Game Reviews E

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The email addresses used are those submitted with the review, so naturally some of them may be out of date.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

E-Mailbox Earth And Sky The Ebb and the Flow of the Tide The Edifice Ekphrasis Electrabot The Elysium Engima Enchanter The Enchanter Trilogy The End Means Escape Enemies Enhanced Enlightenment Episode In The Life Of An Artist Eragon Erehwon Eric's Gift The Erudition Chamber Escape from Pulsar 7 Escape from the Crazy Place An Escape to Remember Evacuate Everybody Loves a Parade Exhibition


From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G>
Review appeared in
SPAG #14 -- May 17, 1998

NAME: E-Mailbox
AUTHOR: Jay Goemmer
E-MAIL: ifauthor SP@G
DATE: 1997
PARSER: AGT--game too short to judge parser
SUPPORTS: AGiliTy executables, available at IF Archive
AVAILABIILTY: Freeware (IF Archive)
URL: VERSION: Release 0.3 (beta?!?) E-Mailbox is without a doubt the shortest entry in the 1997 competition; it's almost impossible to spend more than 15 minutes on it, even if you try everything there is to try. The plot: you sign on with an ISP, you send a message, you get mailbombed, you get the account resurrected, and you get mail. There's a cute real-virtual sense, in that you get your mail from a "mailbox", but there's not a lot there. If you do the obvious thing at every juncture, you'll be just fine with E-Mailbox. There are some mechanical problems, but not enough to slow progress significantly; most actions that aren't what the author had in mind elicit "You're wasting your time!" or something similar. The problem here is not the concept--okay, maybe it is exciting the first time--so much as the audience. The players of the 1997 interactive fiction competition are, by definition, those people with the connections, software, and wherewithal to connect to an archive in Germany, download a series of games, set them up on their own computers, and play them. In that playing E-Mailbox required locating and downloading the AGiliTy interpreter, there was another degree of complication in there. Now, I don't actually think all of that is extremely complicated, but I do think that those who happen to play--meaning the IF community, which exists solely by virtue of the Internet--are not likely to be those still gasping over the wonders of e-mail. (We may recall the inane AOL commercial wherein a woman says "Every time I get e-mail, it's like opening a present." Very likely, for the first few times or so, but most IFers, I fear, are a bit hardened.) I'm not, of course, saying that Jay Goemmer is one. Very likely he isn't. But it's a bit of a stretch to ask the player for whom the Internet is simply a fact of life to exclaim loudly over its wonders. There's another possibility that I'm neglecting, namely that Mr. Goemmer is poking a little fun at newbies and their "how do I send e-mail?" ways and inviting us to join in the humor. It's possible, and sentences like "Smack the Return key--*really* good" do bring up the image of a frustrated newbie taking out his anger on his unsuspecting keyboard. Somehow, though, this doesn't have the air of an insider chuckling at an outside, if for no other reason than that an account that actually gets mailbombed has problems that simply reinstalling the software ain't gonna fix, no how, no way. It's possible that Mr. Goemmer is mistaking a software bug or some such thing for a mailbomb; we can't know for sure. (Though an address that's only just been created isn't likely to get bombed.) Somehow, though, the tone doesn't say "parody" to me--the whole things is taken a bit too seriously--and while I appreciate the enthusiasm, I didn't go into vicarious paroxysms of joy. For the record, AGT comes off fine--impressive speed, though then again it should be, running such a small game file. But apart from reliving the thrill of getting e-mail for the first time, there isn't enough here to justify the download time, I'm afraid. FTP FileDirectory with AGT files and walkthrough

Earth And Sky

From: Emily Short <emshort SP@G>
Review appeared in
SPAG #27 -- January 4, 2002

TITLE: Earth And Sky
AUTHOR: Paul O'Brian
E-MAIL: obrian SP@G
DATE: October 2001
PARSER: Inform standard
SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters
AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive)
URL: VERSION: Release 1 This game is too short. It's billing itself as a prelude to something longer, and that's great, but I felt as though I had just really gotten revved up when... it ended. Which was a pity, because I was enjoying this: it's upbeat and chipper and fun, a superhero game with a gentle sense of humor and not too much pressure about Saving the Universe. It gives you cool powers, and it doesn't take itself too seriously. We've seen superhero IF before, but frankly, it's so entertaining that we can easily afford to see more. Earth and Sky begins by establishing backstory about the protagonist and her brother, in which we find out that their parents are missing; presumably this provides the plot arc for the series of games of which this is Game 1. But the game doesn't really dwell particularly on that. I was struck by the contrast with Heroine's Mantle, another superhero game whose premise begins with the vanishing of parents and the introduction of powers: where Heroine was sprawling, dramatic, emotional, and rough-edged in many aspects of its game play, this was a meticulously crafted and entirely lighthearted production. Let me dwell for a moment on that "meticulously crafted" bit. It's obvious that a great deal of care went into making this game intuitively interactive. Several conversation systems are provided, so that the player is free to take whatever approach he likes: this is novel, and possibly overkill, but it expresses a good faith intention to put the control fully into the player's hands. More impressively, perhaps, the game accounts for a wide variety of behavior on the player's part. I don't wish to spoil the game, and it is so small that any portion of it, even the very beginning, is perhaps off-limits, so suffice it to say that there is an opening scene with a number of things to tinker with. A less ambitious game would take steps to make sure that the player tinkered with them in the right order; a less well-programmed one would allow all the variations, but then fail to take them into account in the subsequent stages of the scenario. As it was, I found no flaws. After I played the first time, I went back and tried a number of different configurations of the first scene, and the NPC always reacted appropriately, no matter what I turned out to have done when he showed up. Speaking of the NPC, I'm not sure how I feel about the menus. The game offers you the opportunity to converse via conversation menus, and these menus contain numerous quips. This is fine, even commendable, except that frequently the quips were merely slightly nuanced variations of the same thing and that the choice of one or another doesn't seem to have affected the NPC especially strongly. There are also perhaps too many. I find, in general, that I don't like conversation menus to contain more entries than I can keep in my head all at once; it is perhaps a testimony to my pea-sized brain that this number tends to be four or five at its upper limit (with some variation allowed depending on how complex and lengthy the remarks are.) This is because, when I am playing a game with conversation menus, I regard the menu as representing the contents of the PC's head: as though the author said, Here are the things that immediately pop to mind in response. In a typical conversation I may have several things in mind that would be viable to say; I don't have a dozen at a time. That's a fairly minor quibble, however, and the fact that I reacted to it at all says more about my own interests and the things I pay attention to in a game. Summary: cool, fun, and promising of more to come. One of my favorites of the competition. FTP File.z5 Zcode file and readme (updated version) FTP FileDirectory with .z5 Zcode file and readme (competition version)

The Ebb and the Flow of the Tide

From: Mike Harris <harriswillys SP@G>
Review appeared in
SPAG #48 -- May 2, 2007
TITLE: The Ebb and the Flow of the Tide AUTHOR: Peter Nepstad E-MAIL: petern SP@G DATE: December 16, 2006 PARSER: TADS 2 SUPPORTS: TADS-2 Interpreters AVAILABLITY: freeware URL: VERSION: 1.1 The Ebb and Flow of the Tide is the second of Peter Nepstad's IF interpretations of Lord Dunsany's short stories, the first being The Journey of the King released in November 2006. "Tide" is certainly the more successful, perhaps because the story itself is more readily adapted to IF and also perhaps because the prose of the story is less florid and more accessible to the 21st century reader. Fans of the usual action-adventure will take some comfort in the fact that the PC can not be killed during the course of the game, for the simple and somewhat novel reason that the protagonist starts out in this unfortunate state. As one can imagine, this somewhat limits the actions available to the PC, but the author has done a good job implementing all of the sensory commands - listen, feel, smell, taste. This should be kept in mind, as arguably the most used command in more conventional IF, examine, will not always further the story. I would not call them "guess the verb" problems although they superficially resemble same, merely that the author forces the player to take a somewhat less orthodox approach given the limitations of the PC. With this in mind, play should take no more than 15 or 20 minutes. Beyond this unusual twist, play is bug free and cues are well integrated into the responses; for example at one point examining a wall will reveal the existence of passages which can then be further investigated with the sensorium available to the PC. At no point is a player left to wonder what to do next provided that they've investigated all of the current options at hand. The Ebb and Flow of the Tide is a memorable game, not least due to the efforts of the game author. The Dunsany tale is a somewhat chilling dream sequence but ultimately of little import; Mr. Nepstad's interpretation gave it life and immediacy. Out of 10 I give it a 3 for simplicity and 8 overall. Zip including TADS2 game file, cover art, and author's notes

The Edifice

From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G>
Review appeared in
SPAG #13 -- February 5, 1998

NAME: The Edifice
AUTHOR: Lucian Smith
DATE: 1997
PARSER: Inform standard
SUPPORTS: Inform interpreters
AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive)
URL: VERSION: Release 1 PLOT: Involving (1.5) ATMOSPHERE: Simple but well done (1.3) WRITING: Strong (1.4) GAMEPLAY: Mostly good (1.3) CHARACTERS: Few but strong (1.4) PUZZLES: One outstanding (1.6) MISC: Innovative and well-thought-out (1.7) OVERALL: 7.2 Lucian Smith's "The Edifice" is one of the simplest games in the competition -- head games involving puzzling out what's going on are few -- but it also tells one of the most effective stories. (Well, okay, some of the entries don't have much of a story at all to tell, but that's different.) Edifice is an example of IF where desultory puzzles don't matter: it's the story, and the concept driving it, that counts, and this is one of the best game ideas this year's competition produced. This is an allegory: you represent primitive man, moving through the various stages of evolution as represented by levels in a strange stone edifice that appears before you suddenly. The puzzles represent problems along the way of evolution, problems whose mastery defined certain levels of development -- they're mostly straightforward (though one is a bit confusing), but there is a real sense of accomplishment in solving them, somehow. Certain stages are by definition mind-numbingly tedious, which reflects the subject accurately -- these are problems that involve tedium -- but also raise the question of whether there might have been a better way to design those particular puzzles. (For a similar problem, see The Meteor, the
Stone, and a Long Glass of Sherbet
.) It should be added that the
author isn't trying to convey every single aspect of every phase of
evolution; rather, you represent an important breakthrough at each
stage, and when you're done, you move on and reenter the scene much
later, when Homo sapiens has incorporated your discovery and built on

That raises the question that I, at least, found most intriguing about
this: does this really have anything to do with evolution? It's kind
of a silly approximation, after all, since it's apparent quite soon in
each stage what the sought-for breakthrough is, and it's just a
question of putting together the needed materials or figuring out the
key steps. But it could be argued that Smith has designed this with
the feeling of discovery in mind: particularly in the last two scenes,
you have the sense of a specific need that drives the breakthrough,
not a sudden resolve out of the blue to carve hand tools or
domesticate animals. The sense of logical connection is less strong in
the first one; there is very little sense that you tumble to your
discovery because of circumstances, rather than having a
twentieth-century computer user push him around to accomplish a
certain goal. Perhaps that's inevitable, given the problem at hand,
but I would have liked to have seen at least some sort of conjecture
as to what sort of circumstances lit up that particular connection for
Stone Age man. The game does capture the brutality of this particular
discovery well, in that you have no particular reason other than your
own satisfaction for doing what you do, and perhaps the apparent
purposeless of your solution to the problem reflects the arbitrary
kill-or-be- killed nature of the environment -- but it still felt a
little unsatisfying.

On the whole, I found the second stage most plausible and interesting;
it's the only one where you deal with other characters, and though
your interactions are limited, the characters have a certain charm. (I
found a certain whimsical appeal in their names -- Wife, Son,
Grandmother.) The central puzzle took real thought and felt genuinely
rewarding to solve -- and, even as a microcosm, it felt more than any
of the problems like what really might have happened. The first stage,
as suggested, is a little too illogical to really feel like an account
of the breakthrough, and the third just doesn't quite make enough
sense; you have the sense of the original motivation for your
character, but not what inspired him to try this particular
approach. (And the realism/tedium element that worked reasonably well
in the first part is simply annoying here, because it doesn't feel
particularly logical.) Still, all three are worthy concepts, mostly
well thought out.

The writing is nothing special, though arguably that makes sense here
-- too much attention to the scenery or aesthetics would distract from
the goals at hand; you're not in the situations in question to check
out the sights. Certainly, the writing is adequate for the purposes;
it sets the scene and makes clear what you need to do. My main problem
with the mechanics of Edifice is that it's possible in the first part
to screw up and require a fairly laborious process of restarting (it's
probably quicker just to RESTART), which, quite apart from its
problems for the IF player, doesn't really make much sense in the plot
of the game. (The nature of the problems was such that the solutions
developed over time, after all; it took many failures to make the
discoveries required in each scene.) In several key respects, the
first scene requires resources that can be easily wasted -- and though
the urgency of the situation lends a certain logic to the picture (if
you don't solve the problem, you'll die), it still doesn't really make
much sense as an evolutionary tableau.

Another clunky element is the hint system, which rests in a mural in
the edifice -- clever enough, but the problem is that the mural only
gives you the hint once you've gone out and actually done each step
and come back and checked the mural, which I found time-consuming and
annoying. You can't, in short, play to where you get stuck, then come
back and check the mural, because the mural won't keep up with
you. Among problems to be fixed for future versions, this one may
be #1.

The end is a bit confusing. There is a cataclysmic event at the end
that doesn't seem to fit into the evolutionary frame, as far as I can
tell, and my guess was that it's the author's device for ending the
story. If so, it's intriguing -- but the final sentence, even when
you've finished the game "right" (in accordance with the walkthrough,
anyway), is a bit of a puzzler. I couldn't decide whether it was a
comment on the nature of evolution or simply a bug; if it was supposed
to be the former, it could perhaps have been more skillfully done. (At
least, it might have a sentence somehow distinguishing it from less
satisfactory endings.) And while I enjoyed the ending -- it had plenty
of drama -- it did weaken the allegory a bit; certainly, the
evolutionary process didn't end where it does in this game, but the
conclusion of the game suggests some sort of ending.

