Game Reviews F

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The email addresses used are those submitted with the review, so naturally some of them may be out of date.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

A Fable A Fable: An Interactive MSTing -- see Mystery Science Theater 3000 Presents "A Fable" Façade FailSafe Fallacy of Dawn Fate Fear The Fellowship Of The Ring Fifteen Film At Eleven Final Selection Finding Martin Fine-Tuned Firebird The Fire Tower First Things First Fish! Flat Feet Floatpoint Foggywood Hijinx For A Change Fort Aegea Four In One The Frenetic Five vs. Mr. Redundancy Man The Frenetic Five vs. Sturm Und Drang Friday Afternoon Frobozz Magic Support Frozen Frustration: see Jim MacBrayne games Future Boy!

A Fable

From: Julian Arnold <jools SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #6 -- July 26, 1995 NAME: A Fable PARSER: Poor AUTHOR: Stan Heller PLOT: I couldn't find one EMAIL: Unknown ATMOSPHERE: Kafka-esque AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF Archive WRITING: Reasonable PUZZLES: Virtually nonexistant SUPPORTS: AGT CHARACTERS: Non-interactive DIFFICULTY: Couldn't say Well, what can I say? In _A Fable_, a game originally written in 1985 by one Stan Heller, and apparently rewritten three years ago by David Malmberg and Mark Welch with AGT 1.35, you guide the actions of Max, a somewhat confused man. Unlike most IF _A Fable_ uses the third person (ie, `Max feels suddenly like a huge cloud has lifted him up and taken him away'). This adds to the detached, dreamlike atmosphere which the author has attempted to create. The introduction tells how Max has gone for an evening stroll through his neighbourhood in order to `find himself'. Wrapped in self-obsession he is unaware as his world rapidly disappears, and Max soon finds himself in a strange place, enveloped in fog. Apart from a few foggy areas each location (there are apparently only fifteen so the game is mercifully short) is a one or two paragraph scene reminiscent in style, but without the content, of some of Kafka's shortest works. They are apparently unrelated to each other, except that each seems as pointless and pretentious as the other. In most of these locations there is one item which you can manipulate, but to what end I could not say. The only puzzle which I could find (and I quit with a score of 70/75) involved unlocking a lock with a key... Wow! Admittedly the key was hidden, but very obviously. The score seems to go up for no reason (maybe for moving to a new location) and also goes down for no reason. I guess Max is wandering around his own mind and each location is meant to reveal something to him about himself, but if this is the case it hasn't worked. Oh, this is silly. Even four paragraphs is too long a review for this. Unless I have missed something crucial this game is utter drivel. Don't bother. FTP FileAGT files with PC Executable runtime (.zip) FTP FileAGT Source code (.zip)


From: Nick Montfort <nickm SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #41 -- July 15, 2005 TITLE: Façade AUTHOR: Michael Mateas and Andrew Stern EMAIL: feedback SP@G DATE: July 2005 PARSER: Custom SUPPORTS: Windows, >= 1.6 GHz, >= 256MB RAM, OpenGL AVAILABILITY: URL: VERSION: 1.0 Not another one-room game set in an apartment! Well, actually, you probably couldn't call Façade a game in the typical sense -- even though a pre-release version was a finalist in the 2004 Independent Games Festival, and the New York Times called the system "the future of video games." Façade may or may not even be IF, for that matter. But it's clearly something closely related to it, and whether you're willing to award it the IF label or not, there are good reasons that a lot of people -- myself included -- think that Façade is a tremendous advance in interactive storytelling. This "one act interactive drama" is the outcome of a research project that has spanned more than five years, one that you can read more about in the two creators' dozen-odd academic papers and in Mateas's dissertation, done as the last publication of the Carnegie Mellon University Oz Project. Façade is not just good research, though. It can provide an intense, compelling experience, even though a session can be played in about fifteen minutes. When you download and fire up the system, you'll get to visit with your old friends Trip and Grace -- 3D illustrated characters whose statements have all been recorded by voice actors -- as their marriage falls apart. You'll be able to type short statements to converse with them, move around the room using the arrow keys, and use the mouse to manipulate objects. Façade lacks adventuring, a clear way to win, and the typical IF command structure -- if you type "PICK UP THE MAGIC EIGHT BALL" you'll be saying that to Trip or Grace, not instructing your character in what to do. You can manipulate objects, however, and can say whatever short statements you like to the two other characters. If you manage to keep your comments fairly relevant to the conversation, or apartment, or situation, the two are likely to react appropriately, both in an immediate sense and in terms of the overall development of the conversation and the drama. Before getting deeper into why Façade is so great, I'll mention that the two authors and developers, Michael Mateas and Andrew Stern, do happen to be my good friends and fellow bloggers with me at Grand Text Auto, where I made the official announcement of the release of Façade. So, you may choose to take my evaluation of the system with a grain of salt. But then, if no one reviewed interactive fiction by people they knew, there would be a lot less reviewing going on. I'll also mention a few other things by way of preface: Façade is a working prototype, one quite capable of providing a powerful experience that is both interactive (in a meaningful way) and dramatic (in the tradition of drama, going back to Aristotle). But it's also capable of breaking. Trip and Grace can fall eerily, permanently silent and remain planted in the same spot. You can get stuck walking in the door. Things that you type can be interpreted by the system in what seems to be exactly the wrong way. As is the case with interactive fiction, you have to learn something about how to interact fruitfully before you can interact fruitfully. Trying to play along, and not getting it quite right, can lead to frustration. Façade's excellence is not that it has some sort of dramatic Turing-Test-like ability to handle everything you can throw at it; there are plenty of ways to run aground, even when you're not trying to. The thing about Façade, though, is that when things go right, which isn't all that difficult to achieve, they can go brilliantly right. Your conversation can take you in an exhilarating free ride over the Freytag diagram of Trip and Grace's soul-searching and their coming to terms with their relationship, a ride that is not just funny, but manages to be touching. And, it's a ride that you get to steer: once a good typist is keyed into the way to talk to Trip and Grace, he or she can provoke reactions, draw the conversation to different topics, side with one or the other character, and nudge the drama in different directions. Grace and Trip are not stateless Elizas; they are closer, if anything, to Galateas, but they also maintain an awareness of the way the conversation has progressed so far, and they work together to achieve dramatic goals, and they use a complex behavior control system to blend their high-level and low-level actions together smoothly. The Oz Project at CMU, the major academic effort in interactive drama so far, sought to develop systems that were "highly interactive," that is, ones that allowed the player to move, talk, and act at any point, rather than only at the end of a turn. Façade realizes this goal, among others. Grace and Trip react fluidly to comments from the player at any point, given the somewhat asymmetric typed text interface. They player is always free to move around and check out things in the apartment. The system structures events beginning at the level of the dramatic beat (a visible action and reaction) and allows the player to intervene between beats or to interrupt a beat. Façade is also impressive in how it deals with language. It is able to understand many statements that are relevant to the current situation, and to correctly handle jokes, praise, agreement, disagreement, flirting, rudeness, and so on. Not that every possible statement is always correctly classified and acted upon, of course. But the natural language understanding system works well enough, enough of the time, for the drama at hand. Again, the amazing thing isn't that this system is flawless. It's that players can manage to get through an entire act without a noticeable slip-up -- even though this framework for interaction, unlike the venerable ">" prompt in IF, has few precedents, and players can't build on their previous knowledge of how to interact. It's as if you found someone who had never played interactive fiction before, sat this person down at a new version of Adventure, and found that after a few minutes of typing the game understood practically all the input it was getting and the newcomer was having a great time. While Façade looks more like a graphical adventure or a strange first-person shooter than like most text-based IF pieces, the insights that Mateas and Stern have gained in working on the system can certainly trickle into more traditional IF. It's not the place of a review to start outlining all the ways in which they might do that, but I will note that Mateas, with his student Mark Nelson, has already looked into how some of the techniques employed in Façade can be used in the context of an existing interactive fiction. Those two discuss this topic in a paper presented at the Artificial Intelligence and Interactive Digital Entertainment conference, "Search-based Drama Management in the Interactive Fiction Anchorhead." Currently Façade only runs on Windows XP, 2000 or ME. It's pretty processor intensive, and will refuse to run on processors slower than 1.6 GHz. It's also an 800 MB download via BitTorrent. (You can spend $14 plus shipping to get Façade on two CDs, which Mateas and Stern sell at cost.) If you're an IF fan with an adequate Windows machine, it's certainly worth the download time or CD cost. I had to ask around my department for a while to find a suitable computer to borrow for Façade installation and play, so I envy those who only have to wait for the download to finish. A Mac version is planned, and will happen whenever the two developers (hopefully with some volunteer help) can manage the port, but it isn't imminent. In the meantime, if you're lucky enough to have a system on hand that will run Façade, check it out! I'd venture to guess that it will be the most impressive one-room game in an apartment that you'll play all year.


From: Adam Myrow <myrow SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #24 -- March 24, 2001 NAME: FailSafe AUTHOR: Jon Ingold EMAIL: ji207 SP@G DATE: December, 2000 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-machine interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: VERSION: 1? (no version info shown and version command ignored) This is possibly the strangest piece of IF I've ever encountered. It's fairly short -- in fact, I think even the slowest person could complete it in 30 minutes. The story is confusing. So far as I can tell, you are at a base or something. You get a distress call on an emergency frequency and you have to respond. It seems that a small space pod has been attacked and there is only one survivor who is trying to fix the engines before the ship crashes. To make matters worse, there is a war going on and the enemy is massing for an attack. That's really all I can tell without giving the end away, although really, that's all I'm sure of. The ending is sure to be a surprise, and there are at least three different endings that I am aware of. It's hard to tell if you've won or lost, you just completed the story. The other odd thing is that all of the standard meta commands (score, save, script, version, etc.) are disabled. I think the author is trying to provide tension by making you feel that you don't have much time and you can't save in real life. However, he could have at least left scripting enabled so that it would be easy to provide a transcript of something. The only way you could do this now is to copy and paste. As for the writing itself, it is intentionally choppy. The idea is that the signal is really poor, almost inaudible in fact. If you type an invalid command, the response is to the effect that the other person can't hear you due to the static. Here is a sample to give a taste of this game. This is actually what you get after the opening credits. Bzzt. Crackle. *Static* "...hello? Hello? Can... me? .. Anyone! Hel.... Need.. hello?" Bleep - PLEASE WAIT - Locating/Tuning signal... .. ".. help. Repeat, can anybody hear me? Can you hear me? Hello.." >>yes "Hello? Hello! The .. pretty bad. Are you receiving this? Over." >>yes "Oh, thank God. Thank God.. ..emergency frequency.. We need help. This is the space pod 'Serpentine'. We've been attacked, a small cruiser. They.. they came out of nowhere.. tried to board us.. ...stly dead.. systems are all messed up, we're drifting.. I need help to fix this.." "I'm by the console, there's wires everywhere. The computer flashing something. What do I do? Hello?" Note the double prompt. This makes it obvious from the start that this isn't your traditional game. A poster on called this game "Suspended for dummies," but I don't see it that way. The only similarity to Suspended that I could see is the fact that you are dropped into the middle of a disaster without much warning. I really don't think there's anything like this in existence. It's certainly a unique way to tell a story, but I am not sure if I like it or not. Perhaps if the multiple endings were a bit more descriptive, but they continue the choppy nature of the beginning with multiple signals being received in some cases. The bottom line is that people who like to fill in stories from bits and pieces will probably like this particular game more than those who, like me, enjoy a rich, detailed world. From: Duncan Stevens <dnrb SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #25 -- June 20, 2001 The "narrative at war with a crossword" that describes most IF games--the competing demands of plot and puzzles, and the attempt to accommodate both without sacrificing either--is actually, as many have noted, a stand-in for a more fundamental question: how to involve the player in the story the author wants to tell while still telling that particular story? The answer is usually "with puzzles that don't detract from the structure/pacing/logic of the plot," but not always--it's possible to get the player involved in a story by means other than puzzles. Jon Ingold's FailSafe is a might-have-been in this respect--it's a story that could, I think, have stood on its own, and which is hindered more than helped by the puzzles it includes. The protagonist is the only one alive on a spaceship which has taken a beating after a battle with an alien ship, and is radioing to you, the player, for help. Specifically, the protagonist wants you to help him get the ship back in order before the next attack comes along. The signal isn't very good, though, and the protagonist is less than fully coherent, so ascertaining what's going on (or has gone on) secondhand is something of a challenge. (Particularly because all of the standard system commands--QUIT, SAVE, UNDO, the whole lot of them) are disabled--the better to reproduce the sense of actually communicating with someone, of course.) It's an interesting challenge, though--reconstructing past events (for purposes of gaining insight into a present situation) is an underused and potentially fruitful IF technique. As it happens, though, that's not the focus of what goes on here--there are a few puzzles, and then you reach one of a variety of endings. The puzzles aren't especially good; one amounts to trial and error (made all the more irritating by the absence of UNDO), and another is hindered by some thoroughly unhelpful syntax. (Yes, admittedly, a person is not a parser, and it's not entirely realistic to expect a person's comprehension to work the same way as a parser, but guess-the-syntax is guess-the-syntax.) The endings are good--thought-provoking and well worth reaching--but the puzzles, to my mind, don't fit. Here, it seems, you have a premise that makes the interactive hook, in the form of puzzles, largely unnecessary. The *game* is a puzzle in itself; you' re trying to figure out what exactly happened, and you're battling the protagonist's vagueness and confusion and the chaos inherent in a partly wrecked ship. The nasty/strange/welcome surprises that you come across should be able to tell the story and keep the player involved all by themselves, particularly when the game is this small. (Well, okay, it would probably have to be a little larger if there were no puzzles.) There's also room for more story development in the distance between player and protagonist: do they trust each other? What do each of them know that the other doesn't? (FailSafe does hit that angle at one point, but there's more that could be done with it.) Unnecessary puzzles aside, though, FailSafe has its moments. One particularly effective touch is a series of messages that the player receives from a computer analyzing what's happened and who was aboard the damaged ship, messages that the protagonist doesn't receive; the juxtaposition between the player's semicoherent account and the computer's records is occasionally chilling. The inadequate descriptions are part of what makes the game compelling--when several turns of static pass before the protagonist's voice returns, there's genuine suspense. There are also some nicely done red herrings--while there isn't as much exploration potential as there might be, there's enough to keep the game from feeling like a small set of puzzles. And the endings are genuinely surprising (though spoiled somewhat by the game's XYZZY award nomination; don't read the nominee list before you play the game), and force the player to rethink what's come before. FailSafe's small size works against it, I found--there's too little there for the player to be really pulled up short by any surprising turns. (The player doesn't spend long enough interacting with the protagonist, and getting a mental picture of the story, to be truly caught off guard by unexpected events; the assumptions and mental pictures aren't around long enough to cause much surprise when they're challenged or disproved.) Still, it's got an intriguing premise and it's creatively done, and its spin on the player-PC relationship makes it a must-play for IF theorists. FTP FileInform file (.z5)

