Game Reviews G

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

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

The email addresses used are those submitted with the review, so naturally some of them may be out of date.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

Table of Contents

Galatea Game Producer! Gateway Gateway 2: Homeworld GC: A Thrashing Parity Bit Of The Mind Generic New York Apartment Building Getfeldt's Treasure Ghost Train Gilded Glass The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters Glowgrass Golden Fleece: see Jim MacBrayne games The Golden French Fry Golden Wombat of Destiny Goldilocks is a Fox A Good Breakfast Goose, Egg, Badger The Gostak Goteras Gourmet The Granite Book The Great Archaeological Race The Great Xavio Green Falls Gremlins Guardians of Infinity Guess The Verb! Guilty Bastards Gumshoe


From: Duncan Stevens <dnrb SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #22 -- September 15, 2000 TITLE: Galatea AUTHOR: Emily Short E-MAIL: emshort SP@G DATE: 2000 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-machine interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 2 The history of NPC interaction in IF is not overly glorious; it says something about the development of this area that the XYZZY Award for Best NPC a few years ago went to a character with whom the PC could only interact by saying "yes" and "no." (The character was richly developed in other respects, of course, but the award highlighted the extent to which authors have chosen to develop NPCs by means other than direct interaction with the PC.) It's that history that makes Emily Short's Galatea, the Best of Show winner in Marnie Parker's Spring 2000 Art Show, all the more startling: it's not only a remarkably detailed and intimate portrait of an unusual NPC, but it's one without any parallel in the annals of IF. Granted, no other work of IF in memory has been structured like this one. Essentially, it's a reworking of the myth of Pygmalion--which involved a sculptor who fell in love with his statue, which then came to life--but done from the statue's perspective; moreover, the time frame is translated out of ancient Greece right past our own time, to a time where fully animate and intelligent creations aren't considered revolutionary. You're viewing the former statue, which is on display in an exhibition. That's the premise, but the heart of the game is the statue herself--her views on being put on a pedestal, on the artist, on the show, on you--and the underlying mythology is important only insofar as it bears on her psychology. In other words, the NPC is the story, and there's virtually nothing in the game that isn't interaction with the NPC. Not surprisingly, then, there isn't a way to win as such--there's a wide variety of endings, some of which the player is likely to consider better than others, but the game studiously avoids making any ***you have won*** sort of judgments. Interacting with Galatea--or, at least, understanding your interactions with her--involves gauging some highly subtle psychological reactions, many of which couldn't easily be guessed in advance. This, in itself, is fairly novel, considering that the preexisting state of the art generally limited NPC psychology to the crudest of reactions: gratitude if given something, anger if provoked, etc. Here, the player must calculate (or, again, understand) how Galatea will feel when touched in certain ways and in certain places, when asked about her relationship with the sculptor before and after certain other questions, when told about the nature of the exhibit, and in many other situations. To be sure, the average player probably won't get all the connections, and is likely to elicit some reactions without realizing what buttons he or she pushed, so to speak--but that also means that there's always more room for understanding. In one sense, then, this is puzzleless IF--it's certainly not puzzle-solving in the usual sense--but in another sense, there are multiple puzzles, and it's impossible to encounter all, or even most, of them in a single session. (On a side note, this game also vindicates those who advocate ASK/TELL as the best conversation system for IF, since that's the way you speak with Galatea--and the game translates your ASK ABOUT and TELL ABOUT into natural sentences, so that you don't sound like a caveman. It's difficult to imagine any other way to implement such a complex system of interactions that allows so much freedom.) Okay, a novel premise; is it done well? Yes, in my book. Admittedly, the nature of the beast makes it difficult to say that the author has done it wrong--who are you to say that a given response shouldn't have followed a certain stimulus (within reason, of course)? That aside, though, the personality that emerges from the playing of Galatea is both complex and realistic, and it never feels like the author is being deliberately obscure. If it's initially difficult to get her to open up, realism demands as much--since you're trying to win her trust--and your options for interacting with her are varied enough that you're unlikely to hit a roadblock as such. (Though she comments on the disconnect if you run out of things to say about one topic and jump to an unrelated one.) It's sometimes hard to keep track of where the conversation has been, though (especially if you've restarted multiple times), and though the latest release implements THINK (which reminds you about the state of conversation) and THINK ABOUT (which reminds you of roughly what she's said about a given topic), they're partial solutions at best. (She also turns toward and away from you at certain points, though the motion doesn't really function as a gauge of how she's feeling, as such; mostly, it opens up different possibilities.) The best approach to making sense of her reactions to different combinations of inputs is probably making a transcript and poring over it, admittedly rather tedious--but, on the other hand, this is one NPC that rewards such careful study. Moreover, even if it's frustrating, the ability to close off paths by doing certain things or asking certain questions is part of what makes the character realistic. After all, one of the main defects in an unrestricted ASK/TELL system is that you can move freely from harmless banter to intrusive probing without the character noticing, seemingly, and while not every conversational leap is policed here, the game certainly tries to restrict wildly erratic questioning. Certain topics yield responses at some times but not at others, for instance, and sometimes the game just gives you some variant on "Better not ask about that right now" when a given topic would be inappropriate. While Galatea is an admirably thorough job of NPC creation, the built-in biases of IFers make it difficult to see it as a complete work in itself. One of the hardest things to shake for IF players is goal-orientation--finding that treasure, etc.--and when faced with as hard a nut to crack as Galatea, it's easy to become obsessed with finding every last reaction, reading every last bit of text. (At least, so it seems from the newsgroup traffic: several people have posted to ask for lists of solutions and such.) Moreover, it's hard to ask for help as such if you're not getting anywhere, since you don't really know where you're going, and a result-oriented approach ("I found ending X, and here's how you can do it too") is at odds with the feel of the game. Probing to see how the character reacts is one thing, but probing because you want a specific reaction is another. The author has put up a (partial) list of endings and how to get to them on her page, but perusing that is a spoiler in itself. The best way to go about it, I think, is to keep experimenting until you've found some endings that make the interaction feel complete, and then to look at what you missed. (That, or find someone to give you some nudges, if you really can't get anywhere.) Starting from a list of endings makes the character a little too much like a gumball machine. Is Galatea a model for future NPC creation? Maybe--her already immense complexity is limited by her relative immobility (at least, she's confined to one room) and by not having to interact with other NPCs. A 300K-plus Z-machine file that essentially consists entirely of one character should give any designer pause, if that's the standard for realistic NPC design. It 's unquestionable, though, that this character represents a quantum leap--in intelligence and in vividness of personality--and that the author did it with essentially the tools that every author has. Designers, consider the goalposts moved. FTP FileCurrent version (release 2) FTP FileArt show version (release 1)

Game Producer

From: Kent Corall <silver_raditz SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #47 -- January 16, 2007 TITLE: Game Producer! AUTHOR: Jason Bergman E-MAIL: loonyjason SP@G DATE: October 1, 2006 PARSER: Inform 6 SUPPORTS: Z-Code interpreters Availability: freeware; IF-Archive URL: Version: 1 As the Interactive Fiction community continues to grow, we head further away from the puzzle-driven dungeon crawls and more into genre-scattered stories, the occasional pioneering gem will surface for all to enjoy. The much underrated Game Producer! shouldn't be judged on it's highly exictable and hobby categorized name, but rather the high quality of the game. One of the most notable features of GP! is it's time feature, which is integral to the story. Depending on whether you choose an easy, medium, or hard mode (which is geniously integrated into the story via dream sequence), you wake up at a certain time. Then, as you reach your company, you can use three different energy sources to keep you awake. Using Orange Juice requires the most frequent refills to keep you running, but time goes by slower. The energy drink is the exact opposite, with very little need to refill but makes time go by at an alarming pace. Coffee is a nice mediator between these two extremes, and is easily the most recommendable. When you first reach your store, you have a meeting with the "Big Man", or the boss of your game company. Here, you learn that you have one of three video games (It's randomly generated, but the game remains the same. Just name changes.) to complete and ship before midnight. With that, you leave his office and take the game head-on. GP! has certain goals that you need to meet, but does not dictate in which order you do them, although there are a few time-specific events (such as the video game journalist arriving at 4:00 PM). The two puzzles in the game are small and easily solvable, yet are still pleasant to play. Basically, you play as Mr. Fix -It who needs to solve everyone's problems so they can do their jobs, such as helping the Steve from the QA Pit fix the overheated server. Although the game is timed, Easy Mode allows for a very leisurely pace (which, for thrill-seekers, can turn into Hell if you play Hard first time around). The world is small but nicely detailed, with a few little jokes hidden within (such as a calculator that has 1337 on it), but mostly straight-forward. A nice addition is the video game journalist's notepad that can be read, which involves a couple video game jokes. Or you can be more productive and test your game for bugs (in which there are quite a few), but this adds up to quite a bit of time. GP! also has a dynamic ending. Even if you finished the game with shining stars with every thing maxed out, your game can still flop. Bergman claims this is a rare ending, but I got it on my first try. Fortunately, you can just undo that until you get a satisfactory ending. Similarly, if you create a monstrosity of a video game, the sales will reflect and so will the Boss's reaction. The only complaint about the ending is that the action you have to commit to end the game isn't very obvious, so I had to consult the walkthrough on that one. Yet GP! is not perfect, mainly because of its boring NPCs. The video game journalist is a one-dimensional jerk, whereas Steve doesn't even have a personality. The characters serve mostly as tools to further his purposes, so you don't really walk away attached to any character, even the PC. Although a couple quirks exist such as small gender-specific events (there are only two minor instances, though, and these have the same affect as the other gender's event) exist, the game is fairly linear, and once the game has been satisfactorily beaten, the game brings little replay value. Yet while you do play it, it'll be an extremely fun endeavor. It's a shame this thing only reached number twelve in the IF Comp. The author shows much promise, so I'll look forward to any future works. Z-code game file Author's notes on the game (plain text) Full transcript of walkthrough (plain text) Walkthrough with typed commands only (plain text)


From: Cthulhu <patrickc SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #11 -- September 16, 1997 NAME: Gateway AUTHOR: Legend Entertainment EMAIL: ??? DATE: 1992 PARSER: ALMOST but not quite Infocom SUPPORTS: IBM-PC's AVAILABILITY: The Lost Adventures. Or download it from their web page. URL: I have seen the future of IF, and it is Gateway. It seems that just yesterday that Legend Entertainment released this masterful game; just yesterday that it went off the market before I had a chance to play it. Well Legend Entertainment has decided to bring it back. Free. As demoware for their Lost Adventures Collection. I went to their web page and downloaded the three lengthy files. Five hours later I had the privilege to see the future of interactive fiction. It's Gateway. Forget everything you've ever heard about text games being obsolete. Time has not killed the text adventure; it has not fallen victim to progress. Rather, time has finally allowed text games to reach their potential. Gateway is an Infocom game for the nineties, built with state-of-the art graphics and classic text. And that's not all. If you prefer you can remove the graphical elements and play the game eighties-style. Yes, it has a compass rose like all other hybrid games. And yes Virginia, it has a window for graphics and a window for text. And yes, it combines an Infocom-quality parser with stunning animations, incredible graphics, compelling sound, and literate text. The words and pictures complement each other perfectly rather than conflicting. Add to this mix the beautifully-rendered cut scenes, self-contained puzzles, tons-o space travel, an epic storyline and a galaxy-affecting plot. Oh yes, let's talk about the galaxy-affecting plot. But let's not talk about it too much, since I don't want to ruin anything for you. It's an excellent story. Years ago the universe had been peopled by a mysterious race called The Heechee. Mankind had discovered one of their artifacts and learned how to use it. Turns out that it was a space station containing starships that could cross the universe in an eyeblink. We know of destination codes to punch into the starship, but not how to read them. Each code can lead to riches beyond your wildest dreams... or it can lead to instant death. You are a prospector who arrives on Gateway in search of wealth, a young person eager to use the mysterious alien starships to chase dreams across the light years. Soon you will rise through the ranks, becomming wealthier and more powerful until you have an encounter with the Heechee's ancient enemy. The rich setting is one of the most well-developed in the history of adventure gaming. Gateway sticks in my mind for this reason. The milieu is revealed to you through the introduction, through conversations, via a handheld computer and through what amounts to an answering machine connected to the Internet(!). Most of this information is unnecessary and purely for background; it shows the lengths that the designers took to make this one of the best games ever written. I daresay that, even before making it to the middle game, you will have experienced a world richer even than in most Infocom games. Your starship will take off towards the various worlds that you have codes for. Don't worry, the designers have mercifully decided NOT to have any of them lead to an arbitrary death! Remember the time-travel scenes in Trinity and Jigsaw? Well Gateway's space-travel scenes are just as good. They begin and end with beautifully-rendered cut scenes put to dramatic music. These scenes are short and to the point, and you can skip them if you want to. Then the ship touches down, and you will get to explore the planet in search of Heechee artifacts. Of course, you'll untangle a lot of mystery and learn a lot about the world first. You wouldn't believe how well done these worlds are. Imagine a planet where molecular acid takes the place of water, and the spear-carrying humanoid which bathes in this acid. Try to imagine one with carnivorous anemones which clear in terror when a giant spider approaches. Try also one where jellyfish-like creatures inside a pond beam dreams to placate a primitive proto-human. I hope I haven't said too much! Every puzzle you encounter on these worlds, on Gateway, and throughout the game, are logical and self-contained. There are very few restore puzzles, and there are VERY few chances to put the game into an unsolvable state -- most of which are in the opening game. Does it have disappointments? Yes, but what game doesn't? The parser is not quite up to Infocom standards, althought it comes very close; you can't refer to POWER KNOB as POWER, for example. Most of these disappointments come in the final world you will explore (you can actually explore them in nearly any order, but I say final because its code is listed last). The graphics in this world are almost EGA-like and certainly not up to the quality in the rest of the game. There's also an old man who doesn't react much when you shoot his pet dinosaur(!). And BTW, what does this game have against innocent old men? Not only do you have to deprive one of his beloved companion, you also have to dupe another one out of his key! But all will be forgiven when you approach the endgame. You will experience Heaven and Hell, and live through the dark designs of an Assassin. Prepare to meet a Heechee artificial intelligence. Basically, get ready for surprise after surprise. I said "WHAT THE HELL?!" at least three times. Get ready for mental communication with a long-dead Heechee. You will escape from Heaven and the fires of Hell. And once you get back, there's a VERY shocking surprise waiting in store for you that I won't dream of giving away. Move on to the spectacular and apocalyptic ending sequence which will stay in my mind forever. Is the book this good? I don't know because I gave up on it some time ago. But after playing Gateway, I went to the library and picked it off the shelf. And they say that computer games are causing illiteracy! Oh yeah, and I'm absolutely sure that I've seen at least three of the illustrations previously-- in Omni magazine. Whoever illustrated this game is a professional artist and a very good one as well. { Fred Pohl's novel _Gateway_ and its sequels are very good indeed. Highly recommended. -- MO } FTP FileHints file (Text)