Quibbles aside, though, The Edifice is one of the most intriguing
games in the competition, in that it tries something completely new --
a first-person account of the highlights of a scientific process. In a
sense, your actions are vital to the continuation of that process --
if you choose not to go on, progress stops with you -- and one way to
see your role in the game is that of a guiding force at crucial
moments in history, an intervention to ensure that the development of
man stays on track. That, at least, would explain some of the knottier
problems involving questionable motivations or the difficulty of
anticipating a particular result without the player's advance
knowledge. Part of the charm of Edifice is that the story it tells is
sufficiently ambiguous that it can justify a variety of perspectives,
including those who don't care for evolution as a self-perpetuating
force at all. (The game, whether deliberately or not, provides some
grist for the mill of the argument that mere chance could not been
sufficient to turn ape into man.)

Though elements of the gameplay are lacking somewhat, anything that
Edifice lacks in playability is easily made up in sheer concept; the
idea and the charm of its implementation earn this one an 8 on the
competition scale.

From: Paul O'Brian <obrian SP@G>
Review appeared in SPAG #13 -- February 5, 1998

You're an ape, spending your days hunting for Food and fleeing from
Enemies. You have these little thumbs, too, that set you apart from
the Others. Suddenly one day, a huge black Edifice appears before you,
arousing your wonder and suspicion. I can almost hear "Also Sprach
Zarathustra" in the background: Daaaaaaaa, Daaaaaaaaa,
Daaaaaaaaaa..... Da-Dummmmmmm! However, from this highly derivative
beginning, the Edifice ventures quickly into much more original
territory. It seems that once you enter the monolith, you find
yourself able to enter various stages of human development, from the
discovery of fire to protecting your village against plundering
marauders. The idea works very nicely, putting the player into
puzzle-solving situations which blend very naturally into the game's
environment and using the edifice itself as a sort of frame around the
smaller narratives as well as a hinting device.

One section of the game in particular I found really remarkable. On
the second level of the edifice, you find yourself as a very early
human, living in a family unit in the woods. Your son has a fever, and
to cure him you must find the Feverleaf, which can be made into a
healing tea. However, no Feverleaf seems to be available anywhere,
until you stumble across a Stranger. Unsurprisingly, however, the
Stranger does not speak your language, and so you are faced with a
problem of communication. The game does an incredible job with
simulating this situation. I was astonished at the level of realism
which this character was able to achieve, and at the care that must
clearly have gone into fashioning this interaction. I've rarely seen
such a thorough and effective establishment of the illusion of
interactivity. The Stranger did not of course respond to English words
in understandable ways. However, you could point to objects, or speak
words in the Stranger's language, and gradually the two of you could
arrive at an understanding. It was an amazing feeling to be
experiencing this kind of exchange in IF... I really felt like I *was*
learning the Stranger's language. It will always remain one of the
most memorable moments of this 1997 competition for me.

I spent a lot of time on this one encounter, but I spent more time on
the first level of the edifice, where you learn basic skills like how
to hunt and build a fire. All of the puzzles in this section were
logical, and the implementation was characteristically thorough and
rich. However, this level is also where I ran into the game's one
major flaw: its scoring system. Upon typing "score", you are told
something along the lines of "You have visited two levels of the
Edifice and solved none of them. You are amazingly discontent."
However, sometimes "amazingly discontent" changes to "very content."
for reasons that aren't at all clear. Moreover, I did everything that
the hints indicate on that level, but the game still insisted I had
not solved it. I worked on this until I got so frustrated with it that
I just went up to the next level. I'm not sure whether these
irregularities in the scoring system were intentional or not, but I
found that they were the only significant detractions from an
otherwise excellent game.

Prose: The author did a superb job with the prose. Objects and rooms
were described carefully and concisely, and in fact their descriptions
often changed to reflect the character's expanding knowledge. In the
beginning, words are simple and their meanings often archetypal: Rock,
Enemies, Others, etc. As the game progresses and the character
continues to evolve, the diction becomes more complex and the meanings
more specific. This is the type of prose effect that a graphical game
could never achieve, since it arises from the nature of the prose
itself. That the game can achieve this effect shows that it is very
well written indeed.

Plot: The game's plot is a clever device to put the player into
various moments in the history of human development. Its central
device is rather clearly lifted from 2001:A Space Odyssey, but other
than that it's an excellent frame story around fascinating vignettes.

Puzzles: I think the language puzzle was the best one I've seen in
interactive fiction this year. Certainly it was the best in the
competition -- it advanced the narrative, developed the character,
achieved a new kind of IF character interaction, and packed a powerful
Sense of Wonder. The other puzzles I encountered were also very good,
arising quite intuitively out of the game's situation and objects. My
only frustration was with the elements of the game which suggested I
had more to solve but never seemed to indicate what those things were.

writing -- The Edifice's prose was quite error-free.
coding -- Aside from the problems with the scoring system, the coding
was outstanding. Synonyms abounded, and almost all logical or
intuitively available actions were accounted for. I have no doubt that
the problems with the scoring system arose from the complexity of the
game, and that they will be resolved in the next release. When that
happens, Edifice will have eradicated its one significant flaw.

FTP FileInform file (.z5) (updated version) FTP FileInform file (.z5) (competition version) FTP FileWalkthrough (Frotz .rec format) FTP FileInform code sample from language puzzle (.inf)


From: Felix Plesoianu <felixp7 SP@G>
Review appeared in
SPAG #47 -- January 16, 2007
TITLE: Ekphrasis AUTHOR: JB Ferrant EMAIL: lejibe SP@G DATE: November 27, 2006 PARSER: Inform 6 French edition SUPPORTS: Glulx interpreters AVAILABILITY: freeware; author's website URL: VERSION: First release Once in a while I get my hands on a game that is unusual in so many ways I don't even know where to start. You know, the kind that doesn't seem to hold much promise at first, but then you notice this nice feature, and that one, and you want to play just a little further before going to bed... you're charmed. To get one thing out of the way, Ekphrasis is written in French. If you speak the language but haven't played a French text adventure before, don't worry. Most commands are what you'd expect, shortcuts included (such as 'x' for 'examiner'). You can even go west by typing 'w', something I did without even thinking about it. Be sure to type 'aide' at the beginning; it will point out a less obvious command that happens to be used a lot during the game. The story is reminiscent of an old stylish detective movie. A particular Renaissance painting appears to have been stolen and replaced with a copy. You've been called to evaluate it, but things are a lot more complicated than they first seem. Being a cranky old professor with a distaste for modern technology doesn't help either. If you're expecting humor, you won't be disappointed. I haven't had such a laugh since Dutch Dapper IV. The gameplay is neatly divided between interactive scenes and "talk to"- triggered dialogues. The former are short and focused, usually one or two locations with a handful of items and NPCs and a clear goal; the latter are long-ish but charming, and do a great job of portraying the characters. Otherwise there isn't much in the way of literary style. Ekphrasis relies on pictures - otherwise beautiful - to describe the locations. Too bad it also relies on pictures for essential information such as phone numbers, which really should stay in the text. Be sure to keep the walkthrough at hand. One thing the game is particularly good at is feeling natural. Most locations are famous spots in Europe; the NPCs and situations are what you'd expect to find there. Even the maze towards the end (yes, there's a maze!) is perfectly justified, and not all that complicated. The NPCs, though unhelpful, are at least pro-active, often starting conversations on their own. Puzzles are generally logical, but they sometimes require perfect timing and/or performing a precise sequence of steps which may not be so obvious. Add to that my abysmal puzzle-solving skills and the sheer length of the game and you'll see why I ended up following the walkthrough a lot. Except, of course, when following it a la lettre led to an untimely death. Oh well, it's a big game. Things can easily go out of sync. Speaking of size, Ekphrasis is too large for its own good. I spent more than ten hours on the game, or so I think, because I lost count with all the loading and saving. Apparently, so did the author. Most of the scenery is not implemented, not even as a "you don't need that" message. A lot of synonyms are missing in action as well, which can become quite a problem when the game fails to recognize a noun from its own room descriptions. There's also a good deal of "read the author's mind" towards the end. I suppose it's difficult to explain everything when you write such a big game all by yourself. And despite the author's assurances that specialist knowledge is not required to win, there were a couple of spots when even Wikipedia couldn't help me. All in all, the game kept me interested to the end despite all the annoyances. Fun, education, suspense and even romance - Ekphrasis has them all, so allow me to conclude as a Frenchman would: chapeau! P.S. I was unable to hear the sound for technical reasons, so I can't make any comments about it; my apologies to everyone interested. Blorbed Glulx executable (in French) Walkthrough (plain text)


From: Graeme Cree <72630.304 SP@G>
Review appeared in
SPAG #5 -- April 19, 1995

NAME: Electrabot GAMEPLAY: Poor
AUTHOR: Woody Hunt PLOT: Meaningless

In Electrabot you play the part of a prototype android seeking to
rescue your creator from the clutches of the evil Barbarith.
I don't want to be too hard on the game, as it's no mean feat to
download a program like the Adventure Game Toolkit, read the
instructions, understand them, and put together a reasonably
grammatical game that will run to completion without crashing or
causing the player numerous unintended headaches. Author Woody Hunt
has done all of these things. The problem is that there's not much
In Electrabot, you follow a more or less predetermined course
(there are a couple of side routes), picking up objects and meeting
creatures along the way. Each object kills exactly one creature.
That's it. That's literally all there is to the game.
Well, not quite. There are two other puzzles. One involves a
direction you can use that isn't mentioned in the room description.
The other involves a set of 3 or 4 rooms that will kill you without any
warning if you enter them.
For the most part, the weapons are generic. Common sense will tell
you which weapon kills the giant slug and the giant rat, but all of the
others are totally arbitrary. It's also worth mentioning that although
you're supposed to be a high-powered android, everybody you meet (from
the insane artist to the butler) is capable of completely cleaning your
clock if you don't have the right item handy.

FTP FileAGT files with PC Executable runtime(.zip)

The Elysium Engima

From: Jimmy Maher <maher SP@G>
Review appeared in
SPAG #48 -- May 2, 2007
TITLE: The Elysium Enigma AUTHOR: Eric Eve E-MAIL: eric.eve SP@G DATE: October 1, 2006 PARSER: TADS 3 SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF-Archive URL: VERSION: 2.01 As anyone who read my IF Comp reviews last year will know, The Elysium Enigima was my game of the Comp. I noted at the time that I would like to return to it later to try for a full score, something the game encouraged when I completed it by helpfully suggesting some things that I left undone and might want to try next time. I had intended to play it again soon after the Comp, but Last Resort and the holiday season intervened. When Elysium won the XYZZY awards this year for Best Game and Best NPC, however, I was reminded to return to it, armed with my list of additional things to try to accomplish in search of a full score, to see if it was really as good as my almost embarrassingly enthusiastic previous review would indicate. And so I downloaded the latest post-Comp release and dove in. I am still very impressed, but also noticed a few things that bothered me this time around, as I was able to spend more time with the game and, unbothered by the joy of first discovery, view it with a bit more of a critical eye. First, though, let me explain the premise and the many positives for anyone coming to the game for the first time through this review. You play the role of a rather junior interstellar diplomat sent on a routine mission to the planet of Elysium, a backwater colony world populated by ludites who reject all but the most basic technology and have a rather ambivalent attitude about being a part of the Empire you work for at all. You are supposed to -- literally -- show the imperial flag, meet with a few of the society's elders if they desire it and make note of their concerns or complaints, and be on your way. The inevitable complications arise in the form of a mysterious and attractive female who doesn't seem to belong here. You must also deal with the suspicious natives, and may even be able to learn the reasons for their latent hostility toward the Empire. A lot is going on here, and the story, setting, and implementation are as well fleshed-out as you are likely to find in IF. Like all of Eric Eve's TADS 3 work, the whole serves as fine advertisement for the power of TADS 3. Most of the commentary on the game has focused, rightfully so, on the mysterious Leena, one of its three NPCs. You meet her early in the game, when she approaches you in the guise of a dirty and apparently hungry, but nevertheless very shapely, outcast. Much of the game revolves around figuring out just who and what she really is. I am already treading right on the line of spoilerdom here, so I will not go into more detail but rather defer to Valentine Koptelsev's SPAG Specifics piece, which focuses on Leena's role in the game. I agree with many of Valentine's concerns about Leena's sometimes illogical behavior, but also remain very impressed with Mr. Eve's masterful job in creating her. You can converse with Leena in great depth and breadth. The TADS 3 conversation system is in full flower. Talking with Leena doesn't feel like a game of "guess the topic," but rather feels at certain stretches like real conversation, as the two of you probe and feint, each trying to determine just what the other is really about. It's a fine merging of technical and artistic mastery that remains as impressive to me as it did when I first played the game. These interactions with Leena and (to a lesser extant) the two other NPCs, along with the thoroughly implemented environment, pull the game away from the text adventure feel and into something that feels more like a true interactive story. I think this feeling contributes to the disappointment I felt with some of the non-character interaction puzzles. First, though, I should mention that Mr. Eve did vastly improve in this post-Comp release the most egregious offender, a fiddly puzzle that required a degree of, shall we say, lateral thinking, and was borderline unfair. I complained about it in my previous review, and was apparently not alone. It's nice to see an author listening to his players and taking his work seriously enough to revise it and incorporate their input. Some of the other puzzles still bother me, though, because they destroy the sense of reality the game otherwise so masterfully creates. The worst offender comes when you find a housecat lying on top of a chest you would dearly like to open. Removing said cat requires solving a sequence of absurd puzzles that might be amusing in a Monkey Island-style comedy adventure but clash horribly with the believable tone of this story. I am an intrepid, healthy young adventurer visiting a planet as the representative of a powerful Empire, and I am stymied by a housecat? I love animals as much as the next guy, but... just kick the damn cat out of the way, already! The game doesn't need stuff like this to artificially lengthen it. I want to see more simulation-oriented puzzle-solving in IF, something at which TADS 3 should excel, and less fiddly set-pieces like this. (I know that places me outside the consensus position in the community, but so be it.) Apparently others complained about some of the puzzles as well, as Mr. Eve mentions in his notes on this release that taking their suggestions would entail making more extensive revisions than he was ready to undertake, in effect making the new release into an entirely new game. Fair enough, I can certainly understand that position, but do hope that he will consider our comments when writing his next game. He is so very, very close to achieving the most fluid storytelling we have yet seen in IF that it is a shame to see his efforts foiled by ill-considered puzzles seemingly inserted out of a sense of obligation. But let me place my complaints aside to state again that Elysium is a brilliant piece of work. It does not attempt to radically, explicitly innovate for the sake of mere cleverness, but rather molds its form to its function of providing the player with a fun, immersive interactive story. Even the writing does not call attention to itself, but flows fluidly and cleanly out of the way of the story. The game stands as my personal favorite of a very strong year, and I am happy to see the XYZZY voters recognize it. If you are reading this review to find out if you should play it... Yes, you should. Zip containing TADS 3 game file, latest revision TADS 3 game file, original Competition version Plain text walkthrough