Fallacy Of Dawn

From: Duncan Stevens <dnrb SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #28 --March 20, 2002 TITLE: Fallacy of Dawn AUTHOR: Robb Sherwin E-MAIL: beaver SP@G DATE: 2001 PARSER: Hugo standard SUPPORTS: Hugo interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: 1.02 One of the more interesting products of the revolution that has taken place in IF over the past few years is Robb Sherwin. Okay, technically, Robb (presumably) preexisted the revolution, but the style of his games didn't, to my knowledge, and somehow I can't see anything he has written getting created in 1996. What do I mean? Simply, Robb pretty clearly doesn't write his game for the puzzles, and players familiar with Robb, I'm guessing, don't play them for the puzzles either; rather, it's the writing -- the setting, the dialogue, the turns of phrase that he scatters around -- that makes his games worth playing, and everything else is an afterthought at best. Fallacy of Dawn, Robb's latest and longest, devotes more attention to puzzles than had his previous efforts (Chicks Dig Jerks and Crimson Spring), but the effect is still much the same. What's going on in Fallacy of Dawn? Well, it seems you live in a dystopian city gone even worse and work in a retro video arcade -- your life's passion appears to be '80s video games -- but you've been the victim of a mugging that's left you with brain damage of sorts, and you really need to scrape up cash for surgery. From there, the story careers wildly here and there for a while, without much intervention from you; your character has a habit of making important decisions during noninteractive sequences. The upshot, however, is that you eventually find yourself with two companions and a weapon, ready to accumulate some money by any means necessary... ...and that's where things pretty much stop, plot-wise, for most of the game. As in, you wander around performing random tasks that give you money, and eventually you have enough, and the plot picks up again. The middle section is more than half of the game, however, and it amounts to a long meander. Worse, it's easy to run out of things to do and end up wandering hither and yon asking for spare change. Not literally, but close enough; it's not exactly interesting stuff. In that respect, Fallacy of Dawn is a step back from Crimson Spring -- there's more to the plot here than there was there, but there at least the plot kept moving rather than going nowhere for most of the game. It's not even accurate to call the digression a segue into puzzle IF rather than plot IF, as there aren't really any puzzles to speak of; the gameplay usually amounts to doing something extremely obvious, or following someone's instructions very closely, in order to earn money (or, alternatively, engaging in randomized combat, which hasn't been anyone's idea of a good IF puzzle since 1982). Nor, even, is there character development to speak of in this section -- your two companions tag along and say very little. The raison d'etre, as far as I can tell, is to force you to experience the setting in all its grimy glory, and that it does, ad nauseam. But as gameplay, this is roughly on the level of a Towers of Hanoi puzzle. There are more problems. I mentioned above that Fallacy of Dawn devotes more attention to puzzles than did Robb's previous games, but by that I mean "has more of them," not "has more creative ones." There's the puzzle where a vital item is under one of a whole bunch of objects, but of course you have no way of knowing which one, nor even that anything is under anything. (There's one thoroughly oblique hint, as far as I can tell, but that's it.) There's the puzzle that you solve by doing something over and over again, causing a certain NPC to (for reasons that aren't wholly clear) act like a loon. There's the puzzle that you solve when you're entirely incapacitated because the game, for no particular reason, lets you do one thing. There are the "puzzles" that amount to "try randomized combat, then try it again until you happen to kill the bad guy." And don't even get me started on the ending sequence, which requires insanely exact syntax under a tight time limit. Nor are the problems only design-related. There's more unimplemented scenery in Fallacy of Dawn than you can shake a stick at, and fewer synonyms than you can, um, fail to shake a stick at. The graphics regularly encroach on the text, and the gauges that are supposed to represent your health and your need for a drug fix (really) are represented by some strange high-ASCII characters. Toward the end, the game appears to forget about compass directions and require an awful lot of ENTER DOOR and such, for no discernible reason. And it's pretty easy to run out of things to say (via conversation menus) to the various NPCs, even when they really should have more on their minds; to some extent, I suppose, that's par for the course with menus, but when, for example, you have a romantic interlude -- at least, I think that's what it was supposed to be -- you really should be able to say more than one or two things. But the writing -- ah, the writing. It's probably fair to say that Robb's writing is an acquired taste, and it's not one that I've wholly acquired -- the gore, for example, is just a tad too lovingly described -- but I like it enough that I stick around to the end of a game that doesn't have much more to offer than good writing. (Well, okay, there's a plot, and outside sources had given me reason to believe that the story would start up again eventually, but I doubt that would have been enough.) Bizarre digressions abound -- this one, for instance, from the opening text, in the middle of the description of the attack: It wasn't a very good showing for either my face or my TLA, in fact it brought my knowledge of Vegas handicapping factoids up to two: you always bet against the Bills in the Super Bowl, and you always take a vapourizer and a pair of fists against my face and my personal property. Even if you're getting the points, natch. Funny one-liners abound (when you realized you failed to follow up on a romantic opportunity, "How on earth did I mess this up? I need to stop leaving the house without a personal social calendar assistant"), as do memorable images (apartments in a certain complex "feel, when you're in them, as well-crafted and sturdy as a margarine-slathered house of playing cards"). And it's not a matter of an occasional humorous tidbit -- there are amusing or memorably loopy lines in virtually every paragraph. (Pizza that's getting cold "has a half-life of skittish californium.") Fallacy of Dawn won its Best Writing XYZZY for a reason; with a less skilled writer at the controls, this would be a fourth-rate game, and I probably wouldn't have given it more than ten minutes. As it is, well, it's worth experiencing, though I found myself wishing for a text-dump utility more than once. The plot is second-rate sci-fi at best, but even second-rate sci-fi is worth playing along with if it's memorably written. I can't imagine what sort of IF Robb would write if he turned his attention to some of the basic principles of game design, and I wouldn't say that his writing makes up for every sin -- I wouldn't recommend Chicks Dig Jerks to anyone. As much as Fallacy of Dawn does wrong, however, I can't in good conscience refuse to give it a chuckle and a thumbs-up. FTP FileHugo .hex file and resource files


From: Justin Pot <justinpot SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #49 -- August 18, 2007 TITLE: Fate AUTHOR: Victor Gijsber E-MAIL: victor SP@G DATE: April 2, 2007 PARSER: Inform 7 SUPPORTS: Z-Machine interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF-Archive URL: VERSION: Release 1 To some, changing fate is a contradiction in terms. Victor Gijsber's Spring Thing winner Fate disagrees, as can be surmised before the player so much as presses a key: "Men at some time are masters of their fates: The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings." -- Cassius to Brutus in 'Julius Caesar', Act I, Scene 2 Fate is about one woman trying to change an unhappy future. The protagonist and player-character, Catherine, is a young queen hours away from giving birth. Oh, and she also has a crystal ball that's fortelling her son's untimely demise. The objective here is to prevent said demise -- and Catherine has an arsenal of spells to do so. Spells are cast by the gathering of components as directed by the grimoire (spell book) found early in the game. It is by using these spells in creative ways that Catherine is able to alter fate, and it is the gathering and using of components that makes up the bulk of the game's puzzles. These puzzles are very fair while remaining fun; for those who do get stuck, however, A well implemented context-sensitive hint system is in place. Despite the lack of a set time limit, a sense of urgency is created by the impending birth of Catherine's son. The player is periodically reminded that Catherine is very pregnant, often by painful descriptions. This sense of urgency blurs some of the moral and personal decisions Catherine must make in order to change her sons fate. Not wanting to spoil anything, I'll just say that some of these moral dilemmas are quite effective at disturbing a player who feels complicit to the wrongdoing. There are several possible endings to this game, each depending on how far Catherine is willing to go for her unborn son. When the player is satisfied with the fate the crystal ball presents she can wait in her den and birth the child. The game refrains from explicitly pointing out whether an ending is winning or losing, leaving that to the player to decide and discover which is best. The result makes for a solid game with a number of endings to discover. For all the game's strengths this piece has, one weakness that stands out is the use of a menu-driven conversation system for NPCs. While there are certainly examples of this system being used successfully (Adam Cadre's Photopia being the most obvious) such games are typically not puzzle driven. Because certain puzzles in Fate require eliciting a given response from a character, Fate occasionally becomes a guess-and-test game of "navigate the conversation menus," detracting from any realism the conversations may have had. This aside, the game is easy to love. The judges of Spring Thing 2007 apparently agree, and gave it First Place amongst the four entrants. Z-Code game file


From: C.E. Forman <ceforman SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #10 -- February 4, 1997 NAME: Fear AUTHOR: Chuan-Tze Teo EMAIL: ctt20 SP@G DATE: October 1996 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Inform Ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF Archive URL: VERSION: Version 1.0 An imaginative exercise in using memories and symbolic puzzle-solving to overcome your fears of heights, sounds, spiders, and the dark. The puzzles are, for the most part, refreshingly unique, and difficult. You really have to envision the scenes in your mind to win. In particular, the 4-octave chord was very ingenious. These puzzles are HARD, though, and I ended up sneaking a peek at most of their hints in order to finish the game within two hours. Unlike "House of the Stalker" and "Rippled Flesh," presents a more psychological, self-confrontational horror, also seen in "Shades of Gray" and this year's entries "Tapestry" and "Delusions." "Fear" isn't quite as gripping as any of these, but it's a creepy, paranoid game with an ending that leaves just enough to the imagination to keep the player slightly ill at ease. From: Duncan Stevens <dnrb SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #24 -- March 24, 2001 One of the forgotten treasures of the 1996 competition, Chuan-Tze Teo's Fear, is subtitled "An Interactive Nightmare"--but though the setting (alone in your house) and apparent initial premise (beginning of opening text: "You are running for your life down dark, labyrinthine corridors, your heart pounding almost as loudly as the heavy boots of your relentless pursuer") evokes horror/slasher IF, this is actually something quite different. The drama is more psychological than literal, and the object is more akin to therapy than to saving your skin as such--and while it's not a perfect effort, it's notable in a few respects. You're irrationally afraid of spiders, heights, sounds, and the dark, and you wake up in the middle of the night, completely unable to move around your house normally because of your fears. You end up conquering your fears in a series of episodes--one of them seemingly a flashback, two others apparently dreams--triggered by various objects you encounter in your house. The way in which the flashbacks are triggered is a bit tortured, but it's a minor sin--the episodes themselves are imaginatively done, with reasonably logical connections to your various phobias. The atmosphere is nicely done: the game doesn't so much portray a scary setting as portray an ordinary setting, with details magnified out of proportion. E.g., "You feel suddenly claustrophobic as you hear a rustling nearby. What lurks in the shadows, waiting to pounce?" Sometimes, the events that set off your alarms are entirely internal: "As you try to compose your mind, dark memories wash over you: explosions, death, the tolling of funeral bells, gloom, isolation." Arguably, this is one of the few works of IF where the PC's mind is as well rendered as the physical setting. If there's a flaw, it's that you don't get much about *how* you became so mentally crippled--there are vague allusions to memories, but nothing concrete. It seems like confronting whatever caused the fear in the first place would be both more effective and more interesting, in terms of characterization. Most of the puzzles take place in the phobia episodes, and they aren't easy; a few of them, in fact, verge on the unfair. The worst case involves an object that you have to destroy in order to use--and it's an object that seems like it would be useful in its original states for solving the puzzle at hand. The solutions are logical, but in a few cases in particular, there isn't much in the game to signal that you're on the right track, so things are harder than they should be. Adding to the difficulty is a guess-the-syntax problem in one episode that may prevent you from realizing that you're on the right track even when you are. The last puzzle suddenly introduces a time limit, and it's a pretty tight time limit at that--you're likely to miss it a few times while you're figuring out what the game wants of you. There's a comprehensive hint system, so the problems aren't intractable, but it'd be nice if the game's execution were as good as its concept; puzzles as hard as these risk requiring so much mental energy of the player that he/she loses sight of the plot, which is the best thing the game has going for it. The concept is good enough to overcome the game design problems, though, and it's not simply an excuse for outlandish puzzle settings. The PC's neuroses are sufficiently real that failing to do certain things to keep them at bay actually kills you; saying "snap out of it" to the PC isn't an option, of course. In that sense, you're forced to be the character in a way that's still uncommon in IF (and was even more so in 1996, before experimental IF was in vogue). The vividness of the setting lies not in what you see but in how you experience it--i.e., through the eyes of the phobic PC. It may not sound revolutionary, but getting the player to focus not on the PC's external goals but on the internal barriers he has to clear represents a real shift in goal-orientation--and even if the puzzle-solving gets projected into external tasks, it's still worth pondering. (That is, you don't actually delve into your own head, a la Losing Your Grip--though one scene comes close. But what's in your head is sufficiently close to the surface throughout the game that your puzzle-solving is almost the same thing.) As a set of challenging puzzles or as an exercise in atmosphere, Fear works, on the whole--well enough to be worth rediscovering five years later. FTP FileInform file (.z5)

The Fellowship Of The Ring

From: J.D. Berry <berryx SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #30 -- September 20, 2002 TITLE: The Fellowship of the Ring AUTHOR: One of the Bruces (Adam Thornton) EMAIL: bruce SP@G DATE: 2002 (Originally released as an IntroComp entry) PARSER: None (menu options) SUPPORTS: Atari 2600 emulators AVAILABILITY: IF Archive -- URL: From the "Fellowship of the Ring" manual: For starters, on the face of it, an Atari 2600 text adventure is ridiculous. An Atari 2600 text adventure that attempts to compress several hundred pages of densely-written prose into a 4K ROM image is even more ridiculous. It should be obvious even to the dimmest that the game is not intended as a serious interpretation of one of the most complex works of fiction ever put on paper, although it may in fact be about the best one can do given the limitations of the medium. Fellowship of the Ring is intended as a gentle spoof of the retro-gaming community, the mindset that attempts to produce derivative works in woefully inadequate media, fanfic authors in general, and the and IFMud communities in particular. Nothing conveys these sentiments more than the "Fellowship of the Ring" (FotR) "cover" artwork. Robb Sherwin's magnificently-drawn battle scene between Gandalf and the balrog could lead a player (if he were born yesterday, perhaps) to expect an epic of modern cinematography and Doom-like gameplay. Such a player would be more than a wee bit disappointed. This deception follows tradition. The Atari cartridge jacket for "Baseball" conjured images of America's game that would have made Ken Burns envious. The actual game featured two block figures and four tiny bases on an all-green background. The jacket for "Combat" made you run for cover as jets screamed across the smoky sky and fell tanks overran your camp. The actual game featured two block figures and four tiny bases on an all-green background. (Kidding. The background was blue.) But even Atari wouldn't have had the temerity to release FotR in the late '70s. Not from any moral qualms, but from a marketability standpoint. Sure, reduce a work of epic scope to a few blips and doinks. Go ahead, imply that the spectacular action and grand strategy depicted on the cover occurs in the game. But, for goodness sake, you gotta have replay value. So, can you play FotR? Yes, you can play it. This isn't just a clever joke, is it? No, it's not. But you must clear some hurdles, first. I had to download and install an Atari emulator. Then I spent several minutes tinkering with flicker rates and color, never really getting them to satisfaction and settling for "close enough." This is not the game's responsibility, of course, but a prospective player whose system isn't already wired for hot Atari-2600 action should plan for a few minor aggravations setting up the environment. With that accomplished, you assume the role of Frodo, the ring-bearer. You'll encounter key scenes from Tolkien's "Fellowship of the Ring" with none of that boring travel stuff. The top of the screen briefly describes the current situation. The bottom displays one of several possible actions. You scroll with your joystick (or your keyboard keys of choice) and when you reach the action you want to perform, you press the fire button (for my money, nothing says "big red button" like alt-tilde-F3.) When your action matches what Frodo did in the book, you advance to the next scene. Doing the wrong thing results in a "no, silly, that didn't work" type message and an implied invitation to try again. If you've read the book, you'll have a fifteen-second head start for each encounter. You'll finish the entire game in five or six minutes, depending. Disclaimer: no socks were knocked off in the playing of FotR. But I did feel a strange beauty with its competent simplicity. The meta-experience implied in the manual wouldn't have worked without a functioning game underneath. Adam mixes practical joke with compassion, satire with devotion. And unlike "Baseball", FotR has no blocky graphics that remind you you're playing a game. Nope, just text and your own imagination. Hey... FTP FileAtari 2600 cartridge image, manual and source code FTP FileAtari 2600 cartridge image only FTP FileAtari 2600 cartridge image (IntroComp version)