Gateway 2: Homeworld

From: Stas Starkov <stas_ SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #24 -- March 24, 2001 [Note: Stas' English, by his own admission, is not so hot. Consequently, this review has been heavily edited -- everything lost in the translation is entirely my fault. --PO] NAME: Gateway 2: Homeworld AUTHOR: Legend Entertainment EMAIL: unknown DATE: 1993 PARSER: Legend standard SUPPORTS: MS-DOS AVAILABILITY: Game is commercial, but I don't know where to get it now. URL: First of all, I must say that "Gateway 2: Homeworld", like many Legend games, has several differences from almost all IF (interactive fiction) games, especially from games available at the IF Archive -- These differences are obvious from the moment the game is loaded, but let's look at them point by point: 1. This game is commercial. I warn you - the following is my opinion, but it is supported by many. I think that people don't value something that they get for free. When you get something without paying for it (with money or with your sweat and blood), you don't expect too much; you don't have the urge to milk as much benefit as possible from the thing. That's life. And life is sometimes very cruel to kind people. (But that's another story, which, by the way, you can read about in "Stranger in a Strange Land" by Robert Heinlein, or in the works of a writer named Jubal Hershow [I'm not completely sure about that name - I have only a Russian translation of the book] who said many such wise but cynical things.) I don't know exactly how to express it in English, but in Russian there is a saying: "We value something only after losing it". Again, that's life, man. I really _hope_ that you get the idea. Do you? 2. This game is a professional piece of work. "Gateway 2" was created by Legend Entertainment. The people that work there are paid for their jobs. In the credits you can see about twenty people, including some important figures in IF history. In case you didn't know, Bob Bates -- author of the great games "Sherlock: The Riddle of the Crown Jewels" and "Arthur: The Quest for Excalibur" when he worked for Infocom Inc. -- now works at Legend and took part in the creation of this game. The staff at Legend is composed of professionals who have proven that they _can_ do good games. This game is indeed very solid work. All events tied tightly, no holes in the plot, good development of characters (NPC and PC), writing without spelling errors. "Gateway 2" has millions of small pieces that help you enjoy the game. Most (thank God, not all) games on GMD have from zero (sometimes less) to only a portion of those pieces -- maybe half a million small hints of talent that ensure the player's pleasure. That's life -- no one is perfect. Dealing with these games is a bit like listening to the Vogon Captain's poetry from "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" -- "Enjoy!" And this game got enough beta-testing. I think you know what I mean. 3. This game has graphics. Yes, this game has graphics. Some hate this unnecessary _feature_, some love it and can't live without it. If you're one of the haters, your problem is easily solved -- you can just turn off the _nasty, annoying_ graphics and play in text only mode. The 3D graphics in this game are hardly top notch, but you can ignore them (by pressing ESC). I don't want to explain the interface (see the game's manual) but I must mention that this game _allows_ use of the mouse, and that there are scrolling menus where you can choose verbs and nouns. And don't forget: you can turn off the graphics. Next, I must point out a phrase from the game manual: As you play Gateway II: HOMEWORLD you will encounter several screen interfaces that are different from the standard Legend interface described earlier. These alternate interfaces include cut scenes, dialogue trees, various futuristic computer systems, an alien genetic manipulator, a starship control panel, a robot interface, and other interesting devices and interfaces. And at least one puzzle _requires_ examining and remembering graphic cut scenes. 4. This game has music, but there are no sound effects. "Gateway 1" had sound effects, but they were mediocre and low quality. So Legend threw away the sound effects for the sequel, "Gateway 2". As for music - you can turn it off, if you want, also. But before that, maybe you should give the really good MIDI music an opportunity to touch your heart (or stomach if you're a text-only purist). Music (unfortunately mono) for this game was written by Glen Dahlgren, Doug Brandon, and Eric Heberling, and it really helps to evoke the mood of various scenes of the game -- tragedy, triumph, danger, curiosity, suspense. In my opinion, "Gateway 2" has one of the best _MIDI_ music soundtracks of all the games that I've ever played. Well, on to the game! Humanity began to dream of the day when it was not human at all. And that dream (some think that it was laziness) impelled people to want more, to think about a way how to get it and, at last, to do it. All history is based on that dream, in my opinion. Then, through the various forms of fiction, bare dream transforms into science fiction (SF), where wild dreams merge with technical progress, trying to foretell the future. The future is unknown and humans fear uncertainty, but they try to imagine problems hard enough to deal with. That's why SF is full of troubles. ;-) First of all, "Gateway 2" is based on the Gateway novels by Frederick Pohl. "Gateway 2" is an SF adventure of the near (well, almost near) future -- 2112 AD. And I'm happy to say (after playing IF games like "Kaged"), that the future in this game almost corresponds with my visions of the future. It is quite realistic, capitalism with mega-corporations and so on. There are no strange technical things that you're not familiar with from other SF stories. The setting for this game was taken from the Gateway Universe, so a professional SF writer did all the work, and it feels true. By the way, if you're interested in reading all the Pohl novels set in this universe, here is, I think, a full list: Gateway Beyond the Blue Event Horizon Heechee Rendezvous Annals of the Heechee The Gateway Trip Story... well, you're a rich ex-prospector of Gateway (an artifact left by the alien Heechee -- it's a big space station that contains thousands of faster-then-light spaceships). You rest peacefully without troubles, but then... I don't want to tell you more for fear of ruining your interest in discovering the story on your own. I can only promise you that the story is in the best traditions of SF. I can also tell you that you will be traveling in space. Puzzles. All the puzzles are story based (!) and logical! The game gives you enough hints to ensure your attention to detail, and I like it this way. The first part of the game is easy, but then sometimes you need to scratch your head before doing the next turn. You can get in an unwinnable situation, but these (errr...) alternative endings are richly described and even worth playing. So save often and keep old save files. On the other hand, if you want to get a long story, "Gateway 2" turns to be very linear, but it is well done and you don't notice its linearity as long as you don't want Zork-like cave exploring. I must note the conversation system in "Gateway 2". It is menu-based. It is possible to have a good menu-based conversation system -- I really think so, despite the many opinions to the contrary on R*IF. For example, there is another, in my opinion, good implementation -- Legend's "Companions of Xanth". But what's wrong with the conversation system in "Gateway 2"? First, your previous phrases are not removed from the menu at all. Second, I think that the dialogues, as literature, are the worst part of the game. I strongly suggest you pay as little attention as possible to the conversations, but sometimes you need to talk to someone to get useful or necessary information. So just run through all points of the menu, barely reading it, and forget it. This method will make the game more challenging and remove overly straightforward hints. ;-) The game has a huge amount of rooms, but fortunately you only have access to less then ten rooms simultaneously. This is a good way to implement text games. Doing so, the player doesn't need to wander in all hundred rooms and examine every object closely (like in "Anchorhead" by Michael Gentry). And there is an auto-mapping feature -- it makes life (um... the game, I mean) easier. The literature aspect of the game is at least good. I can't say excellent, because I'm Russian and don't understand all nuances. I'll just give you an example from the game. Corridor The corridor is about ten meters long. One end connects to the hull door of your probeship. The other end terminates in a heavy bulkhead. The walls of the corridor and the bulkhead seem to have an underlying structure of rectangular metal plates covered by clumps and veins of lumpy, melted looking metal. The metal glows with a soft blue radiance that is bright enough to illuminate the corridor. A metal door is set into the bulkhead to the north. It is closed. >examine door A closed metal door is set into a bulkhead that blocks further progress down the corridor. The heavy door is a powered mechanical unit, a huge slab of glowing blue metal covered with elaborate patterns. To the left of the door, on the bulkhead itself, is a blue hemispherical protrusion, a round bump that might be a button. >open door Ancient machinery grinds to life and the door slides open. To my mind, everyone has forgotten what a manual is for an IF game. "Gateway 2" has a manual. I own only the electronic version of it, but I can say that this manual will really help you if you're new to IF. There is an installation procedure, explanation of game commands, the story of "Gateway 1" -- all you need to start playing the game. It is clearly written and covers most essential subjects (but bear in mind that this game was written in 1993). The game itself usually doesn't need configuration, but if your sound card doesn't work -- consult the manual. This game goes fine in a DOS box under Windows 9x (not tested under NT and 2000), but I recommend you play in plain DOS. I'm almost finished. One last thing that I can suggest you read -- the copyright notice in the game manual! ;-) You will be pleased. Play this game if you're looking for good solid IF, especially if you enjoy SF. FTP FileA demo slideshow for the game (.zip)

GC: A Thrashing Parity Bit Of The Mind

From: Valentine Kopteltsev <uux SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #30 -- September 20, 2002 -- as part of a Review Package TITLE: GC: A Thrashing Parity Bit of the Mind AUTHOR: David M. Baggett, Carl de Marcken, and Pearl Tsai EMAIL: N/A DATE: 1994 PARSER: TADS Standard AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: This game isn't part of the canonical Unnkulian series, but it's reviewed here because it's set in the Unnkulian universe. You, a native of a small Unnkulian village, come to the Acme Institute for the Less Convincing Sciences to study there. Your goal is... Well, your *true* goal in this game is to get as much score as possible, because it has been written for the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory Olympics, "a competition held between four teams of about 40 people each, mostly graduate students, professors, and secretarial staff" (quotation from the intro to GC). And it's been intended to be, well, a *challenge* for those people; consequently, the difficulty of the puzzles varies from "very hard" to "impossible"; the fact that many of them are optional, and the large number of red herrings don't make things easier. Some technical background is absolutely needed to at least understand what the puzzles are about; I received a technical education (though it got a bit rusty with the time), and it was just enough for me to appreciate the elegance and the wit of the puzzles -- after I looked up the solution in the walkthrough. To make *real* progress you'd need a damn good technical background, knowledge of various aspects of computer science, and studying/working experience at MIT. The last one is required, because many puzzles are totally, hopelessly in-jokey. And so is the whole game. MIT inhabitants probably would split their sides laughing when playing it; non-insider surely would find their funny moments there (for me, one of those moments was the "suicidal robot"), but the overall effect naturally would be much weaker. Still, the setting is quite rich (especially for a puzzle-fest), though not the deepest one. By the way, the game comes with a number of "feelies" -- materials from the original competition distribution, and a text file explaining some of the MIT-specific things. It'd be advisable to read them, as well. To sum up, I'd say the game isn't for everyone -- but it isn't to ignore completely, either, for it certainly occupies its place in IF history. Among other things, it probably holds the unofficial record in having the most NPCs in a single room. It's difficult to say whether you're going to enjoy playing it, but here's a rule of thumb: if you have an idea what an imaginary plane is, you probably should try it. Otherwise, stay away from GC! SUMMARY: PLOT: Just an "excuse" for a puzzle-fest ATMOSPHERE: Humorous, but many jokes got over my head WRITING: Wonderfully ironic GAMEPLAY: OK, for me it was - "Follow the walkthrough" BONUSES: Unnkulian references; "suicidal robots"; vampire bunnies; Barbies looking a bit stiff; and many other things CHARACTERS: Mostly MIT-specific PUZZLES: Very elegant, but many are impossible to solve FTP FileTADS .gam file FTP FileTADS source code FTP FileA patch for that source code to prevent bugs from occurring when compiling with TADS 2.2 or above FTP FileWalkthrough

Generic New York Apartment Building

From: Anonymous Review appeared in
SPAG #38 -- September 28, 2004 [NOTE: The following is a review of an AIF ("Adult Interactive Fiction") game, and therefore contains a bit of profanity and what the TV Guide calls "adult situations." --Paul] TITLE: Generic New York Apartment Building AUTHOR: New Kid EMAIL: newkid SP@G DATE: March 1999 PARSER: TADS SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: Generic New York Apartment Building, which was written by New Kid, is a prime example of the limitations of the genre, and especially the limitations of the sub-genre AIF. In the story, the player assumes the role of a recently hired super in a generic New York City apartment building where the residents are parodies of television characters. The twist to this game is of course the fact that the super is not your average super; he's the type of super that you would find in a cheesy adult film. The only thing that this game did not have was terrible music and the line, "I'm here to clean your pipes." Your goal in the game is to make sure that all of your residents renew their leases, and in order to do that the player must solve problems that the tenants have, and also perform sexual acts with the tenants. The luster of the adult aspect of the game wears off quite fast due largely to the fact that every situation is solved with the same commands. These commands are (kiss, rub, lick, fuck, and then the name of the female organ.) Sex may be fundamentally similar from case to case, but surely there were different situations that New Kid could have come up with. The thing that most drew me to this piece was that it had picture and sound files included with it as well; it was something that I noticed before I noticed that it was listed as AIF. The pictures and sounds that were included in this piece led me to the conclusion that neither images nor sound belong in interactive fiction. The pictures were faked nudes of television characters such as Monica and Rachel from Friends (in the game they were referred to as Rochelle and Monique). By including pictures in interactive fiction, the author steals away the ability to come up with one's own image of the characters. The sound bites are few and far between, and they become so annoying that the reader almost wants to turn off the program. The sound bites included were: a bell for the elevator, a dog bark, and a large explosion sound. The annoyance factor from the sounds and images greatly outweighed anything positive they were meant to bring. As far as puzzle difficulty goes, the game was fairly hard for me. I am a rookie to the realm of interactive fiction and I played for about six hours before I had to resort to a walkthrough for solutions. At one point you're supposed to plug a fax machine in to the wall of one of the NPC's apartments, and I never in my wildest dreams would have thought to do that. Other than that the game was very straightforward. The NPCs would call you and tell you their toilet was broken, you go and fix it with a tool, and that was what went on in the game for the most part. Generic New York Apartment Building was an okay game to play despite its shallow and juvenile story; I suppose though that if you are seriously playing a piece of AIF that you would not really care about the story being too deep. New Kid could have made the game better if he would have left out the faked photos and annoying sounds. The repetitiveness of the commands, especially the sexual ones, is one of the reasons that interactive fiction is not advancing as fast as it could be. It is very tedious to come up with different ways for problems to be solved and challenges to be overcome, but it is what the genre needs to achieve greater depth. I do not think that the problem lies solely with the writer though, machines for IF itself need to be looked at in greater depth, but anyone involved with IF knows that. FTP FileTADS .gam file FTP FileGraphics and sound resource files

Getfeldt's Treasure

From: Mike Harris <harriswillys SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #49 -- August 18, 2007 TITLE: Getfeldt's Treasure AUTHOR: Mike Salisbury E-MAIL: rationalratio SP@G DATE: December 17, 2006 PARSER: Custom SUPPORTS: MS-DOS AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF-Archive URL: Under ordinary circumstances I would not write a review of a game that I had not completed. In the case of Getfeldt's Treasure I'll make an exception for reasons which will become clear. In a text file included with the download, Salisbury writes "Getfeldt's Treasure has been brought back to life from an adventure I wrote for the Tandy Color Computer." While a Quick Basic IF adventure of this complexity may have been hot, cutting edge stuff two decades ago, I sure wish that the author had tried to port it to a more modern and common IF platform. For one thing, he's restricted his audience to those using PCs with Microsoft operating systems. Mac and Linux users may ultimately consider themselves lucky. For those accustomed to standard IF commands, many won't work. Fortunately there is a complete list available by typing "help" at the command prompt, otherwise I would not have been able to progress beyond the first two "rooms." Furthermore, the parser understands only simple two-word phrases. "Give (object) to (NPC)" or "open (object) with (object)" simply aren't understood. At one point the PC needs to give an object to a NPC within three turns, else the game is put in an unwinnable state; the NPC leaves, never to return It's easy to waste those three turns with "guess the syntax" attempts, with no clear indication subsequently that you can not proceed further. It's anyone's guess how many other flaws of this sort I ran into, leaving the PC no other option but to wander aimlessly until I got tired and gave up. There is no "save" feature, so if one does happen to miss one of these opportunities, there's nothing for it but to restart the game and replay from the beginning. Few of the objects referenced are actually implemented; the rest seem to be simply "window dressing." Early on, a room full of interesting and potentially useful articles was described; only one of these could actually be taken into the PCs inventory. I might add that the object continued to be listed in the room's description even after taking it. Trying to interact with a half dozen objects in each room hoping to find one that isn't just for "atmosphere" gets tiresome and annoying, when the parser responds with a default "I don't see that here" immediately after listing the object in the room's description. The story itself is cliched and less than compelling, with several logical flaws. One must break and enter to obtain access to a house - couldn't the author have simply hidden a key somewhere? The vicious guard dog within becomes a loyal companion - sorry, dogs simply don't act in that manner. There were minor spelling, grammar and punctuation errors which normally is something of a peeve of mine, but in this case these small flaws were eclipsed by the larger ones. I did try - honestly - to finish this. But after about three hours, numerous restarts and a tremendous amount of wandering on the part of the PC character; I'd had enough. I felt that I'd given the game more than a fair chance but the story was not interesting enough for me to tolerate any more of the kludgy homegrown platform nor to avoid any more of the authors' hidden traps. Out of 10 I give it a 10 for difficulty and a 3 overall. Zip containing MS-DOS executable and associated documentation