From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G>
Review appeared in
SPAG #15 -- October 11, 1998

NAME: Enchanter
AUTHOR: Marc Blank
E-MAIL: Beats me
DATE: 1983
PARSER: Infocom Standard
SUPPORTS: Infocom ports
VERSION: Release 29

Enchanter, as most Infocom fans know, is the first in a fantasy series
intended to complement the Zork trilogy, a set of games where success
depends both on wits and on judicious use of magic. (By implication,
the adventurer in the Zork trilogy is a sort of grunt by contrast,
using combat skills as opposed to spell-casting, which isn't really
true--but the blend of the two in Beyond Zork lends credence to the
idea that it was supposed to be a resolution to both trilogies.) The
player's use of magic in this series is based on a simple system of
copying spells into a book and then memorizing the spell each time it
is cast, an approach that has earned much criticism over the years but
which I still enjoy and find realistic (well, realistic on
fantasy-game terms, anyway). It feels more natural to have known
spells in a book than floating around in one's head constantly,
somehow, even though it can become a form of inventory
management. Part of the fun of this magic system, moreover, is the
humor value inherent in casting certain spells on inappropriate
objects (and the funny responses Infocom provided, of course).

Anyway, the plot of Enchanter is a fairly standard save-the-world
deal, wherein you, the novice enchanter, are sent into Krill's castle
because your powers are minimal enough that he won't bother to get rid
of you. (Why it wouldn't be worth his while to smush someone prowling
around his castle isn't wholly clear to me, but oh well.) The layout
of the plot is rather "wide," in design parlance, meaning that almost
the entire territory and most of the puzzles are available early in
the game; it's up to you to figure out what can be solved at any given
time. Wide games can be irritating if the puzzles must be solved in
one particular order, but 'tisn't so in "Enchanter", fortunately;
quite a few of the puzzles are solvable very near the beginning of the

The puzzles themselves are mostly good, and not especially difficult,
with one exception--one vital action is without motivation and relies
on a somewhat obscure hint. There is another instance of a verb I
didn't expect the game to recognize and spent hours upon hours
devising alternative solutions to the puzzle--and no, my copy was not
pirated; I just didn't think to look at the verb list, I guess. There
are a few other mildly unfair elements--the effects of a spell expire
after a small number of moves, but there's no way of knowing that (and
no sign when it happens) and it might seem at first like that spell
doesn't have the desired effect. Another puzzle, while the idea is
fairly obvious, requires considerable trial and error for success--and
there are some incorrect solutions, for which the game gives a fairly
obvious warning. As an introduction to the use of magic in puzzles,
Enchanter succeeds admirably; you use almost all of your spells at
least once, often in creative ways. If there's a weakness here, it's
that virtually everything you do turns on magic; whereas the other two
installments in the series called for more puzzle-solving and less
trying spells, Enchanter is largely solvable by pulling out a spell
for every occasion. It's not a major drawback, but it's not optimal

Enchanter's plot, as noted, is not especially innovative, and is beset
by contradictions, primary among them that Krill would not bother to
notice when you acquire the means to defeat him (and that said means
is sitting around in his own castle). That said, though, the
atmosphere and the setting are quite well done--the abandoned village,
the view of the castle from the Lonely Mountain, and the spread of the
effect of Krill's spell, characterized thus: "Everything you see is
gray and lifeless, as though covered with a veil of ash. Sound is
muted and there is a faint acrid odor." Room descriptions change as
well as the spell spreads, deteriorating from reasonably tidy
abandoned castle to something altogether more sinister; it reminded me
of the Nothing from Neverending Story. The effect is to lend some
urgency to the plot, even though the time allotted to accomplish the
mission is far more than needed, and to make the game something more
than a collection of puzzles. There is humor as well, though: possibly
the high point of the game is the arrival of the "adventurer," who
seems to be you in the Zork trilogy (though it does, sadly, assume
that said adventurer is male), and who plays on all the sillinesses of
Zork and its genre, from illogical "wonder what happens if I do this"
actions and their snappy responses ("The adventurer attempts to eat
his sword. I don't think it would agree with him.") to classic
vacuum-cleaner adventurer behavior--put the adventurer in a room and
watch him pick everything up. In that and in a few select instances--a
ludicrously overguarded door, for instance, and the arrival on the
scene of the Implementors, meaning the game authors--Infocom manages
to get in a few digs at the swords-and-sorcery universe, even while it
invokes many of its cliches.

It's interesting, though, that as a fantasy game, Enchanter plays
everything much more conventionally than the Zork series did. The
parody elements largely address adventure games themselves, not of the
fantasy world; the evil warlock, the good sorcerer, the friendly
animals are all reliable fantasy elements, and Enchanter doesn't do
much with them--whereas the Zork trilogy derived its humor value from
making fun of fantasy itself. The feel, moreover, is less lighthearted
than the Zork trilogy (at least, less than I and II; III was a
departure in that respect); the adventurer's pratfalls aside, the
onset of the "veil of ash" and the way it takes over the game has a
sinister quality that doesn't fit well with the humorous
aspect. Krill's sidekicks are more menacing than any enemies from the
Zork series, since they're not given foibles or funny lines (no lines
at all, actually); even when the thief in Zork I was intent on killing
you, it was hard to actually be afraid of him because the game took
pains to play up the "gentlemanly" aspect. Here, though, when
"guttural voices seem to be coming in your direction," there's a
genuinely ominous feeling. An early description sets the tone:

To the east, far away, can be seen a great castle at the edge of
the Sea. Three turrets it has; two, old and still majestic, lie
on either side of a third, cold, black as night and squat as a
toad. An evil smoke seems to emanate from this tower, shrouding
the others in a darkening fog. A small mountain trail leaves the
peak and descends to the south into a small village far below.

Obviously, there isn't a lot that's new here; the ideas and images
could have come directly from Tolkien or from one of his
imitators. But the writing is restrained enough that these and other
atmosphere moments work well--the game builds up to your final
encounter with Krill by giving more and more space to the
looming-menace aspect. It's hard to explain why it works well, but it
does--though you start in a bucolic natural setting, as the game
progresses, your discoveries bring you closer to the heart of the
castle, and the atmospheric changes are calculated to reflect that
progress. Likewise, your accomplishments as an enchanter build on each
other: you move from minor triumphs in the beginning to more
significant or daring uses of magic later in the game. The point is
that Enchanter does quite a lot with a sparely written plot and its
few puzzles, and the cliched aspect doesn't prevent the story from
being effective.

On the whole, Enchanter works, and while there are problems--I wish
the authors had rethought the insistence on hunger, thirst and sleep,
for example--this is an example of one of Infocom's more solid early
efforts. Though it takes a very different approach to its fantasy
element than does Zork I, it's no less entertaining for that.

FTP FileSolution (Text)

The Enchanter Trilogy

From: Molley the Mage <mollems SP@G WKUVX1.WKU.EDU>
Review appeared in
SPAG #2 -- September 26, 1994

NAME: The Enchanter Trilogy PARSER: Early Infocom
AUTHOR: Infocom PLOT: Save the World!
PUZZLES: Wide Range SUPPORTS: Infocom ports
DIFFICULTY: Enchanter - Average; Sorceror - Easy; Spellbreaker - Hard
(Enchanter - 5/10; Sorceror - 3/10; Spellbreaker - 8/10)

The "Enchanter Trilogy" was Infocom's second big line of more or less
"connected" games. All three featured a better parser and more levels of
interaction than the Zork games did, and a *much* greater emphasis on plot
and storyline. No longer collections of disparate puzzles surrounding the
gathering of treasures, these games in my opinion really brought Infocom
into their own as far as writing goes.

Enchanter, the first of the series, features you as a novice magician who
is sent to do battle with an incredibly powerful evil sorceror who is
destroying the world. The reason you, a near novice, are sent instead of
the more powerful mages in charge of you is because Krill (the evil
warlock) could easily detect a mage of great power, while you won't even
register as a blip on his mental radar screen. This will supposedly allow
you to slip in and defeat him while he's not looking. The game is set in
and around Krill's castle, where there are various traps, tricks, and
treasures, not to mention a group of nasty henchmen who carry you off to
your death whenever they find you. The game basically centers around the
collection of more and more magical spells to add to your arsenal. These
spells are what enable you to defeat the aforementioned tricks and traps,
along with some well-timed help from a few NPC's (including the Adventurer
from Zork I, a classic moment if ever there was one!). Eventually you
arrive at the requisite showdown with Krill, who goes down rather easily
(somewhat anticlimactic for a world-conquering sorcerer, eh?)
Nevertheless, Enchanter is a fun game that will provide you with some hours
of enjoyment.

Sorcerer is the sequel to Enchanter (obviously) and once again you are
called upon to do battle with great evil. In this case, your mentor Belboz
(head of the Circle of Enchanters to which you were admitted after your
amazing defeat of Krill) has been captured, imprisoned, and possessed by a
malevolent demon, Jeaarr. Using Belboz's sorcerous powers, the demon will
of course be able to ... you guessed it ... take over the world, so off you
to the rescue again. Your quest this time takes you back into the Great
Underground Empire, where you will visit an ancient castle, an amusement
park, and other locales en route to a showdown with the demon. Two scenes
bear particular mention: the glass maze, which you must navigate in a
unique way, shows that not all mazes have to be annoying and boring. There
is another puzzle involving time travel and meeting your "younger" and
"older" selves which is worth playing the entire game for, as I found it
one of the most imaginative and challenging IF puzzles ever. As a whole,
the game is rather easy, but I enjoyed it immensely. Highly recommended.

Spellbreaker, the conclusion of the trilogy, is truly an epic game. It was
Infocom's largest and most ambitious project when it came out, featuring
about three times the puzzles (1000 points) of any other Infocom game. For
me, it was love at first sight. This is one of my all-time absolute
favorite games. It seems that after you rescued Belboz in Sorcerer, you
took his place as the Head of the Circle of Enchanters. Now magic has
begun to fail everywhere in the world, and all of your fellow mages have
been turned into small amphibians by malevolent sorcery. You, however, are
strangely unaffected, and must pursue the source of this evil. What you
will discover is a game which deals with metaphysics and magic with equal
facility, along with challenging puzzles and wonderful writing. In short,
Spellbreaker is a game with almost no equal. Be warned, however, that it
is HARD -- much more so than either of the previous two games in the
trilogy. However, the puzzles are all quite logical, and most involve the
intelligent applications of the various spells which you will again find,
along with the collection of strange white cubes which when invoked in the
proper manner transport you to alternate places and times. The only thing
I didn't like about this game was the inclusion of the ancient "three
weighings on a scale" problem (although it was presented in a novel
manner). The ending was both surprising (to me) and satisfying. This is a
game not to be missed!

As a whole, the Enchanter Trilogy is my favorite set of Infocom games, far
and away. Again, I recommend getting them in the original packaging if
possible, but they are also in the LTOI package, so they are again
accessible to a new generation of interactive fiction lovers. If you play
no other Infocom games in your life, play these three together -- they are

The End Means Escape

From: Adam Cadre <ac SP@G>
Review appeared in
SPAG #23 -- December 29, 2000

TITLE: The End Means Escape
AUTHOR: Stephen Kodat
E-MAIL: skodat SP@G
DATE: 2000
PARSER: TADS standard
SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters
AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive)
URL: VERSION: Release 1 I really liked the first segment of this game. Not only were the animate objects cool and funny, but the way the player is meant to go about resolving the situation -- asking everyone about everyone else -- appealed to me much more than if the solution had been to perform some clever engineering trick. I wasn't quite sure how the stuff I was doing was getting me any closer to opening the door, but I went along with it and entered the book... ...and then splat. I didn't get part two at all. I understood how to manipulate the words -- the hint system told me that much -- but I didn't have the slightest clue what my goal was, and the hints crapped out at that point. So I put the game away, figuring I'd give it about a five. Then I read a solution to part two on the newsgroup -- and I *still* didn't get it. It was like getting stuck on a puzzle where you're trying to open a safe and finding out that the combination is 43-49-25... and why? Because it just sort of is. "You turn hard"? Say what? And then the third segment... goal, please? I think this says it all: >HINT There's just some people standing around. Right. And I was one of them. Maybe there are some people who, presented with a bunch of playing pieces in a game they don't recognize, would start messing around with the pieces for hours on end until something happened; me, I'm more inclined to just leave them alone until I have some *reason* to play with them, some *objective* I'm using them to try to accomplish. And "escape" is insufficient. Yes, you do escape, but how are you supposed to know that X will achieve Y? Doing what the hints tell you to do with the segments' various playing pieces, and consequently "escaping," is like the bit in A GOOD BREAKFAST from Comp97
where you're looking for a spoon, happen across a robot, play Lights-Out
with it, and then when you win, the robot randomly hands you a spoon as
a reward. Or, to use an invented example for the sake of clarity:

You're in a cell. You want to get out. The door won't budge, and there's
a guard posted outside. You have a gold coin.