From: David Ledgard <dledgard SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #17 -- May 10, 1999 NAME: Fifteen AUTHOR: Ricardo Dague E-MAIL: trikiw SP@G DATE: 1998 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 7 I quite enjoyed this game although it was very simple. Clearly a first adventure. The main item in the game is the Fifteen Puzzle which is implemented like one of those simple text games, you used to see in computer pre-history a bit like Robots, by Torbjörn Andersson, available from the IF archive. I remember playing Wrap and Zombies (a variant of Robots) on a Commodore Pet (yes, computers did once exist that used Tape Drives, and had memory measured in single 1K units), kind of nostalgic, showing my age. The rest of the game is very simple, locked doors, put the treasures on the table etc... I worked out the remote control program in about half a microsecond, but then I am a seasoned IF hand. I had a bit of trouble working out how to use the ladder, a guess the verb problem, which could be fixed. The game is short on narrative, with a lot of short room descriptions, which could be fleshed out a bit. Clearly this game was never going to have a good showing due to its simplicity, but it was enjoyable none the less. FTP FileDirectory with Inform .z5 file and stepwise solution

Film At Eleven

From: Stephen Bond <bonds SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #27 -- January 4, 2002 TITLE: Film At Eleven AUTHOR: Bowen Greenwood E-MAIL: greenwood SP@G DATE: October 2001 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: VERSION: Release 1 This game is apparently inspired by I-0, so the first time I played it I spent the whole time doing I-0 type things: I stripped off everywhere and waited to see how people would react. But the reactions were somehow disappointing, and the descriptions were somehow disappointing, and I felt a bit let down. I got the same feeling I get when reading Terry Pratchett -- all very light-hearted, and the author is having a good time, and the characters are having a good time, and everyone involved is having a good time, and... I'm not, really. One difference between this and I-0 is that the latter is much more richly described and imagined. To take a concrete example, I-0 gives me a very good picture of what Tracey Valencia's breasts look like. The description of Betty Byline's boobs, on the other hand, is "You've never had any complaints about them", which is so vague that she might as well be wearing five woolen sweaters. Does "You've never had any complaints about them" conjure up images in anyone's mind? No. And it's not that I'm only slavering after good descriptions of T&A: a lot of the writing here is similarly unevocative. I-0 it ain't. The second time I played, however, I tried to appreciate Film at Eleven on its own terms, and I found it a lot more likeable. In fact I found the whole thing rather sweet and endearing. I liked the PC and her infectious enthusiasm, I liked the quirky small-town inhabitants, and I liked the friendly, gently chiding voice that was narrating. There's nothing particularly memorable here, but Eleven makes a pleasant enough way to pass an hour or two. FTP File.z5 Zcode file and solution (updated version) FTP FileDirectory with .z5 Zcode file and solution (competition version)

Final Selection

From: Valentine Kopteltsev <uux SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #49 -- August 18, 2007 TITLE: Final Selection AUTHOR: Sam Gordon E-MAIL: sam_r_gordon SP@G DATE: May 14, 2006 PARSER: Inform 6 SUPPORTS: Z-Machine interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF-Archive URL: VERSION: Release 3 Sure enough, there are a lot of ways to classify text adventures in general, and the puzzle-oriented of them, in particular. One of them is, to subdivide puzzlefests into games where the puzzles more or less naturally spring from the setting (one good example is Heist by Andy Phillips), and those where the puzzles are just forcibly thrown together, without anything in particular holding them in place (The Magic Toyshop from the first If-Comp, and Labyrinth from the last one). Somehow, I tend to like the games of the first sub-category a little bit more. However, Final Selection represents a lucky exception of this rule: while its meta-puzzle certainly is constructed artificially (you play here a candidate for the position of the Director of the Museum and Institute for Puzzles and Problem Solving, who is only going to get the job if he passes the test his predecessor has prepared for him), its structure is thought-out so carefully, and the overall implementation level is so deep that immersion (or, more precise, the lack of immersion) never was an issue for me during playing. To complete the game, one has to hunt for words. I always feel a little suspicious about that kind of puzzles, because the authors pretty often make them overcomplicated -- say, by inventing obscure cyphers, and the like. Final Selection, however, managed to dispel my apprehensions in this respect, as well. While its puzzles are challenging enough, barely any of them require tedious trial and error treatment, special knowledge, or confusing deductions. On the other hand, there are enough red herrings to make the player occasionally think that's exactly what the game expects of him;). Thus, Final Selection fooled me into outsmarting myself, so that I tried to interpret the hints I got in most perverse ways, and even solved one of the puzzles in a tedious semi-brute force manner. To tell you the truth, I think this was partly caused by my solving the puzzles "in a wrong order"; it happened that I found the solution to one of the key problems that gave away what exactly I had to do only towards the very end of the game; like, I had all the jigsaw pieces yet had no clue where to put them to form a picture. As I mentioned before, the depth of implementation in Final Selection is amazing. The author had to stuff a lot of objects into the only room of the game (it was entered in the One Room Comp, after all!), and it must be said he found a very elegant way to do this without overwhelming the player by overlong "You see here" messages. He expanded the concept of the room somewhat, dividing it in several areas. It doesn't break the competition rules, because the room description doesn't change when you move from one area to the other, and *all* objects in the room are reachable from any part of it. Still, it makes the object managing task much more convenient for the player. Another enhancement that makes the player's life easier is a notepad of sorts, where any information you gain while playing that could potentially be useful is jotted down automatically for later reference. The only (and pretty small) issue I encountered were some disambiguation problems. This is a result of having so many objects in one room; some of them inevitably have pretty similar names. For example, there was a box with several buttons labeled from 1 to 15 in the game, and a scale with several weights, their face values indicated. Somehow, any time I tried to "push 3", the game would make me push the "weight 3", and "getting 3" resulted in the attempt of taking the "button 3". Always typing in the whole object descriptions was a little bit tedious, although I just might have been unlucky. Anyway, I think this is more a problem on the part of the interpreter than of the game itself. But enough nitpicking -- this certainly isn't a game that makes one feel like looking for faults. It even nourished my self-confidence by being both pretty challenging and quite completable without hints. To put it short -- a must-play for any puzzle-lover. SNATS (Score Not Affecting The Scoreboard): PLOT: Not what this game was written for (1.0) ATMOSPHERE: Victorian study (1.4) WRITING: Solid as a piece of Victorian furniture (1.4) GAMEPLAY: Exciting word-hunting (1.6) BONUSES: Deep implementation level, the quality of the puzzles, the approach to object management (1.6) TOTAL: 7.0 CHARACTERS: There are some, but they don't deserve to be rated (-) PUZZLES: Well though-out and balanced (1.6) DIFFICULTY: Challenging, but passable (7 out of 10) Z-Code game file

Finding Martin

From: Paul O'Brian <obrian SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #45 --July 17, 2006 TITLE: Finding Martin AUTHOR: Gayla K. Wennstrom EMAIL: gayla SP@G DATE: 2005 PARSER: TADS SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: freeware; IF Archive URL: (Archive) (game home page) VERSION: 1.12 In an era of bite-sized IF, Finding Martin is a 12-course meal. Actually, it's more like one of those progressive dinners, where you go from one house to the next, a different course at each house, for a total of 12 courses in the evening. Except it's more like going to one of those every night for two weeks. Seriously, this game is HUGE. This is the kind of game where you might find an item with ten different modes, many of which can be used to adjust the item to one of its 720 different settings (and some of which do other things entirely), settings which are split into twelve different themed sections, many of which give hints, some of which give red herrings, and some of which perform game functions. I am not exaggerating. And that's just one item out of dozens and dozens you'll find in this game way way way before you get anywhere near finding Martin himself. If you love yourself a big, juicy puzzlefest, Finding Martin is cause for celebration. It's several times larger and more complex than anything Infocom ever attempted, and it's generally quite well-implemented. I encountered a number of glitches in my journey through the game, but they were all minor -- typos, missing synonyms, and underimplemented parsing mostly. There are a few logic errors here and there, but nothing game-crashing, and in fact very little that even caused me any trouble with a puzzle. Moreover, these problem areas are a very small percentage of the game itself, and this is a game that implements some highly complex behavior. A few errors here and there are quite forgivable in a game this ambitious in scope. As for the puzzles themselves, the news is again mostly good. Most of the challenges are logical, and some are quite clever indeed. In particular, there's a puzzle (or maybe it would be more accurate to call it a suite of puzzles) toward the end of the game that is astoundingly intricate and deeply satisfying, the kind of a puzzle that would make up the entirety of another game. It's a time-travel scenario that takes the groundwork laid by Sorcerer and expands it by an order of magnitude, asking you to consider the relations between a number of different time-slices as well as to coordinate the actions of multiple past selves with the actions of your current self in order to bypass certain barriers. However, well before you reach that puzzle you'll have made your way through a large number of obstacles that should scratch any inveterate puzzler's itch. Not only that, the puzzles frequently build on each other, and most of the goals require several components to achieve. Finding Martin's world can feel astonishingly layered and convoluted. I frequently found that the discovery of a new item or command would add new dimensions to the pieces of the game I'd already uncovered, and that their interactions would open up new avenues for exploration. Of course, the flip side to this is that such a discovery would often compel me to explore the game's giant world yet again, trying the new key to see if it would unlock any heretofore unseen doors. At time, the gameworld feels like an obsessive-compulsive's paradise, but at least most of the interactions seem logical once they've been found. Unfortunately, not all the puzzles manage to meet the same high standards. There are a number of read-the-author's-mind stumpers spread throughout the game. Some of these just require induction stretched absurdly far, but for several others I still have no idea how I was supposed to come up with the solution. There's another category, too: puzzles whose solution required some kind of cultural referent which I lacked, a la Zork II's baseball puzzle. Finding Martin's pedigree consists mostly of geek lore like Monty Python and Douglas Adams, and that stuff I've got covered, but a couple of puzzles require knowledge of Asian customs that I only learned from the walkthrough. On the flip side of read-the-author's-mind are "puzzles" whose solution is entirely arbitrary but so heavily clued that the game pretty much just tells you what it is. Imagine a dark room with a description along these lines: "It's impossible to see anything in this room -- this must be what a cinnamon roll feels like when it's in the oven!" And lo and behold, you just happen to find a cinnamon roll later in the game, so when you bring it into the dark room and eat it, the cinnamon-oriented olfactory sensors in the walls detect it and turn on the lights, just as they've been programmed to do by the house's exceedingly eccentric and patient owner. That example isn't from the game, but there are several puzzles in there that are cut from the same cloth. The substandard puzzles are a minority, and they certainly aren't enough to ruin the game, but my advice is: don't be afraid to bust out the walkthrough. Yes, sometimes you may find that a perfectly logical solution was staring you in the face, but other times you'll be relieved to just take the rather farfetched solution and move on with your life. Happily, the author is kind enough to provide a walkthrough on her web page that is broken up into 5-point clusters so as not to give away too much at once. However, if I may offer one more piece of advice: download the full walkthrough from that page and tuck it away somewhere on your hard drive. Otherwise, you may find yourself, as I did, stuck two-thirds of the way through the game and panicking because the author's site has gone down. Luckily for me, the page came back up the next day and I found some cached bits on Yahoo in the meantime, but I could have saved a good deal of time and stress if I'd just had the full walkthrough to fall back on. Finally, take heed of the author's advice in the intro text: save your game a LOT. There were quite a number of times I found myself returning to an earlier savegame because I was trapped without a necessary item, or I wanted to undo something I'd done a bit improperly a few hundred moves earlier. Actually, that brings me to one of my chief gripes about Finding Martin: it sets a few arbitrary limits, ostensibly in the name of realism but functionally just to irritate the player. Chief among these is an inventory limit. Let's face it: this is not a game that holds realism particularly dear. Many of its puzzles consist of caprice and whimsy, and its entire plot is metaphysical to say the least. However, for some reason it decided that the player should only be able to carry a limited number of objects, and it failed to provide any kind of bottomless sack-type object to circumvent this limit. Not only that, there's a puzzle component that steals items when they're dropped on the ground. Even more confoundingly, commands like PUT ALL ON TABLE are met with the response, "One thing at a time, please." And of course, there are many many journeys to pocket worlds whose obstacles require that the player has brought a particular item. Frequent were the times I cursed at this game for the way it forced me into numbingly dull inventory management tasks when I wanted to be having fun instead. Also, there are several instances of the game being pointlessly obtuse, along these lines: >READ BIG BOOK First you'd need to open it. Come on. This is 2006 -- we know by now that READ implies OPEN. Such obstructionist world-modeling benefits nobody. I'm not sure if responses like this one and the response to PUT ALL are TADS default behavior. I do know that I sometimes wished this game had been written in Inform, so that I could get certain pieces of the Inform default functionality. Besides the lack of a sack_object, I was jonesing hard for an OBJECTS verb that would let me see all the items in the game I'd found up to that point. Similarly, a FULLSCORE command that told me all the puzzles I'd solved so far would have been most welcome, especially given how many times I had to restore back to an earlier saved game. Finally, having just played Bronze, I really missed conveniences like GO TO that allow me to traverse the game world without rattling off memorized directions to the parser. Okay, I've been complaining for a while, which makes it sound like I didn't enjoy the game. That's not true -- overall I had plenty of fun. It's just a similar feeling to what I had when playing Once And Future, another enormous old-school puzzlefest. Like OAF, Finding Martin provides lots of opportunities to feel that satisfying *click* as logical components snap together, but forces a little too much tedium on the player after that click has happened. It's the figuring-out that's the fun part of a puzzle, not the follow-through of putting twenty pieces in just the right place once you know where they're supposed to go. Several of this game's puzzles would have been much more fun if they'd provided some way of automating that follow-through once the player has demonstrated understanding of the basic concept. Enough about the puzzles anyway. What about the story? Well, actually, the story is pretty much MIA for the first third or so of the game. We begin with a reasonably compelling premise: your brilliant but peculiar friend Martin has disappeared, and his family has asked you to explore his house in hopes of finding him. Why you and not, say, the police? Well, it seems that you may just be close enough to Martin's highly bizarre mindset to understand how to find him when the police wouldn't even be able to get in the door. Strong echoes of Hollywood Hijinx abound as you poke through rooms laden with fascinating devices and hidden exits, but there's not much more story to be had for a while. Finally, the game begins doling out plot in awkward lumps, but about two-thirds of the way through, these lumps smooth out and the story begins to tie together as more and more interconnections between Martin's family and friends, as well as his past, present, and future, reveal themselves. By the time I was rolling toward the endgame, I had felt genuinely moved several times. In fact, a couple of times Finding Martin hits a real IF sweet spot, where the solution to a puzzle not only advances the story but carries strong emotional content about the PC's role in the other characters' lives. I recall one moment in particular that gave me goosebumps, as I figured out how something I had done in a past time-travel scenario had affected the future, and how someone in that past had sent a message forward in time to me. Remember how I mentioned the game's geeky pedigree? There are a number of references woven throughout the story that are pulled straight from the geek handbook: Star Trek meets Hitchhiker's meets Tolkien. Some of these made me smile, and some made me squirm. At times I felt like saying, "Yes, yes, I get it. You like Monty Python." Also, the writing around these references can sometimes feel a bit flat and ingratiating, as when the PC encounters a used paperback: >x novel It's a book by Douglas Adams, entitled "So Long and Thanks for All the Fish". Apparently this is the fourth book in the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" trilogy. It occurs to you that publishing the fourth book of a trilogy must be the toungue-in-cheek behavior of someone with a fantastic imagination and an audacious taste for the bizarre. Ho ho ho. Nothing like belaboring that "fourth book in the trilogy" joke. I get it -- you like Douglas Adams. Also, "tongue". Aside from that, though, the writing worked well. Most of the time it was transparent, but there were some clever twists and turns throughout, as well as a few good jokes. Having finished this game at last, and finally found Martin, I have to express my admiration. It must have been an unbelievable amount of work to put together a game of this size and scope, and for the most part it's done really well. If you're hungry for puzzles, Finding Martin should keep you fed for several weeks. Even if you're not a puzzler, grab a walkthrough and explore this game -- there are pleasures here for many tastes. FTP FileTADS2 game file