Ghost Train

From: Gemma Bristow <gemma SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #45 -- July 17, 2006 TITLE: Ghost Train AUTHOR: Paul T. Johnson EMAIL: paul SP@G DATE: 2003 PARSER: Inform 6 SUPPORTS: Z-code (Inform .Z8) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF Archive URL: VERSION: Release 6 There's inherent drama in trains, hence their frequent use as a setting for thrillers. Trains move to an insistent rhythm which reminds of the passing of time. They go speeding through dark tunnels and over rickety bridges. They don't stop at the protagonist's convenience. And then there's the romance of the railway in the pre-WW2 era: the trail of steam, the velvet seats and polished fittings of the carriages. This is the world of Ghost Train, a flawed but interesting horror tale that exploits all of these elements. It's Christmas Eve, 1935. The PC is a young man travelling by train through southern England, accompanied by a female friend, to spend the holiday with his family. The journey is interrupted by a terrible accident that derails the train. The PC, seemingly the only survivor, is left to stagger along the track looking for aid. However, he is soon found by a story involving a mysterious signalman, a hidden station and an ancient curse, and it becomes apparent that his friend has met with a fate stranger than death. The first half of the gameplay flows smoothly. The player is guided through the actions necessary to advance the plot without feeling figuratively (as well as literally) on rails. Puzzles are fairly straightforward, and one of the game's many atmospheric objects doubles as a hint system during a particularly risky scene. In the second half, things unravel a bit. One scene can trap the PC in a location, unable to move or do anything unless they ask an NPC about a specific topic; hard to intuit when the NPC delivers a stock response to most other subjects. Then there are a couple of puzzles in the endgame that had me scrambling for a walkthrough. One involved manipulating a piece of machinery that, as it turned out, couldn't be manipulated in the manner I tried because it was already at its physical limit. Unfortunately, the resulting message from the game didn't indicate this physical property of the mechanism. Instead, it was a non-committal refusal which suggested, misleadingly, that the mechanism wasn't the solution to the problem. Better playtesting might have caught these trouble spots. The game's writing would also have benefited from a good beta, since it's marred by punctuation errors and some clunky sentence structure, as well as a sometimes unconvincing tone when narrating action. The opening scene is unfortunately one of the more poorly written. However, the prose overall is suitably atmospheric, and it's in atmosphere that the game succeeds most strongly. The events that first introduce the supernatural, judiciously placed within the storyline, are genuinely eerie. The author makes good use of scenery objects and colours. One sequence in particular, in which the PC walks through a series of railway carriages equipped with graduated, symbolic decor, has a strong visual charge. The non-visual senses are also catered for, with frequent mention of ambient sounds heard by the PC as well as the pervasive cold of the December night. A more subtle effect is the way in which the game employs one potent aspect of the train as an image: that of a journey whose final destination is set and whose course cannot be altered. Where the atmosphere falters, it is due to the game attempting something more graphic. A literal figure of doom that appears in later portions of the game is less dramatically successful than the intangible menace of earlier parts. Ghost Train is worth a ride for players who are in the mood to be unsettled. Some of its images do linger in the mind. If the opening and closing segments are the weakest parts of the game, at least it can claim with some relevance that the adventure is in the journey. FTP FileZcode (.z8) game file FTP FileSolution in ASCII text


From: DJ Hastings <dj.hastings SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #46 -- October 17, 2006 TITLE: Gilded AUTHOR: "A. Hazard" EMAIL: gilded SP@G DATE: October 1, 2005 PARSER: TADS2 SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF Archive URL: VERSION: 0.9 Gilded has an interesting idea for a PC: you play a fey with the ability to shapeshift and create things. The game opens as you listen to the plans of several locals to go on a treasure hunt, and you end up joining them. I thought the game did a good job of guiding me through the introduction while giving me reasonable freedom of action. But once I got outside with the party and ready to set out, the game seemed to give up and say, "OK, it's your turn to guide things along for a while." The party got outside, and we were all ready to set off and find the treasure. So I tried to set off- and the game told me that I was "not quite finished playing" with my companions. I tried out my special powers (more on them below), but my companions seemed to pretty much ignore them. I tried talking to my companions, which didn't seem to get anywhere, and I tried thinking about stuff, which revealed that I was as empty-headed as they were. So I went to the walkthrough, found out what I was supposed to do next, and scratched my head and wondered how I was supposed to think of that. It looks like the author intended me to find it by accident while playing around, but that didn't happen with me. For pretty much the rest of the game, I didn't see any indication of what I was supposed to be doing. I couldn't see any motivation for my character to stick around at that point, let alone do the things he has to do to advance the game. And often it was unclear what those things were. Because of this, I ended up using the walkthrough for nearly the whole thing. Even after I finished, I wasn't sure exactly what was going on. I got the basic idea of the plot (I think), but most of it still confused me when I got done. I had the feeling that there was a story going on, but that the author had forgotten to tell me about it. Although the story was unclear to me, the writing itself was clear enough. I didn't notice any spelling or grammar errors, and the various places in the game were well described. I particularly enjoyed the dialog between characters, which takes place mostly in the beginning of the game. Some of it was quite funny, and it sounded "real" to me, helping give a bit of character to the NPCs. Another area where the author did well is in the amount of stuff he implemented. You can pick flowers, climb trees, drink from fountains, and catch falling petals. I spent most of the game just following the walkthrough, but during the time I was poking around I found a lot of stuff to do. Of course, that made it even harder to figure out what needed to be done, but the problem was with the lack of direction, not the deep implementation. Well, I said I'd get to discussing the player's powers eventually, so I'll take them each in turn: The creation ability: Although your character is supposedly able to create anything out of nothing, the help text said that I should stick to things appropriate to a fairy tale setting. So I started by trying "create sword", and got a blank line as a response. A little later on, an NPC mentioned that we needed provisions, so I tried "crate food", and was given a generic failure response. I tried creating various weapons, armor, treasures, clothes, and equipment, and all I got for my trouble was a single gold coin. Altogether, I counted five different ways to fail to create something, including "I don't know that word" and a bug ("do you mean the , the , or the ?"). Now, I understand that the author couldn't add responses for everything I could think of creating, and I don't expect him to. But when the game tells me that I can create anything, it's setting expectations that it can't possibly fulfill. In my opinion, it would have been far better to limit the PC's ability rather than pretending that he could do things he really couldn't. For example, if the game had said "you can create weather effects," then the author could have focused on weather and implemented it much better. Speaking of weather, you are able to create various weather effects- rain, lightning, etc. This is probably your most useful ability in the game, but I didn't figure out that I could do it until I went to the walkthrough. A more thorough description of what one can do with the creation ability would help the game a lot. As it was, using the creation ability felt like a poorly done ask/tell conversation: keep typing in guesses until something works. The shapeshifting ability: The PC's other ability is the power to shapeshift into three forms: a dragon, a bird, and a human. However, the dragon form is too taxing to use until the Right Moment, which doesn't come until the endgame, so for most of the game you really only have two forms to change between. The problem is, your bird form seems to be completely unnecessary. That's not to say that you can't do things as a bird that you couldn't as a man- you can fly and peck NPCs, for example. But these actions did not seem to be particularly helpful for solving any problems that I ran across. As far as I could tell, the bird form was just there to play with if I felt like it, and was more or less irrelevant to the game. Now, when I play a game that gives me superpowers of some kind, I expect that I'll be using them to advance the game. I want to use my abilities in various clever (or even clumsy) ways to get around obstacles that I face. And if I don't get to, I feel somewhat cheated by the author- and often a little sorry for him, because he went to all the work of implementing the special power for nothing. Unfortunately, Gilded made me feel that way. When I first read about the shapeshifting ability I eagerly anticipated challenges that would require me to use my various forms together in order to prevail. But there weren't any. Although the shapeshifting had a lot of potential, it was, from my perspective, completely wasted. Conclusion: The lack of motivation or direction makes it very difficult to figure out what to do in this game, and the PC's special powers only add to the problem. I really like the premise, and the author has good writing skills, but it will take a lot more to make this a good game. TADS 2 game file


From: Paul O'Brian <obrian SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #45 -- July 17, 2006 TITLE: Glass AUTHOR: Emily Short EMAIL: emshort SP@G DATE: April 30, 2006 PARSER: Inform 7 SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: freeware; Inform 7 web page URL: VERSION: Release 1 I've barely begun to explore the capabilities of Inform 7 (I7), partly because its appearance has rekindled my interest in actually *playing* IF. In that vein, I continue to explore the games that were released with I7 as "Worked Examples". Having made my way through Bronze, Emily Short's adaptation of Beauty And The Beast, I came next to Glass, in which she similarly adapts Cinderella. Actually, perhaps "similarly" isn't the right word here -- where Bronze was all about landscape and puzzles, Glass resides on the other side of the spectrum, focusing entirely on character and conversation. There are other differences, too. Although both works are meant primarily as example I7 code, Bronze feels like a full-fledged game, while Glass plays much more like a demo, or perhaps an experimental comp entry. That isn't to say that there aren't interesting ideas embedded in Glass -- there are, and I plan to discuss them -- but the experience of playing it feels altogether more slight than solving Bronze. Not only is it simply a smaller game, it also demands less interaction from the player; "Z.Z.Z.Z.Z.Z.Z.Z.Z.Z.Z.Z.Z" is a valid walkthrough, though perhaps not to the best ending. Those endings are important. Like some other short replay-cycle games, Glass layers on story elements by making less-than-optimal endings the most easily reachable. There aren't a terribly large number of endings (another factor making the game feel a bit thin), but it's unlikely that most players will reach the best ending first. Along the way, they'll learn more about the motivations of each character, and in fact more about some hidden details of the game's main scene. This information in turn adds meaning to the rest of the paths to be found in the game. It's a variation on the "accretive PC" model of knowledge I discussed in my review of Lock & Key on IF-Review. The difference is that the news gained through these sub-optimal endings doesn't so much help the player better direct the PC or better solve the game, but it does lend additional drama to the other branches of the story. I suppose this game gives us accretive NPCs more than an accretive PC. However, there are some tricks at work with PC knowledge, too. The player/PC knowledge divide is one of the thornier fundamental problems of IF -- a player new to the game will almost inevitably know less about the character and game-world than the PC does, and both the game and the player often start out by scrambling to narrow the gap. There are some workarounds for this, amnesia being the more traditional and popular, while accretive PCs are a more recent innovation. Glass has found another: base your game on a story with which the vast majority of your audience is already familiar. Bronze was an imaginative variation on Beauty and The Beast, but it neither shed a great deal of light on the original tale nor did it require much information about that tale from the player. Our familiarity with the base story helps us get up to speed on who the PC is, but it isn't otherwise exploited. However, in Glass, the player *must* bring to bear knowledge from outside the game in order to reach the best ending. For anyone familiar with most any version the fairy tale, this gambit should work well, though perhaps not right away. Still, it's an ingenious way of bridging the information gap between player and PC -- I'm surprised we haven't seen more of this strategy before. I suppose there are only a limited number of stories with which authors can assume widespread audience familiarity, and an even smaller number of those that aren't still under copyright. With this bridge in place, then, Glass is free to disconcert us a bit as well. For one thing, the player character has some rather surprising qualities (and that's all I'll say...), which are left for players to discover rather than being announced upfront. Not only that, the game's take on the Cinderella tale is less than traditional. In keeping with many modern treatments of fairy tales, its approach to the story's villains is a little more sympathetic, and its portrayal of the heroes is a little more ambivalent. I would have expected Emily Short to bring some subversive ideas to any fairy tale she touched, and she doesn't disappoint here. One more note: in the article I wrote for the long-awaited IF Theory book, I mentioned that it was hard for me to imagine how the basic component of landscape could be extracted from interactive fiction, since as soon as the first room description appears, the game introduces a concept of geographical location. Well, Glass is the game that breaks that model -- it has no room descriptions whatsoever. That doesn't mean it's without a landscape, though. It's just that instead of presenting a landscape of Place, Glass instead gives us a landscape of Concept. The NPCs traverse a conversational terrain with particular goals in mind, and at every prompt the PC can try to steer that travel to influence its destination. It's a compact territory, but well worth exploring. FTP FileBlorbed Zcode game file FTP FileSolution in ASCII text FTP FileAuthor's notes on the game's structure, in HTML format FTP FileInform 7 source code, in HTML format

