subgenre for years afterward. And so, when I started playing D.C., a significant question in my mind was "Has the private detective storyline (as IF) been beaten to death (long) before Dangerous Curves came along?" The short transcript to this question (in a more polite form, perhaps) might be: > Is this the game that "nails shut" mystery IF for at least > the next few years? Not quite. > Well, does this game add anything to that subgenre that > feels really fresh? Here and there, yes. > Does D.C. at least provide a satisfying reward as a > competent, mainstream stab at a subgenre that some > might say is already fairly well populated? Absolutely! I can't say so loudly enough. A perfect example to typify my case is the description for one of the prime female characters and suspects: >x jessica Tall, blonde, and cool as a martini at five o'clock. Legs that begin somewhere down around Cape Horn and don't quit till they reach the Northwest Territories. The type of woman other women despise. The type every man falls for. Once. Ok, look, it's not grand innovation on the detective strain, but can you argue that it fails to ante up on the promise of what Chandler, Sam Spade, and Easy Rawlins might deliver? What I believe makes IF so well suited for mystery is that the most tried and true prologues are of the amnesiac genre (e.g. "You wake up in a small white room, noticing that your skull has sustained a sharp blow. Ears ringing, you hobble to the door to find it locked before noticing the small trace of blood on your hospital gown."). This game plays into that theme nicely, with the private eye appropriately grasping at straws early on, and building up his case slowly and naturally. Which brings us to the question of plot. Does it live up? My answer is, "Almost." As far as it goes, I can't criticize the plotting itself, per se. The game grinds out as a pretty decent clue-finding exercise for a while, followed by figuring out just how to corner the culprit. The trouble isn't that the plot doesn't hold together, nor that there are non-intuitive moments, big gaps, or ridiculous leaps that the player must make. The problem, if there is one, is that the storyline winds up more linear and compact than the player will imagine it should be. Based on the first scene, I would have expected more deceptive twists and turns as I sifted my way through the clues. In literary terms, this basically fleshes out a novella, after the opening moments seem to have promised a full-length novel. Imagine seeing the first hour of the movie "Chinatown", and not the full version. A great half of a movie. Really great. Abbreviated in form, minus much of the intrigue of the real deal. But ask yourself, when it comes to IF, how many other works have successfully addressed this? Besides the plot, there are a pile of little features and touches that make this game more enjoyable, and which should be emulated by others: - Use of keys is handled automatically (no fumbling for the right one outside a locked door.) - There is an in-game notepad. This can be used to avoid mapping the whole world, or for any other data you want to store there. - The GO TO command further obviates the need for extensive mapping, and smoothly handles operation of your car. - The in-game hint system is particularly clever, amusing, adaptive to your progress, and seamless with the plot. All at once. Those are just gimmicks, though. You may be wondering what it IS that makes this game take up the maximal 512K storage of an overstuffed z8 game file. The answer is that the author decided to implement a boodle's worth of stuff that other authors would have considered mere distraction. In short, Irene went a-world-buildin', and did a mostly fine job of it, with a medium-to-large number of locations which each have their fair share of fully implemented items. And, for the most part, all of this mess interacts with all the other mess pretty well. Honestly, how many other IF-towns have you been to recently that had functioning offices, police stations, newsrooms, libraries, service stations, hospitals, bars, pawnshops, apartments, cars, restaurants, banks, etc. Of course, it's all under the illusion of man-behind-the-curtain "functioning", but that's the point. There's even good IF-style humor lurking behind many of the stock answers that grease the wheels behind each the scenes of the functioning world-spaces (example here from the pawnshop): >kiss earl Earl works out at the local gym a couple times a week. You don't. >hit earl Earl works out at the local gym a couple times a week. You don't. >break display case Rumor has it Earl once killed a man for less. You get the picture. Naturally, there are exceptions. Like many games with mandatory sleeping and eating, there are annoyances when you haven't really played along correctly. I tend to explore the locations of a large game pretty randomly at first, without solving puzzles (when I can actually get away with it), and that's hard with sleeping/eating games. And, of course, there is the money handling algorithm, which attempts to help you out by avoiding the need for counting your change too precisely. Some players will agree, and some won't. This shakes out as pretty minor, fortunately. In all, Irene should be lauded for her example of solid top-to-bottom game design. Even better, the spit and polish make the player feel like they are inside a game with has a complete, all-around feel to it. Like a good DVD that has plenty of extras and good packaging, Dangerous Curves has all the right finishing touches (short of hard-copy feelies) that give it a near-professional quality. Returning to the point at which this review began, let's just take a second to survey the scope of private eye IF that has come before, to better put in context how this game should now be judged. Previous IF mysteries include Infocom's Witness and Deadline, Gumshoe, and most recently Guilty Bastards. Given its recentness and degree of similarity, I assert that Guilty Bastards is a key reference point. From my view, G.B. is a competent and engaging mystery. It set a mark for all-around quality as the flagship game of the Hugo system, but didn't quite impose a moratorium on detective IF. If you will allow me a little license: We might say that while the movie {game} Usual Suspects {Guilty Bastards} rejuvenated the atrophying subgenre of suspense {mystery} movies {IF}, and raised the bar, there was and is still room for artistic success by others. Take a look at L.A. Confidential or Talented Mr. Ripley {Dangerous Curves}. Given the thirst for larger, longer, non-comp games Irene has to be greatly praised for producing an enjoyable, well-integrated game of this size. FTP FileInform game file (.z8)

Dark Mage

From: Nick Montfort <nickm SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #22 -- September 15, 2000 NAME: Dark Mage AUTHOR: Greg Troutman EMAIL: unknown DATE: 1997 PARSER: N/A - written in assembly SUPPORTS: Atari 2600 AVAILABILITY: Software is freeware. Cartridge for sale for $25. URL: Dark Mage is a unique work. Using bank-switching to achieve the needed resolution, it is a complete implementation of an original text adventure within an 8k Atari 2600 program. The creator has gone on to release a graphical Atari 2600 game, This Planet Sucks. When I tried Dark Mage a few years ago using an emulator, the emulated display was the thing that sucked. It was so nauseatingly flickering that even those with a strong stomach for fuzzy, flickering text would have trouble. For those who wish to play Dark Mage, I strongly recommend using an actual Atari 2600. It can be played using the Starpath Supercharger, a device which fits in the cartridge slot and can be loaded with new games via a 1/8" audio jack. (The Supercharger originally was used to load games from cassette tapes.) Sound files in .wav format are available from non-IF-Archive sources online, ready for use with the Supercharger. Also online are the .bin ROM image and (again, at other sites) the source code for an early 4k version of the game. The other way to play Dark Mage on the 2600 itself is to purchase a cartridge for $25, from Hozer Video Games. [ --Paul] Any screen of text displayed in Dark Mage, either responding to actions or to describing an area, can have at most nine lines. Each line can be at most twelve characters wide. Before the first room description appears, there is a four-screen introductory sequence: AS JESTER TO KING ROLAND THE INSANE, YOU'VE KNOWN BETTER DAYS - BANISHED! - JUST BECAUSE YOU HAD TOO MUCH TO DRINK - AND LOST THE BLACK ROSE OF THE REALM IN A CARD GAME AGAINST NEONORE,THE DARK MAGE... Then the player is greeted with: YOU ARE ON A HILLTOP There are few possibilities at this point. The rubber-coated black joystick can be manipulated to indicate a direction or (if left in the center) "LOOK" for a longer description. After LOOKing, there are an additional few actions possible: GO (returning to the directional options), TAKE, GIVE, USE, TALK, INVENTORY. TALK is not transitive, and neither is TAKE. GIVE and USE allow the player to choose objects from inventory. Often the actions are not productive or fun, and when they succeed it is often in an unexpected way. This unexpected success of commands can sometimes frustrate, but it works to the advantage of Dark Mage at times. In one memorable case, a very funny Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy reference unexpectedly appears. The final solution to the game is a good one, appropriate to the jester protagonist. Even with screens smaller than a haiku, Dark Mage shows that it is possible to create puzzles that work with the accompanying story elements and reinforce the overall tone of the work. Having contemplated doing IF works for the GameBoy, a powerful platform by comparison, Dark Mage was of special interest. The game did reveal that (aside from the technological strong-man freak-show value of an endeavor like this) there are at least a few pleasures to be had in an extremely spare form. These stemmed mostly from the unusual replies, with less thrill provided by puzzle-solving. In many places, the quickest path through solution space may be the exhaustive search approach: simply doing everything in every location to try to advance. The occasionally witty subversion of my action into something wacky provided a good moment here and there, but it was not enough to make Dark Mage a really fun experience overall. It remains of interest as a retrocomputing curiosity -- and, to some extent, as a way to learn about the essence of IF by looking to the least ornamented, most simple examples. FTP FileAtari 8-bit file


From: Greg Boettcher <greg SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #42 -- October 2, 2005 NAME: Dastardly AUTHOR: Andy Chase EMAIL: dasterdly.20.banjo SP@G DATE: December 2004 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-machine interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: mini-comps/hours/dasterdly.z5 VERSION: Release 1 I came to Dastardly with pretty low expectations. I had never before played a game from 24 Hours of Inform, the contest for which this game was written. I was expecting something not much better than a SpeedIF game. What I got instead was a game that has much to admire in its atmosphere and character development, although it does have a particularly serious flaw. The third 24 Hours of Inform contest had two basic rules: write a game in 24 hours, and set the game in a theatre, featuring a petticoat, an advertisement, something which is repainted, and a trapdoor. These requirements led Andy Chase to set his game in a financially troubled theatre in Victorian London. Your are an ambitious playwright, while your financial backer, James, has ruined your hopes by turning your theatre into a burlesque house while he indulges in excesses of drink and flesh. In the "about" menus for this game, Andy Chase says that Dastardly probably contains a lot of historical inaccuracies. Maybe, but I didn't notice any. In fact, I really liked the game's setting and atmosphere. Another thing I liked was the extent to which its characters were developed, far more than I would have expected in a speed-written game. You may not be able to talk to James much during the opening segment, but you can read your journal to gain insight into him, yourself, and others. Before you are done exploring the theatre, you have a fairly good idea of what you must do, and why. Unfortunately, this game has a serious bug that prevented me from being able to finish it. I thought maybe it was just me, so I asked my girlfriend, another IF veteran, to play the game, but she got stuck at the same place that I did. I wrote to the author and found out that we had both essentially done everything we were supposed to do, but were stuck because of a serious bug that often turns the final puzzle into a roadblock. The other major flaw is shallow implementation, whereby a lot of scenery items can't be examined, and lots of other details are overlooked. Of course, this is what you'd expect in a game written in 24 hours. Do I recommend Dastardly? Well, I guess that depends on whether you're willing to write to the author for help, because I'd expect most people to get tripped up by the game's major bug. But if you are so inclined, then yes, play it. It's a short, enjoyable little game, with decent characters and an interesting but flawed puzzle. I'll be able to recommend this game much more strongly when Release 2 comes out, or if hints or a walkthrough are released. Even if there is never a Release 2 (and there usually hasn't been for 24 Hours of Inform games), this game shows promise, and I'd be interested to see whatever Andy Chase does next. P.S. Now that I've written to Andy Chase for help on finishing his game, he told me that his interest in Inform is somewhat rekindled now. He says that a new version of Dastardly may indeed be on the way, though he can't say when. To check for any updates, or to get the most recent version of the game, visit: FTP FileInform game file (.z5)

Dawn of the Demon

From: David Welbourn <dswxyz SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #43 -- January 7, 2006 TITLE: Dawn of the Demon AUTHOR: Paul Drallos EMAIL: pdrallos SP@G DATE: May 2005 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware; Author's website; IF Archive URL: VERSION: Release 0 Dawn of the Demon is a text adventure set in the world of Infocom's Zork about a thousand years before the founding of the Great Underground Empire and the use of G.U.E. dating. It is also a prequel for a graphical game, Zork: The Hidden Evil, which is being produced by The Zork Library ( In Dawn of the Demon, you play a nameless adventurer in search of the Demon's treasure which is rumoured to be hidden somewhere in the forest south of the One River. Geographically, the game is fairly large with over 130 locations, including the cities of Pheebor and Borphee, a large forest, a maze, and a sizeable network of grue-infested tunnels. I was a bit disappointed with the cities which were portrayed blandly and with few Zorkian characteristics. Pheebor, for example, does not yet sport the aqueducts or marble spires mentioned in the Encyclopedia Frobozzica, but instead offers an understated royal palace with guards, an "acedemic-looking" library with yet another librarian sporting glasses and a hairbun, and a coffee shop which somehow isn't called Starbloits or Pheebucks. The great Arch is being built in the plaza, however, which does help connect this Pheebor to the ruins seen in Beyond Zork. Minor touches like this aside, I can't help but feel that several game locations were unused for either story or puzzle purposes. The forest, for example, does its best to have enough landmarks to distinguish one part from another, but there's still very little in there for the player to interact with. Likewise, Borphee has to have a harbour and marina because it's famous for it, but it's just filler here and plays no part in your story. For your Zork nostalgia dollar, the game both hits and misses, not unlike Star Trek: Enterprise. The hungus, easily my favourite NPC in the game, scores a bullseye by deftly combining humour, plot exposition, and a puzzle into one neat package. Instead of zorkmids, which won't be minted until about 1600 years later, we have zoons, another borrowing from Beyond Zork. There is some clever business with the grues involving how they perceive the world, but I was less happy with the portrayal of grues as a people with a primitive culture, as if they were Morlocks. A more obvious miss is an accidental mention of the Flathead mountains long before there were any Flatheads; the coffee shop and a CD-like disk are anachronistic. Some of the events in Hades might contradict what we think we know about Yoruk, who won't show up for centuries. It gets tiresome to point out unpolished prose and spelling errors, but darn it, they're in there. The game also inspired me to invent two new terms to describe particular style errors -- the "pointless porch" and the "duh-scription" -- both of which are exhibited in the following example: Outside the Pheebor Public Library You are standing outside the Pheebor Public Library. A "pointless porch" is a unnecessary location between a street and a building. And could there be a better example of a "duh-scription" than the description of the hilt below?: >x sword The broadsword has a shiney blade and a jewel-encrusted hilt. >x hilt The jewel encrusted hilt is encrusted with jewels. Even with these weaknesses, I still liked the game for its attempt to add to the Zork ouevre. I appreciated the in-game help menus which helped me through the game's major bottleneck. If you dislike mapping, there is a pdf file of maps available. Also, the game will detect if you're having trouble talking with an NPC and suggest topics to ask him or her about. Zcode executable (.z5) and map

A Day for Soft Food

From: Duncan Stevens <dns361 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #19 -- January 14, 2000 TITLE: A Day for Soft Food AUTHOR: Tod Levi E-MAIL: jessica1 SP@G DATE: 1999 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL:> VERSION: Release 1 The IF competition, if nothing else, seems to foster amusing experiments in point of view: 1996 and 1997 gave us Ralph and A Bear's Night Out, viewed from the perspective of a dog and a teddy bear, respectively, and 1999's A Day for Soft Food continues the trend by giving the player the persona of a cat, a common housecat. As with the other two, there's lots of fun to be had in inhabiting the role, and the author has done much to exploit the humor of the situation, and while A Day for Soft Food doesn't have as strong a sense of the limitations of the character, it works well nonetheless. As with the other two, the game begins with a task at hand that's typical of the character's goals; the dog PC was intent on finding a bone, the teddy bear PC wanted to assemble the materials for a picnic, and the cat PC, well, just wants to eat, preferably the canned soft food of the title. Unlike the other two, though, your goals change along the way, on a few levels: you start solving problems as they present themselves, whether or not the problems have a clear connection to the ultimate goal--and you continue solving puzzles even after the original goal has been attained. While the shift makes sense on some level--the goal becomes obvious reasonably quickly--it also makes this a rather different PC from that of, say, Ralph. Part of the humor in Ralph arose from the PC's total fixation on finding the lost bone, to the exclusion of everything else; Day for Soft Food picks up on that in some measure (your Provider becomes steadily more annoyed with your antics over the course of the game), but moves away from it toward the end, and the result is a rather anthropomorphic cat. That's not bad, as such, but it does take some adjustment. Part of the reason for this is that the puzzles are a bit of a mixed bag; some of them suggest rather catlike reasoning (particularly in the way you pester your Provider into waking up and feeding you), and some really don't--you're not finding a solution to an immediate problem so much as you're solving task A to get object B to solve puzzle C with. That aside--again, your cat nature only drives the action to a certain extent--the puzzles also have some fairness problems; a few are misleading, or unhelpful at best, in conveying the scale of some relevant objects (i.e., in relation to you), another is guess-the-syntax, and another requires that the player know something that the PC clearly doesn't. The result is that the PC is considerably less catlike than the PCs in Ralph and Bear's Night Out are doglike and bearlike--the character isn't as fully realized, and the player can too easily forget that the PC has limitations that don't afflict human PCs. (The basic problem, however--that your Provider isn't as good a Provider as he was previously because of an illness, forcing you to take matters into your own paws--fits with the cat personality; events are significant only insofar as they affect your supply of food.) Despite these problems, though, there's lots of fun to be had here, and even though the puzzles shortchange the catty aspect of the game somewhat, the incidental details and fun stuff make up for it. There are various creative deaths to die, for one thing, and the variety and number of untimely ends you can suffer (the game occasionally warns you when an action would end the game prematurely, but usually doesn't prevent you from doing anything dumb) suggests the perverse curiosity of a real cat. (Particularly notable in this respect are the deaths when you jump onto the stump where your Provider is chopping wood, and when you set a trap then trigger it yourself.) Other amusing bits include this description of a chair: "The lumpy mountain is home to some of your finest claw and scratch marks, though your Provider has never shared much enthusiasm for the art." At its best moments, the game allows the player to recognize the significance of, say, the Provider's illness, even while the PC remains oblivious; the serene cluelessness of a cat is the main source of humor here. Even the writing is subtly catlike, as in the following description: Snowy Maw To the east, icicles hang like fangs within a giant maw of snow. A large pair of matching tracks lead out of shadows of the snowy mouth and to the west. A path loops north and south. A cat describes with terms that a cat knows, and therefore icicles are "fangs," the opening is a "maw," and a car's path down the driveway is a "pair of matching tracks." Subtle touches like this help the overall feel of the game considerably. A Day for Soft Food, like Ralph and, to a lesser extent, A Bear's Night Out, is worth playing simply to see the fun things that the author does with the premise. The puzzles have problems, but the overall charm of the game more than makes up for those deficiencies, enough that I gave it an 8 in this year's competition. FTP FileDirectory with Inform .z5 file and walkthrough

Dead Reckoning (by David Whyld)

From: Michael Bechard <mbechard SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #38 -- September 28, 2004 TITLE: Dead Reckoning AUTHOR: David Whyld EMAIL: me SP@G DATE: Dec. 2003 PARSER: ADRIFT standard SUPPORTS: ADRIFT interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: It's pretty tough to write a horror game effectively. More than any other emotion, it is hard to strike true fear into a person sitting at a computer comfortably playing a game. One has to really put the player IN the game, make them develop an affinity for the characters involved, and get them out of the mindset of a typical gamer (piddling around with every little option, restoring saved games at their leisure, etc.) Dead Reckoning comes close to doing just this, but not close enough. The game is set in the town of Morrow and leaves you, Duffy, to unravel the horrors that have come to roost there. You slowly uncover the reason why all the town's inhabitants are missing or dead while trying to rescue your friend Edwin from some unknown danger. The author describes this game as "more of a story-driven game than a puzzlefest," but I would categorize it somewhere in-between. As far as putting the player in the game, I believe Dead Reckoning succeeds, albeit marginally. A thorough implementation of all the objects mentioned in the game's text contributes heavily to the immersion factor. I found I could listen to and smell various things, even examine things that were mentioned as not being there (described, of course, as absent). Very nice. The evocative descriptions were well done too, for the most part. A nice example is: "Well, well, one of the living," says the corpse, its voice a choking rasp. As it speaks, bits of rotten skin flake off from the side of its face and drift in lazy spirals down to the dusty floor. "We don't get many living ones here anymore, do we, my brethren?" Sometimes, however, I got the feeling that the author was trying a little too hard, as in the following exchange between the player and an NPC: "I was the priest here in Morrow until... the bad things happened." "The bad things?" "Lots of bad things. An ancient evil returned to haunt us, to exact revenge for what we did." He shakes his head sadly. Quite a few things are described as "eerie" or "unsettling," when these kinds of feelings should be evoked from the player, not spelled out for them. I never really felt unsettled or afraid while playing because of my lack of affinity for the characters. I never cared about Duffy or Edwin at all during the game. Why? Because I didn't know them as characters, as "real live" people. Dead Reckoning tries a bit in this regard, unfolding bits and pieces of Duffy and Edwin's past as children in the course of play, but it left me wanting more. If I'm running for my life from some zombies, I want a reason why I should even care. On the other hand, some of the characterizations were done very well; I just wanted a little more meat to them, I suppose. As for getting the player out of the mindset of a gamer, the game succeeds. While the plot is a little linear and progress is sometimes blocked by puzzles, the puzzles aren't too hard (or numerous), and multiple endings/deaths are available. When a potential death is near, the game gives you fair warning about it. While some players may be put off by messages like, "You have a bad feeling about doing that," I appreciated the effort from the author to steer me towards the right path. Once a player dies and has to restart or restore, there's a huge break in mimesis. The previous message, while still breaking mimesis, only does so a little, and not nearly as much as restoring your game. In a horror game where the player's situation is deadly, this is even more important. I suppose one could argue that the player should never be in danger of dying in the first place, but that's another topic of discussion... Some other nitpicks I had with the game were a fair amount of typos and some small incongruencies/bugs, but they weren't that noticeable. The typos were, though. Overall, I would compare Dead Reckoning to one of the old EC horror comics; there are some real detailed, spooky descriptions and a nice zombified plot, but it leaves you painfully aware that you're "just reading a comic." However, this isn't really bad at all; I love EC horror comics, and I love horrific art in general, even if it doesn't scare me. Ergo, I liked this game. If it's not a truly chilling, engrossing piece of IF, it is a very solid, entertaining romp through a wonderfully realized, classic horror setting. Final score - 6 of 10 FTP File