From: Jacqueline A. Lott <jacqueline.a.lott SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #28 -- March 20, 2002 NAME: Fine-Tuned AUTHOR: Dionysius Porcupine (a.k.a. Dennis Jerz) EMAIL: jerzdg SP@G DATE: 2001-2002 PARSER: Inform Standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 5 "The life of a daredevil adventurer leaves precious little time for rest. There's always wickedness to thwart, innocence to preserve, and honour to uphold." ...and with that short yet intriguing introduction, you find yourself in the shoes (and goggles) of Troy Sterling, a man well ahead of his time. Fine-Tuned, in my opinion, is one of the better light-hearted games to come along in quite awhile. Though early releases of the game were known for being buggy, release five seems to be free of such distractions, and is well worth setting aside an evening or two to enjoy. If you're familiar with earlier versions of Fine-Tuned, release five has some extra features as well, including enhanced interaction between the characters, different solutions to some of the puzzles, a modified point system, and additional implementation in certain areas of the game. Dennis Jerz, writing as Dionysius Porcupine (a pen name which is explained in the credits of the game), does a fantastic job of creating an enjoyable game world, filled with memorable NPCs. As a player, I normally don't enjoy games which are heavily scripted; I don't feel like I'm playing the game so much as being dragged along through the plot. Fortunately, Fine-Tuned is written in such a playful and imaginative way that the player tends to forget that their fate is pre-determined. Multiple solutions exist for some of the puzzles, and though each solution garners the same number of points, the play differs somewhat, giving the game replay value. Instead of arbitrarily forcing the plot, chapters serve to break up the puzzles, allowing the player to focus on the right objects in the right order, without that terrible "Led By The Hand" feeling. The chapters also give you the opportunity to explore other characters in the game aside from Troy Sterling, which makes for interesting twists on how different characters think, feel, and interact with the situations that are presented to them. I could go on and on about who will enjoy this game. In short, I think anyone with a sense of humor will have a fantastic time. If you've played a variety of other IF titles, or are familiar with some of the current authors of IF, you'll enjoy it a bit more. Beyond that, I found that Jerz pulls in varied bits and pieces of real life from all over the place. I laughed at loud several times because the game hit home on a personal level, and I don't think I'm alone in this respect. It is really little wonder that Fine-Tuned received nominations for Best Setting and Best Player Character for the 2001 Xyzzy Awards. At the time of this writing, the awards have not yet been handed out, and Fine-Tuned's nominations wait alongside other deserving nominees. Regardless of how the awards are distributed, Fine-Tuned is deserving of both honors. Normally, I prefer to imagine that it's me in the game, but for once, I really enjoyed playing the part of a highly developed PC. Troy Sterling is a man of fashion, a hero for the younger generation, defender of the environment and protector of the weak. He has definite flair, and it's just plain fun to imagine yourself in his world - a world with great friends, malicious enemies, fun puzzles, and humor at every turn. All this, combined with Jerz's well-developed story, make playing Fine-Tuned a delight. FTP FileInform .z8 file FTP FilePC Executable FTP FileSolution


From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #15 -- October 11, 1998 NAME: Firebird AUTHOR: Bonnie Montgomery E-MAIL: firebird SP@G DATE: 1998 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 1.0 PLOT: Charming, appropriately fairy-tale (1.4) ATMOSPHERE: Appropriate (1.3) WRITING: Strong, often amusing (1.6) GAMEPLAY: Uneven at times (1.1) PUZZLES: Not too hard, some a bit random (1.2) CHARACTERS: Amusing (1.4) MISC: Whimsical and very playable (1.5) OVERALL: 6.9 Some genres of literature have become common stomping grounds for IF, but fairy tales are not among them: the dearth of children's stories in the IF library means that Firebird attempts something distinctly new, and the Russian themes make it all the more unique. Though many traditionally fairy-tale tropes are present, including evil wizards, captured princesses, and a series of marriages at the end, the author gives the work more than enough humor and creativity to carry it off successfully. For what it's worth, you're the third son of a tsar, and you've been chosen to bag the Firebird of the title, which has been stealing the golden fruit from your father's orchard. Once you do catch the bird, you get sent on a Quest to defeat the Evil Nasty Guy, overcoming scary obstacles along the way and even getting Useful Social Guidance as well, namely that you should be kind to animals. (Moreover, everything seems to come in sets of three, a common number--along with seven--in these stories.) Russian folk tales are not, it appears, drastically different from those of Western Europe, such as the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen, certain not in their hallmarks. But there is also plenty of humor along with the stock scenes and characters, fortunately: a series of dimwitted guards, even if repetitive (you defeat all of them with the same ploy), is sufficiently comic to make the idea feel fresh. There is plenty of absurdity as well: you get help from an army of Japanese cooks at one point, who attack with pepper grinders (really), and kissing a frog turns it axe murderer. The humorous bits and the small size of the game keep the game moving along despite the more time-worn elements. The authenticity of the references to actual Russian stories cannot be verified, but judging from the bibliography and the footnotes sprinkled here and there, the author seems to have done plenty of homework along the way, which helps reduce the sense that this is a generic fairy tale. At one point, you encounter two peasants swapping jokes which, somehow, feel just bizarre enough to be real Russian jokes; at another, you encounter "three times nine" knights, which, as the author explains, really means, in Russian folk tale parlance, 27. There is more than enough of this sort of thing to keep the story feeling fresh, though it's more the author's wit than the stories themselves that gives the game its appeal. (My favorite reference of all, actually, was the Firebird's tendency to "whistle the greatest hits of Stravinsky.") My one real objection is that women are more often than not reduced to helpless playthings or decorative objects, admittedly more the fault of the genre (and, maybe, the culture that inspired the story) than the author but still a mite irritating. (And ironic, since the author is one of very few women currently writing IF.) As noted, the puzzles are straightforward enough that they shouldn't slow the player down much, though there are some slightly unfair bits--notably, having to wait around for 15-20 turns before someone comes along and drops an item that turns out to be useful later on. There are some clues to the possibility of that event, but they're not particularly strong. There are some other bugs, but not many, and they don't impede the game all that much, and the end of the story is appropriately climactic and easy to figure out. Moreover, even the few moments where puzzle solutions are not entirely obvious are decipherable on fairy-tale terms; since the genre demands some suspension of logic anyway, thinking in fairy-story mode is usually the best way to move things along; though one solution might be better suggested by the context in that respect, it's certainly not unfair. The relative ease of the puzzles also makes this an appealing possibility for younger players, though some of the references--such as the baba yaga--might require explanation. The real fly in the ointment is a large maze; it doesn't seem like the game would lose much if it were cut down or eliminated. The writing is excellent, though there's rather a lot of it at certain key points, often several screens' worth, and several descriptions are a bit on the skimpy side--though most locales are standard enough that they don't need extensive writing to come across. Appropriately for the story and the age group, the writing gives more attention to plot than to drawn-out description: events and action get long chunks of text, not images. Still, it's worth noting that the author rarely slips into fairy-tale excess--not every woman is breathtakingly beautiful, not every obstacle is horribly dangerous, etc.--though one occasionally wishes for more details than the author provides. Moreover, as with most good fairy tales, the scale starts small and then builds--you start out doing menial tasks for your father--so that, when the author does lay on superlatives, they don't feel tired. Though the plot won't exactly throw anyone for a loop, Firebird is a quick, enjoyable game that might herald something new, namely IF grounded in a specific cultural tradition; Sound of One Hand Clapping and Pesach Adventure are the only other examples I can think of. If Firebird encouraged more research into backgrounds of games, and more innovative settings, it might lead to more creative games, never a bad thing. In its own right, it's a worthy effort. From: Paul O'Brian <obrian SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #15 -- October 11, 1998 When Def Leppard's "Pyromania" album came out in 1983, it was a good album and a big hit, but it never made it to #1 on the American charts. Why? Because Michael Jackson's "Thriller" was perched there; for months the Def Leppard album sat at #2, then sank, never reaching the top spot. What does this have to do with IF? Hold your horses, I'm getting to that. In the spring of 1998, Bonnie Montgomery suffered a similar fate -- she put out an excellent game which never got the recognition it deserved, because it was overshadowed by a concurrent release, Andrew Plotkin's masterful "Spider and Web." (Hmmm, perhaps this comparison isn't so good after all. I'm not sure how much Plotkin wants to be the Michael Jackson of IF, let alone how thrilled Montgomery is to be called its Def Leppard. Plus, now I've outed myself as a fan of 80s heavy metal, not to mention an incurable parenthetical rambler. I should probably just delete this whole first paragraph, but knowing my Piers Anthony-like inability to erase anything I've written, I probably won't. Magnus, I leave it up to you.) This review is meant to partly make up for the unwarranted neglect "Firebird" has suffered. The game is cleverly written and well-coded, with a number of design and puzzle strengths as well. Not only that, it includes the command "WEAR THE CLAW"! How could I resist anything that makes reference (though probably not consciously) to my own one-game contribution to the world of IF? In fact, oddly enough, "Firebird" has several resemblances to "Wearing the Claw": both feature a circular wall with a plaque mounted upon it, each of which has "hints of honey" inside, and both games have a section where the parser prevents travel for three attempts. Now, of course I'm not suggesting that "Wearing the Claw" was somehow the inspiration for "Firebird" -- I doubt Ms. Montgomery has even played my game -- but I did find it interesting that our games had so many specifics in common. I'm inclined to think that these two games, taken together with some others such as Infocom's "Arthur" and Whizzard's "Lesson of the Tortoise", are taking steps towards creating a basic vocabulary of puzzles and devices for folk-tale-oriented IF. Whether or not this is the case, "Firebird" stands on its own as a remarkable piece of interactive fiction in its own right. Its clear, elegant prose is a pleasure to read, and in spots becomes quite clever indeed. For example, early on in the game our hero Ivan must pass by a gaggle of overeager female admirers wearing beeswax lipstick (to which Ivan is allergic). The women are described thus: "They're swarming everywhere, their constant chattering an irritating drone to your ears." However, if Ivan fails to pass, the death message says "You are swarmed by these eager noble honeys. Much as you feared, their lipstick-tainted kisses cause hives to cover the entire surface of your skin. A severe allergic reaction ensues and you succumb." In a few quick sentences, Montgomery manages to work in "swarm" "drone" "hive", and "honey"; death by allergy has never been described with such wordplay and wit! The combination of humor and action is characteristic of "Firebird," and gives it a lighthearted tone which works quite well. Though the deeper structure of the game has a number of fairly serious elements, Montgomery finds a way to inject humor into most of the scenes, sometimes spilling over into outright hilarity. That this mix of humor and action creates balance rather than confusion is a testament to Montgomery's writing skills. As strong as the writing is, the design is just as good. The game provides multiple solutions to many of the puzzles, solutions which often are so well thought-out in themselves that it's rewarding to play through the puzzle each way, just to see how imaginatively the game approaches the problems. "Firebird" is flexible enough to handle lots of different kinds of thinking, and there were many times when I thought I'd made a game-killing mistake and later found out that although I had created a problem for myself, the game provided for a way out of it as well. Moreover, when critical junctions do come up, the game gently suggests that you think about "praying to save your soul." If you acquiesce to this suggestion, the interpreter's "save" function is invoked, and you now have a bookmark just behind the critical point. There is only one place in which Montgomery's very player-friendly design approach breaks down, which is the inclusion of a fairly large, irritating maze. The maze, as far as I could determine, is of the bad old variety to which there is no alternative but slow, tedious mapping. Nonetheless, even if you hate mazes, it's worth it to slog through this one, just because the last part of the game is so rewarding. "Firebird" has several excellent climactic scenes (which one you see depends on what you've done up to that point) and it handles multiple endings in a number of highly creative ways. Finally, in addition to the big-picture factors, "Firebird" includes a number of nicely done, subtle touches. For instance, the author (who is married to Unkuulian implementor Chris Nebel) manages to sneak in a very sly reference to that series by naming a nearby tavern "The Cheese and Pig Inn." Neat coding effects abound as well; at one point Ivan is given a list of items he'll need in the next portion of the story. The initial contents of this list vary depending on what Ivan is holding when he receives it, and as he collects the items necessary, the corresponding list items are checked. Another example of clever coding is that the game not only frequently sends Ivan tumbling to the ground, but it counts the number of falls he's taken, and responds accordingly: "Just a reminder, this is the third time today that you and the ground have had an abrupt meeting." Puzzles are also soundly executed: not too difficult, well-clued, and strategically dispersed to keep the narrative at a steady pace. At this writing, the game still has several bugs, one or two of which can in fact render the game unwinnable. I have forwarded these bugs to the author, and she assures me that they will be fixed in the next release. If version 1.0 of "Firebird" was this good, it will be even better when all the niggling problems are repaired. "Firebird" proves beyond a doubt that the intersection between folk tale and IF is a fertile one. At the risk of making an overreaching generalization, I would contend that folk tales often tend to have a strong sense of structure, a distinct "best" ending, somewhat "flat" characters who mainly serve as ciphers for the plot, and frequent appearances by riddles or somewhat artificial puzzles, all of which are perfect for adaptation into conventional-form IF. The strengths of interactive fiction, on the other hand, include exploration of exotic landscapes, a strong sense of score/progress, and participation in structured narratives, factors which can combine to give us new ways to experience very ancient stories. What's more, the global audience of interactive fiction means that no matter in what tradition an IF folk tale is written, it will serve to teach at least some of its players about cultures outside their own. Here's hoping that others follow in the trail that "Firebird" has blazed. FTP FileTADS file (.gam) FTP FileSolution (Text)