The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters

From: Jimmy Maher <maher SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #46 -- October 17, 2006 TITLE: The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters AUTHOR: Jefferson Rabb EMAIL: jr SP@G DATE: 2006 PARSER: Inform 6 SUPPORTS: Java-equipped web browsers AVAILABILITY: Free; playable online URL: Here we have another example of what seems to be a growing trend: the use of IF to promote a traditional novel. In this case the book in question is The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by Gordon Dahlquist, which appears to be a fairly typical Victorian steampunk fantasy, a genre that is hot on the heels of Tolkienesque fantasy for the award of most overused of the past decade. We actually get two separate games, one chronicling the adventures of a jilted young ingenue named Celeste Temple as she investigates the activities of her erhwhile fiancee, and the other following a killer for hire named Cardinal Chang. Both stories dovetail together at the end in a way that could have been clever in the hands of someone with a bit more of a clue. I am afraid, though, that most of what Stephen Bond discussed in his review of Eragon in this very issue applies here as well. I hardly know where to begin describing all the problems with these games, so I'll walk you through the first part of Celeste Temple's adventure to give you an idea of the sort of experience you are in for should you try these out: To begin with, the Inform banner text has been removed, just as it was for Eragon. It's interesting that both authors can't seem to manage to code the most straightforward interactions, yet both become experts when it is time to file the virtual serial numbers off their creations. Nowhere on the Glass Books website or in the games themselves is credit given to Graham Nelson, Matthew Russotto (whose ZPlet Java interpreter is used), or anyone else who made the games possible. This is not illegal, of course, but it is decidedly rude and unethical in my book. Then again, given the quality of the games, perhaps Mr. Nelson and everyone else would just as soon not be associated. The comically sparse description of the opening room (which is of course my bedroom, as it must be in all really bad games) describes the shades being drawn. A quick check reveals them to be unimplemented, but that's kind of an esoteric example, right? Let's try another room. One room over is my Aunt Agathe's sleeping room, in which the game informs me there is a night table with a newspaper upon it. Let's examine the table. "You can't see any such thing." Oh, no. It looks like this game is not worth receiving the benefit of any doubts. At least the newspaper works. Going back to my starting location, I realize that the game states, "In your hands, you hold a letter," seemingly within the room description. I decide to experiment. I return to Aunt Agathe's room and drop said letter, then return to my starting location again. Sure enough: "In your hands, you hold a letter." Sigh. Next room over, more of the same. In the room description: "On the table next to the mirror is a pocketbook. You open the bag and find 5 gold coins and a hairpin tucked in the change pocket." I'll let you guess what happens if I repeat the previous experiment. This just continues. The author doesn't seem to have a clue how to describe much of anything in Inform outside of his room descriptions. Major plot events, transient actions, entrances and exits, it's all right. there. in. the. damn. room. descriptions. Exploring a bit further, I encounter Marie the maid. Examining her tells me, "Marie is a country girl, aged 25 like Miss Temple, but without her education or sophistication." Remember, I am Miss Temple. These bizarre lapses into third person will continue throughout the game. Soon enough the really big problems set in. The Inform parser has been tortured in horrible ways, leading to constant guess the verb issues. These games are the first I have seen with random, instant death rooms in literally years, a situation made all the more frustruting by the fact that they are only playable online and thus cannot be saved. (Well, the clever can of course extract the Z-Code by looking at the website's source, but I assume that isn't an offically encouraged thing to do.) And then there's the writing. The website credits one Jefferson Rabb with programming the games. I really, really hope this means he also wrote the text based on Mr. Dahlquist's book, and not that he only did the programming (such as it is) and Mr. Dahlquist did the writing. If a published author really wrote some of this... oh, my. Perish the thought. I played Celeste Temple's adventure first, then trudged gamely on to Cardinal Chang's game. I was amazed to find that this one is even worse. There is a fairly detailed plot meant to unfold here, but the problem is that it only makes sense if one explores in exactly the order the author intended. If not, everything is scrambled until one finishes the game and can analyze it all to figure out which way it was supposed to go. The fundamental problem is again that Mr. Rabb doesn't seem to know how to code anything but room descriptions, which kind of limits one's storytelling options. Also odd and disconcerting about this one is its obsession with violence. You know how IF is sometimes praised for emphasizing non-violent problem-solving? Well, you can throw that out when you play Cardinal Chang's adventure. When considering whether to use cleverness or mayhem, know that violence is the answer to this one in almost every case. I am currently playing and reviewing the games from IF Comp 2006. Everyone complains about the number of unfinished, buggy games in the Comp, but I have made it almost halfway through the games so far and have found only a few as bad as these. That is not a commendation of the Comp, my friends, but a condemnation of these games. Still, every game deserves at least one positive comment, so here goes: The debugging verbs have been left turned on. This means that when one runs headlong into a guess the verb puzzle, or experiences one too many sudden, pointless deaths, one can happily "purloin" and "tree" one's way to victory. And the website surrounding the games is quite pretty and probably took way more time to create than the Z-Code files embedded within did. Oh, and at one time you could win a free copy of Dahlquist's book if you finished either or both adventures, but the contest period has unfortunately expired. Of course, whether you would want the book if it features writing and plotting anything like these games is very much an open question. One of the reasons these games frustrate me so much is because what they are trying to do could theoretically be such a winner for everyone. I feel like readers of genre literature, searching for immersion as they are, are a great untapped market for IF. A promotion like this one, done well and with just a link somewhere to "more games like this," could, affiliated as it is with a big novel published by Random House, bring many new people into the IF fold. If the website creators' IF coding chops aren't up to snuff, many in the community would likely be willing to help just for the opportunity of promoting IF. As it is, though, readers who try these abominations out are only likely to run screaming from any further suggestion of IF. And really, why can't the creators give a little bit of credit to those whose tools they use?


From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #13 -- February 5, 1998 NAME: Glowgrass AUTHOR: Nate Cull E-MAIL: culln SP@G DATE: 1997 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 1 PLOT: Intriguing but incomplete (1.4) ATMOSPHERE: Not bad (1.4) WRITING: Mostly good (1.4) GAMEPLAY: Uneven (1.2) CHARACTERS: One, sort of intriguing (1.3) PUZZLES: Fairly good (1.4) MISC: Interesting idea, not fully developed (1.3) OVERALL: 6.7 Post-apocalyptic IF? There hasn't been any, in my memory -- A Mind Forever Voyaging is the only thing that comes close -- but there's no reason why there couldn't be, and Nate Cull's Glowgrass, small but well-conceived, is certainly an interesting attempt. Though the game itself has some flaws, the story is intriguing enough to make it enjoyable. You, it seems, are an alien researcher whose ship has crashed on an Earth now empty of humans -- 'twasn't nuclear war, though, 'twas a Green Plague (not much development on the specifics there) that wiped everyone out. As an expert on Homo sapiens (or, to you, "the Ancients"), stranded on the planet you're supposed to understand, your mission is to apply your knowledge to get yourself out of your plight one way or another, though exactly how isn't clear at the outset. (Nor, arguably, is it at the end, though you have a better idea.) You explore a small suburban home in an anthropologist's mindset -- in the bathroom: "From your knowledge of Ancient social mores, this was likely to have been a personal cleansing area." The effect is occasionally like that of a short story I once read called something like "Daily Rituals of the Nacirema" -- I don't remember the author -- which similarly describes common daily suburban life as an anthropologist might. But the intent there was to parody, and Glowgrass is more science fiction than sociology -- and, moreover, the Earth you're witnessing is several technological notches up on us currently, so most things are only indirectly familiar. It's something of a strange way to go about it, but the story does, for the most part, hold up, more because it's well written than because of striking originality. The main problem with the plot, though, is that there's just not enough there. You get snippets about yourself, but not enough to really figure out who you are, what you were doing coming to Earth in the first place, what you really think of "the Ancients" or of the things you find. Nor, as noted, is the fate of the Earth made clear -- you find a printout that hints at a plague, but why did it happen? What sort of plague was it, how was it spread, how did it start, did anyone survive or get off the planet? It might be unfair to expect all this from a competition entry, but a story as complex as this one should get at least some development, and there really isn't much to go on here. There are offhand references at the end that seem entirely cryptic -- which gives the impression that the author either has a sequel planned or meant to develop the plot more in this one and never got around to it. If there is more to come, I look forward to it -- but this snippet is so truncated that it's a bit frustrating. The gameplay is mostly adequate, though the required syntax is often rather specific, and steps for piecing together one mechanical puzzle aren't entirely logical (you have to be holding certain objects that you hook together but not others). At one point, a certain NPC says to you "I didn't think of that!", even if you've already mentioned it to her. And there is a vehicle that is a location unto itself, so "get out of" it doesn't work, and objects that appear to be in plain sight require "examine" to find. More irritatingly, crashes are frequent -- and I'm running the latest DOS TADS runtime, so I don't think it's the interpreter. In a small game, of course, it's not a huge issue -- but one hopes that a future release will clean things up. Glowgrass is not particularly difficult -- there are only three puzzles, really, though some searching of scenery is necessary to solve those puzzles, and they're all fairly straightforward mechanical assemble-and-apply-the-objects puzzles. (Though there is one moment that requires simply waiting around for four or five turns, not initially obvious to me.) But the writing is good enough to keep you involved; you have the sense of inhabiting the mind of a character who is genuinely intrigued and surprised by what he finds. At times, the writing takes on the overwritten character of mediocre science fiction, and you get this: A gasp wells in your throat, as vividly you relive how it must have been; to suffer such agony, so young. For the first time you regret the empathic talent which led you to xenohistory. A moment later, the mood passes, leaving you still somehow chilled. For one thing, tears well in eyes; gasps don't generally well in throats. For another, you're not reliving anything, you're trying to imagine, and your capacity to do that is fairly limited considering who you are. More importantly, imputing emotions is difficult to do well -- see this year's Sunset Over Savannah for an exceptionally good attempt -- and in a scene like this, where the player can infer perfectly well what he or she is supposed to be feeling (your "empathic talent" is a little weird; why it would lead you to researching Earth is too hard to infer), there's no need to inform the player that he or she feels sad or empathetic or anything else. Similarly, you're told at another point that a room "still retains the awe and innocence of the Ancient age," which feels like overkill, unless the author wants to tell us exactly why it seems that way. But there are also good moments that recall, well, good science fiction, such as the following from the intro: A minute later, you get to your feet, pain gnawing your body. Scratch one dropship; nobody could have survived that crash. Scratch your equipment. Now it's just you, your wits - and the Ancients. Hope you're as good a xenohistorian as you claimed at the Institute. Because unless you find some kind of way out of here, it could be months before a recovery team locates you. Not profound, but concise and even witty in a rueful sort of way. There are several of the shakier moments, in terms of writing, in Glowgrass, but the game is short enough that it's not a major problem; if this were followed up or expanded into a full-length game, the imputing-emotions bit might get wearisome. At any rate, Mr. Cull keeps us involved throughout, and even manages to pass off one quasi-metaphysical moment (in that it's somewhere between spiritual and technological) with a minimum of conscious suspension of disbelief. (At least, that's how it felt to me.) Though that moment doesn't really feel as transcendent as it should, it's convincing and gives the story a jolt. Glowgrass, in short, is a competent and reasonably interesting little entry, though it feels more like a teaser than a game in its current state. I hope the cryptic references will be elucidated in a later game; for now, I give this one a 7 on the competition scale. FTP FileTADS file (.gam)

The Golden French Fry

From: Mike Snyder <sidneymerk SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #40 -- April 12, 2005 TITLE: The Golden French Fry AUTHOR: Paul Panks EMAIL: dunric SP@G DATE: November 2004 PARSER: Custom (simple) SUPPORTS: MSDOS AVAILABILITY: Freeware -- IF Archive URL: VERSION: 1.26 In "The Golden French Fry" (an MSDOS-based BASIC game including source code with the executable) you are a slacker, a stoner, a lazy moocher left home alone while your parents are gone for the weekend. The PC's personality is described well enough in the introduction: "You're a drop out junkie, and it's gonna stay that way, yo!" To make things more interesting, your mother mentioned that a dragon lurks in the basement. Fortunately, the single re-spawning french fry is your ticket to this strange new world (which is somehow the basement). I was a beta tester for earlier versions of this game. It has improved in this revision, and the original was already more playable than Paul's recent Comp 04 entry (Ninja v1.30). I have written additional bug-notes to send to Paul, but I'll skip most of that for the purposes of this review. In short, version 1.26 is still buggy. Some of it is just the inevitable result of building a quickly-made parser from scratch. Attempting to climb anything, whether it exists or not, will result in a message saying that it wouldn't be safe. Birds chirp in several areas -- it would be nice if "listen to birds" would work, but at a minimum, "listen" would be a good verb to understand in general. I still noticed a few typos, but nothing to detract too much from the game. An update will probably address these and several other things I found while playing this version. The larger problem is that the game is just too rigid with what it can understand. The verb "use" is implemented, but it's not always logical. An alternate solution to the endgame battle requires you to "use" a certain object. However, using it will actually "throw" it, even though "throw" doesn't work as an alternative. In another example, you can't "give" the troll what he wants -- you simply attempt to go south with the item in your inventory, and the action takes care of itself. While that's a nice shortcut, it's also not an intuitive one. If a troll asks for something, I haven't previously been able to pass him, and now I have what he wants, my first instinct will be to "give" this thing to him. I tried a few variations before I found that walking "south" was the solution. Paul has implemented a few shortcuts, though. The "x" verb works for "examine." The "l" verb works for "look" (although "l object" does not). Version 1.26 introduces a "save" feature, for which I was very thankful. The "undo" command isn't supported, except in one spot (and then, it's automatic as a friendly means of avoiding death). I don't mind RPG elements in a game, but the battles generally take just a couple of hits to finish (and when longer, it's not really clear what's going on -- you can massacre a creature shortly before it massacres you). The extra hit points and "wimpy" mode (run when HP gets low) makes it more playable for those with a dislike for RPG-style fighting. Usage of colored text in Interactive Fiction may annoy some, but I found it useful and appropriate. All bugs and parsing restrictions aside (the game is playable -- just not as easily as typical "standard" works), I'm disappointed in the story and the consistency. Paul did add more to the intro, referencing the PC's state of inebriation as a clue to why nothing really seems to make sense. Still, it just isn't enough. If I'm going to see dragons and trolls and werewolves, a nice twist would have been to reveal what these things really are at some point, a la Don Quixote -- not just what the PC believes them to be. As it is, I can't tell if much thought went into the story. It seems that Paul decided to make a short puzzle game with various random elements, connected only by the fact that they seem to reside in the same pseudo-fantasy world. With more thought given to the story, it might have worked. Instead, "The Golden French Fry" offers very little to make it memorable, or to separate it from other similar games. I mentioned consistency as well. From the beginning, I'm an unmotivated slacker -- yet I proceed on a quest that involves much walking, climbing, fighting, and personal peril. I'm able to kill an owl protecting her egg (in order to take the egg), and the PC offers no remorse. However, slaying the dragon leads to some brief but personal soul-searching. A map of the area (not a bad idea) is shown on the wall of a shed -- but it's written from the author's point of view (with rooms named and numbered). Shouldn't it appear as if drawn by an in-game map-maker? Paul Panks might just be the Ed Wood of Interactive Fiction. He's motivated and relentless in his efforts, and his enthusiasm is never deterred by criticism. But, like the director of such duds as "Bride of the Monster" and the unforgivable "Plan 9 From Outer Space", Paul seems unable or unwilling to consider compromising his design decisions -- even though doing so might improve his work and help him grow as an IF author. "The Golden French Fry" is by no means unplayable, nor is it "bad" in a memorable way. As of version 1.26, it's still rough -- but it's getting better. Paul has been very willing to act upon the suggestions sent after each of my play-throughs. It could be a much better game if given a more meaningful, cohesive storyline -- and if the parser had not been tacked together from scratch. What's most interesting (and disappointing) is that Paul Panks isn't new to Interactive Fiction. He's no beginner, yet the game kind of feels like someone's first effort. FTP FilePC executable

Golden Wombat of Destiny

From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #18 -- September 15, 1999 TITLE: Golden Wombat of Destiny AUTHOR: Huw Collingbourne E-MAIL: huwcol SP@G DATE: 1989 PARSER: Home-brewed, but adequate SUPPORTS: MS-DOS AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: 1.2 The IF Archive is filled with no end of strange stuff, and Golden Wombat of Destiny is one of the strangest. The author is Welsh, I believe; I don't know the circumstances that led to writing this game, nor precisely what language it's written in. But while it isn't up to the technical standards of IF produced now, it's fun in its own quirky way. It seems you're looking for a lost city in the middle of a mangrove swamp, drawn on by vague talk of a mighty civilization destroyed by a plague, a nameless horror, wonderful treasures, and a Book of Knowledge. The swamp serves as a maze of sorts, not at all a highlight; as you have no objects to map with, the approach of choice seems to be wandering around randomly. The game does note your footprints in the mud, but that's your only guidance. Eventually, you stumble on the city, the game proper begins, and you save the game and never bother with the mangrove swamp again. A peculiar design choice, admittedly, and a harbinger of some equally peculiar choices. Once inside the city, you stumble across a giant termite, a skull guarded by an ant, a Room of Lesser Hallucination, a Death Ray Room -- and it gets odder from there. The puzzles are difficult, often unfairly so -- one requires some Shakespeare knowledge, another requires a realization that two machines on opposite sides of the city are linked somehow, and most require startling leaps of logic. The walkthrough in the solutions directory on GMD is handy. On the other hand, there is a certain elegance to a few of the puzzles -- at one point, careful study of the geography of the city is rewarded. And the parser, for the most part, is good enough to recognize a variety of syntaxes, so "guess-the-verb" is never an issue. For a homemade parser, Golden Wombat's is fairly effective -- full sentences are handled well (though not pronouns or undo, irritatingly), and there are no disambiguation problems that I encountered. And the writing, while hardly flowery, is competent -- important events are thoroughly described, while ordinary rooms are simply treated as ordinary. (At one initially confusing moment, you actually encounter the nameless horror mentioned above -- rendered as " ".) As indicated, "quirky" is the name of the game here. Particularly memorable is a funnel buried in the ground (examining it yields "It is extraordinarily funnel-shaped"); when the proper object is deposited in the funnel, you get this: there is a noise of ancient machinery which has become activated somewhere under the ground beneath you...After a few moments, there is a curious rustling sound amongst the vegetation nearby and a tiny sign unexpectedly pops up just behind the funnel. It says: "Thankyou [sic] for your generosity; "You have given that a wombat "May romp again in peace..." There is the sound of tuneless music somewhat like the British National Anthem being played on a didgery-do on a warped cassette buried in the ground. You stand to attention and salute. The upshot of the scene is that a hamster appears -- "looking very bemused and sad - the way that homeless hamsters usually do." A little of this sort of thing alerts the player that this game is not played by your ordinary logical rules. Most of the game is cute, but a good deal of it is just downright peculiar. The plot, despite the rather cursory background given at the beginning, is reasonably well developed, though some things remain unexplained. Central to the story is an empress imprisoned (after a fashion) in the city, whom you endeavor to free--but the consequences upon freeing her are rather surprising, and the ending is a real shocker: just when the player thinks he understands where the game is going, or has gone, the ending pulls the rug out from under him. (The original Zarfian ending, in a sense.) Though most of the story does ultimately hang together, many of the connections are left to be filled in rather than dutifully supplied. The effect is initially frustrating, but it actually fits the enigmatic feel of the game rather well. Golden Wombat of Destiny is obviously nothing like any IF produced recently; it's very much a product of the early days of freeware and shareware, when home-brewed parsers were common and cooperation among authors to develop and test games was sporadic (at least, as compared to today). But it's no less creative for all that, and it's offbeat fun, for the most part, with a thoroughly surprising finale. Though best played with a walkthrough at hand, it's certainly one of the more intriguing denizens of the IF archive. FTP FilePC Executable (.zip) FTP FileSolution (Text)