GOOD DESIGN: Get the guard to open the door and let you go free in
exchange for the coin.

BAD DESIGN: Swallow the coin. This randomly causes the door to fall off
its hinges onto the guard, allowing you to make a break for it.

THE END MEANS ESCAPE is full of examples of the latter type of design.
Open up a guy's surgical incision? Why? Just because you can (with
difficulty)? Apparently so -- that's how you advance to the next stage,
though there's no particular reason why that's so. The end justifies the
means? In this game, they rarely seem remotely connected.

Score: a low THREE, and only because I did get some fun out of the first

From: Tina Sikorski <tina SP@G>
Review appeared in SPAG #23 -- December 29, 2000

Walkthrough? No (in-game hints)
Genre: Surrealism

|Overall Rating B+|Submitted Vote 8|
|Writing A-|Plot C+|
|Puzzles B |NPCs B |
|Technical B |Tilt A+|

*** Initial Thoughts

A lot of people really disliked everything but the first section of this
game. I, on the other hand, got more into it the more I played it; I
won't say I enjoyed the first section the least, but neither did I find
it the best of the sections. I believe this will be a narrow appeal
game, which in a way is a pity and in a way is just how things work.

I will note that this was the game that got me to dub this "Surreal
Comp"; between it, Shade, and (to a lesser extent) Planet of the
Infinite Minds
, not to mention the Rybread parody, this was probably the
most surreal of the comps ever...

*** Writing (A-)

First off: bonus points for the correct use of "its", something a lot of
authors don't seem to understand.

Any game in which there are word puzzles is probably going to garner
either a rather low or a rather high score in writing. In this case, you
will see it's "rather high". But this was not only because of the
(somewhat difficult, but entertaining) word puzzle in the second
section, but the sheer amount of work that must have gone into crafting
the initial section's NPCs, giving them character and consistency.

Many of the descriptions were simple and unadorned, but knowing when to
do this is as important to writing as elaborate, full, and intense
descriptions of one's environment. Others (mostly later in the game) are
detailed and interesting, but oddly those seem to occur when they are
least important. I don't know if this was a deliberate stylistic choice,
but for me it added to the surreal factor -- and I so enjoy the surreal
factor, so this is a good thing.

Possibly the best use of words was not in the writing itself, but one of
the puzzles (see below). Indeed, until that section, I was actually
somewhat out-of-sorts with the style presented; as I put it in my notes
"This is the kind of HIGH-FALUTIN' High Art thing I dislike, isn't it?"
However, it grows on one...

*** Plot (C+)

Now, those of you who played this game will be saying "Plot? Was there a
PLOT?" Well, yes and no. There was certainly no coherent plot I could
identify, but it seems as if each section contained a bit of one, and
they were internally consistent. On this basis -- rather than that of
understanding and being able to articulate the plot -- I rated it just
above average, consistency being one of the building blocks of a good
plot. So if you're looking for a full-blown story, I'm afraid you are
out of luck; this game does not, so far as I could tell, have one.

There are basically four (five?) little tableaus that are, at least as
far as I could tell, separate, yet each has as its basis understanding
or at least discovering the nature of something. This, I think, is what
ties the game together. I may be the only person getting this out of the
game (other comments certainly suggest such) but... for me it works.

*** Puzzles (B)

Oh GOD, the PUZZLES. They are fiendish! They are evil! They required me
to use the hints regularly...

...and yet...

I'm fascinated by word puzzles. I was particularly fascinated by the one
in part two of this game, where your inventory contains a certain number
of words, the room contains a certain number of words, and you have to
manipulate them in various ways to make certain phrases. In the interest
of leaving -some- surprises to the reader, I shall not reproduce the
entire puzzle, but I will say that:

a) There is more than one (somewhat) sensical "solution", but only one
actually -works-
b) Yes, it did mean something to ME (though not, I gather, to others).

Then there was the puzzle with the basically inanimate people. That one,
I did not like. No. But it wasn't because I felt it was unfair or even
that it was difficult to figure out (aside from being very limited in
solvability). It was just that it was... icky. I suspect it was meant to
be metaphorical, but some metaphors I'd rather not, er, explore.

Still... frustrating at times, but the hints do work well, and... if you
like symbolism and wordplay, you should enjoy this aspect of the game.

*** NPCs (B)

Well, some of the NPCs were a bit wooden and stiff... (that's a joke
only those who have played the game will get).

Many of the Others you interact with in this game are not, strictly
speaking, people. They have personalities, they speak, they react,
but... they're objects. Animate objects. It's quite bizarre. Surreal,

And I loved the way it was done. Each object had a personality that fit
with what it was. Each object had something to say about its
surroundings and fellow objects. Sure, it was simple, a closed
environment, but that's something you can't say about some games: the
NPCs knew about each other and would comment on each other. In fact...
it was vital to the game.

*** Technical (B)

A few little neat tricks gave me reason to up the technical score a bit,
despite a couple really nasty disambiguation problems in one section.
Specifically, I liked the fact that changing state (due to actions
taken) resulted in changing responses (descriptions and reactions),
something that takes some time and care and effort to do, and I enjoyed
the word-inventory puzzle as a purely interesting technical feat as well
as just as a puzzle. It's nice to see a little extra like this.

*** Tilt (A+) and Final Thoughts

Many people started this game, liked it, and then slowly grew to dislike
it. I started out not enjoying the philosophical High Art but grew to
appreciate it once I began to see the full shape of things, and aside
from an "ick" factor at one point, enjoyed the entire experience. This
may say more about me than the game.

If you can deal with fiendish (if well-hinted) puzzles, surreal
situations, and the sense that you are in an alien landscape -- or if
those things outright appeal to you -- this game is worth checking out.
Even if that is not your usual bag, the first section is possibly worth
taking a look at.

FTP FileTADS .gam file (competition version)


From: Francesco Bova <fbova SP@G>
Review appeared in
SPAG #20 -- March 15, 2000

NAME: Enemies
AUTHOR: Andy Phillips
EMAIL: aphillips SP@G
DATE: January 1999
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Z-code (Inform) interpreters
URL: Andy Phillips has a thing for .z8 games. In 3 attempts he's produced 3 REALLY big puzzle-oriented games with varying degrees of success. The one constant has been that with each successive attempt, he's made great improvements in terms of both game design and story. Enemies, his most recent work, doesn't fail to impress in many ways and is certainly more "user friendly" than his first two offerings. The game chronicles the life of Charlie Johnson, accountant and every day Joe, who has unknowingly attracted the attention of an enemy (who it also turns out is a serial killer). The enemy is a person from Charlie's past who has been planning to test Charlie's resolve and intelligence for sometime. The enemy contends that Charlie's had life 'too easy' up until this point and needs to prove his worth. As an added incentive for Charlie to participate in the game, his enemy has also kidnapped his girlfriend. The game is broken into three sections: a prologue section (where initial bits of Charlie's past are revealed); a main story section (which revolves around an obstacle course full of puzzles and memories that take place in Charlie's former college); and an ending section (where Charlie's enemy is revealed and a final battle ensues). There's lots of prose to work through here and the puzzles are many and varied. But with such a cavernous game to review, the question is where do you start? Well, let's start with the positives. The best thing about Enemies is (surprisingly) the atmosphere. I mention the surprise because what had always impressed me about Phillips' work in the past were his puzzles. His storytelling conversely had been a little weak. In Enemies, however, it's his prose that takes the foreground. The writing is generally very creepy and Phillips does a great job of making the player feel that the threat is real and around every corner. There were a few instances when the prose went a little over the top and when it got to be too much it typically fell into one of these two categories: Aggravatingly repetitive "It's quite easy to get caught up in the world of finance and forget about the rest of us unfortunates who never had your chances." "I'd like to see you fail for once, Charlie. You think you're a major player, but in reality you're just a pawn in a very big game -- and it's time to start playing." "Imagine having to write your obituary, Charlie. If they had the decency to be truthful, they'd say what a heartless creep you were, but the ability to lie is second nature to accountants." - This is a sample of Charlie's enemy's dialogue, anytime Charlie's enemy comes within earshot of Charlie. By the end I felt like saying "Alright, either kill me or get some new material because I can't keep going on like this!" OR Cringe-inducing "She never had a chance to say, 'I love you'." - Charlie's reaction after discovering his dead fiancée. Wait a minute, after dating for two years and proposing marriage, she never told him she loved him? Boy, that upper lip in England gets stiffer every year. :) But it was worth going through that drivel to get to the little gems like this one: "It's difficult to ascertain an age since wet sandy hair covers most of her blistered face, but she can't be much older than twenty. You only see her body for a split second before sheer revulsion makes you look away, but the details are memorable: ankles bound with strong twine, adhesive tape starting to peel off her swollen mouth, tattoos of red flowers on her hips." - A description of one of your enemy's many victims. Most of the victims are done like this and it's quite unsettling when you find them within the fondly described rooms of your former college. Another technique Phillips uses to sustain the atmosphere is the flashback (which is used when Charlie either gets knocked out or stumbles onto something that triggers a memory). Through the flashbacks we learn about Charlie's history - more specifically his college years -
and the characters from Charlie's past. The characters are all well done
with the usual suspects in full force; we have the bully, the love
interest(s), the victim, and Charlie's teachers. From this group, a few
suspects with potential motives arise but unfortunately, all of their
motives are suspect in turn.

Phillips tries hard to create tension between Charlie and the other
characters with the flashbacks but what the flashbacks really illustrate
is that - contrary to his enemy's ravings -- Charlie was a victim for a
good part of his college life, and had it anything but easy growing up.
If I feel sorry for anyone in this game it IS Charlie. His past would
constitute the lead role in any Shakespearean tragedy. In fact, if any
character has a motive for vengeance it's him. Did Charlie make mistakes
in his life? Sure. But they were very human mistakes and certainly not
intentional. That's what makes his enemy's hatred (and through that any
of the supporting cast's motives for wanting to kill him) a little
unrealistic. Enemies also tries to convey the feeling that it was
Charlie's actions that drove his enemy to (amongst other things) serial
killing. Given Charlie's past, this too seems flawed.

Maybe it's the case then that Charlie's enemy is a psychopath, and that
Charlie is a casualty of circumstance -- a victim, caught in the wrong
place at the wrong time. If this was the author's intent, however, then
the story loses a bit of its effectiveness and the game changes from a
battle between two masterminds to that of a lowly victim being hunted by
a mindless predator. My jury's still out on this because I don't think
that was Phillips' intent. At any rate, it ends up being a minor speed
bump on the road through a very chilling story.

As I'd mentioned earlier, the focus of Phillips' games in the past have
been his puzzles. He's racked up a few XYZZY puzzle nominations already
for some of his previous work and with Enemies he continues to impress.
I was reading one of the int-fiction newsgroups a while ago and noticed
someone making a comment about Andy Phillips' previous game Heist. Their
comment was that in many cases it looked like the plot was being built
around the puzzle and not the other way around. I had personally never
seen it that way (maybe it's because Heist is one of my favorite games
or maybe it's because I've always preferred puzzles to plot), but in
retrospect I think the author of the post may have had a point. Enemies
improves a bit on Heist in that respect with many of the puzzles
centering around different college-related courses including chemistry,
mathematics, history, and astronomy. The college section is also capped
off with an entertaining macro-puzzle (a spin off of the board game
Clue) that brings everything together quite nicely.

Once you move through the college into the final confrontation with your
enemy, there are fairly strict time limits imposed which require a lot
of saving and restoring, and in most cases there can't be progress
without a little learning by death. I know most players don't view this
as a terribly good thing, but in this case I think it supports mimesis.
After all, how much time would a serial killer give you if they were
intent on killing you?

The final battle between you and your enemy is also done very well. It
involves both offensive and defensive maneuvers as well as some
pre-planned setups. I've always been impressed with good fight sequences
in IF because getting the timing done correctly and keeping up the
player's intensity is considerably more difficult than with a graphical

There were 2 puzzles however that I think might really taint the
player's perception of this game. The first one in particular ended up
being a point where I know a lot of gamers stopped playing, and it's
unfortunate because they miss out on a thrilling finale. Without giving
too much detail, the puzzle involves an intricate number of steps where
each step has to be performed correctly. If one step is missed, the
player gets killed. This sort of thing isn't terribly uncommon in IF but
the problem here is that the game doesn't give you any clues as to
whether you're on the right track or not. To make matters worse, the
puzzle is very complex and requires several boatloads of author
telepathy to be done correctly. To finally make this puzzle truly
horrible, there is a random element to the puzzle that means never
producing the same set of information for the same game so that even
after reading the walkthrough, I still had difficulty. In frustration, I
had to e-mail the author with my set of data and he had to feed me back
the answer. My motivation to play Enemies after completing this puzzle
was severely diminished, and it took many moons to get my appetite back.

Perhaps not as brutal, but equally frustrating was a poorly implemented
puzzle revolving around viewing certain pieces of evidence and then
confronting your enemy with their existence. Although I did see all the
necessary evidence, I never managed to make the connection that I had to
see it all in the same saved game, and thus was killed immediately when
my enemy confronted me. I actually figured out the enemy's identity
early on in the game because of a subtle hint in one of the puzzles (in
fact, it was so subtle it may have been inadvertent), so not being able
to confront my enemy with the evidence made this puzzle even more

These were my two main sticking points with the puzzles but there were
also a few minor problems with the parser, and some guess-the-verb
problems. The problems were so minor, in fact, that they might not even
be worth mentioning, but I think I will because I've noticed that these
particular problems are quite common in bigger games. There were
instances where I had a vague idea as to what I was supposed to do, but
the solutions revolved around non-standard Inform actions (i.e., throw
(x) over (y), put (x) under (y)). In a game like this, it's tough enough
trying to figure out what to do when you're armed with a stable of
common Inform verbs, but throw some "not-so-obvious" ones in there, and
things get exponentially more difficult. A suggestion to remedy this
problem might be to include a piece in the INFO section detailing all
the verbs that can be used in the game. A good example of how to do this
is Jon Ingold's 1999 release, and similarly puzzle-oriented game, The
Mulldoon Legacy. Ingold lists all the potential commands in the game in
a special section in the help menu and this makes a very difficult game
puzzle-wise, much more enjoyable. Ingold also makes a comment in the
help section of his game that guessing what verbs to use shouldn't be
part of the puzzle. I tend to agree with him, especially in this case,
because Enemies would still be sufficiently hard with a comprehensive
verb list.