The Fire Tower

From: Mike Penman <mike SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #41 -- July 15, 2005 TITLE: The Fire Tower AUTHOR: Jacqueline A. Lott EMAIL: jacq SP@G DATE: 28 May 2004 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive, Freeware URL: A map is located at: VERSION: 1 Writing for the IF Art Show isn't easy, I know. Faced with the remit "explore interactivity", where do you begin? Jacqueline A. Lott chose to begin with an engaging character. The protagonist of The Fire Tower is consistently drawn, from the results of ">look at me", ("You glance down and the first thing you see are your hiking boots. They're serious hiking boots...") to knowledgeable asides made during the IF. She even has a purpose, having come to the fringes of Mount Cammerer in the Appalachians to walk solo and get away "from everything: work, responsibilities..." Though it was good to find such a well-presented character, it's Mount Cammerer that stars in this piece. This was an entry in the 2004 IF Art Show "landscape" section. It took best of show and "best setting" at the following XYZZYs. The first, powerful impact is of a beautiful landscape beautifully presented. It's tempting to describe sweeping scenes with flowery prose but the author resists that temptation. The text is sparse and transparent; it doesn't get in the way of the country depicted and everything is described with an infectious enthusiasm. I was left feeling relaxed, as though I'd been there, at least in part. I presume that was the main objective of the piece, so it's a success from the first play through. That sense of "being there" is enhanced by the sheer interactivity of the piece. Faced with something that says, in essence, "See how interactive I am!" I start to verb the nouns. This setting is deeply implemented. Almost everything can be examined, heard, smelled, felt and tasted. I know more about Appalachian flora now than I did before playing. Sometimes a lack of options left me feeling frustrated. I wanted to go back on myself or try routes that I wasn't allowed to. I was particularly miffed to find that I missed the work's titular tower because, having moved away from it without entering in order to re-check a previous description, I was barred from returning. But this isn't a game -- the author's trying to guide the player around a landscape -- nor would route reversals or unplanned diversions be in character for the experienced lone-walker protagonist. Time -- always a difficult dimension in landscape -- is well handled. The protagonist's watch counts one minute for each turn and each travel description adds a number of minutes dependent on the terrain covered. There's a sense of time passing at a realistic rate, adding to the sense of "being there". I was disappointed with the centre of the game, the fire tower. It being the target and title of my walk, I was looking forward to finding something extra there. It's as beautifully described as everything else, but I'm not sure it deserves its pivotal placement. It's a good sign if the only major gripe I can raise about an IF is that I was left wanting more. In particular I wanted to explore the issues of stilting and entrapment -- barely but skillfully hinted at -- that led to this walk in the first place. I wanted to turn the protagonist to an equipment shop and then along the whole Appalachian trail, fulfilling her lifetime dream. For a player like me, without any real interest in puzzles, it wouldn't take much to turn this into a full length game in the Sunset Over Savannah mode. Perhaps the best praise I can offer the piece is this: I wish I'd written it. Its clean, artless-seeming approach fosters the illusion that I could have. In fact, I think I feel a landscape entry for next year's IF Art Show coming on. But first I'm going back to see if I can find the bear that Emily Short saw. FTP FileZcode .z8 file FTP File.jpg map file

First Things First

From: Adam Myrow <myrow SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #29 -- June 20, 2002 TITLE: First Things First AUTHOR: J. Robinson Wheeler EMAIL: rob.wheeler SP@G DATE: February 2002 PARSER: Tads 2.5. SUPPORTS: Standard Tads interpreters AVAILABILITY: If-archive, freeware URL: Also available: VERSION: 2.0 (02/20/2002) Have you ever wished you could go back in time and prevent a mistake? Have you ever wished all those time travel games would let you change things for the better rather than preserve history the way it is? Well, wish no more! First Things First is a recent game that lets you do just that. You start out in the present, as an eccentric person who dreams of building a time machine. You just came back from the library, where as usual, you were reading on the subject. It is late, so you were thinking of just going to sleep. However, you've done what we've all done in the past. You've locked yourself out of your house! The spare key is nowhere around. As you begin to hunt for your spare key, something else begins to get your attention. Why is the roof in such lousy shape after only 10 years? What's this squirrel doing on my roof? Why didn't I ever plant a tree on the south side of my house? In the midst of all your wondering, a time machine appears, and the real game begins. This game reminds me of Curses in a lot of ways. Like Curses, you are doing something ordinary, and gradually get yourself into something else. Like Curses, this is a puzzle fest. It got the XYZZY award for best puzzles for a good reason. Most of the puzzles are very logical, and some have multiple solutions. For example, there are at least 2, maybe 3 ways to get rid of the dog, and 2 ways to repair the wheel barrow. Be warned, the game can be made unwinnable, so save early, and keep multiple saves especially before doing something that will put an item out of play. Be extremely careful with money! Some items serve no purpose, while others have multiple uses. Still others are optional depending on how you go about solving puzzles. There is a contraption called a herring detector which will tell you if something is a red herring or not. It really breaks the mimisis of the game, so I would advise not using it unless you are truly desperate. This game has a maze, but it has a solution that doesn't involve dropping things. The best part is that once you get through it, you never need to go through it again. Overall, I liked this game. It has a few bugs here and there, but no real show stoppers. It is refreshing to actually be able to do something about the past instead of being told to accept it for what it is. My only real complaint is that the ending leaves a few loose ends, and I think the environmental tone is a bit too obvious. Also, some descriptions are a bit awkward. There is one place where the word "prettily" appears twice in the same sentence. Other than that, it's not a bad game, and there is even an Easter Egg room with a unique surprise. I found it to be difficult, but not insanely so. Anybody who wants a good old-fashioned puzzle-filled IF experience, and has some time on their hands should give this one a try. FTP FileTADS .gam file FTP FileManual in .pdf format FTP FileMaps in .gif and .pdf formats FTP FileStep-by-step solution


From: Yuzo Takada a.k.a. Dark Fiber <entropy SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #12 -- December 13, 1997 NAME: Fish! AUTHOR: Magnetic Scrolls DATE: Mid-80's? SUPPORTS: See note below AVAILABILITY: Commercial (se note) Fish rocks dammit! Magnetic Scrolls kill Infocom dead! You heard me! This game is full to the gills with puns. The game is one big pun. Magnetic Scrolls is a Pommy company and all its games have that Pommy feel and "English" spelling. The story concerns you, who are an interdimensional secret agent whose job it is to warp into worlds and thwart the terrorists of the Seven Deadly Fins. The start of the game sees you relaxing inside the body of a fish in a fishbowl. Your first task is to solve three mini puzzles of an "intermediate" toughness, then its onto the "large" portion of the game in the land where everyone is a fish. The puzzles are very clever and logical and the text is very "Magnetic Scrollsish" and makes for a great read. The parser is probably the best of all the Magnetic Scrolls games and is as good, if not better than the Infocom parsers. I absolutley loved this game. { Editor's Note concerning Availability: The Magnetic Scrolls games were sold commercially. Second-hand copies occasionally turn up for sale in the games newsgroups. Reliable sources also tell us that they are available from certain well-known FTP sites (though not from the IF-archive). Of course, the illegality of such distribution channels forbids us from mention them here... The good news is that you don't need a semi-antique computer to play these games (however you manage to get a copy): Niclas Karlsson has written a portable interpreter called _Magnetic_ which runs on a variety of platforms. See } FTP FileStepwise solution (Text) FTP FileManual (.pdf)

Flat Feet

From: Neil Butters <NEIL.BUTTERS SP@G SYMPATICO.CA> Review appeared in
SPAG #42 -- October 2, 2005 TITLE: Flat Feet AUTHOR: Joel Ray Holveck E-MAIL: joelh SP@G DATE: March 13, 2005 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 1 When I began playing Flat Feet I was a bit surprised that it only ranked fourth in the 2005 Spring Thing Competition. Despite not having played the other games I assumed they must have been very good to place better than this one. However, it quickly became apparent that the game's auspicious beginning was a broken promise. In Flat Feet you are a cat and you have a detective agency with your ferret partner, Ralph. You haven't had a mystery to solve in a long time but this quickly changes. The mystery involves you and Ralph traveling around San Francisco trying to solve a series of robberies. The game opens with a clever prologue and enjoyable interplay between you and Ralph. After you receive your assignment and head off there is even an "in-joke" that anybody who has attempted to learn the INFORM language will likely appreciate. But after that the game becomes tedious as you try to solve a couple of contrived puzzles to achieve the simplest tasks. Depending on what you already have and the places YOU have visited, these puzzles could require a lot of traveling that only slows down the pace. Grannted the places you have to visit are interesting authentic San Francisco locations but the descriptions could have been more interesting and more detailed. None of these puzzles contributed directly to plot development and thus the mystery is thin and the perpetrator leaves behind some evidence that makes you question her intelligence. The game also doesn't take advantage of some interesting ideas. I thought that being a cat would provide some interesting twists, ie using your agility to solve a puzzle or two. In fact, the first puzzle would have been solved easily by a cat. Unfortunately being a cat is irrelevant. At one point you are offered a different point-of-view of the city but again the game doesn't really take advantage of it in its room descriptions (although this may have been an attempt by the author to comment on how dirty the city is, play the game and you'll see what I mean). There is a rather poor attempt at creating alternate endings. The final showdown could occur in any of six locations but the ending is ultimately always the same. You don't even have to get all the evidence to catch the robber, the one piece of evidence you do need is so generic that it allows for any of six possible suspects. Yet this flimsy evidence is still enough proof to confront the robber. There are some aspects of the game I did enjhoy. The game was sometimes very witty and the comeraderie between yu and the ferret was fun. I liked the locations (maybe only because I visited there once) and there are some bizarre happenings that may hold some interest. I didn't encounter any bugs or any problems interfacing with the game although some room descriptions only make sense the first time you enter them or approach the room from a certain direction. I think Flat Feet is probably worth playing if you are interested in the San Francisco area and would like to read about some of the attractions there. Otherwise you may find the game a bit too tedious and the weak plot won't maintain your interest. Note: There is a walkthrough and source code files available with the game. The walkthrough is a sample transcript complete with room descriptions so it may be tempting to simply read that and not play the game. Zcode game file (.z8), Inform source, and walkthrough


From: DJ Hastings <dj.hastings SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #47 -- January 16, 2007 TITLE: Floatpoint AUTHOR: Emily Short EMAIL: emshort SP@G DATE: October 1, 2006 PARSER: Inform 7 SUPPORTS: Glulx interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF Archive URL: VERSION: Release 1 Floatpoint is about a planet populated by genetically-engineered humans who want to come back to earth, or something like that. I don't remember exactly because, frankly, I didn't care. The author never made me feel like the things I was doing or the situation itself really mattered. This seems strange, because the whole point of the game is to figure out what's going on and decide what to do about it. But while I was certainly interested in the game as a puzzle, I ended up not caring about it as a story. The writing is good, although some of the descriptions were a bit long-winded for my tastes. I was probably playing just before bed, though, so that might have made me less patient with the descriptions than I otherwise would have been. The game could also have used a little more technical work. I ran into a few bugs and unimplemented things, and the whole game ran really slowly, with long pauses after each command. None of these things were a big deal- I even got used to the pauses after a while- but they made the game feel unpolished. Although I didn't like the game all that much, there was one aspect I really did like. Floatpoint used two devices to help communicate the story, and both of them worked well for me. They were a message system used to communicate with some distant NPCs, and a computer database containing information from your predecessor. The message system involves a console in the "communications room" and a beeper that you carry around with you. When someone sends you a message, your beeper alerts you to the fact. You can then go to the communications room and use the console to read and reply to any messages that you've received. The replies are written automatically; you only choose whether or not to send them. Often, you will get a response to your reply a while after you send it, so you end up engaging in some good sized conversations this way. These messages arrive every so often through most of the game, and that's what I really liked about the system. For one thing, the "message waiting" beeper pleasantly interrupted my other exploration, breaking up what might have become monotonous otherwise. And I found that I anticipated the answers to my messages in the same way that I anticipate an email from someone, which added to the fun of reading them when they finally arrived. The message system did a good job of keeping me engaged with the game. The other device that I enjoyed playing with was a computer database in which I could look up journal entries from one of the NPCs and information about the game's background. This is surprising, because normally I *hate* consultable objects in adventure games. It feels like I'm playing guess-the-noun, and I'm always afraid that I've missed a noun that was important. (And often I'm right.) But the database in Floatpoint avoids this problem in two related ways: most keywords will bring up multiple articles, and most articles have multiple keywords attached to them. The first is nice because you can look up a person's name (for example) and see everything in the database related to them. Then, if one of the articles that comes up mentions something else interesting that's related to the character, you can look that up and see what the database has to say about it. I had a lot of fun searching through the database this way. And I wasn't nearly as worried as I usually am about missing something, because with multiple keywords for each article, I figured I was pretty sure to run into any important ones eventually. (And in fact I did.) To me, playing with the database was the best part of the whole game. Even though I didn't care for the story, Floatpoint was worthwhile just to play with these toys. And hey, you might like the story better than I did. So if you have any taste for story-driven IF, I'd certainly recommend taking a look at this game. Blorbed Glulx game file Walkthrough (plain text)

Foggywood Hijinx

From: Duncan Stevens <dnrb SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #21 -- June 15, 2000 TITLE: Foggywood Hijinx AUTHOR: Ivan Cockrum E-MAIL: ivan SP@G DATE: 1998 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 2 If the recently released Break-In is any indication, the effects of the 1998 chicken comp may be with us for years to come, as games inspired by the chicken theme but not finished on time appear one by one, covering the landscape with feathers and...well, best not get into that. At any rate, Ivan Cockrum's Foggywood Hijinx was one of the first chicken-themed post-chicken-comp efforts (we also saw Downtown Tokyo, Present Day not long afterwards), and it's an amusing effort that's somewhere between a spoof of the inherit-your-uncle's-fortune genre and a Penn & Teller homage. Your uncle was fond of practical jokes, it seems, and his last and greatest joke, now that he's dead, is to turn the whole family into chickens when they show up to squabble over his estate. The challenge is to overcome your newfound limitations and find a way out of the problem, using your uncle's various wacky inventions that litter his study. The inventions themselves are at least as amusing as the premise, since they include things like the Hedge Helpers (a pair of hands to extend one's reach) or the Buffalo-on-a-Spring. There's really only one puzzle, but it's quite a puzzle--it involves all sorts of clever mechanical finagling, and the various peculiar devices are described well enough to make the puzzle solvable. (Well, mostly--there are a few slightly misleading responses.) The point of Foggywood Hijinx is the humor, obviously, and there's enough of it to keep the game going for a while. Notably, a TV features Julia Child raving dementedly about the joys of killing chickens, e.g.: "I once killed a chicken just to watch it die." Your various bickering relatives continue to bicker in chicken form, but in more amusing ways: "Uncle Orpington pulls a long strand of fiber from the carpet. Cousin Red jealously tries to snatch it away, and a tug-of-war ensues." This wouldn't be enough to sustain anything other than a very short game, of course--and it might not be enough, depending on how long it takes you to figure out the puzzle, to get through this one without the jokes getting stale. Still, there are a few chuckles here and there, which is all that can be asked of a chicken-comp game. In sum, it's funny enough to be worth the 10-15 minutes, and if you haven't already seen too much IF involving chickens, it's worth a shot. FTP FileTADS .gam file FTP FileTADS source code FTP FileWindows version FTP FileMacintosh version