Goldilocks is a Fox

From: David Whyld <me SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #34 -- September 24, 2003 TITLE: Goldilocks Is A Fox AUTHOR: Jason Guest EMAIL: amazing_poodle_boy SP@G DATE: September 2002 PARSER: ADRIFT SUPPORTS: ADRIFT Runtime AVAILABILITY: IF Archive, ADRIFT Main Page URL: VERSION: Release 2 From the title, you might get the impression that this is a rather silly game. You'd be right, too. Goldilocks Is A Fox is a strange mishmash of various fairy tales: the Goldilocks of the title, a big bad wolf, three bears, a fairy godmother, Sleeping Beauty, Prince Charming, etc. References to the three little pigs also pop up from time to time. The story is pretty much nonsense from the word "go", but it's handled in such an amusing and charming manner that I found myself not minding how ridiculous and farfetched it all is. In fact, part of the game's charm is that it's written strictly tongue-in-cheek and isn't afraid to let it show. As the game begins, you, as the eponymous Goldilocks, have just returned from a crazy art party and have decided, as you do, to walk through a dark wood on the way home (well, I *did* say it a was nonsense storyline). The wood is pretty much just a way to get from the start of the game to the three bears' cottage -- where the game begins in earnest -- but it has a few interesting set pieces that add to the humour of the game: Goldilocks' cry of "ooh, I'm so scared" popping up in the location description, the big bad wolf (my favourite character in the game) appearing and mistaking Goldilocks for Little Red Riding Hood (who is, alas, missing from the game). Indeed, the wood is an interesting set of locations in its own right. The game properly opens up when you reach the three bears' cottage and have to figure out just how to get inside and what to do once you're there. Getting inside isn't easy but shouldn't cause too many problems if you try just about everything. One interesting thing I found when I finally got inside the cottage was how much larger on the inside it was than on the outside -- a kind of magic cottage crossed with Doctor Who's Tardis perhaps? Of the various fantasy characters encountered during the game, my favourite had to be the big bad wolf, who was the sort of character you could probably base an entire game on. He mistakes Goldilocks for Little Red Riding Hood and then turns to up at the three bears' cottage demanding to see the three little pigs (for "see" read "eat"). There are several other characters in the game (Prince Charming was amusing) but none left quite the same impression as the big bad wolf. The original version of the game was entered in the ADRIFT Summer Comp 2002 and came in second (a strange occurrence, really, as the game it lost to wasn't half as good). That version of the game came with a detailed walkthrough, which was something of a good and bad idea at the same time: good because it allows you to get past some of the harder puzzles in the game (some of them very hard indeed) but bad because it also spoils much of the enjoyment you get from solving them yourself. Goldilocks Is A Fox isn't an overly large game but the solution is a lengthy and convoluted one, often requiring players to double back on themselves and reuse the same item time and time again; in this way it generally gives the impression of being a far larger game than it really is. Unlike so many comedy games, Goldilocks Is A Fox doesn't just go for the quick humour and forget about the gaming side of things. Take away the comedy and the general silliness and there is a very well constructed game here. There are some quite intricate puzzles (the one with the large chair being a particular favourite of mine) and while not every puzzle is logical or straightforward, for the most part they don't require too much thought on the part of the player to solve. That said, this isn't a game that you're likely to solve in the space of a single sitting, which is probably just as well as there are a fair number of good ideas here that would be ruined if you played the game through too fast. FTP FileAdrift .taf file and walkthrough

A Good Breakfast

From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #14 -- May 17, 1998 NAME: A Good Breakfast AUTHOR: Stuart Adair E-MAIL: stu042 SP@G DATE: 1997 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Inform interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 2 As far as I'm concerned, A Good Breakfast took on something of a weighty challenge by its very premise--you wake up in your house after extended drunken revelry and try to find something to eat. An unappealing and unexciting situation, in short, and it would take some skill to make such a game compelling--and though there's some wit here, this entry is only mildly interesting. The plot is established immediately, and the bulk of the game is spent at that central task--eating something--since you have to gather the requisite objects from rather unlikely locales. I found that the actions in many cases were either unlikely or needlessly complicated: one requires playing a math game of sorts with your friendly robot Suzy, and the game is absent of explanations why you have only one said object in the house, or why Suzy would have it. Others are similarly tortured or unlikely, and too often feel like the author is throwing in puzzles for their own sake to slow the game down. It's true, of course, that the plot of the game revolves around a simple task, and the author has to complicate that task to keep it from being over in two minutes--but I didn't really feel like the means he chose worked very well. One object, for instance, is found in a logical spot, but you can't perform a logical action on it; you have to do what's required in a fairly ridiculous way, and another is in the proper room, but in a place that requires absurd lengths to reach. Moreover--I dunno--I have a problem, realism-wise, with discovering through a long slow trial-and-error process something about your personal life or home, something that you're not actually likely to have forgotten. Yes, bouts of amnesia would get old as a plot element. This is really an argument against the whole "you're in your house" genre of games, which have darn near exhausted their interest for me. Some of the puzzles are quite clever, though, and all are well coded (and some represented some fairly complicated coding tricks, notably the math game); I just didn't like the role they played in the game. Finally, the game ends with a rather, um, distasteful development that took the whole thing down another notch or two in the fun department--basic bodily functions as a puzzle premise were not compelling in My First Stupid Game, and they're not a whole lot better here. The frustrating thing about A Good Breakfast, as noted, is that it's really very funny in places; the author is clearly a witty fellow who spent a while injecting some wit into the game. Some of the "amusing" suggestions aren't, really, like sitting on the washing machine--perhaps I'm missing something there--but many are. There's even a game-within-a-game for the last lousy point, welcome because it's explicitly extraneous to the plot, not dragged in improbably, and also for its dig at fantasy IF. The multiplicity of references to British pop music--well, I dunno if this was the idea, but I found them funny just because they look so absurd written in a pop-up box. This isn't an indictment of British pop in particular; it's just that very little pop music actually passes the profundity test when written down and quoted out of context, and "Karma Police,/ Arrest this man,/ He talks in math,/ And buzzes like a fridge..." seemed so inane it was amusing. (Plus, for a non-follower of such things, the name "Chumbawumba" has a humor value all its own.) The robot's patter feels vaguely Teddy-Ruxpin-esque ("Mmmm, I love you!"), though with the benefit of absurdity, and there's one somewhat funny puzzle involving a next-door neighbor. (It doesn't make a lot of sense, but it's funny anyway.) And there's a generally wry view of your messy home that makes the game a little less tiresome than it might be, I guess--stepping out into your garden, or trying to, was particularly good. The writing is solid throughout--grammar is impeccable, rooms are well-described, many responses have the air of a hung-over person mumbling whatever rolls through his mind. It seems, in short, like all this good writing should have gone into a better game. One might quite fairly defend A Good Breakfast by saying it sends up the class of games where you save the world, or at least several cute tearful orphans, by replacing it with a plot where you feed yourself and then--well, I certainly wouldn't want to spoil the ending. Sure, true, but lots of folks--in this competition, even--have already gotten there, and even those who appreciate this postmodern element in IF want _some_ sort of story. (We're not as thoroughgoing as we might be about our postmodernism, I guess.) Lots of games subvert this expectation or that, and some manage to be quite compelling. Here, though I recognize the author's skills, I must say I didn't enjoy the whole enterprise much. There's plenty of humor here, and the author clearly has plenty of skill in both writing and programming; I look forward to his next effort. FTP FileInform file (.z5)

Goose, Egg, Badger

From: Mike Snyder <sidneymerk SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #39 -- January 7, 2005 TITLE: Goose, Egg, Badger AUTHOR: Brian Rapp EMAIL: rapp SP@G DATE: October 2004 PARSER: Inform enhanced SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: VERSION: Release 1 Brian Rapp's game is unique (at least in my not-so-extensive experiences with modern Interactive Fiction) in several ways. First, the multi-layered reality, through which you can move forwards and backwards, is very interesting. Second, the PC has urges in her inventory, which can be examined for tips on what to accomplish next. Third, the author uses a design gimmick, which is revealed in portions of the built-in tips and in the second walkthrough. I probably wouldn't have noticed this otherwise, and the game would have ranked 8.5 on my scale. I dropped half a point from the base, because it seems the game is mainly a vehicle for this design gimmick (the story is secondary), but because the gimmick appears to be so cleverly integrated beside the lesser solution (I scored 79 points out of 100 in the path I took), the implementation deserves the upward skew. The credits list numerous beta testers, and it shows. I noticed no flaws in the writing, and very few things that might be considered bugs. My notes show that the ape covers his ears when I'm singing, even though sometimes he wasn't there with me (this seemed to be immediately after finding him, and then returning to the north). It might be nothing. I've been known to misinterpret things before, seeing phantom bugs. [Note: This behavior is actually due to the fact that the ape follows the PC without the game explicitly saying so. --Paul] Coincidentally, this is the... hmmm, I have no idea how many now... but it's one of many games to begin with the protagonist waking up. I'm not the only one to notice it, I think. One guy emailed me about my entry, Trading Punches, and he made the same comment. Somebody else mentioned an interesting similarity between many of the entries (on R.G.I-F), and I bet this is what he meant. I can't really say much else about "Goose, Egg, Badger." I kind of thought it would turn out to be an elaborate version of the old logic puzzle -- take everything across the river one at a time (although the components don't really fit that). It's a puzzle game, and sometimes the solutions seem pretty obscure (I requested in-game hints several times). It's a good game, though, and the innovative gimmicks make it memorable. FTP File.z5 Zcode file (competition version)

The Gostak

From: Duncan Stevens <dnrb SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #27 -- January 4, 2002 TITLE: The Gostak AUTHOR: Carl Muckenhoupt E-MAIL: carl SP@G DATE: 2001 PARSER: Inform-based, with some rewriting SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: VERSION: Release 1 Dan Schmidt's For a Change, a 1999 competition entry, had one of IF's most memorable beginnings: "The sun is gone. It must be brought. You have a rock." That signaled some linguistic quirkiness, and sure enough, the ensuing game featured a variety of e.e.cummingsesque innovations, though it was comprehensible with a bit of effort. Carl Muckenhoupt's The Gostak goes For a Change one better: Finally, here you are. At the delcot of tondam, where doshes deave. But the doshery lutt is crenned with glauds. Glauds! How rorm it would be to pell back to the bewl and distunk them, distunk the whole delcot, let the drokes discren them. But you are the gostak. The gostak distims the doshes. And no glaud will vorl them from you. For those who didn't know what was coming from the title itself -- which refers to an old linguistic in-joke -- this is more than a little disconcerting, all the more so when familiar commands like LOOK and INVENTORY elicit "That's not a dape I recognise." (The trick is somewhat similar to the language puzzle in Lucian Smith's The Edifice, where you needed to communicate something in an unfamiliar language where even the pronouns were unknown; here, while the communication problem is much broader, the syntax and word order are familiar and pronouns, prepositions (mostly), conjunctions, articles, and such are all English.) The HELP equivalent (JALLON) gives a list of basic commands, though they're unlikely to be particularly helpful to the IFer who isn't familiar with the basic IF help menu -- the only commands that are familiar are things like QUIT, SAVE, RESTORE, UNDO, and such, and the unfamiliar commands themselves are explained in the same language. Never fear, though -- there are Invisiclue-style hints! (Just follow the menu option for "brolges.") Here's one of the hints on the topic "The tophthed curple": "If only it wasn't tophthed, you could pell in there without being glaked. What can you do about the tophthage?" The net effect is that The Gostak has some pretty severe barriers to entry, so to speak -- the initial 50-100 moves or so are apt to be a painful slog while the player attempts to compile a basic glossary, takes cryptic notes, gets mocked by the parser (>LEIL WARB: "That's unleilable"), and starts to think that Colossal Cave had the right idea. It gets less frustrating, but the learning curve doesn't level off much -- unfamiliar words just keep coming, and there isn't really a point when you simply know all you need to know. The game ups the ante by doing its damnedest to keep many of its words from having any English referent at all (this is the linguistic joke, as detailed at, and while you can choose to assign them referents of your own devising, you can't assume that the game will follow along with the implications. (You might decide that a particular noun means, say, "water," and later decide that a certain adjective means "wet," and then belatedly discovered that your water isn't wet -- because the game doesn't agree that those words have the relation you've assigned.) Beyond that, the puzzle-solving in the game often turns into a scavenger hunt -- you're faced with a creature that has an unfamiliar adjective, say, so you go hunting around aimlessly for something that has a similar adjective. There's a helpful character that might explain what the adjective means, to be sure, but he (it) more often than not explains it using two or three more terms that you don't understand. The effect is occasionally like a game with a million locked doors and a million keys in which the puzzle-solving consists of trying each key in each door; the no-referents trick becomes more of a curse than a blessing. (The problem is exacerbated by a certain object that can produce eight more objects, each with a largely opaque adjective, which heighten the combinatorial problem.) Is all this a Good Thing? Well, it's a certainly a creative thing, and it's done intelligently. Not only do most words lack obvious referents, but familiar words have unfamiliar syntaxes -- or words that you think you've pigeonholed as just like a certain English word turn out to have unexpected connotations or uses. In effect, the game's language works like a real second language, with different assumptions about what concepts go together or how to visualize a certain action, rather than simply tracking English. Quite apart from the technical feat of reworking the Inform parser into an alien tongue, which must have been wearisome, convincing the game to respond sensibly to every verb in every context (which, as far as I can tell, it does) is not a trivial accomplishment. The problem, though, is that I'm not sure the annual competition was the forum where The Gostak was most likely to be appreciated, mostly because of the two-hour rule. Now, it's true that competition judges don't have to finish a game within the allotted two hours, and it's also true that many well-regarded competition entries have been on the long side, and it's also true that you don't need to reach the end of The Gostak to appreciate it. But the two-hour rule does not breed patience, and The Gostak is unlikely to be appreciated by an impatient player. When a judge spends the bulk of the two hours fumbling around and trying to master basic vocabulary, he or she is unlikely to rate the game highly except for pure strength of concept. As it happens, that was enough for me, but not everyone is endlessly fascinated by linguistic wizardry of this sort. The end result was that the scores for The Gostak were almost evenly distributed across the scale -- which surprised me a bit, as I expected a large pileup of scores at the two extremes from some players who were frustrated by the whole thing and others who like this sort of thing. I don't know how much the scores mattered to the author -- my guess is not much -- but even disregarding the scores, I think this sort of thing is better appreciated without a ticking clock. Part of this is that comp entries have gotten shorter in recent years -- in the early days of the comp, it was routine for entries to push the two-hour mark, but lately it's become uncommon -- and hence attention spans may have become shorter; it's certainly an adjustment to play through several games that can be adequately appreciated in under half an hour and then hit The Gostak. All that said, there's something entertainingly goofy about the playing experience that makes up for the frustration. Being told, when you try something useless, that "that wouldn't do anything heamy," or hearing an overprotective character cry "My doshes! All my martle doshes!", or learning that a character who looks you over and is amused "tunks you and smarches" -- I dunno. Well-chosen words, I guess. But I found the game a pleasure to read quite apart from the pleasure of deciphering, and I found I enjoyed the thing most when I assigned a word its rough contours (establishing that a given noun was alive and ate things, say, or establishing that a verb was transitive and caused certain nouns to leave the vicinity) but didn't try to pin it down precisely. Of course, getting somewhere in the game required a little more than that, and there's only so much pure exploration to do, but there's still a whimsical feel to the responses that makes the game more than the sum of its crytographical parts. It's a tribute to the thoroughness of the implementation that the world you inhabit begins to take on some personality; obstacles and helpers don't just serve their functions, they also have connotations, associations -- this one is faintly ludicrous, that one is vaguely chummy, another one is not very bright but trusting -- that suggest that the world-creation effort did not, by any stretch, stop with the bare minimum. Reactions to most IF differ widely, and more so with The Gostak than with most -- but despite the frustration of the puzzle-solving, I was drawn in by the premise and the thoroughness and complexity of the language-building, and I gave it a 7 in this year's competition. FTP FileDirectory with .z5 Zcode file