From: Volker Lanz <volker.lanz SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #20 -- March 15, 2000 NAME: Deadline AUTHOR: Marc Blank (Infocom) EMAIL: mblank SP@G DATE: 1983 PARSER: Early Infocom SUPPORTS: Infocom Ports AVAILABILITY: Masterpieces URL: Not available VERSION: Release 27. Deadline was the first Infocom mystery and their third released game (after Zork I and Zork II). Author Marc Blank said that he did not want to do another fantasy game after the Zorks and thought that a mystery was an obvious choice: "I thought it was a great idea because most people, when they read mysteries, are constantly trying to think ahead, what happened. 'Ooh, I would have looked here, I would have done this. I would have been more clever.' So, it seemed to lend itself perfectly." Deadline was also the first Infocom game to come with feelies: In the box were interviews with the suspects, some tablets, a photograph of the murder scene, a letter from the attorney and a coroner's note. The story: Marshall Robner, a wealthy industrialist, is found dead in his locked-up library one morning. He died of an overdose of Ebullion, a medicine he has been taking for his depressions. An apparent suicide... Really? The attorney of the deceased asks you, the detective, to investigate this case to "quash the suspicions" that are inevitable when a wealthy man dies an unnatural death. You have twelve hours to solve this case and you begin your work on a Friday morning at 8 a.m. From the beginning, almost the complete playing field is accessible to the player, so Deadline is a good choice for everyone who likes wide game designs and non-linear plots. On the other hand, Deadline also suffers from the "you-have-to-know-what's-happening-where-and-when" problem that Suspect later showed (though not as much): By your actions, you are likely to trigger reactions of the NPCs that happen somewhere else. If you don't know that, you are likely to miss crucial points of the plot. Speaking of NPCs: This is where the game really shines. The six main NPCs (not counting the attorney, who only plays a minor role) are really fleshed out; they act reasonable and consistent to their character and motives. You can show a lot of things to them and study their reactions, you can ask them about many topics, you can follow them around, you can accuse them and listen to what they have to say. Only few i-f games have such complete NPCs, I would say. A weaker point of the game is the early parser it uses: It understands a lot of things, but sometimes gets confused or reacts in the wrong way to the player's input. Also, the game is quite buggy if you do things that the author apparently didn't think of (the Infocom Bug List on GMD only shows about a third of the bugs I found). One major problem with the game is how hard it is: Not only do you have to get evidence against the guilty party, you also have to prove that a crime was committed at all. This turns out to be a tough job and can cause the player quite a headache for some time. Some actions you have to perform aren't that obvious (what to do with the holes in the garden; or how long exactly you have to wait before you may interrupt certain NPCs when they are doing something -- too early and you can't prove what they did, too late and they've finished), so players may be tempted to revert to a walkthrough or the hints. All in all, Deadline is a good game that is still worth playing after all these years -- in my opinion the best mystery that Infocom did. FTP FileSource code for a port to Inform 6 FTP FileInvisiclues FTP FileUHS format hint file FTP FileSample transcript from original packaging FTP FileSolution


From: Mike Harris <M.Harris SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #45 -- July 17, 2006 NAME: Deadsville (Introcomp 2005) AUTHOR: William McDuff EMAIL: wmcduff SP@G DATE: July 24, 2005 PARSER: Inform 6 SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF Archive URL: VERSION: Release 3 A short, two-location game, Deadsville is a fun twist on a George Romero premise. Despite a limited palette of one NPC, two locations and a small number of objects it’s rich and well written, proving that an enjoyable game does not need complexity. Defeating the NPC and winning the game is fairly straightforward. It can be done in less than twenty moves and took me about 15 minutes the first time. However, that’s not really the point. After the first play I spent over an hour repeatedly replaying the game to find all iterations. A well-implemented hints menu contains a number of amusing suggestions including a command that allows the player to explore all of the losing options without having to restart each time. Even the “default” responses are entertaining and well thought out and there were several times I laughed out loud when I got a response that I wasn’t expecting. As for technical details, the game is bug free and well implemented, with no “guess the verb” problems. No “guess the noun” problems, either - the game accepts a surprisingly large list of nouns to refer to the NPC and objects. I only found one flaw - after defeating the NPC character, re-examining an object gives the pre-defeat response – and my only objection is that a single sentence within the response refers obliquely to the NPC as though still undefeated and in no way affects the playability. I can only wish that all IF games were this thoroughly debugged. Deadsville is “horror” in much the same way the movie “Shaun of the Dead” is horror – no lurid descriptions of gore to off-put the weak of stomach. You don’t have to be a fan of the genre to appreciate Deadsville, but if you’re the sort of person who laughs when the ditzy teenager gets her gruesome comeuppance you’ll find it especially entertaining. I look forward to the full game. The atmosphere is dead on and the characters are as fleshed out as they can be (every possible pun intended). Some tougher puzzles might be enjoyable. In any case, if the author takes as much time and trouble with the full version as with the intro, Deadsville could well become a classic. On a scale of 1 to 10 I give Deadsville a 3 for difficulty and 8 overall. FTP FileZip file containing IntroComp version (Zcode version 5) plus all other IntroComp 2005 entries FTP FilePost-IntroComp updated version (zipped Zcode version 5 file)

Deena of Kolini

From: Graeme Cree <72630.304 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #11 -- September 16, 1997 NAME: Deena of Kolini AUTHOR: E. L. (Ev) Cheney EMAIL: ? DATE: c. 1986 PARSER: GAGS standard SUPPORTS: All GAGS and AGT Ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: People who don't like the AGT parser should be made to play a few GAGS games some time. AGT looks like Virtual Reality by comparision. GAGS was the predecessor to AGT, and AGT is backwardly compatible enough to be able to use most GAGS source code. The big difference between the two is that GAGS does not allow any of the meta-commands that AGT does. As a result the parser is almost completely limited to Open/Close, Push/Pull, Turn, Touch, and a couple of others. All puzzles must be solved with these, and are pretty much restricted to killing monsters and opening locks. Deena of Kolini, by E.L. (Ev) Cheney looks like it wants to be more detailed, but it is held in bondage to the limitations of the GAGS system (considering the content of the game, this may be poetic justice). In the game, you play Deena, a warrior-maiden POW captured when your people were attacked by the lecherous Gendi. Tossed in a dark, damp, dank dungeon, your mission is to escape both your cell, and what was called "a fate worse than death" in Plundered Hearts. Along the way you must find and rescue a handsome but wounded Prince, not for romantic reasons, but because you need him to illuminate rooms that your torch cannot (don't ask me about this, I haven't got a clue either). Actually, according to the source code, the Prince is not only luminous but edible (!), which made me very thankful that GAGS doesn't permit any customized descriptions for this. It appears as though the author tried hard to flesh out the game as much as possible within the system. In the early days of GAGS and AGT, many authors did not bother to write item descriptions for many things, resulting in repetitious "You see nothing special about the <item>" messages whenever you tried to examine something (Even Zork 1 was guilty in this area). In this game, Ms. Cheney not only provided item descriptions for everything, but also accompanying graphics. The whip, the manacles, the red-hot poker, (no, I am NOT making this up) are all rendered in fairly good quality ASCII line drawings. My favourite one was the scrap of parchment, which should show you how boring I am. The author did not just throw this game together, she obviously worked hard. However, the technology of the day just wasn't enough to give more than a rudimentary result. One avoidable problem is in the game's spelling and grammar. The spelling errors can be very distracting at times, and there are several places where sentences have single words gouged out of the middle (i.e.: "The rawhide whip looks as if it could the skin off a dragon" [sic]). My biggest design complaint about the game is the decision to conclude the game with an escape through a maze. Actually there are two mazes side by side. One goes nowhere, but the author was kind enough to include an item that will at least point you towards the right one. I've always regarded mazes as being the I-F equivalent of rock-climbing. If that phrase sounds familiar, you've probably played Chris Forman's excellent Mystery Science Theater game where he makes the same comment about Detective's seemingly endless hallways. The reference is to the 1951 movie "Lost Continent", starring Cesar Romero and Hugh "Ward Cleaver" Beaumont. This was an early MST3K episode which featured a 12 minute sequence in the middle that showed nothing but the main characters rapelling up a rockface (not even on location). Basically, "rock-climbing" means "padding" (although in this game "padding" may also be poetic justice). [SIDE NOTE: For those who were wondering about the "Deep Hurting!!" reference immediately after the rock-climbing one in Chris's game, this is a reference to another MST3K movie (Hercules Against the Moon Men) that was supposed to top "rock-climbing" with a 15 minute Sandstorm scene, that was gloatingly guaranteed to cause "Deep Hurting!".] The maze was a legitimate puzzle (even a clever one) when it first appeared in Colossal Cave because no one had ever seen it before. Since then it has been primarily used like "rock-climbing"; to artificially pad the length of a game that would otherwise be a little short. There is no longer any puzzle; since everybody knows HOW to get through them. All that is left is the tedium of actually doing it. There are a few games which really add something new to the idea (For example, Arthur: The Quest for Excalibur's Badger Maze presents us with a genuinely new puzzle; how do you map a maze when you can't drop objects behind you?), but these are the exception rather than the rule. Nothing against the maze in general. I loved the Babel Fish puzzle in Hitchhiker's Guide, but I wouldn't want half the games in circulation to have the same identical puzzle in them. (It could be worse though. Suppose everybody tried to imitate the Baseball Diamond maze in Zork 2!? Yuck!) Not to single Ms. Cheney out for criticism, but it's so annoying to pick up an ostensibly new game only to find the same old boring time-consuming puzzle poke its head up time after time after time. You know the old much-lampooned bumper sticker that said "I Brake for Animals"? I'm going to get one that says "I Scream for Mazes." Well [climbing off the soapbox], back to the game at hand. It also features some of the more common (but avoidable) quirks of the GAGS/AGT system, such as having to use one specific weapon to kill each creature, but not others. For example, the dagger will kill one (non-magical) person, but the sword will not. Where's the sense in that? One non-avoidable problem is that in GAGS/AGT, creatures must be classified as either friendly or hostile, and all hostile ones will block your path and try to kill you. As a result, the lecherous old man who fondles you in the stairwell but does not attack you, must be classified as friendly, and therefore if you attack him, you get the standard message that asks why you would want to attack such a harmless and inoffensive creature, and that it looks hurt and betrayed. There are a few rooms of Instant-Fate-Worse-Than-Death, but there are sufficient clues for them to be avoided. Ms. Cheney obviously put a lot of effort into her game, but the technology of 10 years ago just wasn't up to the task, even with the recent desire for games with female lead characters. She could have improved the final result with a little more proofreading and playtesting, but even so GAGS just doesn't have the proper...verbs for her little excursion into S&M to fly. FTP FileGAGS Source files (.zip)

Deep Space Drifter

From: Lars Jodal <joedal SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #3 -- October 26, 1994 NAME: Deep Space Drifter PARSER: TADS standard AUTHOR: Michael J. Roberts PLOT: Mostly linear, rather slow EMAIL: mjrobert SP@G ATMOSPHERE: First good, then shaky AVAILABILITY: IF Archive, shareware ($15) WRITING: Fair PUZZLES: Some good, some tedious SUPPORTS: TADS ports CHARACTERS: Only in the text DIFFICULTY: Easy (to medium) You are a space explorer who is almost out of fuel. With the last reserves you manage to reach a space station. However, the station seems to be under attack and nobody is around. What is going on only gradually becomes clear. To get really rescued you must go down to the planet below and find an escape vessel. The part of the game on the space station is good, with quite a bit of atmospheric details and generally good puzzles. But down at the planet things are less convincing. Everything is deserted, but no real reason for this is given. Several of the puzzles here are also very time-consuming and tedious. Among these puzzles are the game's two infamous mazes. The mazes are novel (no "twisty passages, all alike"), but too large and take a _long_ time to solve. The story contains two characters apart from the player, but they are not actually part of the _game_. This is to mean that they are mentioned in the text, but the player never gets a chance to interact with them. Thus the characters are not really NPCs but part of the story. The game is shareware. Upon registration one gets a very good hint book with many hints for each puzzle. The hint book is arranged so that you won't read hints by mistake. FTP FileTADS .gam file and accessories (.zip) This game is now freeware. FTP FileMacintosh (.sit.hqx) FTP FileSolution (Text)


From: Duncan Stevens <dnrb SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #21 -- June 15, 2000 TITLE: Deephome AUTHOR: Joshua Wise DATE: 1999 E-MAIL: yesuslave SP@G PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 1 Joshua Wise's Deephome is a rather uneven effort: it's a well-built world with plenty of attention to detail, and the setting is nicely done. As a game, however, it doesn't work so well--there are far too many mimesis-breaking moments and unfair puzzles--and the result, sadly, is rather unsatisfying. The objective, as conveniently laid out in a handy letter, is relatively simple--reopen and bring back to life the lost city of Deephome, which involves practical things like restoring the power and water as well as getting rid of some spirits that seem to be hanging around. Herein lies the first problem, however: you're told that these spirits are terribly dangerous, but they stand where they are for the entirety of the game and don't act threatening in any way--or, even, impede you from doing anything. They seem about as dangerous as paperweights, and it's hard to get all worked up about getting rid of them. There's an obvious purpose to restoring the power and water--accomplishing those tasks serves your purpose in the game, in fact, apart from giving you points--but not the spirit-banishing stuff. Moreover, in that you get a vital part of the formula for getting rid of them from the spirits themselves, these don't seem like particularly savvy spirits. The puzzles range from humdrum to rather irritating. Notable is the adversary you're told is allergic to "certain plants." The one plant that's prominent in the game isn't effective, however (and the syntax problems make it far from immediately clear that you need a different plant rather than different syntax), and the right one is buried in scenery. It has a lot of company in that respect, in fact--plenty of vital objects are buried in room descriptions with no hint that they're takeable. Other problematic puzzles include a bizarre combat sequence in which the first several attacks elicit both a "cries out in pain" message and a "your enemy notices you" message. There's also a puzzle that turns on a property of your body that you don't know about, and has almost no motivation other than the fact that certain suggestive objects are in close proximity. Another is made more difficult than it needs to be by confusion between "on" and "in," and another requires that you go through a series of steps with no way of fathoming the final result (i.e., the motivation). The best puzzles are the most straightforward, the ones that rely entirely on common-sense judgments--the ones that try to be cleverer than that end up being painfully nonintuitive. (One strange touch is that you get a point for visiting every location, so you can finish with less than the optimal number of points merely because you don't get around to visiting all the nonessential rooms.) As suggested, part of the reason the puzzles don't work particularly well is that there are plenty of technical problems, enough that it usually isn't clear whether a given attempt at solving a puzzle is wrong or simply not worded properly. Among the problems are objects mentioned in both the room description and in a separate line, objects so inadequately described that some of their salient features need to be inferred, and objects that can be examined but not taken before a search of another object turns them up. The writing likewise doesn't do the game many favors: there are lots of misspellings and misused words, and while certain moments are described well, others are rather underdone. The following exemplifies the unevenness of the writing: The main hall is quite large, and is lit by magical torches that line the walls all around, in a pattern that spirals up the grandiose room. Elevators hang in mid air, no longer powered. To the northeast is a small opening that is usually covered over by a tapestry that has long since been removed, to the northwest is a staircase leading up to one of the villages where your people lived; to the west you see the railway station. A main street runs to the south. "Grandiose" room? How does this character know that the opening was usually covered by a tapestry that has long since removed, or that his people lived in one of the villages? On the other hand, though, there are well-done bits in this description--"elevators hang in mid-air, no longer powered" is vivid and concisely described, and the "pattern" of torches that "spirals up" the room is nicely conveyed. The writing is mostly good enough to set the scene, in other words, but shot through with enough mistakes to make the reading less than fully pleasurable. The above problems are particularly frustrating because the story is actually pretty good. For one thing, the plot is refreshingly small-scale for fantasy--you're not saving the world or acquiring vast stores of wealth, you're simply exploring one city and performing certain tasks. That, in itself, suggests restraint, and it helps the story feel more immediate and less implausible than it might be. Moreover, much more detail than was strictly necessary went into the game--there's an encyclopedia lying around that has information on all sorts of topics, for instance, and there are certain elements of the game that get developed seemingly just to round out the story, in particular your religion. There are even some red herrings that point toward a sequel, and while that's not usually a great design choice (insofar as it encourages the player to spend time on apparent puzzles that can't be solved) it does convey the sense that there's more to the setting than the bare bones required for the puzzles. Likewise, there are quite a few locations that are there only to make the city feel more complete--and while some of them feel a little gratuitous, most are well chosen. The main fly in the ointment is a maze that isn't especially creative or well-rendered--the game would be better if the maze had been left out--but on the whole the setting is competently done and serves the purposes of the story. Deephome, in short, is a mixed bag. Enough thought clearly went into its crafting that the setting feels real, and the story is well thought out. The game aspect, unfortunately, has serious problems, significant enough that getting through the puzzles can be a major hassle. If some of the writing and technical problems get resolved, a sequel or a revised release of Deephome would be worth checking out. FTP FileInform .z5 file FTP FileSolution (Text)