There, that's my last squabble with the puzzles. The truth is that there
were at least two or three puzzles in this game that could easily be
nominated for XYZZY awards, and the sense of satisfaction I got from
completing most of them was very high. A recommendation might be to play
this game with a walkthrough close by, and when you hit one of the
killer puzzles (believe me you'll know when it happens), you can save
both your gaming experience and yourself the grief of trying to plow
through them.

The ending as I'd mentioned is really well done but one last thing sort
of irked me. If you finish the game with a full point score, you're
awarded the rank of "Man of Little Merit". Not that I'm sure Charlie
ever had anything to prove, but if he did, he at least proved that he
was worthy of life. Not a big deal, but it left a bad taste in my mouth
when I finished.

All gripes aside, Enemies is a fine game and for those of you who like
puzzle-heavy games that don't completely sacrifice plot, this may be one
to download.

FTP FileInform .z8 file FTP FilePC Executable FTP FileSolution


From: Roger N. Dominick <dominirn SP@G ucunix.san.uc.EDU>
Review appeared in
SPAG #2 -- September 26, 1994

NAME: Enhanced AUTHOR: SophistiChaos
AVAILABILITY: Shareware $10 IF Archive PUZZLES: Logical, interesting
CHARACTERS: 1-D, but fun. PARSER: small vocabulary
PLOT: Well-planned, linear. ATMOSPHERE: Dark and corny
WRITING: Good, little "purple" prose. SUPPORTS: Any TADS run-time.
DIFFICULTY: Medium, a few parser problems
EMAIL: Hans Persson: unicorn SP@G
Dominik Zemmler: dz SP@G

I recently played the (unregistered, ftp'd) shareware version of
_Enhanced_, the first (only?) chapter in the "Cyberventure Trilogy".

Possibly the first truly cyberpunk adventure game I've played (unless
A Mind Forever Voyaging counts), and certainly entertaining as an
example of that genre. However, some of the actions that must be taken
in the game depend upon the player's familiarity with certain cyberpunk
terminology ("ice," etc.), and a lot of the in-jokes are *really* in.
There is also one spot where you have to do a very repititous task
again and again, and more than one place where plurals either cause
problems by being too much ("connector"s being a good case in point) or
not enough (I dearly wished to be able to refer to "plastics," in the
plural). I had a few word-hunt fights with the parser, especially in
one puzzle -- took me 30+ turns to figure out the expected wording to
do something required to finish the game alive!

The screens-long opening serves as a fast-if-not-especially-believable
way to get the character into the main thick of the action. Once
there, the plot moves briskly through a storyline filled with in-jokes
and almost-caricature NPCs... but it somehow remains fun and engaging.
I got stuck twice, and ended up using a step-through from the if-archive
for one bit. Enhanced and the solution file are ftp'able from the

I enjoyed the game, for a while; when I began to have parsing problems,
my enjoyment was diminished. I'm looking forwards to seeing what else
comes out of this trilogy, and with a little polish, SGD's games should
be excellent. I am going to mail a check off to the authors this
weekend; for $10, including source code, it's a very good value.

FTP FilePC Executable (.zip) FTP FileMAC (.sea.hqx) FTP FileOther TADS Formats (.tar.Z) FTP FileSolution (Text)


From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G>
Review appeared in
SPAG #17 -- May 10, 1999

NAME: Enlightenment: A One-room Absurdity
AUTHOR: Taro Ogawa
E-MAIL: Taro.Ogawa SP@G
DATE: 1998
PARSER: Inform
SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters
AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive)
URL: VERSION: Release 7 Enlightenment is proof positive that one-room games need not be one-joke or one-puzzle in style; in fact, they can be quite diverse and difficult. In a competition with several of them, Enlightenment stands out as the most accomplished: there is a certain unity to the puzzles that justifies the one-room framework, and they are difficult enough to tax the player's mental energy, even within the confines of the room. The game also features a take-off on the Infocom "feelies" of old, with an HTMLized excerpt from Popular Enchanting and several silly but amusing tidbits. The excerpt reproduces the goofball feel of the Infocom manuals, and fits with the game's persistent tweaking of Activision (the darkness is inhabited by g***s, notably, and being eaten by one is "both g***ling and g***some"). (The prologue also refers to Frobozz Magic Napalm and a Frobozz Magic Tinning Kit, so there's not much ambiguity about who we're imitating.) The game blends traditional fantasy elements with anachronistic bits like battery-operated appliances in a way that likewise recalls Infocom; one of the familiar objects is a aerosol can of g*** repellent. The puzzles, though the solutions are sometimes silly enough to recall Steve Meretzky, would qualify as among Infocom's more difficult: several turn on realizing the physical properties of some of the objects you're holding, properties not at all obvious to the unscientifically minded. Still, the puzzles are inventive and require some lateral thinking--and some combining of objects in several cases--to solve; the difficulty stems less from unfairness or obscure facts than from the one-object or one-property conventions of most IF puzzles. The real fly in the ointment is the hint system, which seems badly broken--one must go through the hints for the concept of the game as a whole in order to get to those for specific puzzles, whether or not one has already grasped the goal. There may be a reason for that--the headings for the individual puzzles might give the game away for the player who hasn't picked up the point yet--but surely there must be a way to avoid that problem without such a maladaptive system. At any rate, in a game this difficult, the hint system is essential--and beyond the initial glitch, the system works well. The plot--at least, what can be revealed here--is simple enough: at the end of a cave-crawl hack-and-slash fantasy quest, you have to cross a bridge guarded by a troll. Therein lies the excuse for giving you an inventory full of sundry objects, presumably, which makes possible difficult and complicated puzzles. But the way you go about getting rid of the troll is more inventive than the premise suggests, and suggests an ironic reversal of one of the adventurer's commonplace tasks. Likewise implied is a jab at the interchangeability of fantasy quests, since the quest as a whole is clearly generic; you never find out, after all, what you were after in the first place. The joke, of course, is that the game sprinkles offhand references to other things you've already encountered in your quest, as if the premise were actually worth developing, more than an excuse for the one-room problem. Enlightenment is a short but extremely solid game: the puzzles are challenging enough that solving them feels rewarding. If it feels less like a game than a small section of a larger game, that's presumably the intent, and while it might be more satisfying to play a full-blown game, this sort of entry is ideal for the competition. With enough Infocom references to make fans nostalgic, and some of the feel of early Infocom, Enlightenment is an unabashed puzzle-fest that boasts some of the competition's toughest problems. It does what it does well enough that I gave it a 9 in the competition. From: Paul O'Brian <obrian SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #17 -- May 10, 1999

What is it with all the one-room games this year? There must be some
kind of movement happening in the collective IF unconscious which says
"Plot? Who needs it? Give me one room, and as long as it's got one or
more puzzles in it, I'm happy." Well, sometimes I'm happy too. And,
more or less, this is one of those times. Despite its title,
Enlightenment has very little to do with gaining awareness or
understanding Zen koans. To say what it *does* have to do with would
probably be a bit too much of a spoiler, but it involves deliberately
placing yourself in a situation that most text adventurers would avoid
at all costs. Because of this, it took me a little while to actually
catch on to how the game is supposed to work -- I just couldn't
believe that deliberately placing myself in danger was the right
path. It is, though, and getting there is all the fun. Like last
year's Zero Sum Game, Enlightenment puts the PC at the *end* of an
adventure of dizzying proportions. Unlike Zero Sum Game, Enlightenment
isn't really an unwinding of the PC's accomplishments -- you get to
keep your score, and even increase it. You've already overcome dozens
of obstacles, collected lots of treasures, and scored 240 points out
of 250; now there's just the little matter of getting past a canonical
troll bridge and scurrying out of the caverns with your loot. But how?
In the game's words:

If only you hadn't used your Frobozz Magic Napalm on that ice wall...
If only you hadn't used your TrolKil (*Tm) to map that maze...
If only you hadn't sold your Frobozz Magic Tinning Kit.
If only you hadn't cooked and eaten those three Billy Goats Gruff...
... or that bear ...

If ONLY you'd checked the bloody bridge on your way in.

This brief excerpt is representative of the writing in the game: it is
both a very funny parody of the Zork tradition as well as an
enthusiastic participation in that tradition. In fact, as you can see
from the above quote, the game actually features some familiar parts
of the Zork universe, such as Frobozz Magic products, rat-ants, and
even certain slavering lurkers in dark corners. Activision apparently
granted permission for this usage, as they did for David Ledgard in
his adaptation of the Planetfall sample transcript for his game Space
Station. Activision's willingness to grant permissions for such usage,
as well as their donation of prizes to the competition and their
sometime inclusion of hobbyist IF on commercial products, is great
news for a fan community like ours -- their support of IF means that
more people will devote their time to it, resulting (hopefully) in
more and more good games. Enlightenment is one of the good ones, and
one of its best features is its writing. Another way in which it is
unlike Zero Sum Game is that it doesn't take an extreme or harsh tone.
Instead, the writing is almost always quite funny in both its comments
on text adventure cliches (the FULL score listing is a scream) and its
usage of them. The game is littered with footnotes, which themselves
are often littered with footnotes. Sly allusions and in-jokes abound,
but they're never what the game depends on, so if you don't catch
them, you're not missing anything important. Of all the one-room games
I've seen this year, Enlightenment is definitely the best-written.

It even includes some fun outside documentation in the form of the
HTML edition of the latest issue of Spelunker Today: "The magazine for
explorers and adventurers." This kind of mood-building file has been
included with a few competition games this year, and Enlightenment's
extras are definitely the best of the bunch. The writing in the faux
magazine is just as good as the writing in the game, and the graphics
look sharp and professional. I like these little extras -- they really
do help set the mood of a game -- and they definitely add to the fun
of Enlightenment.

The one problem I had with this game was that, although the writing is
funny and clever, it is sometimes not precise enough to convey the
exact nature of a puzzle or its solution. In a heavily puzzle-oriented
game like Enlightenment, this can be a major setback. For example, at
one point in the game you're called upon to cut something, but it
won't work to use your sword on it. You must find something else to
cut with. Well, there is something else, but that object is never
described as having a sharp edge. This is one of those puzzles that
made me glad I looked at the hints -- the only way I would have ever
gotten it is by brute force, and that's no fun anyway. In another
instance, a part of the setting is described in such a confusing way
that I still don't quite understand what it is supposed to look
like. Part of the difficulty, I think, is that the game features a
gate, with metal spikes at its bottom set into the stone floor. Now,
this made me think of bars, like you might see on a portcullis.
However, as far as I can determine the game actually means a solid
wall, with spikes at the bottom, which I wouldn't describe as a
gate. This kind of imprecision is a real problem when the objects so
imprecisely described have to be acted upon in precise ways in order
to solve puzzles. So I used the hints for a number of the puzzles, and
I don't mind that I did, because I wouldn't have solved them on my own
anyway. But imprecision aside, I'm still glad I used them, because it
enabled me to play all the way through Enlightenment, and the trip out
of that one room was well worth taking.

Rating: 8.6

From: David Ledgard <dledgard SP@G>
Review appeared in SPAG #17 -- May 10, 1999

This game is based in the Zork Universe. You have just completed your
mission and escaped with a load of treasure, but a troll blocks the
last bridge to freedom, you can't go back because you've booby-trapped
the gate. This is a one room adventure which I find a bit
constraining, with only one NPC, the troll. Your inventory includes a
lot of treasures, and a few other adventurer type items.

I'm afraid I couldn't work out what to do, and was running to the
hints within 10 minutes. I thought all the illuminated objects were
some kind of programming error, probably me being a bit dense. I'm
afraid the level of puzzles in this game was to complex for me, I only
managed to solve a handful by myself, and kept having to use hints. I
could never have completed it on my own.

The game also comes with a mildly interesting HTML web page
set-up. The author would of been wise to include a few subtle hints
here, so people wouldn't have to use the hint system straight away,
and point out it exists in the run file. Once you start using hints it
ruins the game, and just becomes a chore of reading hints, and typing
in what they say. The game also has a footnotes system, but I never
found footnotes much fun after the novelty value, and the old Footnote
10 - Read Footnote 11, Footnote 11 - Read Footnote 10; and Footnote 20
- we didn't mention that Footnote; jokes have worn off. It's just a
thing to show off one's programming skill, and annoy the player.

This game is well coded - I didn't find any errors - but too complex
for my taste, and I suspect a lot of other people. The author has a
Japanese sounding name, whether he is or not I don't know, but the
game certainly seems Japanese: Ultra Efficient, and Ultra Boring.