From: Baltasar el Arquero, translated from the Spanish SPAC review by Pablo Martinez Merino "(Depresiv") and DJ Hastings Review appeared in
SPAG #49 -- August 18, 2007 TITLE: Goteras AUTHOR: Juan Sebastián Armas ("Incanus") DATE: 2006 PARSER: InformATE SUPPORTS: Z-Machine interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: Synopsis: Now it's your turn to go to the damn "rock," as it's called in your profession. You left Deimos a couple of days ago in your ship (your OTV wagon, actually- inertial flight), and woke up from a pleasant cryogenical dream (virtual reality included) to find that the ship alarms have been triggered. According to the message panel, the integrity of the hull of the ITV-44 has been compromised. In other words, there's a hole somewhere. Since you have been awakened from the cryogenical dream early, which means they will have to pay you overtime, you can't expect it to be for something good. It's an emergency, which implies extra-vehicular activity. These things are never simple. The life of a space worker is one of the worst there is. (Well, there are the underwater workers- but they never reach retirement.) While slowly waking up, you contemplate how life in space in the twenty-first century is similar to life on earth in the nineteenth century, including the industrialization. Everything is full of filth in an environment (space) previously completely clean. That's what we, "the men and women of the outer frontier" as the company likes to call us, do: dirty up everything. Well, ok, we extract minerals too. But we dirty up a lot. Now it's time to wear that suit and fill those holes with a bit of glue. Comments: This time, Incanus has made a tale based upon the book "Orbital Decay," according to the introduction of the game. It's all about a special kind of science fiction, where life is much more like real life (with its ups and downs and its shades of grey) than it is like life in the films. It's an unusual work, in that it breaks the mold of what could be called "the common current" in a couple of ways. First, it's one of the very few sci-fi tales that have appeared recently in the Spanish community. Second, it's a much more realistic kind of tale than the average: the main character (the player) has quite a dirty mouth, and while we may not feel completely identified with someone living in space, taking care of a space ship that's traveling towards a mining planet, we can identify with his complaints against the company, and his miserable daily life contrasted with the wealth that surrounds him. This is the kind of science fiction that Incanus identifies as "hard." This perception will be reinforced as we advance through the adventure: although we may be dealing with hatches, screens and other technologically advanced tools, we will soon find out that we need to apply very "mundane" solutions to solve the problems (though with a quite sarcastic style). The adventure has been well cared for; we can find a lot of detail not only in the game, but in the webpage that comes with it, along with an introduction "novella." The feeling of immersion is great, and the setting is quite well achieved. The biggest fault could be the game's brevity. That is, the story is less deep than it could have been because of the brief moment of the character's story which is depicted. In the end, it only comprises a time of crisis in a journey. The only weaknesses to complain of are that the included webpage is a bit confusing (emphasizing too much for inexperienced users, and being a bit too complex to find the Z5 of the adventure), and without doubt the brevity of the tale, which leaves us wanting more (getting deeper in the story, getting more involved, and knowing more, as I said before). Conclusions: The work is enjoyable, entertaining, and the rhythm of the narrative is agile and dynamic. At least from my personal point of view, it's Incanus' best work, although he only has three interactive tales. (Which is not so bad, now that I think about it, given that the average is one work per writer.) Incanus unveils as a mature IF writer, who only has to take the leap of making a long IF work. Goteras is definitely a good adventure. It may not revolutionize the world of IF as such, but it doesn't need to. It will offer us a pleasant and enjoyable piece of fiction, which is what it's all about. So why are you waiting to play it? Zip containing Z-Code game file (in Spanish) and its Inform source code


From: J.D. Berry <jdberry SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #35 -- December 31, 2003 TITLE: Gourmet AUTHOR: Aaron A. Reed EMAIL: reed SP@G DATE: October 2003 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-code AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: VERSION: I'm reviewing the Comp '03 release, but there's a Release 1.2 at "My name is James, and I'll be your sommelier this evening. Might I recommend a bottle of Gourmet '03? It's a delightful game with a hint of sitcom in the nose. Bananas repeat on the palate where they are joined by the flavors of panic and pain. Its upbeat character fades with a long, slow finish." Like any method actor, the interactive fiction player will ask throughout the production, "what's my motivation?" Like a director, the interactive fiction author must continually inspire that motivation. A straightforward mission--"you hate this person and will do everything to destroy him"--is usually enough for the director to give to the actor, but it's only a first step for the author to give to the player. If the author wants to ensure player motivation at all times, the author must: * Provide and maintain a fresh, intelligent setting. * Initiate and maintain empathy with the protagonist and his/her/its predicament. * Integrate the setting and predicament through story and/or puzzles. * Set a pace the player can follow, upping the stakes gradually. * Since the story usually progresses only when the player does, entertain when the player doesn't. So, how does Gourmet fare? Reed nails the setting. The Mack n' Geez combines authenticity (I feel like I'm really in a restaurant) with imagination (but I'm not in a boring restaurant). The kitchen displays its practical side with cutting boards, spice racks and dishwashers. But, oh, there's also a pneumatic tube food delivery system -- cool. The dining area has the usual tables and chairs. Yet, there's a band on stage armed with an extremely limited repertoire of big band tunes -- charming. Perhaps to maintain the setting's freshness, Reed might have added a section to the building that was inaccessible for part of the story. One of the sick workers has the only key to -- I don't know -- a reserved wine cellar, and he stumbles in near the end of the story to give it to you. Admittedly this may be my personal Pavlovian thrill of discovering new locations. I like the physical layout of the restaurant. Even though, I, the player, had never been there, I felt like I, the manager, had practically lived there. Reed's descriptions make the rooms' exits familiar and natural: A small doorway north to your office is half-hidden behind the fridge. A set of swinging double doors lead east to the seating area, a back door west to an alley, and an iron-wrought spiral staircase leads down to the wine cellar. The setting merits a Xyzzy nomination in its own right, but also because it illustrates how a setting can strengthen other elements of a game. In this case, it breathes life into the player character (PC) and his motivations. The PC has devoted his life to the culinary arts. There's a mission statement -- own a five-star restaurant. That's all you the player know, and that's all you really need to know. Something like 80% of all restaurants fail. Success demands total commitment and more than a few dashes of luck. You are a chef, indeed, and you wear many other hats as well. There's no time for character-defining choices and angst-ridden soul-searches when there's all this celery to chop. Achieving your vision? Well, you can't just say you have five stars. An eminent personage in the biz must deem you worthy. Luck rained on you this morning -- yes, the noted food critic Vera Davenport will be visiting, and you know about it ahead of time. Better get busy. Er, I mean really busy. So, you, the player character, aren't particularly defined*, but there's no ambiguity or pretension -- you know who you are and what you're about. You, the player, care because somehow the restaurant itself seems like a living entity -- your baby. You must nurture it. It's under your care. Suddenly, here's its one and perhaps only chance to go to college. Better get really, really busy. If the restaurant were generic food joint number five, would I care? Do you want cold fries with that? To satisfy my curiosity after completion, I returned to various saved games. I typed z (the wait command) repeatedly. There aren't any timers. I generated the pressure internally (mostly, though, only early in the game). Here, I credit Reed's game design choices. He wisely omitted a warning daemon telling me every third line to hurry up. He avoided a "you failed to optimize your moves and now you've botched the whole shebang." He handed me the ball of anxiety and let me run with it. Reed integrated the setting and predicament well, especially in the first parts of the game. The "puzzles" were reasonably clued and pitched in terms of difficulty, also more effectively so during the first half of the game. Though some solutions were quite odd, they always fit the game's tone and were usually hilarious. Alas, the pace. Unfortunately, play bogs down as the main course commences. The story structure is fine -- it "ups the ante" emotionally (and physically -- ouch!) The complexity is fine -- it should be more difficult at this stage. However, the player can't (at least this player couldn't) keep the pace. With so many hoops to jump through while the implied timer ticks, the implementation must be flawless and the solutions must be intuitive. But the implementation was shaky in spots, and the solutions were fairly reasonable but not intuitive. The conversation system shows attention and care, but it's still rather sparsely implemented. This is fine when you just have to make small talk (like in the first part), but frustrating when you need to communicate more specifically (like during the main course.) Not only was the implementation shaky at times, but also inadequate feedback from the customers, in the form of complaints and feigned disgust, led to my disbelief that I was under any real deadline. What had been an asset in the beginning was a liability by the main course. The second-half pacing is my only real complaint, although it's a big one. When I like a game, such issues stand out all the more. I was happily whistling along and the tune got away from me. Since Gourmet is an experience, a comic episode, it can afford a misfired joke or a puzzle that stretches reality. It can't afford leaving the player confused and a scene behind. Ah, yes, I'm grumbling too much. I really did like Gourmet. Just eat the steak, and leave the little strip of fat, will you, dude? How about the general entertainment? How was the writing? Excellent. I loved the descriptions of even the most mundane things. I enjoyed Reed's natural and personal writing style, capturing the mood and situation perfectly. >open dishwasher Business has been slow tonight, so there aren't any dishes in there just now. >x kettle This dingy old kettle was one of the first pieces of cookware you owned, a gift from your great-uncle on your eighth birthday. The water in the kettle is steaming and looks close to boiling. Absorb passages like those, over time, and you eventually become immersed in the world and the character "him"self. "You'll have the Gourmet, then? Excellent. Oh, dear, I seem to have spilled it all over you..." --- *The following articles present the advantages and disadvantages of defining the PC: Doug Atkinson's "Character Gender and Interactive Fiction" John Wood's "Player Character Identity in IF" Duncan Stevens' "The Player Character's Role in Game Design" FTP FileDirectory with zcode .z5 file (competition version), readme, and walkthrough

The Granite Book

From: J. Robinson Wheeler <jrw SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #31 -- January 3, 2003 TITLE: The Granite Book AUTHOR: James Mitchelhill EMAIL: warning SP@G DATE: September 2002 PARSER: TADS SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: VERSION: 1.0 I've taken a slightly different approach to reviewing this work, the latest by the author of the most-vilified game of last year's competition. My usual practice is to write my thoughts down as soon as I reach the end of the game. For this one, which left me more than a little baffled, I didn't write anything right away. I took a brief break to mull it over, then I engaged a couple of friends in conversation about it, sharing my reactions and processing theirs. Then I slept on it, played another game, and reviewed that one. Then I opened the transcript from my "Granite Book" session and re-read the whole thing, paying more attention to details I skimmed while playing it. Now, here I am, still wondering what to say. I'll start with what I said to my friends last night: This is another work where the author seems to have a clear idea what it's about, but it's not coming across very clearly. The game exists in its own universe, bending even parser messages to conform to its distinctive voice. It is all symbolic, like a dream; also like a dream, its symbols are difficult to reckon. There is enough consistency to the story and its imagery to seem thoroughly thought out, but it remains opaque to my comprehension all the same. I can see that there is an active mind behind it, but I cannot fathom what the mind intended to communicate to me. One of my friends had a definite theory that worked for him, one which explained the characters and the settings; part of his theory keyed on the response to "UP" in the first scene of the game: "We had lost our wings long ago." Once with wings, now with claws. Lost underground. I don't know. On a technical level, I had one or two sore spots with the implementation. [There's a spoiler coming up here, though Rob's point is how impossible the puzzle is to guess without spoilage. Skip to the end of the indented section at your discretion. --Paul] The game shied me away from interacting with an NPC, and then the hint file copped a funny tone as it instructed me that I needed to do exactly this to proceed in the game: >talk [We could not understand the word "talk".] >ask girl [what should we ask it about?] >girl She would not reply to anything we said. We began to think she did not understand our language. >show vellum to girl [The girl did not react.] >girl, get on pedestal [The girl either did not understand our commands, or she would not obey them.] >girl, get on table [The girl either did not understand our commands, or she would not obey them.] >girl, sit on table [The girl either did not understand our commands, or she would not obey them.] --- Q. So what's this about the table? Light: Have you tried laying on it? Medium: You can order the girl to do some things, you know. Heavy: GIRL, LIE ON TABLE The girl doesn't understand our language, nor any command I tried. So no, I don't know I can do this, thank you. I remain bothered by two unexplained elements: the sheet of vellum with designs on it, and the plate on which you find the vellum. In general, the only direct fault I can find with it is that it is not to my taste; however, I can see how it might also be someone else's favorite game. By which I mean, I cannot personally rate it highly, but I cannot say that it is of poor quality, either. FTP FileDirectory with TADS .gam file, hints, and readme