From: Duncan Stevens <dnrb SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #25 -- June 20, 2001 TITLE: Degeneracy AUTHOR: Leonard Richardson E-MAIL: leonardr SP@G DATE: 2001 PARSER: Inform standard (modified slightly) SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 0.50 One of the nice things about fantasy IF--particularly the sort of fantasy IF that Graham Nelson has called "lazy medieval," which covers anything prior to the invention of gunpowder--is that the ground is so heavily trodden that it's easy'n'fun to stand the player's expectations on their head. Leonard Richardson's Degeneracy does just that, and while the trick itself isn't an unqualified success, it works well enough. It seems you've been enlisted to kill a certain Baron--not only have you been enlisted, in fact, you've gone and done it just before the game starts, and your mission is now to get out of the Baron's castle. Problem is, the Baron has cursed you, and the curse prevents you from escaping, so you need to delve into some alchemy books to undo the curse. There's also a time limit of sorts, it turns out, though it's generous enough that you don't need to be extremely efficient. The game itself isn't particularly long--it can easily be solved in under 100 moves, and the time limit kicks in at about 200 moves or so. The puzzles aren't especially exciting--there are only a few of them, and reading the manuals you find is essentially all you need to do--but there's lots of fun to be had in the writing. Much of it is mock-Elizabethan or thereabouts--lots of Surprising Capitalizations, for one thing, often put to amusing purposes. (There's one object containing water that you can pour over your head; suitably instructed, the game tells you that "you fit your Head under the deluge from the [object], and moisten your Hair." Better still are the antics of a pig you encounter, such as: The Pig wanders over to the heavy Portcullis & pokes its snout through on of the gaps in the iron Gate. A wistful look comes across the Pig's face, as it ponders a more carefree time in its life, a time redolent with Rolls in cool Mud & games of <> with its thirty-seven Grand-Children. The hints, liberally sprinkled with fake hints in the style of Infocom's Invisiclues, add to the humor. (E.g., in response to a question about how to get out of a certain room: "You might follow the carpet." "It leads off 'toward the sunrise'." "From which direction does the sun rise?" "Go east." "This is not technically a puzzle.") It's true that the game doesn't take every opportunity for humor that comes along--at least, so it seemed to me--but there are some surprisingly funny bits. (All the funnier because the game appears to take the dour persona of the PC so seriously.) The author wrote Guess the Verb!, from the 2000 competition, which was similarly full of sly humor. As mentioned, there's a trick of sorts in the game, on which I won't elaborate here. It's not a total success; some players, I know, thought it was a bug, which it most certainly isn't. There are indications that something's afoot well before the trick happens, though they depend to some extent, I think, on whether the player's moving around--fewer, if any, of the clues would be apparent to a player who's staying in one room working on a puzzle. (Technically, none of the puzzles are so hard that such concentration should be warranted, but you never know.) The nature of the trick is such that, unless duly warned, the player's likely to attribute the effect to a bug--that the author isn't extremely well known works against him in this case. (If it were Zarf trying to do the same thing, in other words, the player might tend to have more faith.) The moral is that an author planning a surprise of this kind should err on the side of overcluing (and taking excessive precautions to ensure that the player will see the clues). That aside--and I did get the clues, so it did work for me--it's a pretty clever idea, and again, the medieval setting helps: the player expects breaches of the fourth wall less, perhaps, than he or she might otherwise. It's also worth noting that, for a short game that may well exist for purposes of the above trick, Degeneracy's world is quite thoroughly created. There's a religion that, if not exhaustively described, comes across enough to be understood. There's a political system (well, hints about one). There' s a reasonably complex system of alchemy. And aside from all this, there are a couple of magic systems that have a variety of effects and are reasonably consistently applied. The production values are good enough, then, that this isn't simply lazy medieval fantasy. Degeneracy isn't a masterpiece, but it's not strictly a one-trick pony either--there's plenty to appreciate aside from the central gimmick. FTP FileInform .z5 file

Delightful Wallpaper

From: DJ Hastings <dj.hastings SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #47 -- January 16, 2007 TITLE: Delightful Wallpaper AUTHOR: Andrew Plotkin EMAIL: erkyrath SP@G DATE: October 1, 2006 PARSER: Inform 7 SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters with blorb support AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF Archive URL: VERSION: Release 4 Delightful Wallpaper divides neatly into two main puzzles. Since these are very different from each other and almost unrelated, I'm going to discuss them separately. THE LOGIC MAZE The first puzzle is a kind of maze, although more like Robert Abbott's "logic mazes" than the twisty little variety that everyone seems to hate. You start exploring a small mansion, but you lack the ability to do anything but walk around. As you move around, though, the mansion reacts in predictable ways. For example, walking through one doorway may open a door elsewhere, entering a room might change the direction of a one way door- that sort of thing. To put it briefly, I loved this puzzle. The mansion opens up a little bit at a time as you play. Manipulating the mansion properly will allow you to reach a new area, which you can use to manipulate another bit of the mansion, which will allow you to reach another new area... and it keeps going on like that until you've explored the entire place. You always have either a new room to visit or a new thing to play with. This pacing kept me interested and engaged through the entire puzzle. There are a few places where I might have become bored trying to figure out exactly what had happened after I'd triggered some change in the mansion. But this problem was avoided by my notebook, where "I" kept notes of all the things that affected the mansion and, once I happened upon them, what the effects were. And even if *I* didn't notice a change, the *PC* would notice and jot it down, so when I checked the notebook I'd see what was going on. This kept me from ever getting stuck for long, and so I never did get bored or frustrated with the game during this puzzle. In case I haven't made myself clear: this was my favorite puzzle of the entire competition. THE "INTENTIONS" PUZZLE Partway through the maze part of the game, I made the note: "If this keeps up, I'll love the game." Sadly, "this" didn't keep up. The second puzzle is a good idea, but it just didn't work like the first one did. For this part of the game, the mansion has been populated with characters for a murder mystery. As you move about, you see notes like "Mr. P__ will pass through the room, carrying a tray of drinks." You will also collect "intentions" and use them in various places, modifying what the characters will do. The idea is that adding intentions in various ways will change the things that will go on in the other rooms, allowing you to further manipulate the characters. I like the idea. It could be really interesting trying to arrange intentions in the proper order to make things come out "right," like the puzzle in "Lock and Key". There are two problems, though. First, there is a single right use for each intent, and you can tell from your notes whether you've got it right or not. Thus, there's no need to think carefully about how the intents will affect each other, because you can deal with them one at a time. The second problem is that it's not at all clear how exactly the intents will work until you get it right. So my procedure for solving the puzzle was to find an intent, make a guess as to where it might be used, go there and try using it randomly until something fit, and repeat. This did not make for a satisfying puzzle. [EDIT: It turns out that I was mistaken about there being a single right use for each intent. The author informs me that there are multiple uses for many of the intents that can lead to a winning solution. I just didn't run into them, or else didn't realize that they weren't dead ends. So if you take the time to experiment instead of playing from the notes, this is probably a much more interesting puzzle. -DJ] MISCELANEOUS AND CONCLUSION A few other miscellaneous things: There are quite a few unimplemented things that should be, such as the walls. Given the game's title, I really should be able to look at them. The setup and story never really get explained; I still don't know what's going on. And the second part of the game contained some innuendo, which detracted from the game for me and could have been done without, and a lot of murders, which I didn't mind but you may want to be aware of, particularly if kids might be playing the game. (I treated the innuendo like I do bad language, and docked a point from my comp rating for the game.) Finally, it would have made things easier for me if I could have just typed "notes" to look at my notepad. My recommendation: Get this game, and just play the first half. (That's until you use the first intention.) That half of the game is well designed and well worth your time. Blorbed Z-code game file (post-Competition update) Blorbed Z-code game file (original Competition version) Walkthrough (plain text)


From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #14 -- May 17, 1998 NAME: Delusions AUTHOR: C.E. Forman E-MAIL: ceforman SP@G DATE: 1996 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Inform interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 3 PLOT: Complicated but well done (1.6) ATMOSPHERE: Effective (1.5) WRITING: Very strong (1.5) GAMEPLAY: Solid (1.5) CHARACTERS: A tad hackneyed (1.3) PUZZLES: Clever (1.6) MISC: A bit too much story, but thought-provoking (1.6) OVERALL: 7.7 One thing about C.E. Forman's Delusions that can't possibly be denied is that it's got plot. Boy, has it got plot--several stories' worth, at least. If your head isn't spinning by the end of it (for that matter, by the time the first few twists come long), you missed a lot and you should go back and replay it. Moreover, the plot takes on a variety of guises along the way--part science experiment, part techno-thriller, part mystery (well, sort of), part, um, metaphysical-technological thesis, etc. If there's one thing Delusions isn't, it's predictable. It's arguable, of course, whether cramming a game full of story enhances its enjoyability; at bottom, it's a matter of taste, and depends in large part on whether the player is interested in the story at hand. It also depends, of course, on how well integrated into the game the story is, and in this respect in particular, Delusions shines: the puzzles serve the purposes of the plot, and the challenges are hurdles that reflect crucial discoveries or roadblocks in the story. They are, to be sure, far from easy; I doubt I ever would have guessed a few of them without the aid of the hint menu--but they are distinctly not puzzles thrown into an unrelated story. The charm of this is that puzzle-solving and figuring out the plot are usually one and the same task, so there isn't a sense of "gee, I've got to figure out how to do this to move the story along"--usually, at least. To say much about the story beyond the initial premise would spoil it, are part of a research team doing VR simulations, and as the game begins, you are busy trying to debug one of them, a scenario in which you play a fish dodging hungry predators. The opening few puzzles within the simulation are an appealing introduction and help draw the player into the game, though I was hoping that the fish scene would play more of a role in the game than it does. At any rate, the plot thickens appropriately once you've done what you need to do as a fish, in a variety of unexpected ways. In one key respect, Delusions has an odd split personality: there are sections of the game where the plot is more or less told to you via several screens of text, and there are other sections where the game gives you virtually no guidance and you're left to piece things together from some fairly obscure clues. Both parts, to be sure, make some sense within the plot of the game, but the gameplay is a bit disorienting as a result (not, of course, inconsistently with the tone of the story). Early discoveries, furthermore, encourage the player to view what he's told with skepticism, and yet the plot elements you're told later are essentially true. In some respects, this can't be avoided--there's too much story here for the player to discover it all by himself, without resort to diary entries or some other such tired device, and certain points simply have to come out via screens of text. But given that one of the most intriguing plot elements comes out through discovery, there's still a bit of tension there. That element bears mention because Babel, a 1997 competition entry, did something similar, though the author has since said that he hadn't played Delusions and came up with the idea by himself. Though both use it effectively, Delusions tries something more ambitious that ends up slowing things down: the required set of actions has a sequence in mind (with some, but only some, variation allowed), meaning that, once the player gets the idea, the process boils down to walking around and manipulating objects rather than discovering as the plot presumably intended. It would work better if there were more obvious logic to the sequence, but there wasn't any that I could guess, and the eventual conclusion was apparent long before the chain was over. (Whereas--perhaps I'm just dense--I didn't guess the corresponding revelation in Babel.) The post hoc explanations for why you don't tumble to this discovery before seem just a little thin, moreover. This is nitpicking, though, because the plot does work very well indeed. Particularly effective, even though frustrating, is the middle section of the game, which repeats ad infinitum until you find a way to break out of the loop. The puzzles associated with this are difficult but fair: everything is put together logically, and the tension, when it seems like your plan might get foiled, is real. The nightmarish aspect of this section of the game derives mostly from the presence of a certain NPC, and it's to the author's credit that the NPC, though he provides virtually no interaction--he talks to you, you can't say much back--is an intimidating presence. His dialogue is well-written and doesn't feel too heavily borrowed from standard science fiction, though then again I wouldn't know. Also very good--and thoroughly coded; I didn't find much that broke the spell--is a certain change in your environment that you cause in order to get through the scene. Arguably, the NPC might have figured out what you're up to, but it's still a memorable moment. The only real flaw in the middlegame is a repeated message that you really want to get out of this--it loses its effectiveness after the first time or so, I found. The endgame, unfortunately, doesn't quite live up to what comes before--the dramatic confrontation could come from any thriller, and the final resolution just didn't feel climactic to me. There are some clever puzzles--though one depends on finding a hidden object at a time when you weren't aware that you needed it--and the ending does tie up most of the plot questions, but, as far as the story goes, the middle part works best. Technically, Delusions is impressive. I found very few bugs, most actions have synonyms, and there are several code tricks involving subtle changes in the game environment, or in the game's responses, that work well. The writing is error-free and effective throughout, in a way that moves the plot along without drawing attention to itself. A computer is thoroughly done, though it's a bit tedious to use--then again, seeing as it's running a "Windows 2000" system, perhaps that's design on the author's part. There are very few obvious illogicalities, even accepting the game's various plot twists; the game is well-designed, well-crafted. At bottom, though, Delusions seems to aspire to be more than simply a well-crafted collection of puzzles, and that's where the difficulty comes in. There are Bigger Issues at stake in the puzzles you solve, and while the game does offer some food for thought, my problem with it is that those issues don't really affect what you do. Delusions is in many respects a better game than Tapestry, another 1996 competition entry that dealt with questions metaphysical, but Tapestry did force the player to weigh the problems and make decisions; here, except for one moment at the end of the game, you solve puzzles, largely. To be sure, this is a different sort of game than Tapestry, and it succeeds on an entirely different level--but in that there certainly are intriguing questions being raised throughout, and periodically mentioned in passing by this NPC or that, I wanted them to have more to do with your actions and decisions. Put another way, the player can more or less opt out of the thought-provoking bits of Delusions by breezing through the text and moving on to the next puzzle. Theoretical objections aside, Delusions is an outstanding game in several respects, and if you missed the 1996 competition, this is without a doubt one of the entries you should check out now. Even if it gets a few things wrong, it does a whole lot of interesting stuff right. From: Matthew Garrett <cavan SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #14 -- May 17, 1998 "Right. Check. Quote from Neuromancer?" "Check." "Main character trapped inside computer simulation and must discover their true identity?" "Check." "Sinisterly titled 'Project'?" "Check." "Cast of generic cyperpunky NPCs, one of whom will rebel against said 'Project'?" "Check." "OK boys. Looks like she's finished. Let's roll her out!" Yes, folks, Delusions is that oft-maligned example of the IF community - a, for want of a better word (Though, no doubt, I'll be inundated with mails giving me one), cyberpunk game. And yes, the initial section of the game doesn't seem awfully original. And yes, the rest of the game seems to follow much the same pattern. And yes, I am building up to a completely expected shock-bluff role reversal. Because, despite this, Delusions is a Good Game. But first, so that we can build up to an exciting climax, we'll start with the bad points. Good game though it is, Delusions seems flawed in many ways. Take the opening. Yes, it may well just be me, but I can't help laughing every time I read "Reality is so... unreal.". And it goes on. I'll happily admit to not being a fan of (What I'd tend to see as) "waffly" writing, but even so Delusions goes further than most. This seems surprising, considering that the rest of the writing seems to be of such a high standard. It's obvious that effort has been put into making the world of Delusions believable. Everything you'd expect to find in a cramped laboratory/living quarters is there. But still. Back to that later. The worst thing about the writing is that, at times, there is so much of it. Several times when you confront your (apparent) arch-nemesis, you're left sitting for several turns unable to do anything except hit z and wait while the conversation progresses. Pages of it, sometimes. Somehow, it seems wrong to apparently give you a choice of things to do (It's split up, so you get a prompt. Except that, whatever you do, you've got little choice except to carry on reading.), and then watch as your character says things that you don't expect him to. Again. And again. Perhaps this is the main problem. The player character ends up in a situation which would be impossible to end up in in real life, and as a result it's next to impossible to empathise. Of course, I felt sorry for him and angry at the way he'd been treated. But in the third person, rather than the first. (Does that make any sort of sense at all?) But even so. Sometimes, you are given a choice to influence the future direction of the game, or so it seems. Because, whenever you get to this sort of situation, it's obvious that the author wants you to make one particular choice rather than another. Which leads to my major problem with the game. Yes, the big hammer o' morality has been dragged out again in order to demonstrate that, in the end, we should forgive and forget. When your character agonizes over whether or not to kill his tormentors, you've got a choice. A) Kill them, die instantly and lose all your points. B) Don't kill them, carry on with the game and gain a point. Now, which one seems like the "Proper" path? Choices which influence a game's outcome generally make the game more interesting, since the player feels that they're having more of an effect. But the ones in Delusions feel more like "instant-death" puzzles than anything else. The outcome is based on what the author thinks, rather than what the player does. If anything, it makes the game feel more restrictive than if you hadn't been offered the choice in the first place. So, then. Why did I say that Delusions was good? To some extent, it's the attention to detail. The TV in one of the rooms shows Jeopardy. There's a huge mass of documentation to go along with the VR system. Everything you'd expect to find, you find. The characters all seem to have clearly defined personalities, backed up by their personal effects. And the plot. To begin with, it didn't sound promising. None of the initial ideas are terribly ground breaking. Come to that, neither are any of the later ones. But, somehow, there's a fairly engaging plot. Even if you're not empathising with the main character, you're interested in finding out what's going on. What motivates the main NPC becomes clear as the game progresses, and it all holds together nicely. So. Overall then. If you're willing to overlook the basic lack of originality, the tedious (to my mind) morality bits and the fact that the bad guy talks far too much, it's a well written and competently programmed game. The "Big revelation" doesn't come as too much of a surprise if you've been paying attention to what's going on, but that's a good thing rather than a bad one. Out of ten? Seven. Not ground breaking, makes you want to hit people in places, but still enjoyable. FTP FileInform file (.z5) (updated version) FTP FileInform file (.z5) (competition version) FTP FileStepwise solution (Text)

Demon's Tomb

From: Bozzie <edharel SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #9 -- June 11, 1996 NAME: Demon's Tomb PARSER: OK. Nothing fancy. AUTHOR: Mastertonic PLOT: Stop ancient demon. EMAIL: ??? ATMOSHPHERE: Nice. AVAILABILITY: Commercial(Bargain bins) WRITING: Very good. PUZZLES: Average, but logical SUPPORTS: PC CHARACTERS: Very, very good (See below) DIFFICULTY: Medium This is an old game, but nonetheless it is a very good one. It deals with such important issues as fighting an ancient evil, sacrificing yourself in order to save the world (don't worry, not a spoiler), and how to keep a duck from quacking. The game starts off with you as Professor Edward Lynton, famed archaeologist, in an important site in England. Recently, some strange things have occurred. Your partner has gone missing. You have discovered things in the site which are both more amazing than your wildest dreams, and more horrifying than your worst nightmares. You awake in the middle of the night and smell smoke... With no escape outside this recently discovered tomb, you must send a message to the outside world, before the tomb becomes your own (and it will, no matter what you do. That's made very clear throughout the skimpy manual). You have only a short amount of time to do what you must do before you are overcome by smoke. Despite your actions, after a certain number of moves, the prologue ends and the game starts. You are Richard, the professor's son, in a car lot near the archeological site. You are here to talk to your father, but unfortunately, he is in no condition to talk. As you learn more about his death, depending on your earlier efforts, you will find a tale of a centuries old rivalry, of evil about to be unleashed and that you are the only one to stop it. The story itself is nice, and immediately reminded me of a Doctor Who story, Pyramids of Mars (also a text adventure game at /pc/ Somewhat rough about the edges, but is a fairly good AGT game) . The story generally comes in spurts at a time in some wonderful prose. Notes, letters, documents all give some great insights at several interesting people who lived in the area. While most of these aren't necessary for the game, it is well worth your time to read everything. There are few, if any, "real" characters in Demon's Tomb that you can interact with, and most of those that there are puzzles more than anything. However, the descriptions, as I have said above, more than make up for the lack of interacting agents. In fact, in some ways, it makes it better. As recent debates on r.a.i-f have shown, there is no easy way to make a good NPC in a text game, and indeed, even if you manage to, there will still be problems with him/her. This way, the author manages to show us some wonderful characterizations without having to code a lot of time-eating code. This is not to say that the game is simple. Indeed, the game tries to be flashy by offering a menu system and some graphics, space which could have been used more efficiently. Indeed, I would have liked there to have been a good developed character. For example, how about a motorist I could flag down and warn, and then find him dead later... The Parser is sub-Infocom, but quite adequate for its purpose. The puzzles themselves are fairly simple, but not overly simple, and they are dynamic, so as not to bore experienced gamers. But that doesn't deter from the game, it adds to it. There are no completely obscure puzzles, and there are a few interesting ones. There are certainly no unfair puzzles, and enough of an area to explore, so that should you get frustrated at one problem, you'll be able to explore another area. And if you really need some help, C. E. Forman has graciously made a hint file of the game on It is because the story doesn't try to serve complex problems, the author is able to work on the story, and still throw in a new and interesting puzzle or two. It also manages to allow freedom to explore, although tends to be mostly linear in terms of solving problems. While I could hope for better, in terms of problem solving and a few other areas, over all, I enjoy this game, and it's certainly up there on my list of favorite games. FTP FileHints (Text)