FTP FileDirectory with Inform .z5 file and associated files

Episode In The Life Of An Artist

From: Virginia Gretton <VGretton SP@G>
Review appeared in
SPAG #35 -- December 31, 2003

TITLE: Episode In The Life Of An Artist
AUTHOR: Peter Eastman
EMAIL: None provided
DATE: October 2003
SUPPORTS: TADS2 interpreters
URL: VERSION: Release 1 (competition version) Never judge a book (virtual or otherwise) by its title I told myself as I opened up the game. I might be a scientist who thinks chemistry is the best subject on the planet, but a title like "Episode In The Life Of An Artist" does not necessarily mean an arty, poetic, puzzleless offering. The opening scene is a bedroom, which could have been instantly sleep-inducing for the player. Luckily, I was fascinated by the author's choice of quotations and continued. Exploring led me into a pretty run-of-the-mill dressing sequence but at least I wasn't trapped in one room waiting to discover the magic command that would open up the game. And the kitchen was fun for a few turns. A possibly frustrating time is encountered outside the house but it doesn't defeat the intellect to find the key to moving the action along. Entertainment is provided while this section is unfolding its vital pieces of information. And then -- suddenly -- the game began to grow on me. Almost against my will. There is a wonderful sequence after the PC reaches the main game destination, which speaks volumes about his pernickety attention to dress code. The timing is exactly right and the PC's shock at the event is an enduring memory. Yes, there are bugs. Yes, there are times when starting again is the only thing to do. The game still managed to overcome my irritation at its implementation and logic gaps. It made me want to finish. I'm glad I did, because the final screens are worth the playing time by themselves. From: Paul E Coad <coad SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #35 -- December 31, 2003

I really enjoyed playing Peter Eastman's entry in the IFComp, "Episode
in the Life of an Artist." This is largely because game contains many
references to and is in the style of other works that I have enjoyed.
After playing the first section, I nearly quit and moved on to the next
game on my list, but I was completely hooked by the second. The game's
tone is much lighter than many other of the games in the comp, it's
playable in 2 hours, and it's fun.

The story starts with the character in bed with the alarm buzzing. The
remainder of the initial section is concerned with getting cleaned up,
dressed and ready for work. This part is a little dull but serves to
introduce the character. Most story-oriented games contain few or simple
puzzles, and Episode is no exception. None of the puzzles are very
difficult and a few are just tedious. Still, they are not the point;
they're just plot devices. The writing is simple but of high quality.
The game is segmented into discrete areas. Within each area the player
has freedom to explore, but once one of the trigger actions occurs, the
character is moved to a new segment. At first this is a bit jarring but
it is a relief not be required to, for instance, find the bus stop,
right bus, etc.

The setting is a skewed version of the intersection between the here and
now, Zork, and Daniel Pinkwater universes, with bits of others mixed in.
Included in the Zork references is a mention of a "five zorkmid bill"
being in the character's wallet. Usually the references to the Zork
universe take the form of similar items or locations. On the Pinkwater
side, several his books contain variations on the chicken man. His
appearance in this game kept me playing when I was just about to quit
and move on to the next entry to be judged. More than the chicken man
has the Pinkwater vibe. The structure of the story, its simple and
childlike main character, and the strange characters/machines/job are
all common Pinkwater elements. Also included are nods to HHTG, and
likely a few more that I missed.

At the end of some movies while the credits are being shown, outtakes
from the filming are shown as well. Jackie Chan movies do these
particularly well. They show funny mistakes, goof-ups, and occasionally
Jackie Chan being taken away in ambulances. They do not add to the
story, but they add some extra humor and a peek at the human side of the
people involved. We are invited to laugh with the actors instead of just
at the characters. Some Pixar movies also contain outtakes at the end.
These, however, are obviously scripted, animated, rendered, and
artificial. In Episode, after the end of the game the player is given
the option to view outtakes. These were mostly well done, but felt more
like the Pixar outtakes than the ones from Jackie Chan.

The game is not perfect. The beginning is slow. The end is abrupt. Parts
of the game are scripted in ways which are a little sloppy. In a few
places, long asides are added to room descriptions; these make sense the
first time the location is entered, but break the mood when they are
shown each time the player enters the location. None of these problems
is enough of a problem to really knock off too many points off my score.

I rated this game a 7 in the judging. It placed a respectable 11th.
Hopefully we will see more games from Peter Eastman.

FTP FileDirectory with TADS2 .gam file and walkthrough


From: Stephen Bond <stephenbond SP@G>
Review appeared in
SPAG #46 -- October 17, 2006

Title: Eragon
Author: Anonymous
E-mail: ???
Date: July 2005
Parser: Inform 6
Supports: Zcode Interpreters
Availability: Free, available on official Eragon site
URL: Version: 1 One kind of r*if post I hate (one of many) is the "IF reference at!" variety, where I'm meant to be grateful because some badly-drawn comic strip has mentioned a grue on panel 3, or some blog has posted an "amusing" "satirical" IF transcript, which has all your favourite commands, from >XYZZY to >FROTZ LANTERN, but never my favourite command, which is >QUIT. As you might gather, I'm never excited by this kind of exposure; it invariably tends to reinforce old stereotypes about the form, playing to a gallery that associates IF with dungeon crawls, treasure hunts, mazes and magic words. In the unlikely event that anyone's interest is piqued by such stuff, they'll come to r*if expecting more of the same. A recent example of mainstream IF exposure is Eragon, a zcode dungeon crawl apparently based on a book of the same name by Christopher Paolini (and because it's hosted on his official site with no other attribution, he'll have to take the blame for the game as well). Eragon takes its game design cues from the homebrewed BASIC Zork knock-offs that padded out coverdisks in the 80s, and so, true to form, we have a maze, we have parser problems, we have guess-the-verb for every puzzle, we have laughably static NPCs, and we have bad, bad writing. "A bundle lays wrapped at his feet", we are told early on, and further occurrences of the same error reveal that the writer really does think "to lay" means "to lie". He splices pleonasms together with commas, writing "to the east stands a crude tent, the source of the singing comes from within it" instead of "the singing comes from a crude tent to the east." In fact, the prose is littered with so many grammatical, spelling and formatting errors that I can begin to appreciate why the novel took a year in the writing, and two years in the editing. That said, I hope the game was written by some deluded fanboy and not by Paolini himself. If this is anything like the published novel, then I'm amazed it ever got out of the slushpile. Eragon's setting and story are the miserable third pressings of Tolkien, with the ancient dwarf stronghold Khazad-Dûm -- sorry, "Farthen Dûr" -- coming under attack by orcs -- sorry, "Urgals". It's the kind of place where all the proper names suffer from Klingonitis, being peppered with glottal stops and random diacriticals. The exception is the incongruous "Angela", an unmoving herbalist who is clearly supposed to be a bit of a character, but just repeats the same screen-long infodump every time I talk to her. The PC is entirely without character and the dungeon is entirely without atmosphere, a state not helped by the presence of rooms called "Maze M3" and "Hallway H19". "The northern wall appears to be a mycologist's dream!" we are told at one stage, which is an odd coincidence, because the rest of the game is a proctologist's dream. As a game, Eragon is less than worthless, but I suppose the real issue is whether it's likely to encourage new people to check out the IF community. On balance, I don't think I'd like r*if to be overrun with consumers of EFP, but Eragon offers little danger of that. There are no links to the IF community on the site, and no credit is given to the development system, only to some mysterious and unnamed "open source technology". The Inform banner has been hacked away from the start, but the undocumented >SCRIPT ON reveals the game to have been written in Inform 6.3. (This also reveals the game to have been released in debug mode, so that I can solve one puzzle with >PURLOIN -- my other favourite command.) Given the number of default responses left in, a chunk of the game's text is actually by Graham Nelson; but rather than acknowledge a debt, the game prefers to hide the competition. A dishonest strategy, but no doubt the only profitable one when you've got such a duff product!


From: Mike Roberts <mjr_ SP@G>
Review appeared in
SPAG #19 -- January 14, 2000

TITLE: Erehwon
AUTHOR: Richard Litherland, writing as Josiah Pinkfoot
E-MAIL: lither SP@G
DATE: 1999
PARSER: TADS standard
SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters
AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive)
URL: VERSION: Release 1.0 "Surreal" games are, at worst, collections of random locations and characters, each included only for its puzzle value, held together by a tenuous framework. Sometimes these games are classified as surreal only because they're so random, and sometimes the author uses the surrealism as an excuse to avoid having to make things make any sense. Some of the very earliest text adventures fell into this category: locations with no conceivable connection were often juxtaposed, and pointless anachronisms abounded. And after the success of Myst, graphical adventure designers cranked out lots of bad surreal games; it's even arguable that Myst is one of them, although it at least made an effort to justify its contrived settings. At their best, surreal games are just as self-consistent as realistic games, but take place in fantastic settings with their own rules: different laws of physics, perhaps, or different rules of social interaction. Brian Moriarty's Trinity was probably the first adventure
to meet this standard, and to many people is still the best surreal
adventure game ever written.

Erehwon is probably not going to unseat Trinity as the benchmark surreal
adventure, but it's another fine example. The game takes place in a kind
of meta-universe where different parallel universes can be connected
according to complicated rules. The plot is minimal - you have to
collect a number of objects so that you can take part in a role-playing
game (which is, it turns out, a role-playing version of the text
adventure). The setting, though, is varied and detailed, and richly

Erehwon is an unabashedly puzzle-oriented game. Most of its puzzles are
reasonable and fair, although a good many are pretty tough. And there
are lots of them; the game has five major puzzles, which involve
collecting five objects, but each of these has a number of sub-puzzles
that must be solved first. The number and difficulty of the puzzles
makes the game daunting as a competition entry; within the time limit, I
only managed to make it about two-thirds of the way through the game,
even after making extensive use of hints.

Fortunately, the game has an excellent hint system. Hints are delivered
incrementally, so it's possible to get a little bit of help and still
feel like you did most of the work. The hint system is
context-sensitive, and offers hints only on puzzles that are currently
accessible, which avoids giving away upcoming events by showing topics
too early.

This game is large, with lots of things to see and lots to do. It's also
very ambitious in its mechanics; for example, it has a movement system
that lets the player mix compass directions with relative movement. All
of this works; the game is technically dazzling.

If it hadn't been for the hint system, I probably wouldn't have made
much progress in the game, and I would have thought it was far too
difficult. With the hint system, though, I thoroughly enjoyed the game's
clever construction and detailed, imaginative world.

Score: 8 (clever and amusing, well-implemented)

FTP FileDirectory with TADS .gam file and walkthrough

Eric's Gift

From: Mike Roberts <mjr_ SP@G>
Review appeared in
SPAG #31 -- January 3, 2003

TITLE: Eric's Gift
AUTHOR: Joao Mendes
EMAIL:joao.mendes SP@G
DATE: September 2002
SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters
URL: VERSION: IF Comp Release This is one of those stories where you have to get to the end to fully understand what's going on at the beginning, so I won't say anything about the storyline except that it was interesting throughout, and the ending satisfying. Otherwise, I'll limit my comments to the work's more technical aspects. This game falls into the puzzle-free category, where a lot of authors have focused their efforts in the past few years, especially for Competition games. In overall form, this one is fairly typical of the category: very little inventory, a small number of locations with lots of detail, and well-developed characters. Puzzle-free games vary in their degree of interactivity; at one extreme, you just sit there and press the space bar to get to the next chunk of text, and at the other you do more or less the same things you'd do in a more traditional game, but never encounter any locked doors or other obstacles. "Eric's Gift" is at the latter end of the spectrum; it even uses the traditional ASK/TELL conversational system, rather than one of the more constrained systems often seen in puzzle-free works. Conversation is a big part of this game, and it's handled quite well. I usually don't like ASK/TELL very much as a conversation system, because it's so artificial: in real life, you never just walk up to random people and start unceremoniously peppering them with questions -- and if you did, they wouldn't just answer as though they'd been standing there all day waiting for you. There's an ebb and flow to a real conversation, and a certain amount of protocol for initiating and terminating one. "Eric's Gift" does a couple of things to make its ASK/TELL style of conversations seem much more natural. First, each question is narrated: when you type an ASK ABOUT command, the story puts your question into the narration: >ASK BOB ABOUT LANTERN "Do you know how to work this thing?" you ask Bob, holding up the lantern. Bob takes a look at it. "You probably need a new battery." This game didn't invent this technique, certainly, but it works well here. It's surprising that more games don't use this device, because it's simple to implement and a big improvement over the traditional style of showing only the other character's response. Some people complain that narrating a question puts words into the player's mouth; but in a game that distinguishes the player from the player character, it's actually putting words in the player character's mouth, which is a different matter. And anyway, there's some implication of words in the PC's mouth no matter what: it's not as though the PC is literally meant to say simply "LANTERN?" That's part of what feels artificial about unnarrated questions; clearly the PC is meant to be posing a question in some normal conversational form, so it's weird to omit it from the narration. For authors who can't get past the words-in-mouth thing, perhaps you could at least narrate the fact that a question was asked -- just something like "You ask Bob about the lantern"; this would serve as the ASK ABOUT equivalent of the simple acknowledgment that a command like TAKE or DROP would get. The second conversation technique this story uses is to establish a certain amount of context to each conversation. One of the things that usually makes ASK/TELL feel unnatural is the way you walk up to an NPC who's never seen your character before and ask a question, and the response makes it sound as though you're an old friend and you'd been gabbing for half an hour already. Why would the NPC just answer, rather than asking who the heck are you and what's with the scuba get-up? This game is different; each conversation has a clear starting point, establishing that we're engaged in conversation for subsequent queries. This allows a certain amount of normal conversational protocol to be observed. The game also arranges things so that once a conversation has begun, it stays the focus of the interactivity for a while, further enhancing the sense of an ongoing conversation. The game accomplishes this largely through a limited physical setting, so there's not a lot to do other than continue conversing -- which works well here, but it obviously wouldn't be appropriate for every game. Despite the limits on the PC's options during conversations, I never had the sense of being tied to a chair; the limits are subtle and gentle, since they're presented as motivational rather than physical constraints. In sum, this is a well-implemented piece of puzzleless IF with an interesting story. It doesn't break extensive new technical ground, as it mostly relies (with fairly good results) on techniques that have been developed in other puzzle-free works over the past few years; its conversational system does have some subtle refinements that are worth looking at, though. FTP FileDirectory with TADS3 .t3 file FTP FileSource code

The Erudition Chamber

From: Virginia Gretton <VGretton SP@G>
Review appeared in
SPAG #35 -- December 31, 2003