The Great Archeological Race

From: Molley the Mage <mollems SP@G WKUVX1.WKU.EDU> Review appeared in
SPAG #3 -- October 26, 1994 NAME: The Great Archeological Race PARSER: TADS (Good) AUTHOR: John LaBonney PLOT: Linear, "Sectional" EMAIL: ??? ATMOSPHERE: Indiana Jones-ish AVAILABILITY: IF Archive WRITING: Not Bad PUZZLES: Wide Variety SUPPORTS: TADS ports CHARACTERS: Interesting, 1-D DIFFICULTY: Below Average Well, I must confess that while I had heard of this game from a few other people, I resisted playing it primarily because the word "archaeology" is so prominently misspelled. A trivial and petty reason not to play a text adventure, I know, but typos ruin games for me faster than anything else. I am pleased to report that not only is it easy to ignore this mistake in The Great Archeological Race, but the rest of the game makes up for it and is quite enjoyable. TGAR, as I'll refer to it, is a shareware game from Absolute Zero. You play an assistant curator at the Evelyn Museum in Boston, whose job is in peril because of a lack of new acquisitions. The game, therefore, becomes a series of adventures wherein you are sent to various sites by your boss to bring back whatever trinkets (or treasures) you can find. The atmosphere of the game reminded me somewhat of the "Indiana Jones" movies; quests for ancient artifacts liberally sprinkled with humor. I think the game is probably easier than most text adventures, but this is not a criticism. I was able to play almost straight through the first few sections in a couple of hours, which enabled me to concentrate on the game itself instead of on the usual stop-ponder-start-stop-ponder-start method I usually use. The individual archaeological "digs" are filled with interesting items, locations, and characters, although the quality of the room descriptions is rather inconsistent. In many places, the writing is plentiful and good; in others, it's extremely terse. Some of the best writing is in the various newspaper articles and reports you'll get on your various excursions around the world, as well as religious propaganda you get from a guy at the airport (and you can just imagine what *that's* like). As you return from the various digs, you check in with your boss, and the items you have recovered are placed on display in the museum itself. This is a nice touch, and provides an obvious measure of progress, as well as allowing the player to feel as though his actions have made an impact. It's obvious that the game does not take itself seriously; the first site you'll visit was abandoned by the original dig team because the University funding the dig used the money for a new swimming pool. It says to me, "Hey, I know the plot is contrived, and you know the plot is contrived, and I know you know, so just play the game and shut up, okay?". I *like* that. The game doesn't try to be anything more than an enjoyable puzzle-solving romp, and of course the tricks and traps commonly associated with ancient sites provide the ideal excuse for having lots of puzzles. The registration fee is $20; this gets you the standard maps, hints, and eternal love and devotion of the author. The game is written using TADS, and so the parser as good as any; no worries on that score. There is mention in the docs about possible availability of the TADS source code to registered users, so aspiring TADS programmers might want to check that offer out. Truthfully, I can't feel too good about saying that the game is worth $20; $10 or $15 would have been more appropriate, but considering some of the tripe people are paying $60 and up for, TGAR is a bargain. I highly recommend that you download this game and give it a try for yourself. FTP FileMAC (.sit) FTP FilePC Executable (.zip) FTP FileSolution (Text)

The Great Xavio

From: Jess Knoch <jessicaknoch SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #39 -- January 7, 2005 TITLE: The Great Xavio AUTHOR: Reese Warner EMAIL: reese SP@G DATE: 2004 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: VERSION: 1 I got to The Great Xavio late in my list of games for the Comp, thanks to the so-called randomness of the Comp04.z5. I say "so-called" because my list had about five mystery games very late in the list. Clearly, this was the work of a mastermind computer program out to torture my poor brain. Not that I don't like mysteries! Well, okay, mystery games can vary in quality quite a bit. Let's talk about this one. I was a little put off at first by a missing punctuation mark, and the "about" text, which stated "There are hints available in the game, though you need to figure out how to find them yourself; WALKTHROUGH is available for one possible bare-bones path through the game." That set off some big warning flags in my mind: I normally have a tough time with puzzles and rely on hints to finish games in two hours for the comp. In addition, I am a firm believer that the walkthrough included with a competition game should take me down the best possible path, so that I can have the best possible view of your game. That is, if you want a good score. Anyway, it turned out that the walkthrough included with The Great Xavio is only bare-bones in the sense that it doesn't explain why you're doing all of what you're doing, or show all the different ways to solve each puzzle. That's not such a problem, actually, because by the time I turned to the walkthrough, I was almost completely done with the game, and just needed to solve one teensy tiny problem before ending it. I didn't know I was quite that close, but I was. I never did find the hints. Surprisingly (at least to anyone who's read other reviews of mine), I wasn't very upset about this. At all. Normally, I'm a hint junkie, but with The Great Xavio I found myself slowly making progress through the game. I had a goal, I had some tools, and perhaps most importantly I had various people watching me play the game in real life that I could complain to, who would say something reasonable like "maybe you can find a ___" and I would pause and think, "you know, that just might work" and head back to the game. The puzzles were actually intriguing enough to keep me involved -- especially once I had put about a half hour into it. The worst part was that what I saw as the first puzzle, finding and getting into the Great Xavio's hotel room, was actually the hardest and most-involved of any puzzle in the game. And you don't get any points until you've solved it. So, I played for quite a long time with "0 out of 101" points, with no indication as to how long the game would go on or when I would start earning these points. Anyway. Enough about puzzles: what about the story? Well, the character is a pretty interesting one, while still managing to be vague so that the player can identify with him easily: a grad student with only a last name, who teams up with a professor (Dr. Todd) to solve mysteries. Or maybe fight crime. Apparently they've been featured in other stories before, though this is their first interactive fiction game. The professor is a bit of a caricature, but amusing enough until he becomes annoying, which is probably how it's supposed to be. He could have used a bit more variety in his random actions. This review is backwards. Normally I start off talking about the characters and the premise, and move on to the puzzles, but in The Great Xavio the story is mostly an excuse to solve puzzles -- at least the puzzles make sense for the setting. The basic premise is that Dr. Todd suspects something fishy about a magician's performance, and wants to get to the bottom of it by searching the magician's hotel room for evidence. Most of the game for me was spent breaking into the hotel room of interest. From there, the story takes a bit of a turn and moves along quickly enough to a rather sudden end. The game starts with just a few punctuation errors, but as you get farther into it, a few programming bugs crop up. For example, once you've broken into the hotel room, you can convey to the professor the method of breaking in and he will give you the same speech he did before about what a brilliant idea of his it was. A few little things like this, and some annoyances with the elevator, and the fact that extra items get less and less well described as the game wears on, lead me to wish the entire game had the polish of the first few scenes I saw: the lobby, the bar, the basement. Towards the end, I even found a few solutions to puzzles by, more or less, exploiting bugs. Overall, The Great Xavio could use a second release (I suspect, as I sit here isolated from all goings-on in the IF community, it has already seen one). [It has. --Paul] But the puzzles are entertaining, and each can be solved in more than one way, giving even me (a pitiful puzzler) a chance to solve almost all the puzzles on my own. I don't think I would have gotten that last one even with extra time, so it's a very good thing a walkthrough was included. And as for the hints... if you make it a puzzle to find the hints in the first place, what happens to people who aren't very good at solving puzzles? They never get hints, that's what, and you risk leaving them out in the cold. Luckily, it worked here. FTP File.z5 Zcode file (updated version) FTP File.z5 Zcode file (competition version)

Green Falls

From: Paul Lee <bainespal SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #47 -- January 16, 2007 TITLE: Green Falls AUTHOR: Paul Panks (writing as Dunric) E-MAIL: dunric SP@G DATE: October 1, 2006 PARSER: Custom Supports: DOS/Windows AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF Archive URL: Version: 1 Despite being simple in every respect of the word, I rather enjoyed this small adventure and role-playing game. Although "Green Falls" features a bare, cliched plotline, the hack-and-slash combat and simple adventure-quest feel work in this game better than in most like it, due in part to many of the room descriptions which say a lot in few words and paint a vivid picture. Additionally, the map is well laid out, and the geography gives the impression of a vast area without many locations. Having said this, the game has a number of problems that cause frustration and make it more difficult to appreciate. First off, the parser is weak; "take" cannot even be used as a synonym for "get." Not only is the concept of the game simple, but its mechanics are often obtrusively undeveloped and under-prepared. Cases in point: at one occasion the game told me that I could see "a(n) gauntlets," and armor can be covering more than one hundred percent of your body. As mentioned above, the room descriptions are typically good, but sometimes they are illogical, such as one description which mentions "useful items" that are unimplemented or another that has dialogue in the description. In fact, no objects not listed after the room description are implemented at all, I believe, though that one case was directly misleading. Also, at times the text breaks at the end of a line in mid-word, which is jarring regardless of the fact that usually there are nice margins. The main point of the game (outside of the objective of the player given in the shallow back story) is to kill monsters and find better armor and weapons, something that probably turns many people off immediately. However, the monsters and the pieces of armor are distributed well, so that you will probably become just strong enough to slay the last big bad beastie by the time you reach the concluding part of the game. There are no major puzzles outside of monster bashing, but exploring different regions after you've increased your might is a kind of puzzle itself, and if you are not careful in your approach, you will find yourself getting killed more often then not to great frustration, as I did the first time I played. If you cannot reconcile yourself to the kind of game that "Green Falls" is, you will almost certainly find it not worth your time. If on the other hand you can, I would say that the good layout of content and vivid room descriptions make it good enough to give a try despite its problems. DOS/Windows executable BASIC source code


From: Harry Hol <harry SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #34 -- September 24, 2003 TITLE: Gremlins AUTHOR: Brian Howarth E-MAIL: Unknown PARSER: Scott Adams Standard SUPPORTS: ZX Spectrums & emulators AVAILABILITY: Commercial URL: Gremlins is a game based on the Joe Dante movie of the same name. A bunch of ugly, evil little critters have run over the small town of Kingston Falls and you must try to stop them, with the assistance of Gizmo the Mogway. The game was published by Adventure International and employed the Scott Adams engine. This means minimal descriptions and a rather picky "verb noun" parser. Some versions had crude graphics. I don't mind a picky parser, as long as it is fair. The game Gremlins, however, isn't. I started to play it when I was about eleven and never got very far, even though I spent weeks playing it on my C16. I was only able to finish it a couple of months ago, thanks to a walkthrough I found on the Internet. I finally discovered why I never got anywhere. It was bad game design. If I order the parser to "search" something, I expect the game to list all that I have found. The Scott Adams system seems to think it more fair to reveal only one item at a time when you look into something. Now this would make some kind of sense when you dig around in the dirt, or go through a pile of papers. But when I look into a kitchen drawer, I expect the game to tell me all that is in there. The reason I never was able to finish Gremlins was because the game made me search an ordinary kitchen drawer three times to find all three crucial items in there. After I finished solving this "puzzle", more and more bad design decisions became apparent to me. First: the game makes heavy use of timed events, with the Gremlins running around through town. They basically kill you after a random number of moves, but it is impossible to know how much time you have left. Realistic tension? Without an "undo" option, getting killed just after making some progress isn't my idea of fun. Also, the game is devoid of any sense of wonder. The setting is a mundane little town with mundane objects. Some of them invite experimentation, but the vocabulary of the game is so small that the only thing you actually can do with them is the "right" action to solve the puzzle. Any attempt that is not *exactly phrased as needed* is dismissed with "I don't understand". I realize some of my frustrations have to do with the old school way the game is put together. But all that would be forgiven if you as a player had some interesting things to do. Unfortunately, the entire middle section of Gremlins takes place in an anemically implemented department store, and the endgame is a hit and miss affair I did not find satisfying at all. I finally did manage to finish it, as I mentioned earlier. But in the end, I wondered why I bothered. FTP FileSpectrum snapshot packaged with a bunch of others FTP FileStepwise solution, also packaged with a bunch of others

Guardians of Infinity

From: Christopher E. Forman <ceforman SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #9 -- June 11, 1996 NAME: Guardians of Infinity GAMEPLAY: Windowed text AUTHOR: Paragon Software PLOT: Very detailed EMAIL: ??? ATMOSPHERE: Good AVAILABILITY: Commercial WRITING: Sparse but good PUZZLES: You'll need the docs SUPPORTS: PCs CHARACTERS: User-controlled DIFFICULTY: Hard Now this one is different. REALLY different. Possibly the most unique text adventure ever released. Paragon did "Guardians of Infinity" near the end of the '80s, about the time Infocom released their graphical I-F, but "Guardians" has no graphics. Rather, the player acts as one Adam Cooper, commander and overseer of five time-travelling agents attempting to prevent the assassination of JFK (Oliver Stone, eat your heart out). The screen is divided into windows for each agent, as well as the player's command line and other features critical to the mission. In a way, it's part "TimeQuest," part "Suspended," part "Trinity," part "Border Zone," and part...something. "Guardians of Infinity" simply has to be played to be understood. No terminology can quite do the experience justice. The game begins on November 15, 1963, and the player's job is to use the five agents to influence events in order to arrange a meeting between Kennedy and Cooper, so that Cooper can talk Kennedy out of his visit to Dallas, which in turn will prevent the assassination and the subsequent disruption of the time continuum which is threatening Cooper's own world of 2087. The agents will perform a surprising number of actions, from talking with those close to Kennedy, to robbing a bank to acquire funds. The parser is well-programmed but substantially different from the Infocom tradition. You can say, for example, "STEIN, GO TO WASHINGTON AND TALK WITH VICE- PRESIDENT JOHNSON" or even provide answers to your agents' questions, such as "LEE HARVEY OSWALD IS IN DALLAS." Walking around, picking up items, and brute searching are all eliminated, which lends a whole new universe of flexibility to the story. It's perhaps the closest thing to "puzzle-less" I-F, the recent subject of debate on (Don't get any ideas, though -- writing such a game would require a complete makeover on all the existing I-F compilers.) Still, it takes quite a bit of getting used to. Packaged with the game are a 90-page novella providing characterization for the agents and an exceptionally well-researched 145-page mission manual outlining the whereabouts of everyone connected with the assassination during the week of the 15th-27th. These must have had 1988 software pirates running away screaming, as you can't possibly get anywhere without them, yet they enhance the game and are plot-related, making for THE best copy-protection ever developed (with no irreverence intended toward Sorcerer's infotater). Disk #3 also contains a graphical slide-show with more info on the mission. The game's internal clock is always running, and news and agents' reports pop up in their respective windows constantly, leaving a lot for the player to juggle around. It's an intense experience, to say the least. Agents' responses, and most of the game text, for that matter (aside from some large plot points), are typically sparse, but with a fair amount of realism. "Guardians of Infinity" is definitely worth a play, and deserves far better than the measly bit of recognition it got on its initial release. Altering history has never been such fun. (No, I haven't won it yet, but I'm still trying.) Incidentally, if you're having trouble locating a copy of "Guardians of Infinity," you may want to give the folks at Centsible Software (centsible SP@G a mail. They sell tons of used software, both classic and recent, at very reasonable prices (although, if you want the original game boxes, you may be out of luck). That's where I got my copy of "Guardians" (among other classics), and I recommend them.

Guess The Verb!