Depravity Bites

From: Stas Starkov <stas_ SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #28 --March 20, 2002 NAME: Depravity Bites AUTHOR: samjones EMAIL: samanthamisunderstood SP@G DATE: 2002 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: VERSION: 1.4 My poor knowledge of English has played an evil joke on me. While searching the IF-archive TADS games directory, I found a file, which was quite large (so, I expected that it wasn't one of those tiny two-room games), and released very recently. Thus, I had the bad luck to download "Depravity Bites". Later, I checked what the word "depravity" meant. Ahem... I wish I hadn't seen the game. In short: this game is about perversity. One of the most decent paragraphs in the game reads: Reaching up gingerly you rub circles around both your nipples, tweaking them slightly to prepare them for the pegs. Then you take a finger full of flesh just over the left nipple and apply the strong peg. At first you don't feel anything but then the sting kicks in. A sudden flash of discomfort strikes and your first reaction is to remove the clip, but that would defeat the object. As the second peg snaps its teeth into the plumped flesh of your right nipple you feel the full sting of both pegs take effect. Not a dull pain, but a constant, high-pitched tingle, making you think to yourself again and again, that you should take these off because they hurt. But you don't. The game explores the darkest corners of homosexuality, sadism, and masochism. If you think that such a mix is just for you, you can try it. *Shudder* Technically, the game is also less than impressive: "guess the verb" problems, bugs, juvenile and very stupid humor, dull room descriptions. And did I mention tons of dirt pouring from the game's lines? How did I find out so much about the game, though I hadn't the nerve to finish it? Well, I had a look at the source file, which was enclosed with the game package. It's amazing how low human beings can demean themselves. I fear that tonight I'll experience horrible sexual nightmares. Damn you, "samjones". I don't want to spend any more of your and my time on this crashing deviancy. Thus, my final word is: if you're not a sadomasochist, don't even try to download the game. "Depravity Bites" shows very clearly why such games like "Stiffy Makane: The Undiscovered Country" -- an evil parody on AIF (Adult IF) games -- are still being written. Compared to "Depravity Bites", "SM: TUC" is a Christmas story. Now I'm going to take a shower, and hope that my review won't be taken as an advertisement for pornography. From: Jim Cooper <waiting SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #29 -- June 20, 2002 I read Stas Starkov's review of this game in SPAG 28 and wondered how much of his obvious dislike for it stemmed from the game's subject matter. Being quite broad-minded myself, I thought I'd download the game and see what it was all about. I really shouldn't have bothered. The game starts off with you waking up a prisoner in a cellar. Your naked girlfriend is chained up, and your first task is to try to free her. The game then proceeds through a series of tasks masterminded by the owner of the house you're in before culminating in a sex scene in the back of a van. Unfortunately, the game falls down not only on the content, which goes out of its way to be offensive rather than erotic, but is filled with numerous technical flaws, some of which make the some of the puzzles unnecessarily difficult -- you play "guess the verb" a few times, for example. Certain other flaws also make the big sex scene at the end laughable rather than arousing. To give a more specific example, at one point you are given an object to perform a task with. Later on, the game assumes you still have the object, whether you have dropped it since or not. These obvious flaws disrupt the flow of the game, destroying any sense of atmosphere that might otherwise build up. The puzzles themselves aren't actually too bad, although they were fairly easy -- I managed to complete it in about 4 hours without reference to the provided hint sheet. The game also comes with the source code, if the hint sheet isn't enough for you. One or two puzzles are quite difficult, the initial one for instance, which the game itself gives you hints about. All in all, this game isn't worth playing even if you are into this kind of thing. It deliberately sets out to shock rather than excite or interest and, for me, it failed to even do that. Sorry, samjones, but you can see far worse than this with just ten minutes on a decent internet search engine. If you are easily shocked, avoid this game. If you're not, this game will bore you. Even a dedicated sado-masochist will find nothing of interest here, unless putting up with all the errors counts as masochism. ATMOSPHERE: Technical errors interfere too much (0.3) GAMEPLAY: Bad parser, plagued by errors (0.5) WRITING: Tries quite hard but, well, fails (0.6) PLOT: Well, there is one, and it's reasonable (1.2) WILDCARD: This really isn't a good game, so I'm not going to give it any Wildcard points. (0.0) TOTAL: Just don't bother. (2.6) FTP FileTADS .gam file, source code, and hints

Desert Heat

From: Tina Sikorski <tina SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #23 -- December 29, 2000 TITLE: Desert Heat AUTHOR: Papillon E-MAIL: amethystphoenix SP@G DATE: 2000 PARSER: None (CYOA) SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: 1 Walkthrough? No Genre: CYOA/Romance/Bodice-Ripper +------------------------------------------+ |Overall Rating B-|Submitted Vote 7| |Writing B+|Plot B | |Puzzles D |NPCs B | |Technical C |Tilt C+| +------------------------+-----------------+ *** Initial Thoughts A lot of people don't like choose-your-owns, so to them, this will not appeal. In truth, they don't always appeal to me. In this particular case, however, I actually thought it worked fairly well. I didn't explore all the possible choices (although I did double up on a couple paths) so I don't know how flexible the game ultimately was, but it looked to have at least some degree of freedom in it. *** Writing (B+) Despite some perhaps overly-lengthy prose in spots, the writing in this was rather well-done. I found many of the descriptions quite enchanting, bringing to mind a definite feel and genre that itself is quite magical, and one in which it is easy to get drawn in and lost within when it is (as it was) done correctly. Take, for instance, this bit from the opening: "The sound of windblown sand smoothing the dunes and scouring the city walls is the only song nature produces in Hajima." With the very first sentence, mood and setting are already firmly in place, a setting which is only enhanced (and never contradicted) by further room and event descriptions. And best yet, although the game does tell you "this is who you are, this is what you can do", it never seems to do it in a way that felt limiting (to me), though ultimately, of course, it was rather narrow in scope. *** Plot (B) As with all CYOAs (and how many times have I used that phrase, anyhow?), there is not a LOT of flexibility in plot, but as is more rare, there is a rich plot here. It is true that it is quite stereotypical. It is also true that sometimes that's a good thing. (See also NPCs, below.) Stereotypical stories are sometimes, instead, more -archetypal-; they use settings, people, and situations that we all are familiar with, and merely attempt to display the story in a manner in which will appeal. I believe that this was the author's intent (although don't know for sure), and if so, it worked quite well for me. Others, looking for something new and original, will probably prefer to give this a pass, although I might add that there is not much in the way of either new or original left in the world. It is merely the skill with which stories are displayed that, ultimately, determines how people react to it. *** Puzzles (D) As a CYOA adventure, it should perhaps not really be rated on puzzles, but as there are several critical decision points that can make a large difference, in this case I elected to do so. And that is where things fall short. Could it have been done differently and retained the format? Yes. There could have been more decision points; they could have been presented in a way that combined both more internal world knowledge with more difficult choices. When it came to a point where I had to make a choice, often I felt as if I were presented with choices that the -character- would understand the implication of but I would not. That, alas, was the big flaw in an otherwise enjoyable experience. *** NPCs (B) Adam Cadre, whose opinion I quite respect but with whom I frequently disagree, felt offended by the stereotypes in this game. Others saw his point. I disagreed, because I felt there was no intent to hold up and portray negative and shallow characters. I felt they were meant to be archetypes (see also Plot, above). So, be warned: there are no terribly deep characters in the game. You see only glimpses of their true personality, and even those show something fairly basic and, yes, cliche. But... it WORKS. This is not the real world. This is the storyworld, where everyone has a defined role, and everyone has a part to play. And it is the success in -that- upon which I rated the NPCs highly. Realism in NPCs is a prized thing, difficult to obtain, but the clever and careful use of caricature and archetype can result in some lovely story building. Desert Heat accomplishes this with flair. *** Technical (C) CYOA games are not difficult to produce. I found no bugs. *** Tilt (C+) and Final Thoughts This is definitely not a game for everyone. Simply the genre alone would ensure that; I myself have a love-hate relationship with romances, if you will pardon the potential pun. The format and style as well are both potentially off-putting. Still, if you have any interest in a richly told tale, I would suggest giving the game a chance. It was one of the more enjoyable -- if not one of the longest lived -- moments of the comp. FTP FileTADS .gam file (competition version)


From: Stefan Jokisch <jokisc00 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #4 -- March 2, 1995 NAME: Detective PARSER: AGT AUTHOR: Matt Barringer PLOT: Strictly Linear EMAIL: ??? ATMOSPHERE: None AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF Archive WRITING: Poor PUZZLES: None SUPPORTS: AGT Ports CHARACTERS: None DIFFICULTY: Very Easy In this game you play a heroic detective who has to find and arrest the murderer of the mayor. Surprisingly, the only commands needed to solve 'Detective' are north, east, south, and west. It is possible to pick up a few items along the way in order to increase the score, but none of these items has any effect on the story. To cut a long story short, the author made every mistake one can think of; it is not necessary to go into detail. After all, we should not forget that Matt wrote this game with good intentions and he offered it for free, so who are we to mock at his efforts? Every computer store sells a lot of expensive CD-ROMs which are no better than "Detective". From: Graeme Cree <72630.304 SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #5 -- April 19, 1995 NAME: Detective GAMEPLAY: Limited AGT AUTHOR: Matt Barringer PLOT: None EMAIL: ??? ATMOSPHERE: None AVAILABILITY: IF Archive WRITING: Baaaad! PUZZLES: None SUPPORTS: AGT PORTS CHARACTERS: Cardboard DIFFICULTY: Zero Detective was previously reviewed in SPAG 4, but I'd like to do it again, as I have a slightly different take. This review stems from an e-mail conversation with Magnus Olsson, in regards to his review of Space Aliens Laughed at My Cardigan (also in SPAG 4), which had stated that despite its flaws the game had some cult value, calling it "Infocom on acid". I agreed with him, stating that Mystery Science Theater 3000 had demonstrated that there were "good" bad movies (which provide loads of unintentional laughs), and "bad" bad movies (which were merely painful), and that Space Aliens was definitely a "good" bad game. He responded by comparing it to Detective, a "bad" bad game, that has no puzzles, and requires only compass directions to win. Now that I've played Detective, I'm not sure I agree. I think that it too is a "good" bad game. Oh, it doesn't have the whacked-out psychedelic Eraserhead surrealism of Space Aliens, but it has more than its share of entertainment (not to mention equally bad spelling). I feel that I may owe a slight apology to Electrabot, which I criticize for lack of plot. Detective is like a stripped-down version of Electrabot. Like Electrabot, it has a fairly linear path that you must run, with several rooms of instant death, but at least Electrabot had a Rogues Gallery of hostile characters who could be killed by incongruous objects. Detective only has one hostile character, who can be easily bypassed. The game begins with your being told that the mayor has been murdered and that you must solve the crime to avoid bad publicity (!!). You can then go into the next room and get your gun. The description of the gun tells you that you only have 10 shots and should use them wisely. Fair enough, but no matter how many times you fire you will still have 10 shots. Another interesting feature is what I call the closets of teleportation. At one point you are in a hallway, with closets to the east and west. If you go east you will enter the west closet, and must go east again to reenter the hallway (and vice versa). The few items generally have bizarre adjectives. Along the way you may acquire the "food hamburger," and the "wooden wood," though you don't need any of them to win. Like Electrabot, Detective has several rooms that kill you without warning when you enter, but Detective's are more interesting. There is one that I call "The Room of Mysterious Death". The description says that you have reached a dead end and can go back west. But you can't because the game then proceeds to kill you without giving any explanation. In another instance, you are standing in a hallway and see a door to the east marked "Pool." If you enter you are told that you were in the pool when the killer shot you. WHY the heck did I get INTO the pool? I just wanted to check out the room!! The game has a terrible (and amusing) problem with blending room, object, and character descriptions with each other. When you meet the game's only character, the room description tells you all about what he's doing. Which of course means that it keeps telling you even after he's dead. The description of the hamburger tells you that you should just eat it and go north. This is, of course only valid if you are still in the room where you got it. In another case, you see a knife on the floor, but if you try to take it you are told "What knife? There is no knife here." It would have been easy enough to make the knife takeable, or at least give a message saying that you don't need it, or mustn't touch it because it hasn't been fingerprinted yet, or something. But this is much more amusing. The game can't seem to decide what time period it takes place in. In one room a passerby tells you to boycott FDR. In the next, a convict tells you he was busted for possession of crack. At another point, you enter an area and are told that the killer's rumoured hotel is in one direction, his favourite hangout in another, and his workplace in a third. You never learned any of this previously. Real police work should be so easy. All of this is but a prelude to the big ending. When you enter the room where the killer is, you are told that after a fierce battle you overcame him. In other words, "Yes, there was a big fight, but we couldn't afford to show you any of it". I'm not going into all this detail just to pile on the criticism. Mr. Barringer obviously enjoys playing and writing text games, and I'd be the last to tell him not to do it. I'm only writing this because unlike Stefan Jokisch (in his review), I think that you SHOULD get this game and you SHOULD play it. It's very quick (as little as 26 moves), loaded with such unintentional laughs, and unlike Space Aliens, you can play it to a conclusion, with no headaches or technical glitches. The parser is terrible, but when you only need "north," "south," "east," and "west," what the heck? Mr. Barringer's goal in writing the game was to entertain his audience, and as far as I'm concerned he suceeded in ways that the rating system can't show. If you like Mystery Science Theater 3000, you will enjoy playing this game. I'm going to e-mail a copy to Dr. Clayton Forrester myself, for use in a future experiment. Heads up, Mike, Tom, and Crow! From: okblacke <okblacke SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #18 -- September 15, 1999 NAME: Detective AUTHOR: Matt Barringer EMAIL: Unknown (He probably doesn't want any mail about this anymore anyway.) DATE: 1993 PARSER: Inform AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: VERSION: Stuart Moore's Inform Port of an AGT classic! Have you ever had the experience of seeing a movie or reading a book only after a hundred people told you how good or how bad it was? The actual work almost never lives up to your expectations. So it is with "Detective" which is probably the "Plan 9 From Outer Space" of IF. (It's not the worst piece of IF ever written by a long-shot but it may be the most infamous.) I'm not entirely sure of the history of the game, beyond the author uploading it to a BBS and things getting out of hand from there, but if I'm not mistaken there are two ports of the original AGT game and two MST versions. That may be some kind of record for a game held in such loving low esteem. I hadn't ever played it, so when I saw that Stuart Moore had created an Inform version, I thought I'd take the time to play this and the so-called MSTied version. Truth is, it's not that bad. It's not any kind of good, either, because it's basically a puzzle-less IF piece without solid, compelling writing to sustain it. Enough has been said about the program's various faults (the lack of a proofreading, instant death, one way doors, incidents built into room descriptions, near complete non-interactivity, no story development beyond the original idea, incoherency and so on) that the game could serve as a model on how not to write IF. I won't embellish on the game's faults here except to say that, having known what to expect, I can't really share in the frustration that players of the original AGT version must have experienced if they were looking for a game. It's short, arbitrary and pointless, but it *is* short! It may even be historical. (Can you count yourself a true IF aficionado if you don't know of this game?) It's also sincere in its way. If you look at other bad IF, you often find a cynicism, rampant insults to the player, and sleazy bad humor. It's clear that the author's intentions are good. Rating is somewhat problematic because (as outlined by Whizzard) the ratings system deals with "attempts" and "effort" and I believe the attempts and effort were there, just not successful. Nonetheless, I can't really give a high score for "trying" except to bump up the "overall" category somewhat. Plot: 0.1 Atmosphere: 0.0 Writing: 0.1 Gameplay: 0.0 Characters: 0.1 Puzzles: 0.0 Overall: 0.5 FTP FileAGT files with PC Executable runtime(.zip)