TITLE: The Erudition Chamber
AUTHOR: Daniel T. Freas
EMAIL: erthwin SP@G
DATE: October 2003
SUPPORTS: TADS2 interpreters
URL: VERSION: Competition release I came away from this game feeling I would forgive the author anything. Although I'm a non-fan of MUDs -- from which the game derives inspiration -- the opening pulled me in. I am not aware of visualising in any conscious way normally but such a vivid image was conjured by the opening description that I laughed out loud. This (more than any other piece in the competition) reminded me of the heady days when we queued to pay money for adventure games. A time when whole weeks were lost fighting with puzzles and resisting hints from coded clues in the back of the manual. I loved the way situations had multiple and logical solutions. It was compulsive in a self-assessing way because you just had to find out which sect fitted you best. I also loved the way doors disappeared behind you as new areas were entered. I was left in no doubt that I should go forward with the equipment in my current inventory. No fifty-move treks across the map to retrieve an essential object discarded earlier. The central puzzle was a perfect struggle of my intellect against the Maester. I was meant to prove myself and the contrived game world became perfectly believable to me. So what do I need to forgive the author for? Only that The Erudition Chamber ended much, much too soon. I would have happily continued through another five or six tests. Bravo! FTP FileDirectory with TADS2 .gam file and hints

Escape From Pulsar 7

From: T. Henrik Anttonen <henrikanttonen SP@G>
Review appeared in
SPAG #33 -- June 25, 2003

TITLE: Escape from Pulsar 7
AUTHOR: Brian Howarth & Wherner Barnes
EMAIL: ???
DATE: 1983
URL: The reason I wanted to review this old game was that I have a very special attachment to it since it was the very first text adventure I've ever played. The story to that is actually quite sad. I got a package about five years ago that contained some game collection titled 'Big 100' that actually contained 100 games in five floppy disks. Well, we can all imagine the quality of these wonderful gaming experiences, but there was this game titled Pulsar 7. All of the other games were graphic games except this one and when I started the game, I was hooked. I thought it was a revolutionary idea! No graphics, just text! Brilliant, why hadn't anyone else thought of this before!? That was the thing I wondered for about two years without even noticing that the game was released in 1983. Well, enough of my sad story about my first contact with text adventures. I was supposed to review the game, not myself... In Infocom masterpieces collection, G. Kevin Wilson wrote that the reason text adventures still keep a good amount of players and programmers, is because of the stories. Well, this game proves that you can write a text adventure without much story to back it up. Of course, the game is not very good. In the game, you are the only survivor of the galactic freighter Pulsar 7. Apparently, a group of monsters have boarded the ship and eaten everyone else. Now you have to save the character from the ship full of aliens who have an urge to tear you to pieces. Now, this must've been a really original idea in 1983 with only about couple of million other games using a similar concept. As far as actual gameplay, it's at about the same level as the creative force behind the story. The screen tells you where you are without any description. Then follows a list of the items you can see. About half of these are totally useless and you can't even examine them since the parser is at a complete loss if you try to examine those. For example, in the very beginning of the game I can see a warning sign. I wanted to see if the warning sign contained any text, but I couldn't do that since the parser does not understand what 'warning' means. After the list of items follows a list of exits. There is a significant problem there. In the very beginning of the game, the game says that 'Exit: SOUTH WEST'. I spent the better part of my childhood trying to get to southwest. What I failed to realise was that you can go south OR west, not southwest. This was of course my fault as well, but a bit clearer way of presenting things would not hurt. The parser's level is about the same in all situations. There seems to be only one way of presenting the game with ideas, and unfortunately that way has nothing to do with English grammar. At the time it was really hard for me since I am from Finland and English is not my primary language, so the parser's total failure to understand words like 'to', 'the', or 'a' brought me great difficulties. These days I don't have that problem, but sometimes still it gives me difficulties to make sentences that the program would understand. For example, commands like 'use key door' are hard for me when 'to' would come naturally. Then again, commands like 'unlock door' or 'use key' are out of the question since the parser fails to understand those too. In the latter case you would get a message like this: It is no use trying to use KEY Well, as I found out, the parser doesn't understand even 'use key door', because that would result a message like this: It is no use trying to use KEY DOOR So 'use key door' doesn't work either, but it's a good example of the language you have to use in the game. The parser seems to have a language of its own and some of the basic commands we're accustomed to using in interactive fiction are completely useless as the parser does not understand them. That makes the gameplay really hard, especially to someone like me who have only just found the joy of playing text adventures and who is totally helpless in all of them. For example, the parser does not understand the 'look' command. In some games, the 'look' command would work the same way as the 'examine' command except that it's a lot shorter to write. In this game, you have to write the 'examine' command over and over again. If the 'look' command would have different function than the 'examine' command, I would understand that, but it's really hard to understand why there is no 'look' command at all. The danger of the game is to fall asleep. If you do, a MUTANT CREATURE rips your head off and the game makes it clear that 'I have landed myself right in to MANURE this time!!'. Maybe it is the best to let the game stay in there and try to forget it as soon as possible. FTP FileC64 disk image, packaged with 10 other Howarth "Mysterious Adventures" FTP FilePC executable FTP FileZ80 snapshot for Spectrum emulators, packaged with 19 other Howarth games FTP FileZ80 snapshot for Spectrum emulators, packaged with a bucketload of other Spectrum games FTP FileZcode version, packaged with 10 other Howarth "Mysterious Adventures" FTP FileScottFree version, packaged with 10 other Howarth "Mysterious Adventures" FTP FileStepwise walkthrough, packaged with a bucketload of other walkthroughs FTP FileCommented stepwise walkthrough, packaged with a bucketload of other walkthroughs

Escape from the Crazy Place

From: Mike Harris <M.Harris SP@G>
Review appeared in
SPAG #46 -- October 17, 2006

TITLE: Escape From the Crazy Place
EMAIL: jason.guest SP@G
DATE: August 14, 2006
AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF Archive
URL: JJ Guest writes, “I began writing Escape from the Crazy Place when I was thirteen years old, and have now finally finished it, aged thirty-six. In spite of this I still haven't the slightest idea of what it's about.” And how. I can only imagine that the vast stretch of time was spent on the technical details of adapting the game to the parser, as the admittedly bug-free play reads like something written by a 13 year old. The game opens with an NPC hamburger vending clown named Donald McRonald who eventually “takes two fingers and stuffs them up your nostrils for a joke,” and it deteriorates from there. The play, the “puzzles” (such as they are) and the illustrations are simple, sophomoric and pointless. If this sort of humor is your cup of tea, have at it; it’s the only thing Escape From the Crazy Place has going for it. If on the other hand you find it as irritating and unfunny as I do, you’d be well advised to give it a pass. Zip containing HTML TADS 2 executable

An Escape to Remember

From: Mike Harris <M.Harris SP@G>
Review appeared in SPAG #47 -- January 16, 2007 TITLE: An Escape to Remember AUTHOR: The 2nd IF Whispers Team EMAIL: dbs SP@G DATE: July, 2006 PARSER: Inform 7 AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF-Archive URL: VERSION: 1 An Escape to Remember is a "Chinese Whispers / Telephone" style interactive piece, written by 14 different authors each of whom only saw the preceding section of the game. Needless to say, this makes for a very schizophrenic story line. That said, and perhaps in spite of itself, it's quite fun to play. The story starts out with a timed puzzle with a sort of secret agent / escape from a locked room premise and ultimately morphs into a surreal, almost Roger Zelazny finish. In turns it's easy, difficult, serious, silly, well written, juvenile, buggy and error free. Unless I'm mistaken at least some of the authors fudged the premise. There's a segment about mid-game that incorporates a return to a much earlier module, many sections are seamless enough that the transitions between what in retrospect are probably multiple authors is not obvious, and some puzzles incorporated a similar style of solution that charitably might be dismissed as inherent to the insular nature of IF but which in reality likely came from some "against the rules" cribbing. To be fair, I suppose that this could also be attributed to some clean-up after the fact to improve playability. I did run into some trouble in the earliest part of the game, before I understood that objects collected in a previous module could be employed in the subsequent one. Of course, I then had the PC toting a huge number of red herrings from module to module, not wanting to drop the ones I (correctly) suspected as useless out of apprehension that I would not be able to backtrack and collect them had they been needed. The best puzzles required some thought, several objects and multiple steps taken in the correct order to solve. Others were almost irritatingly easy, leaving only the most obvious course of action as a solution. The modules involving them might have been more compelling and memorable had a little bit more "challenge" been built in. Players should be aware that there is one particular puzzle in about the first third of the game that, as far as I could tell, can only be solved by trial and error, with the results of an unsuccessful trial putting the game in an unwinnable state. To my way of thinking, the "Undo" or "Restore" commands have no place in the routine solving of an IF puzzle and I was more than a little bit disappointed in the author of this section for forcing this. There are some bugs. Some modules have minor, annoying but ultimately irrelevant syntax bugs. For example, the PC might run across a "Mauve Paisley Grip": > Open Mauve You can't see any such thing. > Open Paisley You can't see any such thing. > Open Grip You can't see any such thing. > Open Mauve Paisley Grip Opened. Or >Read paper Nothing is written on the paper. >X paper Written on the paper is the Gettysburg Address. The buggiest are two modules involving a subterranean railroad - I found it possible to pick up a location as though it were an object, large objects that require the PC to drop everything else in inventory can be placed inside containers and lifted without such restriction, and I was able to search the contents of a container held by an NPC before obtaining possession of the container itself. None of these bugs made the game unplayable but they're the sort of thing that should have been caught and fixed before release. I might also add that the buggy sections were redeemed at least in part by some of the best, most entertaining and richest writing of the game. Despite the inherent continuity problems in such a format I enjoyed playing An Escape to Remember. Although there were flaws there were also some good puzzles and entertaining mini-plots which definitely made play worthwhile in spite of the more uneven bits. On a scale of 1 to 10 I give it a 5.5 to 6 for difficulty and a 6.5 to 7 overall. Blorbed Z-code game file


From: Mike Roberts <mjr_ SP@G>
Review appeared in
SPAG #31 -- January 3, 2003

TITLE: Evacuate
AUTHOR: Jeff Rissman
EMAIL: unknown
DATE: September 2002
SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters
URL: VERSION: 1.0 This game reminded me of "Planetfall", which is probably inevitable for
a story about escaping a spaceship on the verge of destruction.
"Evacuate" is hardly a Planetfall clone: the plots and settings are
really only similar to the extent that they both start on spaceships in
urgent need of evacuation, and there's nothing in this game that's
directly borrowed from Planetfall. Even so, there are stylistic
influences here and there that brought Planetfall to mind while playing.

The plot is that the player character has to escape a spaceliner that's
been attacked by an enemy ship and is rapidly falling apart. The PC has
somehow slept through the attack, and by the time he wakes up, everyone
else has already left the ship via escape pods. Not surprisingly, the
damage the ship has sustained makes it more difficult to escape, since
some escape routes are blocked by rubble, and many of the ship's systems
are no longer operating properly.

The story and setting are perfect for a traditional puzzle-solving
adventure: the scene of a disaster is naturally full of physical
challenges, and the science fiction setting means that virtually any
kind of machine or device is fair game for mechanical puzzles. The game
doesn't squander this advantage: it does a great job of developing
story-driven puzzles, and virtually every goal is based on overcoming
some obstacle to escape created by the damage to the ship. Most of the
puzzles involve machinery that would be plausibly in the player
character's path of escape. Only a few puzzles feel deliberately
contrived as puzzles; the worst of these is a maze, which has a
relatively interesting gimmick as mazes go but still sticks out as
highly contrived.

(Actually, I'm probably being far too easy on this maze; because of the
competition's time constraints, I was already using the walk-through by
the time I reached it, so I didn't even try to figure out the maze on my
own. If I had tried, I would probably not be so dispassionate. The
maze's gimmick is interesting, but it's not one of those gimmicks that
lets you bypass the drudgery of brute-force mapping with a flash of
insight; on the contrary, it's one of those gimmicks that requires you
to have the flash of insight before you can even start on the drudgery
part. If I hadn't already been using the walk-through, this maze would
undoubtedly have sent me straight to it, and I undoubtedly would have
few kind words to say about it.)

Even though the puzzles are integrated well into the story, many of
their solutions seem arbitrary. There are two ways for a puzzle to make
sense: before you solve it, or after. In the latter category, a puzzle
can make perfect sense after you know the solution, but only because the
solution contains information that helps explain the logic, or because
it wasn't clear until after solving the puzzle that it was a puzzle in
the first place. This kind of puzzle isn't as bad as the kind that makes
no sense at all, but it can still seem arbitrary, since there's no way
to explain why the player character, within the context of the story,
would have thought to do the right thing. This is the kind of puzzle
that seems to occur many times in this game.

Two things are lacking in many of this game's puzzles: hinting, and
motivation. A few puzzles would be much more fair if they provided a
hint when the player tried doing something close to the right thing; in
one place, for example, we have to use a fairly unusual command to open
something, but using a plain OPEN command doesn't give any encouraging
feedback. The OPEN command should respond with an explanation of why the
object can't be opened directly; this would suggest that opening the
object is the right idea, but we need to figure out how. As it is, the
response to OPEN merely suggests that the object isn't openable at all.
Other puzzles simply had syntax that was too specific; for example, in
one situation we must DIG IN something to move it, but none of MOVE,
TAKE, PUSH, or PULL have any effect on the object.

The game's writing is quite good. It's especially above par for a
puzzle-oriented game, since authors of such games tend to put a lot more
effort into the puzzles than into the writing. The setting is especially
well described; the locations are richly imagined and described in great
detail, and are implemented to substantial depth as well. I greatly
enjoyed exploring the early parts of the setting; it was sort of sad
that the ship was being destroyed, since it would have been fun just to
explore it more.