For A Change

From: Duncan Stevens <dns361 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #19 -- January 14, 2000 TITLE: For a Change AUTHOR: Dan Schmidt E-MAIL: dfan SP@G DATE: 1999 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 1.02 For a Change is indeed a change, and in a way it's a good example of what text IF can be--it manages to leave most of the visual details entirely to the player's imagination by refusing to pin down exactly what the PC is seeing or experiencing, except in the most general terms. The result is either maddening or evocative, depending on the player; if the player isn't willing to do the work of visualizing the scene as it unfolds (and supplying the images where the author declines to), the game more than likely remains elusive, amorphous. Either way, it takes some mental adjustment to appreciate what For a Change is trying to do. The other innovative aspect of For a Change is the syntax, which is fractured, confusing, and fascinating; the author has chosen a mode of expression that makes sense on its own terms, but is quite definitely nonstandard English. Everything can be deciphered with a little thought, of course, and usually the key is realizing that a word, in the game's world, can act as a different part of speech than expected. The effect is very much like reading e.e. cummings (I was reminded in particular of the poem "anyone lived in a pretty how town"); once the reader recognizes how certain words are being used (in that particular poem, for instance, "anyone" should be parsed as a name), the whole thing falls into place. The syntactical shifts in For a Change usually arising from the way the author personifies and animates generally inanimate objects by giving them verbs suggesting conscious action. It's a credit to the author that his work recalls cummings, and that getting used to the unusual syntax is rewarding rather than irritating. Due to the above elements, For a Change is both a challenge and a pleasure to read. The following is typical of both aspects: Lantern Room This subsection of the inset brightens and flickers. The shadows belong to the air more than you do, it seems. They walk the cordstone walls; they move and excite. The shadows look to a wall, to bars in the wall, and the songlantern behind them. Further in is east, further out is west, and a slope obtains up to the south. >examine songlantern The songlantern hums and burbles, circled by brightening words, evading the bars and piercing the silence and darkness. "The shadows look to a wall..." suggests that the shadows converge on the bars, but the reader must first recognize that "look" is the game's way of personifying and giving life to the shadows, rather than binding them to the literal and inanimate reality. As for the songlantern, the reader has no way of visualizing what it is, and the description doesn't help; it merely gives the reader some elements to draw on in coming up with his or her own image. The word itself is evocative, rather than merely cryptic (at least, I found it so)--and the description conjures up a variety of images and sounds in a way that few straight-syntax descriptions could do. Similar is the following: "Then there is a moment of loudness and shock." An explosion? A clap of thunder? A scream? It could be any one, or all three, or none; the language is calculated to allow the player to choose. The fiction aspect of For a Change succeeds brilliantly, then (in my book, at least), but does it work as a game? The bag is a little more mixed on this count. Most of the puzzles require intuitive leaps of one kind or another, some greater than others; there is logic to all of them (logic on the game's terms, at least), but some of them make more sense after the fact. The problem in one particular puzzle is that the game requires a syntactical leap of faith, in a sense--not so much in what you type as in the way you parse a certain object's name, and the properties you ascribe to the object as a result of the parsing. The correct solution is quite consistent with the feel of the game, but getting used to the game's approach to grammar and actually predicting how the game will approach a given word (sufficiently so to make the prediction the basis for a puzzle solution) are two different things. The other problem with the game element of For a Change is that it's a little directionless; the initial directive is this: "The sun is gone. It must be brought. You have a rock," which doesn't exactly give the player much of a nudge in discerning the proper path. Adding to the aimlessness aspect is that the first puzzle isn't solvable until a certain event happens, and it's possible for the player to fail to trigger the event early on and wander around getting frustrated. True, the game is relatively small, and there aren't so many puzzles that the player is likely to remain clueless for long--and the hint system does help. Still, the initial playing experience can be a little daunting--the player's initial reaction might well be "not only don't I understand what anything is, I don't even know what I'm supposed to be doing or how to go about it." Even if it's less than perfect as a game, though, the interactive aspect of For a Change is one of its greatest strengths--because it is through the player's interactions with the environment that he or she generates images, forms an impression of what this elusive world is like. Giving the player a variety of ways to interact with the characters and objects ensures that different players will come away with different impressions, for example in the following: >examine toolman The toolman is bright and misty. Thoughts and uses hang from his shoulders like birds. Or: >give bar to toolman The toolman gently misunderstands. The toolman smiles softly. A player can easily generate an image of the toolman as animate or inanimate, depending on how he or she chooses to approach him (or it), and neither one is clearly wrong or right. This indeterminacy can be achieved in static fiction, to be sure, but interactive fiction can do it much better--an author can deliberately accommodate multiple ways of visualizing the same object or character--and For a Change takes advantage of its medium in some novel ways. Similarly intriguing about For a Change is the way it deals with scale; all measurements are relative ("To your north is a massive transparent cube, perhaps five of your heights on each side"), leaving the distinct possibility that the events are taking place on a microscopic level, or a cosmic level, or somewhere in between. Though, again, it's not for everyone, For a Change is the sort of experimental work that the competition was meant to foster; it's not the most successful entry as a game, but it's certainly well done fiction, and I gave it an 8 in the competition. From: Nick Patavalis <npat SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #22 -- September 15, 2000 Imagine a certain use of the English language that, while ostensibly precise, and having perfect internal coherence, is such that the reader cannot immediately make sense out of it; he has to make (conscious or reflexive) assumptions as to what every phrase might mean. Combine this use of the language with an equally bizarre vocabulary that (though English) the reader has to pick up on the fly. Facing this prose, not all readers have to (and will not) construct the same mental imagery, but the internal coherence keeps the various interpretations more or less "aligned", in such a way that all (or most at least) readers can sensibly interact with the objects communicated. The outcome is something deeply bizarre, resulting in a rather dreamlike quality: everything has some sort of internal logic, even if you don't know what it is. And in fact, as the author has said in an interview (published in SPAG #19), some of the most peculiar articulations derive from fragments of his dreams, or from thoughts captured when his mind was otherwise empty. In a sense, this game itself presents a very interesting argument about the way understanding natural language works: Language is understood through context. (This is a known fact at least since W. v. O. Quine showed that "statements about the external world face the tribunal of experience not individually but only as a corporate body.") When context is missing, understanding is based on familiarity; we internally contextualize the language based on our previous experiences. The description of the Zork house's kitchen is more understandable than the description of Schmidt's "toolman", because we all have been in a kitchen. When the bonds to familiarity are weakened significantly (like in this game), the only remaining shelter for reason is the language's internal structure (coherence); this is what guides the reader's mind in its random attempt to establish plausible and familiar metaphors. Think about it for a while. This short piece of interactive fiction (together with a few others like Cadre's Shrapnel) supports in a very powerful way Adam Cadre's statement that: ...freed from commercial concerns, "text adventure games" have morphed into "interactive fiction" -- an increasingly experimental medium with every bit as much potential as straight prose... Schmidt has backed away a bit from the experimental approach outlined above by making sure that while the reader receives this "odd" language, he will not have to produce any. Thus any form of interaction will be done using "normal" verbs and normal phrasing (although sometimes involving objects which are not "perfectly normal"). I think it would be interesting to see a game that would require its readers to actively test their understanding of such a strange universe by verbally re-creating its inner logic, but I also share the doubts of the author as to whether the outcome would be playable. In the Author's Notes (included in the game, but available only after it is solved), Schmidt mentions the book "Wire and String" by Dan Marcus, and "The Book of the New Sun" by Gene Wolfe as works that influenced the writing of this game. I was not aware of these books but after I played the game I looked for them and read them. I deeply enjoyed reading them, especially Marcus's book. Apart from being interesting works by themselves they help clarify the underlying intentions of Schmidt's work. Closing with a negative remark: The game and the game-world are very short. I know it is supposed to be so, since it is a competition entry, but I would really like to see these ideas worked on a much larger scale. Conclusion: It is a must-play. FTP FileInform .z5 file

Fort Aegea

From: Adam Myrow <myrow SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #31 -- January 3, 2003 TITLE: Fort Aegea AUTHOR: Francesco Bova EMAIL: fbova SP@G DATE: September 2002 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: any Z-code interpreter AVAILABILITY: Freeware, If-archive URL: Directory with game and various maps in PDF files plus walk-through VERSION: 2 It has been said that when being interviewed, you are primarily judged by the first 10 seconds. For me, this is partly true of Interactive Fiction as well. I am more likely to stick to a game which has a good introduction than one whose introduction is poorly written. An introduction full of spelling errors and bad grammar makes me tend to question the game. In this regard, I was really unsure what to think when I loaded up Fort Aegea and got this introduction. "AAACHOOOO!!" Waking up with a start, you stare blankly into space, and rub your watery eyes. While fumbling around on your night table you find a piece of parchment in which to blow your nose and wipe your brow. It's spring and with it comes your annual bout of hay fever; a condition that is certainly not made any better by the fact that you're living on an outpost in the wilderness. No matter. You rise from bed with a yawn and a stretch, trying to focus mentally for the day ahead. Being the sole Priestess representing the Order of the Amylyan Druids in this distant Northern outpost has never been easy. However, as the settlers are incredibly humble and always helpful, your experience has been very rewarding. Oh well, another day filled with dispute resolution, work preparation, and general governance over your small settlement. The sun hasn't risen yet, so you still have a few minutes to yourself. I don't think there's ever been a PC in all of IF with hay fever, and the only case of hay fever I can recall offhand is the ogre in Spellbreaker. So, right off, I had a good sense of my character, but no clue what the story would be about. This is often a good thing, and the story in this particular game is complicated enough that a lengthy introduction would be a detriment, but still, this didn't do anything but make me wonder what I was getting into. This game is a sequel to The Jewel of Knowledge, and that made me feel a bit odd since I'd never gotten around to playing that particular game. However, this one stands on its own for the most part. The story is described in an interactive prolog which is a nifty idea. Basically, it's just another ordinary day until a farmer comes in through the gate of Fort Aegea badly wounded. He tells you of a demon who wants the blood of 4 virgins over 30 just before dying. Terrified, you consult some higher authorities and learn that this demon is actually a dragon. The dragon breathes toxic gas rather than fire and is rather nasty. Desperately hoping to save the fort from certain destruction, you let the dragon talk you into a dangerous game of cat and mouse. You have to survive the day while the dragon tries to kill you. If you survive, he will leave. Otherwise, he has the whole fort's population for lunch. So, the bulk of the game involves trying to keep your hide intact and protect others. There were two things I really disliked about this game. First of all, and by far the most important, there is a huge amount of violence in the story. While I can understand that dragons are mean and hurt people, I think the author went a bit too far. For example, a husband and wife with a baby are some of the people you try to help. First, the husband dies like so: The Dragon throws an agile paw at Pierre and knocks him heavily off the path and unfortunately, off a precipice that you're sure will end off a few hundred meters down the side of the mountain. "PIERRE!" screams Annie, the look of hysteria gaining momentum on her face. She hands you Etienne and sobs, "You must protect him Priestess, at all costs!" Annie turns to face the dragon and begins running. As is obvious, the next move, Annie meets her maker even more violently: Annie runs screaming head first into the Dragon's midriff. The dragon deflects her mild blow and clasps his arms around her waist with little effort. There is a short struggle followed by a bone-crunching snap, after which the Green Dragon throws Annie's lifeless body into the shrubs surrounding the clearing. His visage shows a hint of pity. It wouldn't be so bad if these were the only instances of such, but this sort of thing happens repeatedly throughout the story. There is some attempt to explain it at the end, but I found it to be a thin excuse. The second thing that hurt Fort Aegea for me is the spell casting. You have a few spells you can cast which have very unique effects. However, the problem is that almost every single puzzles solution involves casting one of about four spells. There is one spell that is completely useless in the game, though. The game specifically mentions that you are an experienced druid and therefore have many spells memorized. I would have preferred it if more of the puzzles involve non-magical solutions. I keep thinking of Graham Nelson's The Craft of Adventure in which he warns against overuse of magic. He said "the majority of puzzles should be soluble by hand -- or else the player will start to feel that it would save a good deal of time and effort just to find the 'win game' spell and be done with it." I completely agree with him on this point and note that in the entire Enchanter trilogy, there are at least some puzzles that can be solved without magic. One good thing about the magic system is that you never have to learn spells. You always have them memorized and can even look them up individually through a menu. The spell names also make sense for a change. For example "crewa" means create water. So, I didn't mind the magic system, and some of its uses were clever, but I would have preferred that more than one or two puzzles could be solved without it. I think the best thing this game has going for it is the completeness of the world. It is a fairly detailed world model and it feels very real with the exception of the description of the dragon that sounds like it came straight from Dungeons and Dragons or one of its imitators. Another plus is the interactive introduction. It lets the player get comfortable with the environment, start to understand what things are normally like, and to really appreciate the shock of the dragon's sudden appearance. Lastly, the game has two endings, and I always find multiple endings to be a nice touch when done well. So, overall, Fort Aegea is a real mixed bag with both good and bad points. I rated it a 6 in the competition. FTP FileDirectory with zcode .z8 file, walkthrough, and PDF feelies

Four In One

From: Paul O'Brian <obrian SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #17 -- May 10, 1999 NAME: Four in One AUTHOR: J. Robinson Wheeler E-MAIL: wheeler SP@G DATE: 1998 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 1.0 Playing Four In One, I was in an unusual, unprecedented (for me) situation: I was playing a game of which I had already read a complete, winning transcript. Not a walkthrough, but a transcript of commands and game responses. It seems that the author submitted this transcript to Stephen Granade's IF Fan Fest, an informal quasi-competition held at Granade's Mining Company web page. If I had known this transcript was also going to be a competition game, I wouldn't have read it, because I hate spoilers. But I didn't know that, so I read it, and it made playing the game a very strange experience -- the whole thing gave me a very strong sense of deja vu. Now, granted, the transcript isn't an exact one. You can't follow that transcript and hope to win the game, because the commands are not all perfectly duplicated, and there are some other differences between the two as well. However, they have a *lot* in common. Now, the funny thing about this is that when I initially read the Four in One transcript, my thought was "It's a funny idea, but it would be far too difficult to actually turn into a game." Well, I have been proved wrong. The idea behind the game is that you're a film director in the heyday of the Marx brothers, and you're directing them in their first picture for MGM. Or at least, you're trying to direct them. Apparently, keeping all the Marxes in one room, getting along, and working productively is somewhat akin to herding cats. Consequently, you're forced into the position of chasing after them, collecting them one by one, and forcing them to follow you around to their (and your) considerable annoyance. Even once you've got them all on the set and rehearsed, there's no guarantee that one or more of them won't go bolting off to make a phone call, hang out at the catering table, or read a book. What's worse, you have only two hours to get a good take on a crucial scene, or you and the picture will both be canned. The transcript makes this into a hilarious situation, showing the Marx brothers at their zaniest even when the cameras aren't rolling. In fact, *all* the comedy takes place when the cameras aren't rolling. This is the kind of thing that I didn't think an IF game would be able to pull off, but Four in One is the living proof. It's not as funny as the transcript, but it works, especially in places like Chico's dressing room, where more and more people keep entering, pushing you inexorably to the back wall like the first entrant in a phone-booth-stuffing competition. Scenes like this can be irritating as well, and the game sometimes steps across the fine line between funny aggravation and just plain aggravating aggravation. However, with the exception of one internal TADS error that I found, the technical details of the writing and coding are executed superbly, and this goes a long way towards smoothing out any annoyances. The place where the game's technical proficiency shines the most is in its characters. Four In One is a the most character-intensive piece of IF I've ever played. Almost every location has one or more characters in it at all times, and these characters are as fully implemented as they need to be. The gaffer, for example, is not terribly talkative -- ask him about the movie and he'll say "A job's a job," but ask him about the lights and he has an opinion, as he should. Every character has responses about the things they should know about, though if you spend much time in conversations with them you will run afoul of the game's time limit. The Marx brothers can tell you about each other, the movie, MGM (Groucho says, "MGM stands for 'more godless movies.'"), and anything else they ought to know about. Four in One does an outstanding job juggling all these characters, giving them just the appropriate depth of implementation so that the game really rewards replay. After I had solved the game, I went back and just chatted with the various characters, and was delighted with the extent to which they are implemented. The author's research is quite apparent in these moments, and it makes a big difference. Four In One taught me things about the Marx Brothers that I had never known before, and made me want to go out and rent A Night at the Opera again. That's entertainment. Rating: 8.7 From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #17 -- May 10, 1999 If competition entries got individual awards, Four in One would have to be recognized as the Greatest Sheer Effort. The game is simply littered with NPCs--24 by my count, and considering the way the characters wander in and out, I'm sure I missed at least a few. Some of them essentially stand still (though all have some dialogue potential), others have painfully complicated movement daemons, and just thinking about what it took to code all of them made me want to cry. (The source code is now available, but I haven't looked at it yet. Perhaps some day when I'm feeling especially brave.) Unfortunately, all that elaborate coding doesn't necessarily add up to a rewarding game--though given how much time the author obviously put into this, I certainly wish I could say it did. The premise: you're "Sam Wood," trying to put the finishing touches on the latest Marx Brothers movie, and you're charged with the task of assembling everyone on the set so that the last scene can be filmed. Your clout as director only goes so far, however, and trying to keep the brothers on the set long enough to film is, even for you, like building a house out of Jello. You have a trusty sidekick who, frankly, isn't much use, and the set is filled with extras and techies and other actors. Egos being what they are, however, you don't seem to be able to delegate the task of rounding up the brothers, and so you scurry around the studio as if you were a lowly assistant. Since the end of the competition, the cry regarding Four in One has been fairly uniform: cute but too frustrating. The cry isn't wrong, as such, but let's be clear about why it's frustrating: it's not because there are a lot of NPCs to understand and manipulate. It's that so much of the NPCs' behavior is random, as far as I can tell, that a given game can be impossible to win if certain random events go against you often enough. If two certain characters get in a fight, for instance, another would leave, slowing down the rounding-up process. Too many fights and you'd lose your power to gather people together, for various reasons. I don't know whether the fights happened at random or were related to some other factor, controllable or not; if there was another factor, it was obscure enough that I never caught on. Likewise, another character gets bored after a certain amount of moves and wanders away--and if you don't get him to do what he's supposed to do before that happens, you've wasted a chance, and you don't have a lot to spare. To be sure, part of what makes the game realistic is that the NPCs are not entirely malleable; to that end, Four in One gets lots of realism points. Getting the brothers to do what you want is, as someone said, like herding cats. But all the realism points seem to come out of the fun column. However, there's an upside to all this: there's lots of replayability in Four in One, partly to find Easter eggs and partly because there's lots of extraneous detail to sift through. Most of the characters respond to a variety of questions--about the movie, other characters, life, etc. Because a winning game can vary so much--two different games can present different challenges: solving the game once doesn't guarantee that you'll be able to solve it on the next try. (Then again, the random events might just not be on your side the next time, as noted.) The game is consistently funny--Groucho has lots of good one-liners, and Harpo has plenty of amusing antics, even if they usually impede your progress. The thoroughness of the coding is not limited to the NPC daemons--different characters have distinct reactions when they enter certain rooms, for instance, and putting certain characters in rooms together has unexpected results. In short, so much of Four in One works so well that it seems rude to point out that the game itself isn't always a lot of fun, at least if the player is interested in achieving the goal the game presents. Most of the fun to be had is extraneous to that goal. In summary, Four in One reminded me of Tempest from the previous year's competition--a brilliant idea, thoroughly and intelligently done, that I wanted to like more than I did. And just as Four in One arguably worked better as the transcript submitted to the IF Fan Fest, so Tempest works better as, well, the play, and the literacy of the attempt to translate it can't hide that. Four in One is quite a testament to the author's skills; as a game, however, it's flawed, and I gave it a 7. From: David Ledgard <dledgard SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #17 -- May 10, 1999 This is quite an interesting concept, putting a new spin on IF. Instead of the game being object-centric, it is NPC-centric, with NO objects of any use what so ever, and more NPC's per square pixel than any other game I have played, although most of them are thinly implemented. But basically what happened is NPC's become gloryfied objects. You are on a film set and only have four remaining takes to complete a picture (hence the name), or you're out on your ear. The film includes the four Marx Brothers, I've vaguely heard of Groucho that's about it, and I thought there were only two. The problem is to get all the stars and extras in the same place at the same this. To do this you can TAKE people, to get them to follow you. The trouble is they keep wandering off while you're finding the others ones, sometimes after only one turn. There are, however, two NPC's who can help you locate missing people. Most of the time actors tend to go to the same places, but some won't follow without overs. Read the special commands to see how to control them. I'm afraid I couldn't finish this game, and suspect very very few people actually did. FTP FileTADS .gam file (.zip) (updated version) FTP FileTADS .gam file (.sit) (updated version) FTP FileTADS file (.gam) (competition version) FTP FileTADS Source code, essay from the author, and development logs (.zip) FTP FileTADS Source code, essay from the author, and development logs (.sit) FTP FileSolution (Text)

