Game Reviews H

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The email addresses used are those submitted with the review, so naturally some of them may be out of date.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

Halothane Hamlet Heist Heroes Heroine's Mantle The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy The Hobbit Hobbit -- The True Story Holy Grail: see Jim MacBrayne games Hollywood Hijinx The Horror of Rylvania House House of the Stalker Human Resources Stories Humbug Hunter, In Darkness


From: Duncan Stevens <dns361 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #19 -- January 14, 2000 NAME: Halothane AUTHOR: Ravi Philip Rajkumar, a.k.a. Quentin.D.Thompson E-MAIL: stupid_q SP@G DATE: 1999 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 1 Story-oriented IF, games that emphasize story over problem-solving as such, is on the rise; after years of the narrative taking a back seat to the crossword, in Graham Nelson's terms, the tables are finally getting turned. Problem is, not everyone has a handle on how to involve the player in the story when the hook is the story itself rather than the puzzles required to move the story along, and if Halothane is any indication, the result can be wildly uneven; it's entertaining and intriguing in parts, but the twists in the storyline don't really affect the play of the game, and the effect is rather distancing. Figuring out what's going on in Halothane is quite a task. At the outset, you're an author who, it seems, decides to dispose of a half-completed novel; from there, the game forces you to interact with the characters and events depicted in your own novel and draws you into a "parallel dimension" (in a way that reminded me of Neverending Story), where you confront the consequences of your actions. That's a bare-bones analysis, mind you, and it disregards quite a few scenes that don't fit into the scheme in any obvious way. There are also some optional scenes with some optional puzzles, and it's quite likely you'll finish the game with fewer than the possible number of points, and without figuring out who all the characters are and how or whether their various stories are resolved. In short, it's a bit of a mess. There's nothing wrong with complicated games; games that require the player to think in order to pull the pieces together after the fact are welcome, and somewhat unusual for IF. But the structure of Halothane--the player marches through the various linear segments, and more than likely has no idea what is going on initially--means that most of the piecing together is done by memory, since the fragments whose true significance might be apparent later on are no longer available when the game makes them understandable. (I.e., the player has to replay to fully understand most of the first half of the game, which doesn't win Halothane any points from me.) There is a character who appears early on and attempts to explain the various connections, but she only recognizes a few conversation topics, sadly. The game also tends to do information dumps--the player doesn't make discoveries so much as do elementary things that lead, in unforeseeable ways, to long, complicated revelations, and the effect is akin to wandering around and picking up pages of a story. (It's appropriate that the game at one point has you tied up in the back of a car listening to people in the front seat talk, since it's not a bad description of the course of the game as a whole--the story goes on, at a rapid pace, and the player mostly goes along for the ride.) To be fair, the story is a pretty good one, and the writing is terrific, good enough that the player can easily forgive the linear structure; the plot may be getting shouted at him, but at least it's a fun plot, and well told. There are numerous IF references scattered around, many of them very funny (including a hilarious dig at Muse), and even those parts of the story that are insufficiently developed are intriguing enough that the player (at least, this player) wishes that the author had given them more space. Perhaps the best example of this comes late in the game, in a peculiar scene involving a mayor who has apparently seized power through unscrupulous means. You set things right, but in a way that leaves so many questions unanswered that the player is unlikely to understand how he or she solved the relevant puzzle. It's a shame, because the setting is disturbing and evocative, enough that a good-sized game could easily have been built on that premise alone--but here's it's just one out of eleven or more chapters, and the player blows through it too quickly to really catch on. Halothane, as noted, is more story IF than puzzle IF, which makes the incursions of puzzle-oriented moments rather jarring; it takes the player a while to figure out that puzzle mode rather than story mode is on, and it doesn't help that some of the puzzles are a bit obscure and require some major intuitive leaps. More importantly, they're about as artificial as puzzles can be-- they feel like they're there to slow down the pace of the game a bit--which is unfortunate, because Halothane tells its story reasonably well, and the pace doesn't particularly need a chance. Even if the story flows by so quickly that it's not all that personally involving, in the way that good IF can be, it's a good mind-bender--and the puzzles don't do anything to draw the player into the story; they simply break up the flow. In short, Halothane would have been better served to diminish its few puzzle elements and play up the story more--for one thing, by giving the player more time in the various scenes to poke around and explore, rather than getting whisked to somewhere else as soon as the obvious task is done. Hmmm--this review seems to have become rather negative. Halothane does, in the end, work passably well, due mostly to the quality of the writing--and while the plot is rather underdeveloped, and throws in references to things that have supposedly happened in the past in lieu of actually developing the story (there I go again), the plot devices are quite effective in science-fictiony kinds of ways. The author has an eye for arresting images--a corpse in a wardrobe, a lake of blood--which makes the settings vivid even when the plot is fuzzy. And it's always nice to find a game that's technically well enough put together that bugs aren't a distraction, not at all a given in Comp '99--and Halothane succeeds admirably in that respect. (It even implements most of its scenery.) The lesson here, then, is that it's possible to have a player enjoy a story even when he or she doesn't identify in any meaningful way with the PC; a work of IF can still be enjoyable even when the interactivity aspect is minimal. Such a story needs to have a plot that is interesting enough that the player wants to see more of it, and is willing to put up with the lack of interactivity because guiding the story to its conclusion is enough. Plots that call for emotional identification with the PC or another character are not good candidates, in other words, because empathy isn't fostered when the player can't interact much with the story; stories that turn on ingenious authorial inventions or breaking down the wall between author and creation--like Halothane--have a better chance of involving the player even without benefit of interactivity. There are some works, of course, where different people perceive the level of interactivity differently; witness Photopia. But if the player is unlikely to get drawn into interacting with the environment (and instead is more likely just to look at it), the story produced needs to be a certain kind of story. Halothane is an imperfect effort, in short, but it's thoroughly done with plenty of wit sprinkled in. I wouldn't call it the most memorable game of the competition, but I did give it an 8. FTP FileDirectory with Inform .z5 file and walkthrough