I have a small complaint about the pacing of the plot. Despite the
obvious urgency of the situation, there's no real *feeling* of urgency
to the player character's actions. If you just wander around the ship
doing nothing, the supposedly critical situation doesn't deteriorate one
iota. Now, I'm not suggesting that I'd prefer the game to have a timer
forcing you to complete certain tasks in a certain number of moves; that
would only make the game mechanics too obvious by forcing the player to
constantly save and restore, which for me destroys any sense of
immersion by reducing the story to a puzzle-box to be taken apart and
solved. Nonetheless, it's strange in this particular story that, despite
the blaring klaxons and piles of rubble everywhere, the setting is
completely static, and doesn't change except in response to the player
character's actions. I don't have a lot of suggestions for how to
improve this; it's difficult in interactive fiction to invest
time-critical situations with a real sense of urgency without either
putting the game firmly on rails or killing the PC, neither of which I
like. In this particular game, I think it might make a big difference if
the ship at least felt like it was falling apart in real time, by
showing some locations to grow noticeably worse as the game proceeds.
The deterioration need not be life-threatening or alter the course of
the plot; a new pile of rubble could appear in a hallway, for example,
making the hallway harder to pass but still passable.

I enjoyed the writing and detailed setting of this game. Given the
two-hour Competition judging time limit, I had to consult the
walk-through, so I didn't get the full effect of solving all of the
puzzles. My sense, though, is that many of the puzzles are quite
difficult by virtue of being rather arbitrary; however, they're probably
no more so than in a lot of other adventures, so people who enjoy
solving hard adventure game puzzles might find this a good challenge.

FTP FileDirectory with TADS .gam file and walkthrough

Everybody Loves A Parade

From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G>
Review appeared in
SPAG #12 -- December 13, 1997

NAME: Everybody Loves a Parade
AUTHOR: Cody Sandifer
E-MAIL: Dunno
DATE: 1996
PARSER: TADS advanced
SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters
AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive)
URL: VERSION: Release 2.1 Everybody Loves a Parade manages a difficult feat: it's an enjoyable and rewarding game in its own right, whose puzzles take real thought, but it also essays an important innovation in IF playing style and carries it off brilliantly. That innovation will not be revealed here, as the surprise is part of the value of the innovation and giving it away would spoil the fun for future players, but I know I was thoroughly caught off guard at a certain point late in the game. On the face of it, that development is only a small part of the game and its effect on gameplay is minimal--but when players who have completed the game remember it, I think it is safe to say that one particular moment, more than any other, will remain with them. At first, I questioned the author's judgment in engineering the moment in the way he did--but eventually decided that his approach, more than any other (well, aside from similar strategies), grabbed the reader's attention. The plot is entertaining and reasonably original. You are an engineer sent across the country to start a new job, but you bog down in the wilds of Arizona with almost no gas, stuck behind a parade for a "rock festival"--and no, Janis Joplin is not in town. The events that ensue are engagingly cartoony; though most of the parade elements amount to amusing but irrelevant sideshows, the silliness adds to the charm. (A gravel float? A tank full of jars of pebbles?) The characters are also well done, though better developed in some cases than in others; the humor value of the New Age bikers is considerable, but it might have been nice to see what they do when you ask them about things like inner peace, meditation, truth, etc. (Not to nitpick, but the line "The bikers toss an unruly customer out of the pub and forgive themselves for their trespasses" is a little silly. Since when do New Agers care about sin?) The encounter with the bikers does, if the randomized movements come out right, produce this exchange... As the words pass before your eyes, your spirit energies ebb and flow between hidden layers of conscious awareness, broken judgment, and unspoken truth. Once the trance lifts, your soul speaks of love and respect through haiku verse, the natural language of inner peace. The old man turns his pockets inside out to search for spare change. ...which one could take as a commentary on quite a lot of things if so inclined. At any rate, though the characters never lose the feel of being props or obstacles, they do provide considerable amusement. Everybody Loves a Parade is not extremely difficult once the first puzzle is solved -- but that first puzzle involves searching of scenery that just barely gets a mention, and as such might take quite a while to solve. Two other puzzles later in the game require a fairly large intuitive leap, and a willingness to pursue courses of action that don't seem initially helpful (and which are, well, largely motivationless), and those moments pose considerable stumbling blocks among mostly logical puzzles. (Though one solution in particular is rather clever, and rewards careful reading.) The quality of the puzzles can be appreciated once they are solved, but the intuitive leaps required can be a bit daunting at times. (I'm not sure what it says about me, though, that the final puzzle -- at least, the way to get the final 10 points -- seemed like a natural reaction to the previous line, and it was the first thing I tried.) There is much amusement to be had in the game even when stuck, though, just from wandering around and trying things -- it seems safe to say that this game has the most particularized responses to SMELL [object] in the history of IF. Mechanically, Everybody Loves a Parade works well; the TADS parser is adequate for the job, and there are several synonyms for most words. The writing is also quite good, though not exceptionally descriptive--few of the scenes actually came alive from the writing, though admittedly that would have been difficult given the bizarre quality of the situations. The author trades absurdity for realism, mostly, and does quite well with it--but creating absurd scenes is a different task from creating real ones, and it is therefore hard to compare the writing to a game that seeks to bring a place or event to life. Cody Sandifer creates a carnival atmosphere, but a carnival atmosphere is hard to sustain on repetition--a bouncy or silly room description fades on the tenth reading in a way that a menacing or dreary mood does not. All this is not, obviously, to say that Everybody Loves a Parade is not written effectively, merely that the intent is more to amuse and entertain than to create lasting images. Well, actually, as noted above, that isn't true -- there is one image that does last, and quite well -- but the circumstances for that are unusual. Mr. Sandifer clearly spent quite a while writing Everybody Loves a Parade: it's full of humor that indicates real thoroughness. There are several irrelevant objects -- "objects", perhaps -- that cannot quite be considered red herrings because it would be difficult to consider most of them potential solutions to problems, and which reduce the feel of "am I done coding yet?" that sometimes plagues IF. (An author who takes the trouble to code a "pulsing hunk of supernatural hypermatter" is an author who cares about his finished product.) That some scenes made me wish for more development is more a testament to the amusing ideas at work than any laziness about coding; I certainly can't say that there were many logical responses that went unprovided for. Perhaps of my initial objection to the twist alluded to above was that it didn't fit the game, but when I thought about it more, I revised that assessment. Only in a romp like this could the author pull the player up short in the way Mr. Sandifer does -- and there are (at least, it seemed so to me) very unfunny (as in, not a laughing matter) issues at stake when it does happen, both within and outside the game. There is certainly a place for games like "Tapestry," where the
player has to shut his or her eyes and ears to miss the Important
Underlying Message, but the IF world should not underrate the power of
this game's approach in making the player think.

There is, on the whole, much to like about Everybody Loves a Parade,
and though there are slow points and though the humor slows a bit when
the player has traipsed through the few locations several times, such
is the nature of humorous IF; Mr. Sandifer carries off his ideas
well. It is a testament to the author's skill that the player can look
back on Everybody Loves a Parade as both entertaining and thoroughly

FTP FileTADS file (.gam) FTP FileDOS executable (.zip) FTP FileWindows 95 executable (.zip) FTP FileMacintosh BinHex format (.sit.hqx) FTP FileSolution and comments from the author (Text)


From: Duncan Stevens <dns361 SP@G>
Review appeared in
SPAG #19 -- January 14, 2000

TITLE: Exhibition
AUTHOR: Ian Finley
E-MAIL: domokov SP@G
DATE: 1999
PARSER: TADS standard
SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters
AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive)
URL: VERSION: Release 1 (Note: the following comments are based on the game as played with a straight-text interpreter, but it does have HTML-TADS features.) How important is it that interactive fiction be, well, interactive? Can the medium--i.e., story advanced by reader/player's prompts--accommodate stories that don't rely on anything the player does, that don't even give the player an objective to drive the plot? These are some of the questions posed by Ian Finley's Exhibition, a remarkably well-written and thoughtful piece that gives the player so little to do that the piece could have worked perfectly well as straight fiction. Moreover, given most players' expectations, the playing experience in the interactive medium is rather distancing--and yet the story itself is genuinely intriguing, so much so that the player can almost forget that he has no part in it. It's a simple concept: you're in an art gallery viewing an exhibition by an artist who recently killed himself, and you're viewing it through the eyes of four different people--two of which knew the artist personally, two of which didn't but assessed the exhibition as art critics. That's the story: you look at the exhibition, switching back and forth between the various characters as you please to view all the paintings, and you also get various stray details about the crowd and the design of the museum. In a sense, you discover that the real action of the story has already happened, and you reconstruct it by examining the paintings, by scrutinizing the various characters' reactions to the paintings, and by choosing to credit this assertion about the artist and discredit that. This is similar in a way to Infocom's mysteries, since the point of those games was to reconstruct past events, though the problems there were much more concrete--finding clues that lead to conclusions about a murder, generally. The focus here, by contrast, is on the relationships between the characters, between the artist and his church, between the artist and his country-- well, obviously, plenty is going on here, and much of it is really very interesting. Moreover, the author doesn't take sides on the proper interpretation of the paintings--unlike conventional mysteries, there is no right version to glean, though chances are that the player will feel strongly by the end that a particular view is by and large plausible. There's an inherent difficulty here, though, in that it's relatively easy to involve the player in tangible tasks like figuring out who committed a murder; it's much harder to make him or her care deeply about an artist's relationship with his church. The distinction is simply the difference between having an objective and having a story to read. To be sure, poorly done IF with a concrete objective can be highly uninvolving, and the author here brings considerable skill in writing and character development to bear on the noninteractive story--but, honestly, making a player genuinely care about the characters and relationships over the course of a fairly short work of IF is a difficult feat. It's true that the player may respond intellectually where he or she does not respond emotionally, i.e., warm to the task of getting to the heart of the character simply because it's fun to sift the material for the truth. It's a rather esoteric premise for a game, though, and it's hard to see this as an IF genre with a lot of potential adherents. This may be because the exercise doesn't really have much bearing on anything outside the game--the speculation and debate engendered by the game, if any, focuses on what this fictional artist was like and what his various fictional paintings meant, not on anything broader regarding art or psychology (or religion or sexuality, for that matter)--which makes the intellectual exercise feel more like a logic puzzle than a serious inquiry. Is that asking too much? Perhaps. But let's be realistic here: IF is hardly an art form so divorced from an entertainment aspect that it can avoid the requirement of a hook, something to draw the player in, entirely. (Are there any such media? Maybe not, but the instinct, in dealing with visual art or with music, is that those works need not have a hook to succeed--whereas a medium like cinema, even when it aspires to art, faces somewhat different expectations.) And what Exhibition really lacks is a hook, or anything else giving the story a shape; broader ramifications, perhaps in the form of an argument by the author about something with life outside the game, might have done just that. As it is, Exhibition is easy to appreciate as a well-written and well-crafted piece, but it is difficult to imagine that people will be swept away by its story. This may sound like pandering; I see it as realism, an important aspect of storytelling. (For what it's worth, Babel, by the same author, was absolutely terrific in this respect.) None of this makes Exhibition a bad game, of course; I'd say it does what it does remarkably well. The paintings are richly described, and the character of the speaker comes across vividly in each description (almost too vividly, in the case of one character who insists on filtering everything through her own rather constricted experience, and who becomes rather irritating--but, it seems clear, intentionally so). The characters are designed so that certain people have more or less insight into certain aspects of the artist, but none of them really understand all of him--and the character perhaps in the best position to understand him was in denial about a key part of his life. It all makes for intriguing speculation, and it's possible to develop a measure of sympathy for the artist along the way, though exactly how much will vary with the player and with the way the player approaches the game (for example, getting all the comments of one character at once, or viewing each painting through four different lenses before moving on). Moreover, the depth of characterization is highly unusual for IF, and it struck me along the way that I would find it genuinely entrancing if I sensed that understanding the character would somehow lead me to understand something, accomplish something--even within the game. Exhibition, in other words, may be significant more for what it could lead to--development of a particular character in order to move a story--than for the story it actually tells, where the trials and tribulations of the artist are the plot. There is an obvious comparison here. Adam Cadre's Photopia elicited
similar complaints of noninteractivity, from me and from others, after
the 1998 competition (though many others felt the interactivity quotient
was just right, of course). The difference between Photopia and
Exhibition, though, is that the former provided the illusion of
interactivity; the player's actions at least seemed to move the story
along, even if much of the story progressed without the player's help or
input. Here...well, there's no story to move along as such, so it's hard
to say there's an illusion of anything, really. More importantly, the
story Photopia told was well calculated to leave an emotional mark on
the player--too well calculated, some might say, but to deny its
effectiveness is to concede that the game did land its punch, so to
speak. It is a matter of opinion whether the emotional tug overcame the
limited interactivity there, but here the game is over before it
starts--the effect of the gallery as a whole is diffused over the course
of the explorations, and there is no particular moment that any player
is likely to remember. Moreover, part of the reason Photopia's illusion
of interactivity worked was that the game put the player in a variety of
settings and required him or her to perform a variety of
actions--whereas, here, EXAMINE, LISTEN and SMELL will yield just about
everything Exhibition has to offer. As those are arguably the most
passive verbs that conventional IF has to offer, other than WAIT, the
player has almost no power to affect the environment (and doing anything
out of line yields a message along the lines of "I don't do that sort of
thing," customized for each character). That passivity highlights, in
turn, how little the player can do in the story, and how similar the
experience is to reading a long series of descriptions of paintings.

This sounds more negative than it should be, because I did, in fact,
find Exhibition fascinating at many points along the way-- the author
plays the various interpretations off against each other very well,
particularly when a character makes a confident assertion about the
artist that, the player can feel reasonably sure, is entirely wrong. The
imagery is rich, and often disturbing; the critic's analyses show that
the author has a good sense of how to look at a painting. The stray
details, particularly when certain characters comment on people in the
crowd, are illuminating, and suggest that the characters viewing the
gallery are as much under examination as the artist. In the end, though,
I felt like Exhibition would work best as an extended, well-developed
aspect of a much larger game, rather than a game in itself, and I gave
it a 7 in this year's competition.

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