The Frenetic Five vs. Mr. Redundancy Man

From: Duncan Stevens <dnrb SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #21 -- June 15, 2000 TITLE: The Frenetic Five vs. Mr. Redundancy Man AUTHOR: Neil deMause E-MAIL: neil SP@G DATE: 1999 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 1.2 The first edition of Neil deMause's Frenetic Five, a 1997 competition entry, had its problems--the game didn't really have a good sense of what to do with all your fellow superheroes--but it was also quite funny; this episode works out the kinks inherent in giving the PC multiple sidekicks, and it's even funnier than the original. The result, while not a wildly ambitious effort, is well worth playing. You are Improv, a MacGyveresque hero with a talent for making tools out of common objects, and your team consists of Newsboy, who can instantly provide a news update on any topic, Lexicon, who always knows the right word, Clapper, who can find any missing object, and Pastiche, who has assorted random powers (among them the power to sing lines from Top 40 songs relevant to almost any occasion). You can ask your sidekicks for help at any time; you won't always get a hint from each of them, but you'll usually get help in some form somewhere. Truth to tell, not getting anywhere is at least as rewarding as making progress, since your fellow superheroes have a wide range of amusing sarcastic responses. Moreover, the ending encounter with the Mr. Redundancy Man of the title is absolutely hilarious, mainly for the villain's dialogue: "Welcome to my hideaway lair, my dear friends of mine! Your arrival has come fortuitously just in time for you to witness the sight of my greatest and most triumphal achievement!" The way you deal with him is clever, but it's the premise itself that makes this worth playing--he has such a wealth of amusingly repetitive dialogue that it's more entertaining to find all the ways to interact with him than to set to work at solving the puzzle. Both the first and second Frenetic Five games draw much of their humor from humdrum settings and tasks--i.e., you have superheroes riding the bus and trying to operate a copy machine--and while it's amusing here, as in the first one, the frustration aspect of wrestling with boring objectives comes perilously close to being simply irritating. Contributing to that problem is an unfortunate fellow named the Validator, who comments on everything you do, as follows: >examine validator Some superheroes are blessed with a magnificent physique, like Backhoe Woman and The Human Hydraulic Press. Some have powers that are only dreamt of by regular humans, such as The Defenestrator and Microwave-Popcorn Boy. Some have neither, but are at least fun to be around and get invited to lots of parties. Then there's the Validator. The Validator says, "Outstanding! It never would have occurred to me to inspect the Validator!" >kick validator It's not clear how to kick the Validator. The Validator says, "Oh, kick the Validator, huh? Great idea!" You get the idea. It's not a bad joke, but it's not especially funny for more than a few turns, and the typical player will end up spending more than a few turns around this particular irritant. At any rate, the Validator brings out the basic mundanity of the setting--there's nothing that makes a setting seem quite so mundane as an irritating person commenting on everything you do--as well as the ho-hum nature of your powers, and those of your sidekicks. It's not every writer who could make mundanity funny, but this one does. E.g.: "The clerk looks thoughtful, in a manner that makes it clear that thought is not a usual requirement of the job." The puzzles, by and large, are nothing special, with the exception of the endgame puzzle, whose solution is a real "aha" moment. There's one earlier puzzle that takes either a major logical leap or better visualization skills than I have, but it's a relatively minor flaw, particularly in a game this small. The second episode of this series corrects the main flaw of the first one, namely that there was no particular rhyme or reason to when your fellow superheroes would be able to help you, and no standard way to ask them to intervene; here, "ask x for help" elicits either action (solving a problem you couldn't solve on your own) or some sort of response. It's not a perfect solution-- it's still rarely obvious when you should be addressing a problem with your own wits, in the manner of standard IF, and when you should be relying on your team--but at least Episode Two doesn't require you to guess what the other members of the team would do, which was the major flaw of the first Frenetic Five. Having a standardized way to kick a puzzle out to the rest of the gang makes things much easier. There's not a lot to the second edition of Frenetic Five; it's solvable in half an hour or so, and it doesn't do anything all that surprising. But it has several laugh-out-loud moments, and fans of superheroes will no doubt grin knowingly at the absurdity of it all. From: Francesco Bova <fbova SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #22 -- September 15, 2000 Hah! That was my repeated response as I played through Neil DeMause's second installment in a series I hope he continues. The Frenetic Five vs. Mr. Redundancy Man continues on in the humorous tradition that Mr. DeMause started with his initial episode (The Frenetic Five vs. Strum & Drang), and makes many improvements on that well-intentioned first episode to boot. The Frenetic Five's world is covered with superheroes. As long as you can do something mildly interesting (like, let's say, be forever encouraging of someone else's actions), you've passed the minimum requirements needed to play the part. In this respect, the Frenetic Five pay more homage to the cartoon show The Tick (and its colorful cast of superheroes like the cowardly Deflatomouse and the rain-man-like Urchin) than it does to any team coming from the Marvel or DC universe. In fact, you as the protagonist have no super power per se, just a love for the TV show MacGyver and an ability to create things out of household implements. Still, this makes you the perfect leader for your group of misfits. Although the writing and storyline are impressively well put together, the best part about FF II are the NPCs. Considering the game is approximately 4 rooms in size, the room-to-well-fleshed-out-NPC ratio is pretty high. You've got the superhero named the Validator, the clerks, and the villain from the title Mr. Redundancy Man. You've also got your teammates, who form your moral support network, and who are hilarious with their witty banter and comments when it comes time to use their "super powers". My personal favorite team member is Lexicon, who's essentially a walking, talking version of Microsoft Bookshelf. That is to say, he's got the right word for what's troubling you. [Reviewer's Note: Lexicon actually got me all teary-eyed and nostalgic for one of the oddest little superheroes to ever come out of the Marvel comic book universe. His name was Cypher, and he was a member of a group called the New Mutants (a sort of Junior X-Men squad). His superpower: the ability to translate any language! As you can well imagine he was used sparingly. I can just picture it now. The New Mutants are getting ready to attack Magneto's secret hideout and the call to action goes something like this... << OK Magik, you attack the flank with your magic bolts. Cannonball, you soar in from the clouds and weaken his defenses. Sunspot, we'll send you in through the front door because after all, you're super-strong. And Cypher, you stay behind and make sure no one unplugs the fridge. Those beers have GOT to be cold when we get back! >>] Like all the NPCs, Lexicon's "help" in solving puzzles was well implemented and his super weakness (the equivalent to Superman's kryptonite), left me laughing for a long time after it was revealed. The NPCs not only add to the comic flavor of the game, but also provide you with clues if you need them, thereby providing a built-in hint system that doesn't break mimesis. In fact, if you're feeling particularly unimaginative when it comes time for you to solve some puzzles, the team can act as your "walkthrough" provided you ask the right team member the right questions. (However, this is obviously not recommended as it decreases the overall enjoyment of the game). There are essentially two types of puzzles in the game. The first type includes puzzles where you have to employ your MacGyver-like abilities, and the second revolve around correctly using your team's "talents" to get out of situations. As I'd mentioned previously, every team member has a hand in solving one puzzle or another, but figuring out which one you need isn't always apparent without a little thought. (This was especially true of Pastiche, as I had forgotten her special abilities from the first game in the series). The fact that the puzzles tend to be a bit tougher (or maybe more correctly, not necessarily intuitive right off the bat), is actually a positive as it helps out with the pacing of the game. Pacing, you say? What does pacing have to do with anything? Well, let me explain. When smaller games have really simple puzzles, it's almost too easy to progress through them without paying much attention to the "buzz" in the background (i.e., funny non-default responses, snarky comebacks, etc.). I know a lot of authors who have gone to great lengths to "flesh out" their game environment only to realize that players end up missing most of the extra goodies because there was no motivation to experience them. One game in particular that comes to mind is Suzanne Britton's Worlds Apart. I can remember playing Worlds Apart and thoroughly enjoying it the first time. What I hadn't realized was how many subtleties there were in the game until Suzanne posted something on r.g.i-f regarding the richness of the world she had created. With her post in hand, I played Worlds Apart a second time and enjoyed it even more than I had the first. The point is, that if Worlds Apart had one tiny little flaw, it was that Suzanne didn't slow us down enough to smell the roses if we didn't really want to, and I know that I for one ended up missing some of the best parts of the game as a result. In FF II, the obstacles DeMause puts in front of you should slow you down enough to hear the "buzz" (specifically the witty banter from the game's NPCs, and some hilarious object descriptions), and get a real feel for the warped world your character lives in. This should add immensely to the game and the player's gaming experience as a whole. The ending is too funny for words, and will leave the player feeling satisfied even if he had to use the built-in walkthrough to achieve it. There is no way for the PC to die, and with the exception of one nasty little bug (which should be avoidable for most players) there's no way to get the game into an unwinnable situation. Even if you're not a big comic book fan, I would still highly recommend this one as a nice diversion on a day when you need a good laugh. FTP FileTADS .gam file FTP FileMacintosh version

The Frenetic Five vs. Sturm Und Drang

From: Paul O'Brian <obrian SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #13 -- February 5, 1998 NAME: The Frenetic Five vs. Sturm Und Drang AUTHOR: Neil deMause E-MAIL: neild SP@G DATE: 1997 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 2 (1997 competition release) Here's my confession: I love superheroes. Ever since my first Marvel comic at age six, I've always been a fan. Even now, well into my twenties and possessing a Master's degree in English Lit, I still make sure I get my monthly superhero fix. Yes, I know that violent revenge power-fantasies do not great works of literature make. Yes, I love comics and I know that the comics market is overcrowded, to the exclusion of other quality works, with bulging musclemen in tight spandex. Yes, I know that the constant deaths and resurrections of the superhero set strain plausibility to the breaking point. (Though really, who cares about plausibility? We're talking superheroes, here!) And yes, I'm disturbed by the almost grotesquely idealized bodies (especially women's bodies) relentlessly depicted in superhero comics. But what can I say? No matter how guilty it gets, it's still a pleasure. Consequently, I was anxious to start playing The Frenetic Five, and gave a small cheer when Comp97's magic shuffler put it towards the front of the line. I've always thought that the whole superhero genre would make a great one for IF -- if it's a great power fantasy to watch some comicbook character shoot fire out of his hands, how much greater to actually play the character that does it! I quickly learned that FF is in fact a superhero spoof (seems that very few people who think of themselves as sophisticated can enter the superhero genre without wearing the bulletproof bracelets of satire and ridicule), and a very funny one too, in the tradition of Superguy. You play Improv, whose power is the ingenious use of household objects, and other members of your team include a boy who can see tomorrow's headlines, and a woman who can find lost objects by clapping her hands (named, of course, The Clapper). The prose maintains a consistently high quality, from the characters' dialogue with one another to the snappy responses provided for some unlikely actions (">GET HOUSE" brings "You can count the number of superheroes you know who can lift an entire house on one finger: Forklift Man. (Come to think of it, Forklift Man could lift an entire house with one finger.)") It's hilarious. Sadly, there are some problems as well. First of all, I was disappointed that my supposed super-power was not implemented, as it would have been one of the most natural (and coolest) hint systems ever devised. Anytime I needed help with a puzzle, I could have just drawn on my "super Improv power" to help me make the intuitive connections between those ordinary household objects. Instead, the game left me to hope that I (as a player) developed those MacGyver talents on my own. Not likely, I'm afraid. In addition, the game does not meet the challenge of allowing me to use even this setup, because it does not allow alternate solutions to puzzles by using objects in unconventional ways. Very few alternate solutions were implemented, and few are even anticipated with a snarky response. For example, when tied up, I tried many unconventional ways to escape my bonds (cut them with my shard of glass, put eyeglasses into sunlight to focus the light into enough heat to burn the ropes, blow on the eyeglasses to put them in the right place, bite the ropes, wrap duct tape on my fingers to get more than one object at a time, etc.) Each attempt was met with one of two (equally lame) responses: either very clumsy non-recognition of the verb ("You can't see any bite here.") or "That's not really possible in your current state." The game doesn't really account for all the clever things that could be done with the inventory objects provided, just the *one* clever thing that will solve each puzzle. Finally, there are a number of just plain bugs in the game, which always decreases the fun factor. The Frenetic Five has an excellent premise and, on the level of prose, an excellent execution. However, interface design and implementation are too important to be treated the way this game treats them, and it suffers for it. I'm still waiting for the game that does superheroes just right. Prose: As mentioned above, the prose is excellent throughout the game. The dialogue and characterization for each member of the team is sharp and funny, and room descriptions (which adapted somewhat to the character's mental state) are both concise and vivid. Even some of the most everyday IF responses are considerably enlivened by the superhero treatment -- for example, saying "Down" in a locale where that direction is not available evokes the response "Sadly, you're not equipped with the ability to tunnel through solid ground." Plot: The plot is basically pretty middle-of-the-road superhero cliche. Since this is a spoof, of course, cliches are a good thing, and many of the touches (like having to take the bus to the supervillains' hideout) are quite funny. The landscape, the premise (SuperTemps, whose logo is a muscled forearm holding a timesheet), and the spoofing of venerable superhero tropes (a mission interrupts relaxation, the villains explain their nefarious scheme to the bound heroes, etc.) are all very cleverly done. There were some coincidences which strained even the generous boundaries of satire, but I'll discuss those below. Puzzles: In fact, I'll just discuss them right here. The puzzles are a weaker part of this game. I found basically two types of puzzles in the game. One group is the puzzle based on extremely contrived circumstances -- for example, the door to the villains' hideout uses a "guess-the-big-word" lock, and what do you know, I happen to have someone on my team whose superpower is guessing big words! Lucky me! The other type of puzzle is supposed to have drawn on my character's superpower, the ingenious use of household objects. However, since this power wasn't implemented (as a hint system) within the game, I was left to think of these ingenious uses by myself, the problems of which have already been discussed above. Technical: writing -- I found no errors in grammar or spelling in this game. coding -- I think the main failure of the coding was the one I've already discussed: the lack of depth in coding alternative uses for inventory items. When a game's main character is someone whose primary trait is the ingenious use of objects, it is incumbent on that game to provide specific code for as many of those ingenious uses as possible. Frenetic Five falls well short in this regard. The game also had a few regular bugs, which I assume will be fixed in the post-competition version. FTP FileTADS file (.gam) (Updated version) FTP FileBinHexed Macintosh file (.sit.hqx) (Updated version) FTP FilePC executable (.zip) (Updated version) FTP FileTADS file (.gam) (competition version)