Detective: An Interactive MiSTing

From: Graeme Cree <72630.304 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #7 -- October 14, 1995 NAME: DETECTIVE: An Interactive MiSTing GAMEPLAY: Inform Parser AUTHOR: C. E. Forman PLOT: Trivial EMAIL: ceforman SP@G ATMOSPHERE: Demented AVAILABILITY: IF Archive incoming WRITING: Pathetic PUZZLES: None SUPPORTS: All Inform Ports CHARACTERS: Cardboard DIFFICULTY: None at all Normally, looking at the above category descriptions (such as "Trivial," "Demented," and "Pathetic") one would expect a pretty bad game. Yet, such is not the case here. In the zany world of Mystery Science Theater 3000, (MST3K for short) where schlock is fun, and all involved want "More cheese, please," such descriptions denote an excellent game. Detective, the game least likely to be ported, now exists (with enhancements) for Inform. A little background is in order to understand this game. SPAG #4 featured a review of an AGT game called Detective, which stated that the author had made every possible mistake, and that the game should be avoided. In SPAG #5 I wrote a second review in which I stated that the game, though awful, was in fact loaded with unintentional laughs and bizarre incongruities that were sure to entertain the player, and that the game would make an excellent episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. For those who don't know, MST3K is a cable television show (soon to be a major motion picture) on Comedy Central, that involves a man shot into space by two mad scientists and forced to watch bad movies so that his reactions can be monitored. Throughout the movie we can see the silhouettes of Mike and his robot companions (whose outer casings are made out of things like a gumball machine, a bowling pin, and a lacrosse helmet) at the lower right-hand corner of the screen, and hear them deliver a barrage of sarcastic remarks, pop-culture references, and suggested dialogue. For example in Godzilla vs. Megalon, a close-up of Godzilla waving his arms and bellowing drew the response "I am Kirok!!", a reference to a classic bit of Shatner overacting in Star Trek's The Paradise Syndrome episode. In Marooned, when three astronauts, stranded in space are arguing over who will leave the ship (there was only enough oxygen to sustain two until the rescue ship arrived) one of the robots observed "they could toss a coin, but it would never come down." The show is in its 7th season, and each episode is two hours long. Their bread-and-butter is schlocky sci-fi movies, but they have hit almost every genre, including the occasional biker movie. Before and after the show, as well as during intermissions, they do short amusing skits, often based on scenes from the movie. Chris Forman has taken this format and adapted it into a text game, almost seamlessly. The original Detective game has been transferred verbatim to Inform, even retaining the AGT default responses, and snappy responses from Mike and the robots have been inserted everywhere; into room descriptions, item descriptions, response descriptions, et cetera. Repetition is avoided, enhancing believability. The first time you enter a room you get one set of responses. The second time you will get either a different set, or none at all. The jokes are generally top quality, turning an already (unintentionally) amusing game into a laugh riot. The level of imitation is flawless; if you have seen the show, you can almost hear the dialogue coming out of the actors' mouths. A typical MST3K episode features a short skit and an invention exchange with the mad scientists before the movie actually begins. Mr. Forman has represented this by including a special introductory text file that highlights the robots attempting to write their own text games, and Dr. Forrester's "fictionary," a device that inputs the vocabulary of a text game directly into the player's mind, with hilarious results. The only thing that could put anyone off about this game might be found in Stefan Jokisch's original SPAG review: "we should not forget that Matt [the original author of Detective] wrote this game with good intentions and he offered it for free, so who are we to mock at his efforts?" Matt Barringer's game is "mocked" here, but previous MST3K episodes have had movies featuring the likes of Gregory Peck, Gene Hackman, Linda Evans, Peter Graves, James Earl Jones, and Bela Lugosi, putting Mr. Barringer in very august company indeed. This may not be my all-time favourite text adventure, but it is one of the few that I would recommend to absolutely everyone. From: Palmer Davis <palmer SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #7 -- October 14, 1995 NAME: _Detective_ MST3Kization PARSER: Inform (imitating AGT) AUTHOR: C. E. Forman (and Matt Barringer) SUPPORTS: Infocom Ports EMAIL: ceforman SP@G AVAILABILITY: IF Archive ATMOSPHERE: Precisely on target WRITING: ROTFL! CHARACTERS: Non-interactive PLOT: Laughable, but that's the point PUZZLES: Nonexistent, except for occasional sudden death DIFFICULTY: Also nonexistent Obviously inspired by Graeme Cree's review from SPAG #5, this is a port of Matt Barringer's (infamous) AGT game _Detective_, onto which the cast of _Mystery_Science_Theater_3000_ has been grafted, providing a Greek chorus that pokes hilarious fun at _Detective_'s shortcomings. This was the first game that I returned to finish after my initial ten minute look at each entry, and it succeeds brilliantly at the same sort of appeal as the real MST3K. Trying to evaluate this entry relative to the others in the division was difficult. However creative the writing may be, the fact remains that this is not an original work of IF, which was the whole point of the contest. On the other hand, this entry also essentially defines an entirely new genre: the interactive work of criticism. Is it a work of IF that happens to be critical or a work of criticism that happens to be interactive? And how much credit is due the author for pioneering something as yet untried, especially given the much lower level of technical difficulty in producing it? In any case, comparing this to the other entries is like comparing apples and oranges. In the end, I wound up deciding to place this at the enjoyability threshold, and score it behind any more technically difficult works that succeeded at being entertaining, but ahead of any that didn't. Had I been scoring for awards other than first, this would have wound up taking second in its division, and certainly deserves an honorable mention for its writing, but future works of this kind will have to be crafted with great care to avoid becoming stale. BOTTOM LINE: This is the entry most likely to continue to be downloaded and played after the end of the contest; it's likely to become a (cult) classic simply by being the preferred way to experience the wonderful awfulness of _Detective_. I can't wait to see the crew take on _Space_Aliens_Laughed_at_my_Cardigan_! From: Magnus Olsson <mol SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #7 -- October 14, 1995 Name: Detective - an Interactive MiSTing / MST3K1 Author: C.E. Forman Email: ceforman SP@G Parser: Hacked Inform Plot: See review Atmosphere: Demented Availability: F, IF Archive Writing: Excellent Puzzles: What puzzles? Supports: Infocom Ports Characters: See review Difficulty: Self-solving This piece of IF is not really a game, but a commentary on a game - or, as the author calls it, an Interactive MiSTing. The strange acronym MST3K1 refers to "Mystery Science Theater 3000," a TV show that hasn't reached the European networks, but this fact shouldn't scare away any non-American readers, since the concept is made sufficiently clear anyway (I had it explained to me by Whizzard after I played the game, but I didn't really miss anything). Similar to the TV show, this game consists of the characters of "Mystery Science Theater" playing - and commenting on - an existing game: "Detective" by Matt Barringer. "Detective," reviewed in SPAG 4, is an amazingly bad game; basically, Barringer has committed every possible mistake in writing it, even forgetting to put in any puzzles. The core of "MST3K1" is a faithful re-implementation in Inform of "Detective," complete down to the last bug. As the player walks through the game (and, believe me, walking through "Detective" is all there is to winning it), he or she is treated to the commentary of the MST characters. And this commentary is simply hilarious; together with the unconscious comedy of the original "Detective," the result must be the funniest IF ever written. I'm exaggerating only slightly when writing that "MST3K1" had me rolling on the floor with laughter. Rating "MST3K1" according to the usual SPAG rules is of course impossible, since the only game aspects are those of "Detective," which is a very very bad game. Suffice it to say that the "MST" part of the writing is excellent, though the satire is perhaps a bit heavy-handed in places - I sincerely hope that Matt Barringer has a sense of humour! Finally, let me just step onto the soapbox for a minute to express some concern. The immediate reaction to this program on Usenet was something along the lines of "Great idea! There are lots of bad games out there; let's MiST them as well!" I sincerely hope that these people think not only once, but twice and thrice before starting to write their own MiSTings. If nothing else, there's the simple rule of all comedy: a good joke is extremely funny the first time it's told. The second time, it's already old. The third time, it's routine. The tenth time, people hate it. Let's not beat this excellent idea to death by repeating it ad nauseam. Also, and far more seriously, the line between poking gentle fun at something and cruelly mocking it is a fine one indeed. The present author has managed to stay on the right side, but it takes considerable skill to do so. We've all written things we're less than proud of; even the good Homer nods. Indiscriminate derision of these games - perhaps youthful first tries - could have disastrous consequences for the small, fragile IF community. Of course, these words of warning should not reflect at all on the present MiSTing; in fact, I think it's brilliant. Let's just not pervert such a good idea. From: Gareth Rees <gdr11 SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #8 -- February 5, 1996 NAME: Detective PARSER: Inform usual AUTHOR: Christopher Forman PLOT: None EMAIL: ceforman SP@G ATMOSPHERE: Unusual AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF Archive WRITING: New material is good PUZZLES: None SUPPORTS: Inform ports CHARACTERS: Unoriginal, but good DIFFICULTY: Trivial I'm only aware of "Mystery Science Theatre 3000" through the genre of MST3k parodies on Usenet, so I have no idea how faithfully Christopher Forman reproduced the flavour of the television program. I thought that this game was interesting as an experiment, and I did find bits of it funny, but a lot of it was completely meaningless to me, especially the introduction and the endgame, and I probably wouldn't play another similar game. I'm not sure at all that text adventure games are suitable for this kind of parody by ridicule, and especially free or shareware games produced by amateurs. Bad films are interesting targets for ridicule because they are the result of the labours of intelligent adults who should have known better, and because millions of dollars were wasted on their production. On the other hand, "Detective" was probably the result of a couple of hours' work by a twelve-year-old kid, whose main mistake was to upload it to a bulletin board for the world to laugh at (although the adventure games I wrote when I was twelve were better than "Detective," I have more sense than to let anyone see them now!). Activision's expensive multimedia game "Return to Zork," with live actors pretending to be characters from an adventure game, would be a much more appropriate (though also much more challenging) target. I think that parody of adventure games is very tricky to do well, because most adventure games sit rather uneasily on the dividing line between seriousness and humour, and generally incorporate elements of self-parody already (think of the ongoing Flathead jokes in the "Zork" series, or the ridiculous names of the spells in "Enchanter" et al), whereas parody succeeds best when its target is relentlessly humourless (think of "A Modest Proposal" by Swift or "The Pooh Perplex" by F.C.Crews). There are some supposed parodies of Infocom games at the IF-archive ("Pork" and "Disenchanted"), but they end up being pastiche rather than parody or satire, and rather weak pastiches at that. From: okblacke <okblacke SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #18 -- September 15, 1999 NAME: Mystery Science Theater 3000, Adventure 101 ("Detective") AUTHOR: C.E. Forman, Gareth Rees, Graeme Cree, Stuart Moore ("Detective" by Matt Barringer) EMAIL: various DATE: This version, 1998 PARSER: Inform AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: VERSION: Stuart Moore's Inform Port of the original MST3K IF. Having survived "Detective" relatively unscathed, I then went on to play the MST3K version of the game. As a rule, if someone is poking fun at someone else's work, I tend to be more critical and keep a sharper eye out for errors than otherwise, and right off the bat I noticed a few errors in the game. For example, the game has "role call" instead "roll call". Some of the initial jokes don't display any greater creativity than the source material. Also, the printing of the complete opening song from the MST3K TV show is probably a copyright violation. After the initial scenes, however, it's clear that the adaptation is more "good-natured ribbing" than mean-spirited criticism, and it won me over. You don't have to be a fan of the show "Mystery Science Theater 3000" or of bad movies, but if you're not, a fair portion of the jokes will be lost on you, and the introduction (which you can skip) may not make any sense at all. Suffice to say that the text of the original game has been "spiced up" with comments from characters (Mike Nelson and his two robots) who watch as you play. There is considerable creativity here, and the quality of the humor can give you an appreciation for "Detective" that you may miss just playing it "straight" (though I really think you should play it straight to begin with). For example, I knew there were "one-way" doors in Detective, but I never noticed them as the game was positively aggressive in telling me which way I could go. Knowing how bad the game was, I never bothered to do anything other than what the text was leading me to do. But with the MST3K version, it becomes fun to open all the doors and see what various deaths were planned. As they're all instant deaths, you can just undo and go on playing along. Also things like trying to backtrack and go in circles pays off when Mike and the 'bots riff on the "scenery" not reflecting your most recent actions. (At one point, you shoot a guy and his body vanishes, but he's still in the room description.) Personally, I think that any game, movie, or work of literature can be given this sort of treatment. (I've always wanted to see Mike and the 'bots do "Citizen Kane".) But a game like "Detective" gets a new lease on life from efforts like this, and reminds us how to laugh...and love again*. (*A quote from the show and the interview of Matt Barringer by C.E. Forman.) To rate the game, I've used the adapted text wherever possible to influence the ratings I gave detective. Since the MST3K version didn't add any puzzles (an intriguing notion were someone to pick it up), I didn't alter its score. Also, if you don't know the show, the atmosphere, characters and plot will probably work less well, since the game relied heavily on these known characters and spent little time explaining them. Plot: 1.0 Atmosphere: 1.0 Writing: 1.5 Gameplay: 1.0 Characters: 1.0 Puzzles: 0.0 Overall: 1.5 FTP FileInform file (.z5) (updated "Silver Screen" version) FTP FileInform .z5 file, source code, and walkthrough (.zip) (competition version) FTP FileSource code of Silver Screen edition FTP FileAGT port (.zip)

Die Vollkommene Masse

From: Carolyn Magruder <carolynmagruder SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #39 -- January 7, 2005 TITLE: Die Vollkommene Masse AUTHOR: Alice Merridew EMAIL: Omega SP@G DATE: October 2004 PARSER: TADS SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Currently unavailable -- pulled from comp VERSION: comp release Score: 3 of 10. The premise of this game: you are a teenage female drow who has been captured by four warlords. You are now a prisoner in the castle, but, if you "please" (author's wording, not mine!) all of the warlords, you will be allowed to go free. This sounds significantly more pornographic than it actually is. In her introduction, the author notes, "Interactive fiction was just a stone’s throw for me, being an author by nature." As upbeat as this approach may be, it is simply not enough. I, too, have written my share of fiction, but the requirements of good interactive fiction are significantly different than the requirements of good writing. I cannot speak to the author's regular fiction, but this was simply not sufficient. At this point, what "Die Vollkommene Masse" actually needed was a massive round of NPC-fleshing followed by a lot of beta-testing. I didn't mind the menu-based conversation system except when it exploded. Time after time, I found myself stuck with only one option for conversation and able to enter that option over and over and over ad infinitum. The major NPCs were all quite active when I was in the room with them, which I appreciated -- it gave me a very good sense of their general personalities -- and having one travel from place to place was a nice touch. However, the NPCs were quite unresponsive when offered objects, giving me the same response over and over, which left me failing to offer them the correct objects for the plot because I had no reason to believe that they would react in any different way than the default. Others will doubtlessly disagree with me, but I liked the feature of listing the exits to the rooms -- it kept me from getting lost. While realism obviously took a step to the wayside in organizing the layout of the castle, I didn't mind that, either. I object to getting lost, and I didn't get lost; I dislike mapping, and I didn't have to map (even without checking the maps that she rather graciously included.) That was good. Some of the rooms had very nice descriptions, too; I particularly liked one line about how moonlight cast a milky glow around the room. Some of them had virtually no descriptions, or else had no actual substance save a list of objects (a dresser, a desk, a bed, etc.) That was annoying. Red herring objects: there were tons of them. I like the idea of lots of objects in a game, as it helps deflect the traditional adventurer's kleptomaniac tendencies, and I don't mind if they don't have an apparent purpose. However, this only holds true if they are adequately fleshed and implemented. These were not. As a general rule, the NPCs didn't care about them, and I couldn't do anything with them. (Why hand me a sword if you don't want me to kill people with it? At least let me try!) Serious bugs existed in this game, mostly related to differentiating one object from another. I wound up carrying around two copies of an object at one point without any ability whatsoever to affect either one because the game kept asking me which one I meant and they were identically named. I also discovered a number of mystery objects when the game asked me which one I meant in a peculiar fashion -- for example, ">examine window" led to "Which window do you mean, the window, or the ?" Argh. There were also a number of serious plot issues, all of which were heavily linked to the questionable morality and attitudes of the PC. The premise wasn't bad, but the implementation made me scream. My best (and least spoileresque) example is this: Very early in the game, I wandered outside the castle. Although the window of my fifth-story bedroom had been barred to prevent my escape, there were no guards in sight here. Super! Let's go! --but, I couldn't leave, because I didn't feel ready. This made and still makes no sense to me... in fact, the PC's ambivalence toward her captors bugged the heck out of me through the entire game. As far as I could tell, this wasn't a horrible prison for her, but a secret wish fulfillment fantasy in which she was the happy star as long as she could pretend that she didn't like it. The game warns in its beginning that it involves mature themes, but it doesn't. It involves an immature approach to potentially mature themes, which was quite disappointing. The introductory document promises that the game is mind-numbingly difficult. I will agree, but only because the author did not fully implement and flesh out her game. Given adequate incentive to explore and experiment with the NPCs, I could have finished this game quite swiftly and experienced minimal difficulty with the puzzles, as many of them were of a fetch-and-carry variety. As it was... no, I could not have solved it without a walkthrough... because I had no incentive to do so. The errors in spelling and grammar may not have been obtrusive to other people, but I found them annoying ("inticing", "There's nothing behind the Mbizi's bed"). The references to Mbizi's "shrunk" left me wondering if English was the author's native language -- the appropriate word seemed to be "trunk", but "shrunk" was the word repeatedly used instead by the author. If English isn't her native language, she did cover it quite well through 97% of the game, but the "shrunk" issue was bizarre. Partway through the game, I got tired and fell asleep. (The PC, not me.) Why? It was apparently night in the game, and I had been playing for quite some time, so I was willing to believe that the PC would fall asleep... but there seemed to be no point to it. This interlude could have been used in a very interesting fashion for a dream sequence or something similar, but she fell asleep, then woke up. There was no point to it. In closing, does anyone understand the meaning of the title? I am at a perfect loss as to how "The Perfect Mass" (as the author translates "Die Volkommene Masse") has anything at all to do with the game.


From: Valentine Kopteltsev <uux SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #43 -- January 7, 2006 NAME: Distress AUTHOR: Mike Snyder EMAIL: sidneymerk SP@G DATE: 2005 PARSER: Hugo AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: distress/distress.hex Quite a time ago, I read an article in a sports newspaper comparing the two German football players, the famous Karl-Heinz Rummenige and his younger brother Michael. Well, I can't vouch for the exactness of the following quotation, because more than ten years strolled past since then; however, in the section dedicated to the brothers' manner of dribbling, it said something like, "Karl-Heinz can get past a couple of backs after gaining a good speed in an open space. Michael is an entirely different type of player -- he can make fools of four or five opponents 'on a handkerchief'". The latter can be applied to Distress: the game is tiny -- slightly more than ten rooms, most of which you run by in a rush, but it manages to unwind an intricate plot with an ending, which manages both to be immensely satisfying and to neatly tie up all loose ends. And it's not too wordy, either -- but the reticent descriptions are just long enough to create a truly creepy atmosphere. The puzzles also are set up with a minimum of items to manipulate, yet they are both challenging and logical. It's been said the game sometimes restricts the player's actions in a manner that may appear a little blatant to some people, but, to be honest, I only learned about this issue from other reviews -- the restrictions seemed perfectly reasonable for me when I was actually playing. As you may have guessed already, this is my favourite entry in this year Comp. Finally, I'd like to explain why I ranked it higher than, say, the actual winner of the contest, Vespers (a disclaimer right off -- it's not my intention to set anybody at loggerheads or to start a flame war). Vespers is a splendid, wonderful game -- but it calls heavies into play where Distress does with minimalist resources. Now, who is greater a commander -- a general capturing a town by force of a brigade after days of preparatory bombardment and carpet bombings, or a lieutenant infiltrating it with a small troop by stratagem, and managing to sabotage the garrison to an extent it can't put up a proper resistance? SNATS: PLOT: Outstanding, with an immensely satisfying ending (1.6) ATMOSPHERE: Ominous (1.7) WRITING: Masterfully terse (1.7) GAMEPLAY: Gripping (1.6) BONUSES: The ability of being expressive with minimalist means (1.2) TOTAL: 7.8 CHARACTERS: You can't converse with them -- in every other respect, they are faultless (1.4) PUZZLES: Best in this review package (1.3) DIFFICULTY: Fairly challenging (6 out of 10) COMP SCORE: 10 COMMENTS: Well, this has been my favourite game in the Comp, so I had to give it a ten. A typical case of a "normalizing effect" in scoring (I'm afraid that without this normalization, hardly any game would get more than an 8 from me for a very long time, because of Blue Chairs being entered in the previous Comp). Hugo executable Solution Documentation

Ditch Day Drifter

From: Lars Jodal <joedal SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #2 -- September 26, 1994 NAME: Ditch Day Drifter PARSER: TADS standard AUTHOR: Michael J. Roberts EMAIL: mjrobert SP@G PLOT: A bit loose, some non-linearity ATMOSPHERE: (Very) good AVAILABILITY: IF Archive (TADS source) WRITING: Medium PUZZLES: Good SUPPORTS: TADS ports CHARACTERS: Few but charming DIFFICULTY: Easy You are a student at the CalTech University. Today is "Ditch Day" where the senior students set up "stacks" (problems) for the under- graduates to break. Your stack will send you all over the university, from the book store over the Explosive Lab to the excavations under the campus. Be prepared to meet vigilant guards and failed biological experiments! The game takes you into a realistic university atmosphere with just a small bit of overstatement to make you smile. Most of the NPCs are cardboard characters, but the insurance robot Lloyd is well-developed. I also like the book store clerk. None of the NPCs are very conversational though. The puzzles are fairly easy, but all logical and well-thought- out. This makes the game an excellent introduction to IF. The veteran gamer will complete the game very quickly, but should still play the game for its story. The puzzles are rather independent, which on the other hand makes the plot a bit loose (solving one of the independent puzzles doesn't make the overall story advance much). The source code to "Ditch Day Drifter" is distributed together with introductory documentation to TADS. Since this is meant to be read by people who have not (yet) registered TADS I guess it can be called free. FTP FileTADS .gam file bundled with source code (.zip) FTP FileSolution (Text)

The Djinni Chronicles

From: Duncan Stevens <dnrb SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #23 -- December 29, 2000 TITLE: The Djinni Chronicles AUTHOR: J.D. Berry E-MAIL: berryx SP@G DATE: 2000 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 2 J.D. Berry's Djinni Chronicles is one of the shortest games of the comp, but it's also one of the densest--there's not much room for exploration or experimentation without save-restore. There are some game-specific rules, moreover, that make it likely that you'll have to do some save-restoring. Still, there are some ideas worth exploring that come across in those few moves. You are a djinni, discovered and summoned by various masters, whose wishes you strive to grant in one way or another--but you also have your own purposes that are only somewhat compatible with those of your masters. The nature of your existence is such that you can't stray far from your "container," the vessel where you reside when you're not about your business; indeed, the beginning of the game functions mostly as an introduction to the rules of your world. You learn, for example, that the tendency of wishes to come with unfortunate side effects isn't simply djinni contrariness; rather, it's because they don't (generally) have the power to accomplish the change by their own will, and have to harness the power of another "undercurrent" with somewhat different effects. You also learn that some djinni derive power from sources other than their summoners, and seek to gain enough power to act independently. The defining measure is known as "Purpose," here expressed as a number, and maintaining Purpose, one way or another, becomes your overriding goal. What emerges is an imaginative portrait of djinni ethics, as it were: the djinni that you play aren't bound by any particular ethical norms as such other than the desire to gain and maintain purpose. Arguably, those djinni that aren't bent on destruction serve their masters' wishes not out of any sense of loyalty, but simply because they derive no advantage from acting independently. (The anterior question, why some djinni are one way and some are another, isn't addressed, but the game is complex enough; there's no need to introduce another layer of cosmology.) In a sense, the path of the game is fairly well defined simply because the character's powers are limited; the player can't really expect to be able to wander away, since that causes the game to end promptly. The wishes of your masters also define your goals most of the time, and when they don't, the game spells out your personal objective. And yet figuring out your motivations at any given point can be complicated, particularly if you assume that you feel some inherent responsibility to your master--and it's not until about halfway through the game that you learn what you're really doing, so to speak. Once you understand the larger plot, it's intriguing; the only problem is that you don't have much part in influencing where it'll go, other than figuring out the command that will move things along. The linearity factor actually serves the purposes of the story--the whole point is that your powers are limited, and your ability to influence events doesn't go much beyond your master's interests--but it might also be a bit more satisfying to be able to affect how the plot turns out, not just whether the one possible plotline progresses. The end of the game suggests that the point isn't simply to devise an inventive mythology of djinni and how they work and what motivates them; rather, the behavior of the djinni suggests something about human nature and the ways that these particular spirits (with their own motivations) choose to manipulate their masters. In that respect, portraying the details of djinni existence serves some of the same function that C.S. Lewis's elaborate bureaucracy of hell did in Screwtape Letters: to describe the spirit world in order to provide a context for the way those spirits tempt and manipulate humans. Obviously, this is a little different, since the relationship isn't entirely adversarial--you need your masters to accomplish your purposes, which doesn't exactly describe Screwtape--but the message is related: suitable manipulation of our baser instincts can turn them into enormously destructive forces, and the game suggests that the less noble impulses are considerably more powerful than altruistic ones (since the djinni that serves a master with relatively unselfish goals doesn't seem to accumulate much Purpose). As a game, apart from the theory and theology that might underlie it, Djinni Chronicles works reasonably well. As noted, picking up on the rules takes a while, and the limitations on the character are initially frustrating when you're used to a great deal of freedom--but it doesn't take long to adjust and to appreciate your new powers. (For instance, walls are no hindrance.) The game is quite linear, true, but to some extent that's inevitable if the author wants to tell a particular story about the spirit world and human nature: if the player has the power to put a different spin on the relationship between the PC and its masters, the result is no longer what the author set out to tell. This sort of thing might not have gone over well just a few years ago, but linearity, I think, has come to be viewed as the inevitable price of more story-oriented IF, and when the story is as intriguing as this one, it's a price worth paying. There's another advantage to the linearity: the puzzles are well integrated into the plot, rather than artificial constructs that distract from the story. That's a feature not directly related to the breadth of the game, of course, but it's inevitable that a game with a large field of options doesn't really sustain much of a story, since the author can't exercise much control over how the game progresses--and by restricting the options, Djinni Chronicles ensures that the task at hand is always part of the story. Moreover, the linearity factor restricts the amount of things that can go wrong; this is a technically solid game, in part, perhaps, because the nature of the game prevents players from doing outlandish things that could violate the game's expectations. The only real fly in the ointment is a lengthy section that's written in not especially inspired verse; it doesn't serve an obvious purpose in the game, and it distracts the player from what was otherwise highly competent writing. The main flaw in Djinni Chronicles, at the end, is that it leaves the player wanting more--more plot, more character development--but there are worse sins, I suppose. It's an imaginatively told story--intelligent enough to earn a 9 from me. FTP FileInform .z5 file (updated version) FTP FileDirectory with Inform .z5 file & walkthrough (competition version)

Dr. Dumont's Wild P.A.R.T.I.