From: Tina Sikorski <tina SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #23 -- December 29, 2000 TITLE: Guess The Verb! AUTHOR: Leonard Richardson E-MAIL: leonardr SP@G DATE: 2000 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 1 Walkthrough? Yes (in-game) Genre: SpecFic (but see below) +------------------------------------------+ |Overall Rating B |Submitted Vote 7| |Writing B+|Plot B | |Puzzles C |NPCs C | |Technical C-|Tilt B | +------------------------+-----------------+ *** Initial Thoughts When I saw the name of the game, I said, "Oh, no. NOT a joke game!" No. It's not. Well, at times it is (it certainly doesn't take itself too seriously), but it's not the -obvious- joke game. I put this under the category 'Speculative Fiction' (otherwise known as "sf/fantasy") because it contained elements that were (including the initial premise), but I think perhaps it might also fall into the category of "comedy". *** Writing (B+) Any game in which I can read the description of a corn dog and be entertained really has something going for it: >l at corn dog The corn dog is a curious creature. Its life cycle begins when the larval corn dog is cooked and put on a stick. The corn dog is dipped in batter to form a cocoon and fried. Inside the batter cocoon, the baby corn dog metamorphoses into an adult phase which is then purchased, slathered with mustard, and eaten. The rumbling of your stomach tells you that the end is near for this particular corn dog. We will miss you, corn dog. Much of the game's description, even when more serious than this, contains elements of this style. It's clever, it's cute (in the good way), and it is, above all, interesting. I did not bestow an A rating on the writing simply because while it is true that the writing meets my criteria for "good", it never thoroughly immersed me in the experience. This may be a result of the game's style, not a reflection on the author's ability; I don't think we were really -meant- to be immersed. *** Plot (B) Really, this should be "plots", plural; these are several stories tied together solely by method of entry. Perhaps if you complete all the scenarios there is a larger plot revealed, but if so, I did not find it. Certain sections were better than others, but all contained a sort of "Now rejoining your regularly scheduled program in progress" sort of feel at insertion point, which is another interesting way to tie things together. Whether or not this was deliberate is something only the author could answer. Some sections might be more interesting to people than others, as there is quite a range covered by this. *** Puzzles (C) Puzzles were definitely a weak point, not because they were bad but merely because they were tough and at times very difficult to understand the context of. Whether this was a function of the fragmented nature of the plot or the function of poor puzzle design is not something I feel I can judge. I could not solve several of the puzzles, however, and as a result never saw the -complete- version of several of the scenarios, despite the availability of a walkthrough. I think an adaptive hint system would have been a BIG help in this game; I didn't really want to ruin other sections by walkthrough-consulting that forced me to read all of it. *** NPCs (C) We never really seem to see enough of any given NPC for it to feel particularly deep, and there is definitely a problem with non-responsiveness even in the required interactions. *** Technical (C-) There were at least two points in which directions were not bi-directional (which is to say, going east does not result in west returning you to your original point). If this was deliberate, so be it, but if not, I would suggest correcting this. (One occurs getting to and from the area behind the booth, one occurs in the college scenario.) Aside from that, I found no particular bugs and no particular tricks. *** Tilt (B) and Final Thoughts Despite the problems I had with the puzzles and the walkthrough, I did find this an interesting diversion. I think it might be interesting to see some expansion on this game, some more involved scenarios, in a post-comp release that didn't have to fit a 2-hour limit, but even as is the game is worth a look; if nothing else, if you don't get a scenario you like, restoring to right before you choose is easy enough. From: Cedric Knight <ADDRESS REMOVED> Review appeared in SPAG #25 -- June 20, 2001 PLOT: 1.3 ATMOSPHERE: 1.1 WRITING: 1.8 GAMEPLAY: 1.4 WIT: 1.9 OVERALL: 7.4 CHARACTERS: 1.4 PUZZLES: 1.2 DIFFICULTY: Easy At the recent XYZZY awards, the idea of a Best Comedy award was bruited about. There seems a lot of logic to this. For example, suppose Being Andrew Plotkin was up against Anchorhead for Best Writing. Anchorhead is one of the best-written games ever, but has hardly a joke in it; Being Andrew Plotkin has humorous writing, which is quite a different talent. It is said that good writing is all about using the right words, and good humorous writing is about using the words in the right order. My favourite for Best Comedy of 2000 would have been "Guess the Verb". The title says it all, really. What player has not been in that position where they have the correct puzzle solution, but find it impossible to get the game's parser to understand that? So why not turn the problem around, and make a feature of it? Hence, in this game you are an 11-year-old boy or girl at the "Guess the Verb" fairground booth run by Lalrry [sic] the parser, who is described as "looking much the way Peter Norton would look if Peter Norton were made of stainless steel and had, instead of a head, an Ethernet hub..." I laughed out loud at several parts of this game. The author's spoof "Introduction to IF Concepts" is particularly silly, and shows that this game is not for newcomers to IF at all. The intended audience is anyone who spends a lot of time playing and writing Inform programs and programming in general. Someone like the author, most likely. At one point, one NPC remarks accurately that the game might be getting a little too self-referential, which may limit its potential as a Work of Art, but does gives scope for a lot of knowing in-jokes. To be fair, there is also plenty of other humour spoofing funfairs, parenting, B-movies and so on. Once you've got the general idea, you can just go with the flow, having effectively "solved" some puzzles (by guessing the verb) before you even encounter them. "Guess the Verb" relates to general IF both as pastiche and montage. There's not enough time to get bored or frustrated with the game as it flits between locations and game fragments so quickly, but some of the scenarios have obviously had more work than others. I was lucky to get the UNDO section first off which includes lots of fun objects such as a spell book copied from "Harry Potter and the 2000 Magical Middle Education Standards", and the only complex puzzle of the game. The least developed scenario is definitely DISEMBARK, with the others somewhere between these extremes. The NPCs may not be that important to the plot but have a wide repertoire of amusing responses. GTV is a short game, but then it would be hard to maintain the concept to feature length without spoiling the joke. It reminded me of the sample games like "Toyshop" and "Ruins" that come with Inform. If so, I would say the object lesson that this game illustrates to designers is that if you do use some obscure verb ("CAUTERIZE" even), then you can drop that word (casually) into the text beforehand. FTP FileInform .z5 file (updated version) FTP FileInform .z5 file (competition version)

Guilty Bastards

From: ason Compton <jcompton SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #22 -- September 15, 2000 NAME: Guilty Bastards AUTHOR: Kent Tessman EMAIL: general SP@G DATE: August 1998 PARSER: Hugo (graphics/sound enabled Hugo parsers highly recommended) SUPPORTS: All modern Hugo interpreters (graphics/sound capability recommended) AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: VERSION: Release 2.09 Good detective games are hard to write, because the author not only has to create a tightly wound mystery, but has to leave enough logical loose ends, and enough reasonably plausible ways to pull them, to allow a player to experience the story. Kent Tessman's entry, Guilty Bastards, although certainly written in an affable tone, is not the parody or joke-laden romp it might appear to be from the trailer: "One of these four idiots is a killer." Although all of the subjects are indeed people you might consider dorks in real life, it's not a Keystone Kops-level story. You're a down-on-your-luck private investigator in the City of Angels who has just come off the latest in what seems to be a string of rotten cases with welching clients. But today may be your lucky day. It certainly wasn't someone else's--a Hollywood starlet has been offed, and the studio boss wants you to find out whodunnit fast. It's your job to discover who the "four idiots" are, each of whom has some reason for wanting the deceased to stay that way. (Why isn't the studio boss, who after all has the key to her apartment in his pocket, considered a suspect? Presumably because the customer is always right!) Perhaps I'm biased by the crime magazine and smattering of period dialogue from Witness, but I like to feel the role of the detective, and apart from a brief introduction that establishes that I, the player character, am a down-on-his-luck PI with a gambling problem, I just didn't feel very much a part of the story. Suspects in general seemed far too accessible and easy to interrogate. It didn't help matters much when trying to live my character by asking my client what he was going to pay me turned out to be extremely unsatisfying, as the game doesn't understand the words "money", "pay", "payment", etc... There are relatively few puzzles, as Guilty Bastards is mostly a game of exploration, and figuring out which clue will evoke the necessary response from which suspect, or provide the next clue to show to the next suspect. Although there is some freedom of movement, the plot advances in an essentially linear manner. The puzzles all have pretty straightforward solutions, and some of the sub-optimal outcomes contain a clue as to how to better solve the problem the next time around. Tessman's built-in hints are satisfying and adequate, written very much in the Infocom Invisiclue style, red herrings and nasty "caught you peeking!" messages included. Watch for a couple of Infocom tributes in the story as well. Guilty Bastards is remarkably light on text for an investigative story--it was a rare occasion indeed when the [MORE] prompt appeared. This makes a multimedia Hugo interpreter very important, as Tessman has included pictures of all of the major locations, characters, and some of the important objects, along with a soundtrack of sorts. The pictures appear to be scanned photos that have been run through a watercolor effect filter-which probably keeps the file sizes down, although after a while you wonder if your eyes are going blurry. The soundtrack sets the mood initially but turns out as gimmick, although the disco theme is good for a chuckle. In addition to the sparse text, there are a lot of objects that don't have any sort of description. I don't mind that, but my problem with such selective description is that, inevitably, the player is lulled into a false sense of security. After being told "you don't need to refer to that" time after time about scenery objects that would seem to be important to a murder investigation (like the sidewalk and balcony outside the victim's apartment), you start to think that perhaps you won't need to examine each and every noun in the game, and should focus in only on obvious objects instead. Then you reach a stage of the game in which practically every scenery object can and must be manipulated to move the story along. Frustrating. From a technical standpoint, I was surprised at the amount of curious parser misfires I encountered... when the author of the gaming language writes a game, he is held to a higher standard. In a trash dumpster, for example, "search bags" doesn't work, while "search bag" moves you along... but when presented with many bags, it seems reasonable to start looking in the aggregate. The omission of the "where?" question seems rather unfortunate for a detective game--especially because there's a suspect that never seems to show up to be investigated! I was not very pleased with the way Tessman mixed the use of compass directions and the "go location" command. In my opinion, authors need to pick one and use the other in extremely limited circumstances, not create numerous situations in which seemingly normal locations (like trying to get to an alley behind a building) cannot be done with compass directions. Another smirk-inducing design flaw includes the game asking "didn't you read the sign?" when the command "read sign" doesn't work there. Guilty Bastards is a pleasant ride in which the goal is to solve the game, not connect on a personal level with the situations and characters. No special insight or puzzle-solving skills are needed to reach the solution, and some of the hints hold back just enough to at least let you make the final logical connection. The murder plot and the ending of the game are extremely Hollywood, but hey, that's what you signed on for. FTP FileHugo .hex file, graphics, and sound data (zipped) FTP FileHugo .hex file only FTP FileWindows 95/NT self-extracting archive FTP FileHugo source code


From: David Seybert <dseybert SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #9 -- June 11, 1996 NAME: Gumshoe AUTHOR: Mike Oliphant GAMEPLAY: Inform, usual PLOT: Poor EMAIL: oliphant SP@G WWW: ATMOSPHERE: well done AVAILABILITY: IF Archive WRITING: Disappointing PUZZLES: Good SUPPORTS: Inform Ports CHARACTERS: Shallow with one or two exceptions DIFFICULTY: Easy During the opening sequences of Mike Oliphant's new Inform game "Gumshoe," I found myself smiling a lot. With every turn Mike unveils yet another element from the private eye genre and sets the player up for a twisty ride through territory well blazed by the fictional likes of Philip Marlowe and Lew Archer. The dingy messy office, the caustic secretary, the beautiful woman who suspects her husband of infidelity, the drunken hangover, menacing underworld types to whom you, as the hero, owe money; the corrupt cop who enjoys harassing you; all of these are in "Gumshoe"'s delightful set-up. I've loved the private-eye genre since I was in high school. What makes it great is the use of the "Gumshoe" set up as an excuse to explore the darker side of human nature, to guide us through a labyrinth of perversity, dark secrets, haunted souls and evil that strikes quickly and lasts for generations. Inevitably the initial case the detective is asked to solve is only the tip of the iceberg; the real story lies much deeper. This is tricky territory to explore in interactive fiction, and unfortunately "Gumshoe" is not up to the task. We are asked to prove that Sandra's husband is cheating on her and that's exactly what we end up doing. We encounter no dead bodies, discover no dark secrets buried in families for generations, rescue no damsels in distress or uncover any surprising revelations that give us pause. All do is prove John's infidelity and that's what we do and rather quickly at that. In fact, one of the problems with the game is that we can provide the evidence we need to convince the woman of her husband's two timing very quickly. She gives us the money and that's that. Of course, there's more game to explore including a section where we get to prove his infidelity again, but it adds nothing top the story and feels like unnecessary padding. All of the elements that are introduced early in the game come to nothing. The secretary and her delightfully caustic comments vanishes early, the corrupt cop is quickly dealt with and never reappears, the underworld figures end up posing no threat and are easily bought off and forgotten. This lack of development might go uncommented on an another type of game, but character development and is what private detectives are all about along with plot development. Plot development or the lack thereof was the most disappointing element of the game. Once I got the goods on her husband, I expected to go to Sandra's house and find her still warm corpse with a couple of slugs in it, preferably from my gun. But she's home and she's fine and the game is over just when I expected it to take off. Likewise, when I entered the old house, I expected to solve the puzzle and find a body. But all that's there is the means to prove John unfaithful - again. Fortunately, actual gameplay is good, if a bit too linear. Everything has to be done in a certain sequence or you'll spend a *lot* of time sitting around doing nothing. I spent hours (game time) in one location before I realized that by acting logically (I.e. calling up my client and presenting her with the evidence she required) I'd made a mistake. Puzzles were, for the most part, logical and easily solved. I especially enjoyed the old house puzzle and the scene at the restaurant where you have to get past the corrupt cop. If you're looking for a pleasant afternoon's diversion, Gumshoe offers simple but enjoyable puzzles, and enough solid private-eye atmosphere to send you off to the video store to rent "Chinatown" or up to the attic to get out that old dog-eared copy of "The Long Goodbye." From: Julian Arnold <jools SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #9 -- June 11, 1996 You wake up on the floor outside your office, fully clothed and with a hangover. You are Joe Gumshoe, private investigator, and you owe money. This is the premise upon which "Gumshoe" opens, nearly identical to the premise upon which so many detective stories and film noirs open, and the first of many noir mainstays (or perhaps I should say cliches?) which it adopts. There is also the sultry femme fatale with the unfaithful executive husband, the corrupt cop, the seedy bar, the unseen "Mr. Big" (in this case, one Jimmy Voigt) whose only contact with the player is via the medium of his bevy of thugs and a mention in the introductory text, and the flickering neon. Sure, we've all seen this all before, but then, this is a genre seldom reknowned for its originality or inventiveness. Most, if not all, successful film noirs (I am more familiar with cinematic examples of the genre than with those of literature) are based on a relatively small set of standardised plot devices, and "Gumshoe" makes no attempts to break new ground here. This is a small game which most players will be able to complete in one or two sittings. A little unfortunately Oliphant has tried to incorporate too much into such a small game, and consequently there are too many loose ends and stray plot threads by the end of the game. For example, although we are told of a frame-up involving the aforementioned corrupt cop and resulting in Joe Gumshoe's dismissal from the police force (and his subsequent involvement in his current line of work) this issue is never resolved. Also, this same corrupt cop dogs Joe's footsteps during the early part of the game, but disappears entirely after his first set-back. The game also suffers from a few missed opportunities: the femme fatale is not actually fatale; no characters in the game are any more than they at first seem-- there are no double-crosses and no betrayal; though the plot is not entirely straightforward, neither does it contain any particular twists or surprises. However, the NPCs, of which there are a fair number, are mostly well done, each one being a believable though stereotypical character. They usually come equipped with an interesting and not entirely incidental past, and are able to satisfactorily answer questions on this. The writing is successfully atmospheric, with the right downbeat quality, menacing undertone, and emotive turn-of-phrase. For instance, "Well, Mr. Detective, or should I say Mr. Private Investigator, since you ain't a member of our well-respected police force no more? It seems that we got a problem here. You owe Mr. Voigt a considerable sum of cash. From what I can see, your little snoop business isn't exactly booming, so we're gonna cut you a deal. You cough up $500 by midnight tonight or you cough up a lung. Deal?" "Yeah," Morty echoes, "$500 or a lung." The puzzles are all based around the plot, resulting in a firm and successful marriage of game and story. It also means the solutions to the puzzles are logical and sensible-- the player is never left wondering "what do I do now?" or indeed "why did I do that?", but rather "I know what I want to achieve... now how do I do it?" "Gumshoe" is a short, enjoyable game. Both plot and puzzles play an important part in the game as a whole, and have been skillfully interwoven by the author. The writing is good, and the genre is unusual in interactive fiction. These factors, combined with the unresolved plot elements, left me wanting more at the end. This game also has some of the coolest music in IF. (I was a playtester for "Gumshoe".) FTP FileInform file (.z5) FTP FileStep-by-step solution (Text)
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