Friday Afternoon

From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #13 -- February 5, 1998 NAME: Friday Afternoon AUTHOR: Mischa Schweitzer E-MAIL: M.A.M.Schweitzer SP@G DATE: 1997 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Inform interpreters AVAILABILIITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 1 PLOT: Simple (1.2) ATMOSPHERE: Office, but well-done (1.3) WRITING: Quite good (1.4) GAMEPLAY: Mostly good (1.2) CHARACTERS: Quite funny (1.4) PUZZLES: Nothing special (1.2) MISC: Solid, but some unfortunate elements (1.2) OVERALL: 6.3 Among all the wander-around-an-ordinary-place-doing-ordinary-things entries in the 1997 competition, perhaps the most enjoyable is Friday Afternoon, a short tour of the author's office. Though the puzzles aren't really anything special, they have few obvious flaws, and most impart an air of whimsy that makes this feel reasonably fresh. Perhaps the most notable thing in Friday Afternoon is a development right at the beginning of the game -- your glasses break, and you have to find a means of fixing them despite your limited vision. The solution itself is not particularly hard or innovative, true, but Mr. Schweitzer shows admirable thoroughness in concealing the office behind a blur until the problem is solved. The problem is vaguely reminiscent of one from Wishbringer, though that was an absolute bar on vision rather than a reduction -- but it did draw me into the game effectively enough, much more than the average conventional-task game tends to. My only problem with that part of the game, really, was that the solution came too easily; I wanted to have to rely on other senses, follow a complicated pattern, something, but the payoff was a bit mundane. After that, Friday Afternoon becomes fairly conventional, though enlivened by a good deal of wit; one of your co-workers has responses that echo those of the hacker in Lurking Horror, for one thing, and the solution to the problem of looking up a phone number is entertainingly zany. (At least, zany in a bored-and- trapped-in-an-office way.) The only puzzle that really breaks IF rules is one involving repeated actions without the first few failures being clued -- i.e., the player might give up after a try or two, since the responses don't indicate that you're getting any closer. With some tinkering on that -- feedback that changes, some reason to believe that pursuing that course will lead you to the goal -- the puzzles would be fine. A secondary but just as significant problem in Friday Afternoon involves a certain calendar and what it assumes about you, the player -- namely, that you're a straight male who enjoys having pictures of women in tight clothes in your office. While this certainly doesn't do anything for the game, in my eyes, the sexism involved isn't so painfully blatant that it's offensive; I found it a bit annoying, I suppose. (When I played this one, I had already encountered "Leaves" and its much more juvenile example of the same problem.) I don't think that the existence of the calendar in the game is itself wrong, but there are a few lines that could be better put -- namely, in a description, you're told that it's from August 1997, "but that isn't what you're looking at, is it?" And elsewhere, when you find a note indicating that the company's female employees are offended, you smile and note that the management won't see the calendar in its current location. No, not outrageous, but still a little obnoxious on both counts. Imputing thoughts or feelings to a player can be very effective when well done, but these aren't thoughts or feelings that are really worth imputing, given the assumptions involved. My feeling is that the calendar should still serve its purpose in the game -- but that the suggestion that it, er, does whatever it does for you should be removed. (And, I must say, the answer to "read calendar" is quite amusing.) Some have objected on similar grounds to the central premise of the game -- you need to get out of your office by 6:00 lest you miss your date with Tanya, and your date with Tanya is particularly important because you want to prove to yourself and to the world that you're not a nerd. Not a particularly noble reason for going on a date with her, true, but the game doesn't say that it's the sole reason or that you have no actual feelings for Tanya, merely that you feel like a nerd and are tired of that feeling. My feeling was that this is simple tell-it-like-it-is; for many people, going on a date -- either the first one ever or the first one in a long time -- serves as ego reinforcement, a sign that you're attractive, interesting, etc. It isn't particularly fair to the other party involved if that's the only reason, but the interests of comedy here; it's not as funny, somehow, if you're anxious about missing your date because you're desperately in love, and this is supposed to be comic, not tragic. All that said, there are plenty of things to enjoy here, notably an "Easter Egg Hunt" in the hint menu that gives the player interesting things to try -- with a prize in the form of the original release of the game. I didn't find many of the Easter Eggs involved -- though I wouldn't mind getting a push, particularly for "re-creating a scene from The Graduate". There is plenty of deadpan humor in the writing, for example when you try to move a stack of boxes and get this: "You'd rather not do anything with it: you might hurt yourself if it all fell on top of you, and you don't want to go on a date with Tanya with band-aids all over your face." Or a reference to a desk as "taking up space," to which the author adds "(Much like Marc's job description, from all you've seen him do.)" The view of your co-workers is consistently amusing, even if they're a bit stereotyped; the sugarcube is a very funny take on office boredom. Though there isn't a lot about Friday Afternoon that will stay with the player, the author should get credit for not doing much wrong. Using the phone, admittedly, requires fairly specific syntax, and the scoring system -- where you get ten points for significant tasks, but one routine action gets one point -- is a bit odd. But the game is entirely free of grammar problems (the author is Dutch, though it's not clear what his familiarity with English is). There's a time limit, though it's sufficiently loose that you really have to be lost to run afoul of it -- but it does provide some measure of tension, the puzzles work the way they're supposed to, and the whole thing's done with a measure of humor. I gave this one an 8 on the competition scale. FTP FileInform file (.z5)

Frobozz Magic Support

From: Adam Myrow <myrow SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #32 -- March 20, 2003 TITLE: Frobozz Magic Support AUTHOR: Nate Cull EMAIL: culln SP@G DATE: February, 1997 PARSER: TADS 2 SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF archive. URL: VERSION: 4 Back in 1996, the Internet IF community was just beginning to take off. The second IF competition had been even more successful than the first, and experimental works were just starting to appear. Still, the majority of the IF produced at this time was either an Infocom tribute or followed the style of an Infocom game. Frobozz Magic Support is a case in point. If the title doesn't make this obvious, this is one of the many games to pay tribute to the Zork/Enchanter games. In fact, it is as if the author was thinking "let's see. References to the Flatheads? Check. Appearance of the Implementors? Check. Game can be made unwinnable by doing actions in the wrong order? Check. Really annoying maze? Check." The only things missing were a sleep timer and starvation puzzle. Well, perhaps the maze would be regarded as creative by some. Let me put it this way, if you enjoyed the maze in the 2002 competition entry called Evacuate, you will be thrilled with this one. I didn't care for either maze. However, as old-school IF, this really isn't as bad as I made it sound. For one thing, the story is original. You are a novice support clerk who goes on calls to help people out of the jams they get themselves into when magic doesn't quite work like it should. This, plus the numerous references to blorple and all the cubes gives me the impression that this is supposed to be taking place at the same time as Spellbreaker. One of the problems you fix, for example, is an Enchanter who has turned himself into a shark with the Snavig spell. The spell won't wear off. Similarly, your companion is a burin that got animated with a malyon spell. Once again, the spell doesn't want to wear off. Perhaps this was the beginnings of the failure of magic which resulted in the great conclave in Borphee. Unfortunately, Frobozz Magic Support doesn't do as much with this plot as I thought it should. Like much older IF, the plot is mostly an excuse for puzzles. The puzzles vary from creative to annoying. As I mentioned, it is easy to silently make the game unwinnable if you don't do things in the correct order. On top of this, the hint system in the game is the worst I've ever seen. I've never programmed in TADS, but apparently, hint systems of any kind are quite difficult to design in that language. I say this because I rarely see a good hint system in TADS. This one is nothing more than a dump of all the hints, which are rather vague. You have no control over what gets shown. You type "hint" and get about two screens worth of little clues. I would have preferred that it be context-sensitive or at least present a simple menu. The other option is to type "walkthrough" which spits out a list of commands which will win the game. Neither was very satisfying. I suggest that if you must resort to hints, download the solution from the if-archive at It explains the logic of the puzzles and is divided into sections. I ended up having to look at this solution more than I care to admit because after I discovered how easy it was to make the game unwinnable, I wanted to make sure I wasn't doing anything to ruin the game. These elements really surprised me because in Mr. Cull's later Glowgrass, they are largely absent. Also, in his interview after the 1997 competition, he talked about how much he disliked puzzles of the very type he programmed in Frobozz Magic Support. As I said, he seemed to be making a conscious effort to emulate Infocom to the point that he ended up exaggerating it a bit. The bottom line is this: if you are a big Enchanter fan, and don't mind the type of game which will require a few restarts, give this one a shot. If you were introduced to IF with Photopia and don't know Belboz from Krill, forget it. FTP FileTADS .gam file FTP FileStep-by-step solution


From: Christopher Forman <ceforman SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #11 -- September 16, 1997 NAME: Frozen AUTHOR: Jeremy Farnham EMAIL: None given DATE: June 1996 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: ZIP Interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF Archive URL: You're working late one night in the university computer lab when you notice that everyone around you has suddenly stopped what they were doing. Closer investigation reveals that your fellow students and professors have all been immobilized by some mysterious force. Perhaps that odd machine in the gradate students' lab could offer an explanation...? My first impression of this game was that it was strongly influenced by "The Lurking Horror" -- the setting and early descriptions were very reminiscent of Infocom's tribute to Lovecraft. "Frozen" is obviously a first attempt with Inform, containing numerous, albeit rather insignificant, bugs (such as being able to find objects by searching for them a second time), missing line-feeds in obvious places, a score that's always 0 out of 0 (is that good or bad?) and other nuances that give the impression of an unpracticed I-F programmer. These will hopefully be fixed as the author makes progress with the development system, because I see a lot of promise from his first work. "Frozen" sports three, count 'em, THREE different conclusions to the story, a prominent plus in my book ("The Path to Fortune" also features a trinity of endings). Occasional bits of writing are easily on par with "Lurking Horror" and the game has a genuinely mysterious feel throughout. Perhaps a bit too mysterious, in fact. My primary gripe about "Frozen" is the complete lack of resolution to the game's bizarre circumstances. Aside from the curious last-minute addition to the machine in the lab, no attempt at an explanation is even made. Why exactly did the students freeze up? Why wasn't I affected? How did my experiences act to reverse it? What exactly was that sphere on the machine, and why was it added? Whose body was that, burned at the stake? Two of the endings seem to suggest that everything was a dream, but all three of them are quite vague. Don't read this the wrong way -- unanswered questions fit in well with this type of story, and I like having to make educated guesses to put things together (and I'm a huge fan of "The X-Files", where the writers frequently and intentionally leave the loose ends for viewers to tie up), but I was hoping the author would give me a little more background to work with in this particular case. Perhaps the dust spirit could have offered a few clues, or perhaps there could have been more information about the graduate project. At any rate, I enjoyed "Frozen". Its size (the object code is only about 64K) would have made it a perfect short work for the Competition, but perhaps Jeremy Farnham is working on something else even as we speak... FTP FileInform file (.z5)

Future Boy!

From: Soenke Klettner <soenke_k SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #42 -- October 2, 2005 NAME: Future Boy! AUTHOR: Kent Tessman EMAIL: kent SP@G DATE: 2004 PARSER: HUGO SUPPORTS: HUGO Interpreters AVAILABILITY: commercial; General Coffee Productions URL: Future Boy! Is the first commercial project developed with the HUGO-engine, written by HUGO’s creator Kent Tessman. As expected, it is flawless with regard to programming and parsing and it is a convincing proof of HUGO’s power. But what is more important, it is one of the best games I have played in years. The story: Even though the title suggests otherwise, you are not Future Boy, but his roommate. Nevertheless, it is up to you to save the city from the evil supervillain Clayton Eno. To minimize spoilers, let me just say that the plot takes many interesting and surprising turns and is beautifully designed. Plus, you meet very interesting characters, some friends, some foes, some something else. As in any good action comic (or movie, by the way) the pace quickens towards the end. At the same time, the difficulty of the puzzles rises, thus stretching the suspense to a maximum (unless you use the in-built hint system prematurely). The game features congenial graphics, animation sequences and music bits. Cartoonish in style, they add to the superhero flair effectively, but they are neither necessary nor helpful for advancing in the game. So the enjoyment doesn’t suffer too much on a system without graphic support (e.g. Palm). The voice acting deserves special praise: it is amazingly well done and very professional. I didn’t discover any major flaws worth mentioning. The game itself has a linear structure, which means there are no alternative endings and the plot doesn’t develop in different directions depending on the player‘s actions. In the beginning, there is always only one puzzle at hand to be solved to advance the story. In the middle game, the structure becomes much more open and the player can decide which puzzle to try next, so he doesn’t get stuck that easy. The level of difficulty starts very moderate, so even the unpracticed (or untalented) puzzle solver will advance easily and get motivated to try to solve the later, more difficult puzzles by himself as well. This later puzzles get pretty hard and multi-layered, but are always fair, solvable and well provided with clues. There are two features of the game I would like to see in every future text adventure: a "goal" command which tells you what (basically) to do next and a short summary of what happened so far after each restore. So, I really recommand the game to anyone who likes superhero stories, good puzzles and/or good text adventures in general. It is not cheap, but worth the price (although I wouldn’t order the deluxe package again, which is 5 $ more for a common CD case and a four page booklet). Web site with information on how to purchase the game
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