From: Andrea Crain <acrain SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #37 -- July 10, 2004 TITLE: Dr. Dumont's Wild P.A.R.T.I. AUTHOR: Text, script and design by Muffy and Michael Berlyn Inform translation by Mark J. Musante and Michael Berlyn Hints by Gunther Schmidl. EMAIL: ??? VERSION: 4.11 DATE: May 5, 2000 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-code (Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF-Archive URL: The premise of Dr. Dumont's Wild P.A.R.T.I. is that you're a student whose off-kilter physics professor has built a combination particle accelerator and A.I. computer. The computer needs a human observer in order to find and view Particle X, a new subatomic particle. Dr. Dumont asks you to sit in the interface shell, just to take some measurements, but of course you accidentally activate the linkage and get plunged into the metaphorical virtual reality the computer creates for you. In order to get out again, you have to help the A.I. view Particle X. Dr. Dumont's Wild P.A.R.T.I. was originally written for Infocom but, due to Infocom's demise, was released by another company in the late 80s. When the Berlyns started their own company in 1999, it was updated and re-released as a commercial, download-only product. Then they went out of business, too, and this game was finally released as freeware. The original manual and "feelies" (artifacts from the game world, including a kite race flyer you'll need to solve a puzzle) are included as PDF files in the same if-archive directory as the game file. Due to its long history as a commercial product, I expected playing this game to be an extremely polished experience. Unfortunately, there were some sloppy elements. For example, there is an object you gain at one point that, when in use, renders you unable to go anywhere or examine objects because you "can't see much". However, you're perfectly able, somehow, to see the same room description as always and to read a banner. Another sloppy piece is that there is an object you need to alter in order to finish the game successfully. Reading its description carefully will tell you what it really is. However, when you find it in the room and when you see it in your inventory, it is named inaccurately, as though it were already in the state to which you are meant to change it. This worked to prevent me from realizing that I needed to alter it until I checked the hints. A third object needed to be made to turn through some complicated manipulations of the environment. However, when I tried "turn"ing it before doing any of those manipulations, I was told it was already turning. That was very confusing -- if it's already turning, I thought, then why isn't it making this other thing work? In addition, the kite race seems not like an integral part of the game, but a tacked-on puzzle originally meant as a low-tech copy protection scheme. To win the kite race, you had to have the information on the flyer. Since the flyer was included in the physical package of the 80s version of the game (it's now part of the .PDF "feelies" file), presumably you had to buy the game and not copy it from a friend's floppy disk. (There is even a jab in the in-game hints section to this effect.) Because there were no photocopy machines in 1988, of course, or even pens, you couldn't have just gotten the hint from your friend's copy. The flyer exists as a game object, including the text that says instructions on how to win the race are on the reverse, but there is no in-game way to turn over the flyer and read the reverse side. The game doesn't even anticipate that we'll try this, and tell us we can't. Anyway, if you try to play the kite race puzzle without this information, you will think that you are following the kite, based on the motions the kite makes in the course. However, the game will tell you that the kite "takes off to the north, then heads off to the south." So you will go south, and the kite may not be there, or it may not be possible to go that way. When you follow the path that using the flyer hint gives you, the way the game says the kite goes will not always match the path you take, yet it will be there with you in the next room of the puzzle, and you will still win. And when you reach the end of that path, you will expect that something "You've won"-ish should happen, but it will not until you leave the course, so you may flounder about thinking you've misunderstood the hint. You haven't. It's just a weird puzzle. There are other annoyances. You have to play guess-the-verb with a duck, and you may not "toss" a ring despite being at a Ring Toss. You will have to cause something to reach a precise state without going too far, and even though you should be able to judge it by "touch"ing or "feel"ing it, you can't. The game will tell you you are standing outside a building, and then will not allow you to look at that building. There is a door with no purpose but to make you open it before you walk through -- it isn't even locked. And in order to get more information from the game about the puzzles by using the "meditate" verb, you have to go through a series of three actions, meditate, and then reverse the steps before you can carry on with the game, every time. It's tedious -- it'd be nice if, once you figured out how to meditate, the process could be automatic! But my biggest disappointment with this game was something a little less nitpicky. This game's premise and atmosphere are very cool. You get the impression that in playing this game, you're going to be immersed in particle physics, philosophy, astronomy, metaphysics and the Marx brothers. In short, you feel like you're about to learn a little something. The game doesn't deliver. The School of Thought is just a place to pick up some objects. The Science Art Museum is just a place to get some objects. The Planetarium is just a place to get some more objects. The professor NPC's don't know anything about their subjects and can barely converse at all. The A.I. is waiting for you to solve its problem for it. You might learn a little about the Milky Way at the fair, but that's about it. This is a puzzlefest wrapped up in an Einstein poster. It looks cool and makes you feel smart, but ultimately, it's just a paper-thin diversion. The demise of the game publishing house that re-released Dr. Dumont's Wild P.A.R.T.I. in the late 90s should not be taken as proof that selling commercial IF is no longer a workable business model. Maybe it isn't, but maybe if the product they were selling had been an outstanding, polished, bug-free game, a game that made people think and talk and tell their friends "hey, you've got to try this," things might have worked out. It's worth playing for a couple of the puzzles, and the fun atmosphere. The prose is lively and engaging, which is why it sets up such unrealistic expectations. If the careless bugs and annoyances I mentioned above were fixed, it would have gotten an 8 from me. But as it is, I'll rate it a 6. From: Valentine Kopteltsev <uux SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #37 -- July 10, 2004 I've got to warn you -- the chief motive power behind this review is my spirit of contradiction. It began as I came across the blurb for Dr. Dumont in Baf's Guide, which contained, among other things, statements like "one of the most bizarre examples of true IF ever published", and "recommended for those who found Trinity too tame". I disagree with these statements, but the Trinity comparison gave me a reference point to compare Dr. Dumont's Wild P.A.R.T.I. with. I'd rather apply the second of the quotes above to Graham Nelson's Jigsaw, so let's make that a reference point, too. Along with the reasons adduced above, using Trinity and Jigsaw as criteria is justified by the fact that these works all feature a similar structure: in all three games, the player character starts in his habitual environment, and then lands, whichever way, in some surreal place. These places, in their turn, also share a rather similar layout: a core area (a "central trans-shipping point") that contains several portals leading to more (fairly varied) worlds. However, there is a significant difference in game size; for instance, Dr. Dumont manages to squeeze the prologue, implemented as a mini-game in both classics referenced, into its (admittedly quite long) opening text, and to shrink the aforementioned "central trans-shipping point" to a single room. To avoid rather overused metaphors about meal- and snack-sized games, let's put it this way: while Jigsaw reminds one of a stretched Bentley, and Trinity a Jaguar, Dr. Dumont is (let's stay with European cars) a Volkswagen Passat at best -- the only thing about it bigger than that of the others is its title. ;) Sure, a shorter game still can compete with a longer one in toughness -- for instance, by being bizarre. I don't deny that Dr. Dumont's main theme contains an enormous peculiarity potential; particle physics is quite a mind-bending matter itself, and all the more so is the idea of connecting a human brain to a particle-detection-oriented AI -- one could go off one's head just by trying too hard to imagine the results. In spite of this, though, the game didn't appear that odd. It rather reminded me of a draftee attempting to convince the medical board at the recruiting station that he's crazy in order to avoid conscription into the army. Yes, there were pretty many grotesque, comically distorted details and decorations -- and yet, the puzzles had perfectly logical solutions, and the major subgoals were formulated clearly and unambiguously, sometimes even a bit straightforwardly. Well, maybe not that straightforwardly, because some aspects of the game are downright confusing. To begin with, unlike Jigsaw and Trinity, Dr. Dumont allows the player to get into all the areas accessible through the "central trans-shipping point" from the very start of the game -- due to its relatively small size, it can afford to do so without becoming totally unwinnable. However, the player gets most of the information crucial for success in only one of these areas, and thus should visit it first, since roaming through the other areas without having the goals in the game formulated is rather misleading indeed. As the game contains no hints about in which order the areas should be visited, one is left to find it out oneself by trial and error. Secondly, Dr. Dumont comes with a bunch of feelies in the style of Infocom. And, like some of the Infocom games (though not Trinity), the player needs to refer to these feelies to win. This could be quite confusing for people who don't have much experience with commercial IF, even despite the fact that Dr. Dumont provides quite a clear inkling at the point where the feelies are needed. One more confusing aspect of the game is the 'how to play' documentation that accompanies it. Most of the experienced players probably will ignore this documentation completely, since it appears to be addressed to novices, and as far as I remember Dr. Dumont makes no effort to dispel this impression. The thing is, this documentation describes, along with the usual (and trivial) directives like LOOK, TAKE, etc., a few less obvious commands, which are crucial for success. A typical case of RTFM. ;) Finally, there indeed are a couple of slightly obscure puzzles (like a quiz requiring some basic astronomical knowledge). But even with all these issues, Dr. Dumont still isn't half as tough as Trinity, not to mention Jigsaw: no Enigmas, no careful, turn-precise pre-planning of your actions, no random hints disguised as gibberish... sheer disappointment for a true puzzle-fan! ;) As everybody knows, there is no direct dependence between a game's size and its difficulty or its depth. For the reviewed game, however, this relationship is true: Dr. Dumont indeed hasn't got the vast philosophical background Trinity possesses; in fact, it's entirely light-hearted. This doesn't mean, however, a quality decrease: splendid writing, consistently high level of detail, carefully implemented characters, and a state-of-the-art hint system are a sufficient warranty against disappointment. In fact, these features work so well that the game even failed to frustrate me after I had to restart it three times because I run into an unwinnable state due to bugs. These glitches really were of the "very difficult to locate" kind; I think 95 percent or more of the players will never encounter them. This, along with the realization of my bad luck and the fact that redoing the game from the start wasn't too torturous thanks to its not so large size, helped me to avoid fixating on these problems too much. To sum things up, if it's appropriate to speak about the image a game is trying to form of itself, so Dr. Dumont doesn't act like a super-epic breaking bizarrity records, and outshining classics; rather, it modestly tries to entertain the player for a few evenings with good puzzles and healthy humour. Quite unambitious, isn't it? ;) SNATS [Scores Not Affecting The Scoreboard]: PLOT: Sufficient for a game emphasizing puzzles, and with clearly defined subgoals (1.0) ATMOSPHERE: Makes the game appear more surreal than it really is (1.4) WRITING: The opening text impressed me a lot; later on, I got used to the quality of the prose, and took no notice of it, but one has got to admit it plays a very important role in determining Dr. Dumont's appearance (1.5) GAMEPLAY: As you might have guessed from the comment for the PLOT, it stresses puzzles, and has got its subgoals defined clearly. ;) (1.2) BONUSES: Lots of optional stuff to do, feelies (1.2) TOTAL: 6.3 CHARACTERS: Nice, but fairly conventional (1.3) PUZZLES: Range from "very logical" to "slightly obscure" (1.3) DIFFICULTY: Not without its snags, but manageable (6 out of 10) FTP FileZcode .z5 file FTP FileFeelies in PDF format FTP FileManual in PDF format FTP FileMaps in PDF format

Don't Be Late

From: C.E. Forman <ceforman SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #10 -- February 4, 1997 NAME: Don't Be Late! AUTHOR: Greg Ewing EMAIL: greg SP@G DATE: October 1996 PARSER: ALAN standard SUPPORTS: ALAN Ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF Archive URL: VERSION: Version 1.0 This is the first ALAN game by someone other than the authors (that I've heard of, anyway). It's a quickie, with a neat bit of self- reference at the end. The ALAN system has some irritations (the acceptance of the verb "TAKE," but not of "GET," for instance), but you'll finish it in perhaps 15 minutes anyway. There's nothing inherently wrong with it, it's just really short and really simplistic. I'd give a higher score if it were a bit more substantial. Hmm. Not much else to say. FTP FileDirectory With ALAN Files

Doomed Xycanthus

From: David Whyld <me SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #34 -- September 24, 2003 TITLE: Doomed Xycanthus AUTHOR: Eric Mayer DATE: November 2001 EMAIL: emayer00 SP@G PARSER: ADRIFT SUPPORTS: ADRIFT Runtime AVAILABILITY: IF Archive, ADRIFT Main Page URL: VERSION: Release 2 Eric Mayer's first ADRIFT game, Lost, was a strange one with little or no plot -- playable and even kind of likeable but hardly the sort of thing that was ever going to be remembered. His second, Doomed Xycanthus, is a far different sort of game. It's larger, with more details and a more complex plot, and overall a far better game. As Doomed Xycanthus starts, you are in the midst of a forest with no memory as to how you arrived there and little or no idea of what to do next. Following a brief fight with a "nightmare creature", you discover a gem embedded in your left hand and a brief note from a wizard by the name of Malevol. It appears Malevol has cursed you with forgetfulness and dumped you in the middle of nowhere as payback for stealing his daughter's virtue. So starts the game. I have to confess that after the beginning, I was surprised to find that the aforementioned Malevol the wizard did not make another appearance. I was half expecting Doomed Xycanthus to turn out to be a hunt-the-wizard-and-exact-your-revenge sort of game but instead it turns out to be more a hunt for treasure in the city of the game's title. While this is no bad thing in itself -- the storyline as you wander around the wilderness outside Xycanthus and then subsequently inside the ruined city itself is well written and has impressive depth -- I was anticipating Malevol at every moment. When the game finished and there was no sign of him, I couldn't help feeling a little disappointed. The game reaching a conclusion without any kind of appearance from the evil wizard left me feeling as if matters hadn't been properly resolved. That isn't to say that Doomed Xycanthus is a bad game -- far from it. It has some intricate puzzles -- the one involving the snake and the pool is an interesting one (if a little on the overly-complicated side), as well as the letters which allow you access to the ruined city -- and the locations are often lengthy and detailed. The style of writing is overall very impressive, lending the game an eerie atmosphere, particularly during the times when you wander around the city of Xycanthus itself. One aspect of the game I found frustrating -- and something that, thankfully, seems to be getting rarer and rarer in text adventures these days -- is its zeal to kill the player off for making a single bad move. Sometimes there are warnings about what will happen if you go a certain way but more often than not these warnings are subtle to the point that they will most likely be missed, leaving the poor player to have to reload time and time again. Often, after I'd died and started again, I was able to spot the warnings and avoid them subsequent times but it was still frustrating being killed for doing nothing more than moving in the wrong direction. Maybe this isn't such a bad thing as it encourages you to read the location descriptions more carefully than you might normally do and anyone who just rushes through this game without reading where he/she is going is liable to wind up dead more than a few times. All in all, this is a well above average game that suffers from a little too much guess-the-verb (the puzzle involving the statue is an unusual one that it is doubtful you would manage to guess without the hints) but the standard of writing and the atmospheric location descriptions more then compensate for any shortcomings. From the ending I would have guessed that this was the first part in a series of adventures (hints are given that you're going to set off after Malevol the wizard) but as nothing has come out in the months since then it seems unfortunately not which is a pity because this is the sort of game we see too little of. FTP FileADRIFT .taf file


From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #14 -- May 17, 1998 NAME: Down AUTHOR: Kent Tessman E-MAIL: DATE: 1997 PARSER: Hugo, very strong SUPPORTS: Hugo executables, available in IF Archive AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 1 Kent Tessman's Down deserves credit for one of the most original settings of the competition, and for a plot that's quite compelling. The implementation of Down doesn't live up to the premise, unfortunately, but the idea--setting IF in the midst of a disaster without veering into camp or action-movie yarn--merits another look. The story of Down--mild spoilers here, since it isn't really possible to review this without giving some stuff away--puts you, the protagonist, on a hill near a plane crash with a broken leg and, apparently, amnesia, since presumably you were in the plane at some point and you have no memory of it. Or do you, and the game just doesn't say as much? At any rate, you first see to your leg and then to the crash. Admittedly, several of your actions are not entirely logical, but the game is reasonably enjoyable with disbelief suspended: the writing conveys a degree of urgency, and the plot devices, even if not wildly original, work the way they're supposed to. There are some problems as well, though. While, as noted, you have a sense of limited time, it isn't quite limited enough--there is way more than enough time to do everything needed, and nothing of consequence happens before time runs out to show that you need to hurry things along. The plot is a little murky in parts, most importantly in explaining how you got into this mess, though arguably having to wade through backstory would just slow things down for the player. Similarly, the scene is a tad underdescribed--you're told there are survivors around, but not how many, how badly hurt they are, etc.--and, likewise, while piling on description would have weakened the tension (since a rescuer typically doesn't bother to examine every blade of grass), some more would have been nice to make the setting more vivid. And though most of the illogicalities aren't fatal, the final action seemed unlikely enough that I needed the walkthrough, and another key object was described in a somewhat misleading way. Hugo, for its part, comes off reasonably well, though some of the disambiguation queries were a tad bizarre. The appeal of Down, though, lies less in its technical success than in its good intentions, since it does try hard to do something relatively new for IF. The puzzles are sufficiently integrated into the story that they don't disrupt the plot; there is very little sense that the author decided to slow the story down by throwing in puzzles here and there. There are several nice touches that reinforce the story, moreover, for example the couple you find near the plane--some might see the inclusion as pointless, but it gave the proceedings an element of realism. Your cracked watch at the beginning presages the rest of the game effectively. And despite certain improbabilities in the nature of the ending, it did avoid an easy everything's-fine approach, certainly a welcome detail, and the general suspense level show that a little danger and a time limit go a long way. Even though, as with many suspense-type stories, much of Down is better experiened than thought about, it's a reasonably solid entry that does most of what it sets out to do. As with most of the competition entries, it needs some work--but it's not a bad effort. FTP FileHUGO file (.hex) (updated version) FTP FileDirectory with HUGO file and solution(competition version) FTP FileHUGO source code (.zip)

Downtown Tokyo. Present Day.

From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #17 -- May 10, 1999 NAME: Downtown Tokyo, Present Day AUTHOR: John Kean, writing as Digby McWiggle E-MAIL: keanj SP@G DATE: 1998 PARSER: Inform, altered somewhat SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 1 Perhaps 1998 was the year that authors gave up on text alone and resorted to other means of keeping players involved--Arrival and The Plant used HTML-TADS graphics and sound effects, Photopia used a color scheme, some others (Enlightenment, Muse) used .gif files external to the game. And then there was Downtown Tokyo, Present Day, which featured some dramatic moments rendered in...ASCII art. On the other hand, the drawings fit the tone of the game nicely, which is a cross between spoof of and homage to old B movies, and the whole effect is rather enjoyable. There's one interesting experiment going on that doesn't, unfortunately, work as well as it might: the player inhabits both the protagonist and a movie-theater onlooker, and commands sometimes are directed to the viewer persona rather than the protagonist persona without warning. Part of the reason it doesn't entirely work is that the protagonist's actions are all in the third person--"our hero enjoys a long slurp of soup"--but some of the library responses trickle in now and again. To be sure, it's pretty hard to keep that from happening, but it also doesn't take much of it to break the spell. (On the other hand, it reminded me of the actual experience of being in movie theaters--being absorbed in what's happening on the screen and suddenly having the spell broken, either by a flaw in the film itself or by some distraction in the theater. If that was the intent, it's quite well done.) Then again, I'm not sure there's a better way to keep the viewer and the protagonist distinct, and if they're not distinct, this could turn into a "you're sucked into the movie" game, which wouldn't be a tenth as interesting. It's a flawed experiment, but it's not a bad idea. The plot is minimal, and it's to the game's credit that the whole thing is rather casual about the story--plenty of room for even time-sensitive actions, and the story essentially stops in the middle so that you can wander around and have fun. This is the sort of thing I'd disapprove in most IF but which works just fine here, since B-movies don't exactly set a high realism standard and it's so much fun to play with the toys you're given. Indeed, this middle section (if you can call it that in such a tiny game) is the best thing about Downtown Tokyo; the beginning and end come off more as quotations, homages, than as parodies, and the parody is much more fun. The author provides for plenty of silly actions, logical and not. Still, even if you're inclined to try those silly things, this won't detain you for more than 10 or 15 minutes, and there isn't much reason to come back to it. Adding to the fun is the satire: the author claims never to have seen a monster movie, but he has a good feel for Hollywood cliches anyway. At the end, for example, when the hero and heroine are together, we learn that "their clothes are alluringly torn," pointing to the way films like to fuse danger and sex. Likewise, when people fall, they fall in slow motion, so that you have plenty of time to react. The only real problem with Downtown Tokyo is that it doesn't work particularly well as a game. At the outset, for instance, you can do essentially nothing for about 20 turns; so determined is the author to make fun of the plot contrivances that he doesn't let you interfere with them, logic be damned. The controls in the helicopter you end up flying around are rather nonintuitive--at least, the initial hurdle to overcome is a little strange. It's also distinctly possible to get lost in the city--the unimportant locations don't loop back, so you can wander very far away from the relevant scene. It wouldn't have broken too much with logic to keep the player from wandering away ("You can't leave now. Your reputation as a hero as at stake."). As it is, the game provides some cute satirical moments but not much more. There isn't a lot to Downtown Tokyo, Present Day, but what's there is pretty funny; the author manages to spoof old monster movies in a variety of ways. This was intended for the chicken- comp, and it would have been among the better entries had it been entered. As it was, in the real competition, I gave it a 6. From: Paul O'Brian <obrian SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #17 -- May 10, 1999 Another very short (TextFire-length) game, Tokyo was originally intended for submission to Adam Cadre's Chicken-Comp, but the author didn't finish it in time. All the better for us, because the game is funny and entertaining, and still finds a little time to be innovative as well. With a game this short, it's hard not to give away plot spoilers in any extended discussion, but I'll try to be as discreet as I can. I'll only say as much as this: Tokyo is a very funny spoof on a beloved Japanese film genre (and it's not martial arts movies), one which often features the city of Tokyo (or the rubble thereof) as a setting. Considering this was originally intended to be a Chicken-Comp game, you can probably imagine how it works. There are several reasons why Tokyo is fun, not the least of which is the writing. Random description "events", while having no effect on the main storyline, give the chaotic scenes an antic charm, and the depictions of movie cliches should bring a knowing smile to the face of any film buff. One interesting experiment in Tokyo is its use of a split PC. In other words, the player actually controls the actions of two characters, both a rather anonymous individual watching a movie and the hero of that movie. This is an imaginative idea, and it sometimes works very well. At its best, Tokyo evokes the kind of split consciousness that actually happens while watching a movie. We are present, in the theater, there with the plush seats, the popcorn, and the people around us. But once we become immersed in the movie, we are inside of it as well. We forget about the theater and become part of the story, at least until the baby behind us starts crying, or the teenagers in the front make a wisecrack. However, the game is not always at its best. The split focus creates some confusion as to how commands will be interpreted -- you can never be sure whether your command will be executed by the viewer or the hero. This generally doesn't cause a problem, but it might have worked better if the transitions were smooth and complete, and the only interruptions happened outside of the player's control. In addition, the standard library has been mostly unmodified, so that its messages remain mostly in the second person voice. When that's the voice of the entire game, this is not a problem, but Tokyo asks second person POV to take on the special duty of signaling that the viewer, rather than the hero, is reacting. Consequently, messages like "You can't see any such thing" (rather than "Our hero can't see any such thing") can create a little confusion. Finally, I can't review Tokyo without mentioning its graphics. No, it's not a z6 game, but Tokyo has some surprises up its sleeve. Finding them provides some of the funniest moments of the game. Tokyo does a great many things well, and is one of the better short-short games I've played. Again, it's a bit disappointing when a game this enjoyable ends so soon -- I think this concept had quite a bit more mileage in it than was used by the author. Still, I enjoyed it while it lasted -- it won't entertain you as long as the average summer blockbuster movie, but it will probably entertain you more. Rating: 7.9 FTP FileInform file (.z5)
Dracula: The First Night From: David Wanaselja (wanaselja SP@G Review appeared in SPAG #44 -- April 30, 2006 TITLE: Dracula Part I: The First Night AUTHOR: El Clerigo Urbatain EMAIL: urbatain SP@G DATE: September 5, 2005 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Glulx interpreters AVAILABILITY: freeware; IF Archive URL: VERSION: Release 6 Occasionally I get the urge to play some gothic horror game, featuring vampires, werewolves, and all the other sorts of unnamed horrors that lurk below the surface of the night. Thankfully, Interactive Fiction has its fair share of this genre, some excellent, some average, and some just plain awful. While Dracula Part I: The First Night falls between the average and just plain awful categories, it does have some redeeming qualities that make it worth playing for the 10 minutes it takes to complete. Dracula Part I: The First Night is a remake of the Rod Pike game Dracula, released in 1986 on the Commodore 64. Actually, it's a remake of the first part of Rod Pike's Dracula game. The authors have promised the second and third parts are forthcoming, and I can't imagine what is taking them so long, as this first part literally takes less than 45 minutes to see all it has to offer. [As of this publication, the second part of the trilogy -- Dracula: The Arrival -- has just been released. --ed.] Throw in the fact that it is a near identical game to the original, and I'm left wondering why they didn't just remake Pike's original trilogy in full. The text is ripped directly from the original, and although the graphics have been redone, almost everything else is the same, aside from some minor additions. The differences are few, but using the Inform parser is by far the greatest improvement. The original was clunky and hard to manipulate, but this version is far easier to handle by comparison. The story is of John Harker, who is on his way to meet his "client," no doubt Dracula. Harker has arrived at the Golden Krone Hotel in the Carpathian mountains for a brief respite before continuing his journey. It is told from the first person perspective, with the parser constantly demanding the player "tell me what to do." This first person narrative is fairly entertaining, but is punctuated by far too many exclamations and instances of bad grammar and a few misspelled words. Seems understandable when you realize that the first language of the author is Spanish, but unforgivable when you think about the fact that the text is nearly identical to the 1986 version. The main puzzles hinge on what you have to eat and drink for dinner. Some are more difficult to manage than the others, but all are fairly simplistic. There are some interesting graphics that pop on screen for these interludes, probably the most improved aspect from the original aside from the parser. Depending on the puzzle and how you die (if you fail) you get a different picture. They also threw in some familiar music to add ambience at this point, so turn up those speakers. By far the most annoying part of the game is the fact that it makes assumptions about what the player knows. Have you examined everything before you've tried a particular course of action? If not, you may find yourself in a bind at one point or another, which will lead to your death or failing to complete the game. It's not a big loss, as you'll always be able to "undo" your last move or just play through again since it's so short. However, it is a tad annoying. Overall, Dracula Part I: The First Night suffers greatly from its short length and questionable prose. If the game was less remake and more makeover, it would work far better and be a much more successful game. The fact that parts 2 and 3 are not yet available (excepting the Commodore 64 originals) also puts a damper on the enjoyability of this title. As it stands right now, Dracula: The First Night is a below average game that offers almost no real reasons to play through it, aside from the pretty graphics, and the fact that you can finish it while waiting for your wife to get out of the bathroom. Once parts 2 and 3 become available, it will be well worth it. Until then, it feels like a text adventure from 1986 that needs to be reworked badly. From: Mike Tulloch (Poster SP@G Review appeared in SPAG #44 -- April 30, 2006 To be fair from the onset, Dracula the First Night (DTFN) is a remake and a translation of an older game, and the initial splash screen captures well the spirit of the old EGA graphics while conveying a hint of mystery. Still, this screen reads, "Remaked by..." and unfortunately, that signifies what lies in store. Immediately you're given the option of choosing maroon text on black or gold text on blue. (Ugh.) The EMPHASIZED WORDS IN ALL CAPS grate the nerves as does the chat-like sentence construction...a bunch of short phrases and half- sentences...arranged like this. Spelling errors are legion; the writing tone is utterly bombastic and overwrought; exclamation marks deluge the player! Yes, this is the familiar topography of the Penny Dreadful and the 1950's B-movie. Was this what the author wanted to achieve? I suspect so. Most of the puzzles are simple and appropriate, except for one. It's a timed puzzle that you'd never know was timed until you lost the game. To solve it, you have to do something non-obvious a priori. (Argh.) Some puzzles involve rather improbable scenarios, such as waking up carrying everything that you were holding before you went to sleep. This detracts from the atmosphere but then again, that may have been an intentional nod to, or spoof of the horror genre. As for mechanics, the parser seemed lacking. Examining anything but an object with an Examine routine returns the result for the coded object. There are a few doors, but you can't knock on them because the parser doesn't recognize that word. The same goes for answer, table, and many others. However, because the puzzles are simple, you don't have to play "guess the verb" very often. DTFN does exploit other features of Glulx, such as full-window graphics and music. These graphics are presented after long sections of text as a way of visually enhancing the effect. The last graphic presents a well done panorama of your destination. The music consists of a simple synth organ which begins when a graphic appears and pauses only when a new graphic appears. (Ow.) Though well- played, the classical MIDI melody oozes cliche`s. The verdict? I salute the author for creating a game in Glulx. I've tried and found the going awfully rough. The game includes random elements that make each time through slightly different but not overly so. That's creative. And the graphics, though sparse, do effectively enhance the atmosphere. The plot works well for a game of this length -- fifty turns once you know the way. However, the parser, the writing, the grammar, and the colors prove very trying. If you are expecting a modern Glulx game, I'm afraid that DTFN isn't it. The author isn't a native English speaker but he deserves some credit for his work; that's why I give this game a solid 3. If you're a fan of the old-school EGA games and/or IF with graphic touches, of course, you might enjoy Dracula: The First Night much more. An hour or so of retro diversion awaits you. Zip file containing English version of Glulx game file and associated resources Zip file containing Spanish version of Glulx game file and associated resources

Dragon Resources Stories

From: Francesco Bova <fbova SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #22 -- September 15, 2000 NAME: Dragon Resources Stories AUTHOR: Peter Berman EMAIL: pbmath SP@G DATE: 2000 PARSER: TADS SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: included in the zipped archive at VERSION: 1.2 Did you know that an interviewer makes something like ten judgments about you in the first five seconds of an interview? It's probably not surprising to find that interviewers make judgments on lots of potentially obvious things like your age, cultural background and gender. What is surprising, is that they also make judgments on things like your morals and the income that you made in your previous job. These assumptions can often lead to one of two things happening (unless you find an extraordinarily objective interviewer): a halo effect or a halo error. A halo effect happens when you've made a favorable impression on an interviewer and he grades your answers in a more positive light. A halo error is just the opposite and occurs when a poor impression is made and those same answers are graded on a harsher scale. Suffice it to say that impressing an employer during an interview has far less to do with your knowledge than it does with your personal presentation style, charisma, and luck (no one wants to be interviewed, let's say, by a person who's wife left him that morning). As a result, interviews are one of the worst indicators of future job performance. Interestingly enough, interviews don't make for particularly riveting interactive fiction either. Dragon Resources Stories (DRS) is a spoof on the last place finisher of the 1998 comp Human Resources Stories (HRS), which was essentially a multiple choice style interview that gave you a grading and salary scale based on the answers you chose. As interactive fiction, HRS rated poorly, and that's to be expected. As a simulation of an interview however, it also rated poorly, because we never get to see any of the reactions from the interviewer. Interviews are all about two-way communication and it's just as important for an interviewee to be knowledgeable and well prepared as it is for her to be astute enough to read the interviewer's verbal and non-verbal signals, and adjust her own communication style accordingly. DRS takes HRS one step further with a very active interviewer that gives you some verbal and non-verbal feedback after each of your answers, thereby letting you know if you're on the right track or not. To make the premise even more interesting, you're an aging dragon looking for work. The interview contains some direct competency based questions such as: "So, as a dragon, do you use GOTO?" Some behavioral questions: "You're about to eat a virgin when it begs for mercy, promising aid from a powerful family member. What do you do?" And some nonsensical ones: "Do you think this feather in my helmet makes me look less threatening?" The interviewer's responses to your answers, although often exaggerated to implausible extremes, illustrate just how important it is to create that halo effect. There's everything, from some subtle non-verbal feedback like the interviewer perking up "slightly but perceptibly", to full blown rambles about how your answers remind him of how much he loves his daughter, to the interviewer criticizing you for contradicting something in your resume. The astute interviewee will pick up quickly on the interviewer's preferences after playing once or twice and should be able to achieve an optimal score (an A-rating on both the leadership and technical scale). DRS doesn't finish with the interview, however. It smartly takes the job screening process one step further for those interviewees lucky enough to make that good first impression. Your final challenge is a practical test of sorts (incidentally, practical tests are very good indicators of future job performance), where you have a finite amount of time to save yourself and the mountain you stand on from destruction. It's a puzzle that makes you follow through on one of your answers from the interview and screams out, "Leave your glossy smile, cheap bravado, and inflated ego at the door. Let's see what you can do, when it really counts!" The game at this point breaks away from the multiple choice, decision tree-style nature of the game and let's the player try a whole host of dragon-related things to save himself. There are a few possible endings depending on your actions and each one is implemented well. Another little bonus in the game is a homage of sorts to the brilliance behind HRS and the whole decision-tree style of communicating in IF. It's funny, maybe a little too congratulatory, but in the end correctly states that, "HRS is no Photopia". Other than that, the dialogue is witty and entertaining and particularly funny for anyone who's been on an interview or ever given one. This game is a fun 5-minute romp for most of us, and a must play for any career strategists out there. FTP FileZipped file of all Dragon-comp games


From: Francesco Bova <fbova SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #22 -- September 15, 2000 NAME: Dragonlord AUTHOR: Mark Silcox, et al. EMAIL: marksilcox SP@G DATE: 2000 PARSER: Home-brewed, Windows-based SUPPORTS: Win 95/98/NT AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: Version: 3.8 Dragonlord is a new point-and-click type game from the creators of a company called 4830 Games that uses their Win 95/98/NT executable homegrown text adventure engine as an interface. Let me just start off by saying that I think it's very commendable when an author (or in this case a team of programmers) tries to not only write a story on his/her own, but also create their own text-adventure interface. It's one thing to be able to say something interesting when you already know how to speak the language, but it's another thing entirely when you have to create the language first before you can speak. Unfortunately, as with most home-brewed-parser-type games, the results are mixed, and understandably so; it's very difficult to produce a gaming language as polished as Inform or Tads (considering both game engines have been in development for years) on your first try, and that will always reflect on the overall quality of the game, regardless of how good or bad the writing, puzzles, storyline, etc. are. Dragonlord, with its structured style, reminded me a lot of the Fighting Fantasy choose-your-own-adventure-style books by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingston in that you have a description of your situation followed by one or two alternative paths you can follow. So, not surprisingly, it rates very high in terms of its story but very low on interactivity. In most cases there are only one or two options you can pursue, and on many occasions there are the dreaded <<Click here to continue>> transitional options which the author uses to break up longer paragraphs. Here is a typical example of the game's structured style: Some militaristic interior decorator really went nuts in this area. Endless numbers of weapons, indecipherable coats of arms and a great big suit of armor standing over in the far corner. The suit of armor seems to be clutching a pretty huge, sharp-looking battleaxe. You've never used one of these babies before, but you can't help but feel that it might come in handy. CLICKABLE OPTIONS: Get axe? Head back outside? I can think of a few other things I might like to do in this situation including examining the axe, putting on the armor, and trying to decipher the coat of arms, but such is the nature of a point-and-click interface. You just don't have much in the way of player freedom. Although it's fairly obvious that Dragonlord is very structured in its layout, it was interesting to find that it wasn't as linear as I had initially thought. The author allows the player to revisit certain sections of the game so that missing a special item or important piece of information the first time around doesn't mean you've rendered the game unwinnable. It was also surprising to see that there were alternate solutions to different puzzles that were put together quite creatively. The game features a role playing, hit point-style system where you lose hit points every time you're injured (although damage is based on the paths you choose and not random injuries that occur throughout the course of battle), and a button you can press that lists your inventory items (although you have no ability to manipulate those items once you get to the screen). There is also a quit button you can press that brings you to an intro screen, which allows you to restart, load, and save games. OK. I've talked enough about the game's engine and interface so let's move onto Dragonlord as a literary and playing experience. Well to start off, the plot is pretty much standard adventure fare. You're the chosen champion who has to defeat the fearsome dragon and while on your way to the dragon's cave, you must also conquer some obligatory, unrelated-to-the-ultimate-goal-type hurdles. Unfortunately, this particular storyline isn't very novel. We all know that the dragon genre has been beaten to death around here so trying to do something different with it is much more difficult than it would be with other storylines that haven't had as much exposure. The "surprise" ending is well telegraphed in advance so the ending isn't really the shocker that the author may have intended it to be. The writing isn't world class (although some of the characters like the contemporary dragon and the troll have their comical moments), but a plus was that there were few grammatical and spelling mistakes when I played through it. There are also a few little rough spots here and there with game logic and ideas that could have been implemented better. For example, the PC isn't able to read, but plaques, signs, etc. are written in almost plain English (almost plain, meaning an extra vowel added here, or a missing consonant there) so what ends up happening is that the player can understand the message and act on it, even though the protagonist technically shouldn't be able to. There are a few instances where there is death or injury without warning (i.e., entering a relative's home -- which I as a player would have assumed was a safe haven -- resulting in your relative throwing you out and a loss of hit points because of a previous argument that the player has no idea about), and furthermore a few instances that were completely counterintuitive (i.e., approaching characters you assume are friendly and then getting attacked or moving in directions that sound dangerous and finding out differently). In fact, it almost got to the point that when I felt something was counterintuitive it probably was the correct thing to do, and I was usually right. Although Dragonlord's plot isn't necessarily novel (as I've mentioned, it doesn't really broaden the scope of the fantasy/dragon genre), I still think it's an excellent piece to get beginners started on. Whenever I've tried to introduce friends to interactive fiction, they always seem to get hung up on the parser and its limited vocabulary. So, lately I've been trying to find good story driven games to start people off on like Photopia and A Moment of Hope. These games require very little guess-the-verb and fairly simple commands to achieve a result. Although maybe not as good as the two aforementioned games, I would definitely include Dragonlord as a game I would recommend for beginners (especially younger ones, as Dragonlord's theme and storyline aren't especially deep) as a way to get them used to playing something text-based. Overall, Dragonlord is a pretty good first attempt and like I mentioned earlier, I'm always impressed when someone creates a text adventure game with their own text game engine. There is an upcoming sequel that has been promised and I'm looking forward to seeing what game design and game engine improvements Mr. Silcox and his team have in store.


From: David Jones <drj SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #46 -- October 17, 2006 Title: Dreadwine Author: Eric Eve E-mail: eric.eve SP@G Date: July 23, 2006 Parser: Inform 7 Supports: Z-code Availability: if-archive URL: Version: Release 1 / Serial number 060723 / Inform 7 build 3T38 (I6/v6.31 lib 6/10N) Dreadwine was the only entry in the first MC Dream mini-comp. David Cornelson, who organised the mini-comp, says "the premise of this mini-competition is to write a game that represents one of your most vivid dreams. The intent is to convey the emotion you felt that made the dream so remarkable.". Should Dreadwine be judged as a game or as a conveyor of the author's emotions? As a game it provides little of interest, few interesting interactions and a solution that is arbitrary and unsatisfying. As a vector for emotion it fares rather better. The central premise is that you have to escape the town in order to escape the rather unpleasant fate that appears to inevitably befall the town's occupants. Naturally your PC won't let you escape without also rescuing a key NPC. The dream, which is context that the player is aware of but not the PC, and the principal NPC, who is familiar to the PC (apparently) but not the player, are both used as devices to restrict movements, actions, and descriptions. That the dream provides an explanation for the abstraction and the surreal juxtapositions is nice, but more than that it's very nice that the author manages to turn this round and use the abstraction and the situations to reinforce the fact that one is playing in a dream. In a way the dream provides a solution to the problem of how to restrict what the PC can do. You're playing a dream, why should you be able to do everything that you can do in the real world? Many objects that would demand a more detailed description in another game have abbreviated descriptions appropriate to the dream setting: "There are other buildings round about, of course, but you are only vaguely aware of them". The restrictions imposed by the key NPC interfere with the gameplay more, but they reinforce the characters of both the PC and the key NPC and are therefore crucial in supporting the game's emotional content. An example that draws on both the dream and the key NPC: "No, you don’t want to go west, for you sense that it leads only to darkness and despair. [KEY NPC's NAME] tugs at your sleeve, urging you to turn round and go some other way.". Now, in terms of gameplay this is the just the "you can't do that because I haven't implemented the entire universe" response, but the immersive spell remains unbroken by the way the author has married the reponse to the situation. The town has a drab sullen atmosphere suffused with a sense of forboding. The author writes very well and manages to create his dream with economical English that is interesting and evocative. I feel like I shouldn't have to say this is a review, but the author's writing is error free. The author, in ABOUT, mentions "one literary influence that will be immediately apparent to a great many players", well, it wasn't apparent to me, maybe I'm just less well read than most game players. In what to me was a bit of flashback to playing City of Secrets, the town is "populated" with randomly generated NPCs that pop up in the various street location from time to time. Here, as in CoS, it does a good job of providing a bit of background colour. This isn't a very big game (half an hour of play would typically be enough), and there doesn't appear to be much to do. I found it a bit of a frustrating experience struggling to find what little there is to do, because it's never entirely clear when you exhausted a line of investigation. What is implemented is implemented well. I reached two endings, one is obviously unsatisfying, but the other doesn't leave me very satisified either. Whilst wondering if there are more endings I rediscover the ABOUT text which proclaims that there are two endings. With the hindsight of having found them both it's now clear that the ABOUT text also more or less tells you how to finish the game. You seem to get an extra 10 minutes in bed in one of the endings, so that must be a good thing. Given that there appears to be little to do it would be nice if more verbs were implemented. If only because frustrated players, like me, are likely to try lots of things. I think Dreadwine is well worth dipping into just for the emotional content. I was left wanting more, partly because the endings have no real resolution and partly because Dreadwine make it clear that the author could do it so well. In many ways I think Dreadwine could quite plausibly form the introductory chapter of a much larger game, in that sense I was reminded of the opening of Trinity. Zip file containing blorbed Z-code game

The Dreamhold

From: Paul Lee <bainespal SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #41 -- July 15, 2005 TITLE: The Dreamhold AUTHOR: Andrew Plotkin EMAIL: erkyrath SP@G DATE: December 2004 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF Archive URL: VERSION: Release 5 The Dreamhold, in my opinion, strikes the mark of a well-done adventure game. This game is written with people new to the lore of interactive fiction in mind; in fact, there is a "Tutorial Voice" narrator that guides you through your endeavors, helping you with the basic concepts of IF. One thing that distinguishes this game is that all aspects of this game -- not just the ever-helpful Voice -- seem to be written to encourage and bring satisfaction to the player. Rather like a parent, this game guides and directs you. It is not that you are not allowed to fail, but when you make a mistake, you are gently admonished, then shown the right way around an obstacle. As I am fairly new to IF, I found this game both insightful and refreshing. Although I already knew how to travel and manipulate objects with commands, I was delighted to glimpse the sage and kind mind of an interactive-fiction master and the art to which I am an infant. From my perspective, the story is the weakest point of "The Dreamhold." That is saying much, for it really is not that bad. At the start of the game, the motives for the player character are escape, exploration, and self-discovery. As the game moves forward, the plot becomes much more interesting. Still, the game does not explain its story as it presents it to the player, and I was incapable of figuring it out. I knew there was meaning there, yet at best I could put together a few pieces of background, which would seem unrelated to each other if it were not for a common detail or two, the significance of which I could only muse at. I was especially confused at the ending -- it was definitely an attempt to tie everything together, but for me it just confused and muddled the little bit that I thought I had worked out. Still, the story was not a complete failure -- the scenes of background were so nicely integrated with the puzzles as to keep me interested in both the narrative and the crossword. While irritating, it was fun to try to figure out the meaning of the scenes and the history of the player character. Also, my difficulties with the story may have been personal; perhaps other people would find it all to make perfect sense. Maybe the game was not even written to have a clear meaning at all, in which case with story as with puzzles "The Dreamhold" succeeded in its goals. More than making up for the story are the puzzles. Solving the puzzles is pleasantly rewarding, and new areas to explore and more story to unfold come as results of your efforts. The game never forgets about its striving player -- all the puzzles are fair and to my knowledge cannot be made unwinnable. Most are probably easier from the norm, but figuring out how objects work can sometimes be a bit complicated, although never frustratingly so. In addition to the Tutorial Voice, which sometimes offers help, the game offers a thorough hint system that will not at first spoil the puzzle you are working on, if it tarnishes the joy of solving it just a bit. The whole makes "The Dreamhold" very enjoyable. In fact, I, being introduced to IF after it had taken a turn toward narrative, was shown by this game the value and excitement of good puzzles. The mechanics of the game were excellent to the high standard as a tutorial that the game sets initially for itself. I do not try every possible action or close every door behind me just for the sake of ensuring that it works properly, but I found no bugs in the game. It is especially mandatory for this game to be bug-free because of its status as beginner's IF; it was created in such a way that it could actually be someone's very first game, so imagine the confusion on the part of the poor newbie when something did not work as explained. Not only is the game without bugs, but also I recall running into no grammatical errors. For even those folks who have their playtime experience ruined by minor slips of grammar, "The Dreamhold" will likely immerse you in its perfect prose. As a game in general, "The Dreamhold" raises the bar high, not just as a tutorial. It builds up the player's trust by never failing to live up to its high standards, and the result is great. You become the game's friend and feel it encouraging you in your difficulties and delighting with you in your triumphs. At any rate, for beginners and advanced players alike, I recommend anyone the awesome glow of satisfaction that comes from "The Dreamhold." FTP FileZcode .z8 file

Dungeon Adventure

From: Inigo Surguy <phunc SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #4 -- March 2, 1995 NAME: Dungeon Adventure PARSER: Below Infocom Standard AUTHOR: Level 9 PLOT: Collect the treasure EMAIL: ??? ATMOSPHERE: Good AVAILABILITY: See review WRITING: Good PUZZLES: Good SUPPORTS: PC (+Spectrum,BBC,etc) CHARACTERS: Good, but limited DIFFICULTY: Medium Inspired by the history of Level 9 in SPAG 3, I got out my old BBC B (8 bit British computer, ancestor of the Archimedes and RISC PC), and loaded Dungeon Adventure. This is a fantasy adventure, set in a similar universe to the original Adventure, where you play the typical greedy adventurer in search of treasure. This time, you are looting a demon lord's tower (after the demon's destruction in Adventure Quest). At the beginning there are a few unfair puzzles, such as the example quoted in the Inform manual of carved lions above a doorway, in front of a pit ("pride comes before a fall"), but the quality of the puzzles throughout the rest of the game is excellent. The game is large enough to occupy anyone for some time. Although the characters are not as advanced as those in the better Infocom games (Witness, Suspect, etc), they are interesting and numerous, including an argumentative sword, a helpful dwarf, two giants, an unhappy will-o'-the-wisp and an army of orcs. I would recommend this game to anyone with a Spectrum emulator (or even a Spectrum :), and plenty of time. This game was originally available for the 8-bit British computers of the eighties, such as the BBC and the Spectrum. According to SPAG 3, it is now available for ftp from in the directory /pub/zx/snapshots/a/ with filename for the graphical version and for the plain text. A PC emulator for the Spectrum is in the directory /pub/zx/snapshots/z/ and called (Please don't email me about these; I've only used the BBC version and I haven't tried the emulator). FTP FileSolution (Text)

The Dungeon of Dunjin

From: Molley the Mage <mollems SP@G WKUVX1.WKU.EDU> Review appeared in
SPAG #3 -- October 26, 1994 NAME: The Dungeon of Dunjin PARSER: Infocom-Like AUTHOR: Magnus Olsson PLOT: Non-Linear (Treasures) EMAIL: mol SP@G ATMOSPHERE: Fantasy AVAILABILITY: IF Archive WRITING: Quite Good PUZZLES: Mostly Good SUPPORTS: IBM, MAC CHARACTERS: Few, Simple DIFFICULTY: Above-Average The Dungeon of Dunjin is a shareware game which has been available for several years. It was written by a Swedish national, Magnus Olsson, but the game is in English (although you'd never know it wasn't written by an American, to tell you the truth). The original game was written using Turbo Pascal; it has also been ported to the Macintosh, where it sports a rather spiffy user interface. The parser is about as good as the older Infocom games, not allowing for any complicated structures but sufficient to get the job done with a minimum of "guess the word" problems. The "hook" of the game is simple enough. You're a tourist of sorts, here to visit the famous Dungeon of Dunjin, a series of caverns and adventurous areas known far and wide. Unfortunately for you, the Dungeon is closed for renovation (and due to a few nagging problems with visitor safety). Of course, like any good adventurer, you won't let this daunt you -- especially with all the treasures to be had once you get inside. Collection of these treasures is the primary way you will score "points" in the game; however, I would venture to say that the plot of the game is only incidentally related to the collection of these items. In fact, you will do much more than run around gathering up trinkets; if you are brave and careful, you'll save a princess from an evil wizard's spell and slay a terrible dragon, among other things. In truth, the final scene of the game, where you present your treasures for counting (in a very Adventure-like fashion), is really an anticlimax; but don't worry, because the other plot points have enough text to satisfy and the writing is very solid throughout. The first few puzzles are very easy, a deliberate decision on the author's part so that players can experience quick success which hopefully will give them enough of a sense of accomplishment not to quit in frustration when they hit the harder puzzles later on, and I think it is a very good idea, one which other games should emulate. The game boasts an impressive on-line hint facility, which is context-sensitive; it tries to give you the hint you need, based on your current situation, and is largely successful. The hints are only provided up to a certain point in the story, however, after which you're on your own. One problem with the game is that it features not one, but several mazes (although only one of them is strictly required to finish the game). Luckily, they are small mazes, and easily mapped; but many players will still cringe in horror at the repetition. At the time of this writing, the author is working on a new version which will feature a way to bypass the mazes without tedium or severe penalty, as well as increasing the strength of the parser to include more conversation with NPCs. The game as a whole is very enjoyable. You'll quickly discover that the "Dungeon" is not merely a series of dank chambers beneath the surface, but rather a very large and vast world containing everything from dragons to dwarves and even computer hackers (I hope you can handle it). One very interesting idea in the game is that magic works within the "fantastic" regions, inside the dungeon, but not in the "mundane" regions, and objects behave accordingly depending on where you are. The writing is good, and there is a fair amount of humor in the game -- some of it, especially the part involving ABBA, is not to be missed. Upon finishing the game, I was very satisfied, because it is challenging. Although I say the plot is "non-linear" because you are able to solve many of the puzzles in no particular order, the truth is that once you discover the true plot of the game, certain actions will be imposed on you and it is possible to get into a bind where you are trapped with no recourse but to restore a saved game. This is unlikely, however, and should not happen unless you are playing through the game a second time and really get ahead of yourself. A possible point of contention for some people might be the registration fee -- $20, which is generally considered "a lot" for a shareware text adventure game. I would say that it's worth the money, as long as you don't run screaming in terror from mazes. Give it a look and see for yourself; I think you'll find The Dungeon of Dunjin an enjoyable experience. From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #14 -- May 17, 1998 The documentation for Magnus Olsson's Dungeons of Dunjin candidly admits it isn't up to the Infocom standard of quality, and it's right, as far as that goes--it's not. But, to judge it fairly, it was written at a time--1992--before any free-or shareware games had come close to that standard; moreover, it was written in Pascal, and the parser was put together from the ground up, as it were. And when judged in its proper context, it's quite a solid game, with some clever puzzles and some humor to help the proceedings along. The plot, oddly, is perhaps the weakest part; authorship system limitations don't limit a game's story as such, and yet Dunjin feels like it doesn't know what it wants to be. You're set down outside a cave and sent off to explore without much of a sense of what you're doing--the documentation doesn't provide much guidance--other than a sign nearby advising that you're to bring treasures to the Adventure Office. Shades, naturally, of Colossal Cave, but that game was content to be a treasure hunt. This one tries to throw in another plot; trouble is, you don't really know what it is (though you get a few hints) until more than two-thirds of the way through, and it hardly makes sense of what's come before. For example, one key object is hidden in a place where no one could get to it without some fairly drastic measures--who put it there? where was it before? Similarly, you accumulate clues about a certain crystal you have to use long before you have any idea what the crystal is, or why you would need it; that comes at the end of the game. The scoring system makes the extra plot central and the treasures extraneous--the treasures are bonus points at the end of the game, essentially--but it's hard to say that you pursue any particular goal through the bulk of the game. Disregarding that flaw, though--and it's hardly unique to this game--Dunjin does manage to be quite entertaining. There are several very clever puzzles that involve magic, and others that involve defeating magic in novel ways. One distract-the-guardian puzzle recalls Trinity, and the premise is much funnier (and appropriate for the author's Swedish origins). There and at other times, the author sends up the adventure-quest genre in entertaining ways--notably, in your interactions with a genie, in figuring out a certain "magic word," and in your discovery of old beer cans in an unlikely place. The conflation of locales that was occasionally distracting in Colossal Cave works better here because it's in the interests of humor: that a crucial bit of information is written on a candy wrapper, and that a key clue involves a Beatles song, provides an element of silliness that feels just right, somehow. In that the plot, when you discover it, is fairly standard save-the-princess and get-the-fabled-object stuff, Dunjin feels more like a conventional treasure-hunt than a parody as a whole, but there are more than enough funny or offbeat moments to keep the player involved. (My personal favorite--when you've disposed of a guard dog, the game chimes in to let you know that the dog didn't actually suffer a nasty fate. A sort of "no animals were harmed" touch.) It would take some remarkable writing to make Dunjin feel like a truly coherent game environment, with computer labs and dragons and conventional houses and dwarves' mines virtually side by side, and accordingly Dunjin's writing is best described as competent; virtually all locations have a few compact sentences conveying the scene. (The computer lab, with a full screen of text, is the exception--one wonders whether it was modeled on something in the author's own experience, given the excess of detail.) There are mini-settings that are well done--a coal mine in particular, and some scenes, such as your view of a valley, are arrestingly described--though others, such as a series of tunnels, could stand some more detail. A big sprawling treasure-hunt like this should convey the relevant details as clearly as possible, though, rather than striving for atmosphere at every turn, and Dunjin does that quite well at virtually every turn. Getting through Dunjin is a project. There are many distinct areas of the game to discover, each with at least 15 rooms to discover and make sense of, and often solutions involve objects found in obscure places, far away from the relevant puzzle. The end in particular requires either lots of foresight about the proper objects or some major traipsing around--there are some shortcuts provided, but one of them closes off at a certain moment. None of the puzzles are extraordinarily hard, and none that I recall require knowledge obtained by death, but the sheer size and scope of the game make everything feel a little daunting. Dunjin does strike a nice balance between linearity and breadth--the various sections of the game that you discover give you enough of a choice that you have several different puzzles to work on, but they're not quite big enough to make the whole thing feel aimless. But there are a few slightly unfair moments as well where the game closes off with little warning; saving often is vital. (And, of course, there are mazes--four, by my count, none huge but three big enough to require mapping with objects.) All of the puzzles are logical, though; none bend the rules of the universe, even the fantasy universe, too much, and the small illogicalities here and there (a gate that you can close and then walk through, a key hidden in a somewhat absurd place) don't detract much from the game. As noted, the game was written in Pascal, and the system performs admirably. There are a few disambiguation problems--the game has a few too many books and pieces of paper, and getting them all in one place is occasionally not a good idea--but very few and none fatal to interacting with an object. The 1998 player may miss "undo" and such, and there was no "script" command that I could find, but the parser does handle a fairly wide variety of verbs and recognize pronouns as well. (Wow.) There are some complicated code tasks--timed and landscape-changing events--that go off without a hitch, and the few moments that require exact syntax weren't sufficiently clumsy to slow me down for long. Though it's nothing special, I appreciated the game not kicking me right out to the DOS prompt when I died or otherwise ended the game--it's the sort of user-friendly thing (especially in Windows) that can make a difference in overall enjoyment. The only real problem I encountered is that the rooms don't have names as such, and traveling through them a second time yields "You're in corridor" and such, often not sufficiently descriptive to remind me of where I was (particularly in a game this size); I had to switch the thing into VERBOSE to make sense of the game environment. But that's hardly a major drawback, and when compared to its AGT contemporaries, the gameplay in Dunjin holds up quite well. On the whole, then, this is a diverting (and lengthy) romp through a rather diverse dungeon; it deals a bit too heavily in fantasy conventions, particularly toward the end, to appeal to the player who genuinely dislikes fantasy, but for those who enjoy the genre and like seeing it sent up in some fairly clever ways, Dunjin is worth checking out. FTP FileMAC BinHex (.cpt.hqx) FTP FilePC Executable (.zip) FTP FileHints (Text) FTP FileStepwise solution (Text)

Dutch Dapper IV: The Final Voyage

From: Emily Short <emshort SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #34 -- September 24, 2003 TITLE: Dutch Dapper IV: The Final Voyage AUTHOR: Harry Hol EMAIL: bibberfrob SP@G DATE: 2002 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-code (Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: VERSION: Release 11 I never finished either of the Douglas Adams Infocom games, because the same zany humor that made the text so much fun also meant that the puzzles were more or less incomprehensible to me. If you leave out the complete disconnection between cause and effect, though, the Douglas Adams approach lends itself nicely to IF: many of the best bits of Hitchhikers' Guide are descriptions of some strange culture, practice, or creature. IF's emphasis on setting means that there's plenty of room in the average game for amusing satirical descriptions, without it even feeling like a digression. Harry Hol's "Dutch Dapper IV" takes this idea and runs with it. You're hero of sorts, though how and why you got into the business was never entirely explained; you just woke up one morning and found yourself with a mysterious transporter machine. It proceeds along those general lines. Hol's humor isn't as sharp as Adams', so inviting the comparison is possibly dangerous; in particular, some of the things he chooses to satirize are all-too-easy targets, like the fast food restaurant. It doesn't take great originality to mock McDonalds and its ilk. All the same, there were lines that made me smile. And the game has a generally light-hearted tone, doesn't take itself too seriously, and gives the impression that the author was having a good time. It's hard for me to really dislike a game like that. In fact, I'd say the generally good-natured approach made the game more fun to inhabit than the sometimes-caustic Adams worlds. Unlike Bureaucracy or HHGG, Dutch Dapper IV relies on some fairly straightforward puzzles, mostly of the kind where you need to get item x in order to appease person y in order to get into place z. Only one of them caused me any great confusion, and that was largely because I had used the wrong verb and assumed that an action was pointless when, in fact, I was just going about it wrong. On the other hand, there was one puzzle whose solution particularly pleased me, because it fit so well into the humorous logic of the game world. As for plot, there is one, but it doesn't take front stage for most of the game. The majority of the puzzles take place in a plot vacuum, while the player wanders around and tries to figure out what's going on; then you hit a stage where things take off, and suddenly you're accumulating bunches of points every time you turn around, and reading through a lot of plot exposition without doing very much. By this time the game had earned my goodwill, so I didn't really mind, but it does give a bit of an unbalanced feel to the whole experience. The game could also stand to be a bit more polished. There are quite a few points where the game should, logically, assume an action, but it makes you do it by hand. The inventory limit is apparently just there to drive one nuts. There are some synonyms that aren't implemented. (In particular, any hyphenated term should be typed exactly as in the game.) But again, I found myself willing to forgive this, because I was having enough fun to make it worthwhile. I encountered no actual bugs, which was nice. On the whole, I found "Dutch Dapper IV" a pleasant and entertaining way to spend an hour and a half. Once you're done, you can play with the long Amusing list, and read synopses of the first three Dutch Dapper adventures, in case you missed them. (Since they are either in Dutch or nonexistent, it's pretty likely that you did.) FTP FileZcode .z5 file FTP FilePC Executable
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