From: Andrea Crain <acrain SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #36 -- March 16, 2004 NAME: The Most Lamentable and Excellent Text Adventure of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark AUTHOR: Robin Johnson EMAIL: rj SP@G DATE: November 2003 PARSER: Nondescript SUPPORTS: Web browser with JavaScript AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: VERSION: The page says last bug fix was 1/25/04 This game is written with Nondescript, a JavaScript game engine the author wrote himself. Lots of people tend to shy away from games not written in one of the big IF languages, but have no fear that playing Hamlet will leave you battling the engine instead of the game proper. This is a really well implemented piece of JavaScript. A couple of conveniences are missing that you might be used to -- you can't pick up or drop more than one item at a time, for example. Also, NPC's seem pretty shallow, and are rooted to one spot most of the time. However, things you can do work consistently, and you can use abbreviations the way you'd expect. Some Internet friends and I found this game, and we hadn't played any IF in awhile. I hadn't played anything since an abortive stab at Enhanced in 1995, in fact, and before that my IF experience was limited to Infocom games on a mid-80s Macintosh. The game's interface was fairly natural to pick up, and it got me interested in playing a lot of new IF games, which is what I've been doing for the past week or so. Now I know that I should be able to pick up two things at once, but when I played this game, I didn't, so the lack didn't bother me. That and the fact that you don't need to download anything and, since the game runs on any JavaScript enabled browser, make me think it's a good game to show to IF neophytes to suck them into your shadowy IF world. The game itself is a fun, silly adventure. You are ordering around Hamlet, and his mission is clear -- kill his usurping uncle. You don't need to have read Hamlet recently to finish the game, although I had, and it helped in a couple of spots, particularly with regard to the curtain in Gertrude's room. There are also characters from other plays thrown in for good measure. Some of the puzzles were so easy that I didn't even know they were there. For example, a ghostly mist stops you from going downstairs if you haven't gotten your mission from the ghost yet. Since that seemed like the only thing to do first off, I never encountered the mist. Other puzzles, one in particular, are fiendish. In fact, the hint system gloats that the puzzle in question is the obligatory incredibly difficult puzzle that must be included in any IF game. Unfortunately, I didn't know I had a puzzle before me when I got to that point. Well, I was at a loss for what to do next, and the game obviously wasn't over, so I knew there must be something I was missing. But there were no clues, as far as I saw, that a certain room existed, so how was I to know that I needed to get into it? I even looked in a direction that should have given me some inkling, but it didn't. Maybe that was just my failing as a game player, but once I looked at the hint page (available as a link below the JavaScript window) I started to get the picture. Anyway, this game was fun to play, fiendish puzzle aside. The environment was described well and, since I didn't notice there was a save feature until late in the festivities (it's implemented with cookies), I replayed from the start so many times I could probably navigate the whole map blindfolded if I were dropped there in real life. The humor was engaging, and the easy puzzles you start out with make you feel triumphant, hooking you in and making you want to finish. It's well worth playing. I'd give it an 8 out of 10.


From: Valentine Kopteltsev <uux SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #41 -- July 15, 2005 TITLE: Heist AUTHOR: Andy Phillips EMAIL: pmyladp SP@G DATE: 1997 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: In the last few years, a lot of talk could be heard about IF "growing petty" (which effectively means, text adventures becoming shorter). Well, there certainly are objective factors calling forth the numerical superiority of shorter works -- after all, a simple arithmetic calculation shows that in the period of time it takes an average author to write a hundred-room game, the same author can create about five games of equal quality with only twenty rooms each. (In fact, the real statistics could turn out even less favourable for longer games, because the beta-testing work usually increases at a rate outstripping growth). Of course, there're also a number of subjective factors that make this quantitative imbalance even harsher, but this isn't the proper place for discussing them; I'd just like to mention that, as usual, several opinions about the optimal size for a modern text adventure exist. My personal point of view on that matter can be best expressed with a paraphrase of a saying popular in Russia: More IF games, good and different! Of course, if we had three or four Curses!-sized works released each quarter it'd probably be a bit too much, but if they vanished from the IF scene completely, a certain vacuum would be left behind. Andy Phillips seems to be one of the people who don't want the latter to happen, and who don't just restrict themselves to idle talk but take active measures to prevent it. Heist certainly can be considered a contribution to the struggle against the extinction of IF giants. At this point, I'd like to take the bull by the horns, and call the game by its proper name: it's a puzzlefest. Those of you who don't feel like spending the next period of time (quite an extended one -- the walkthrough for Heist includes over 1000(!) moves) hearing about logical problems can stop reading right now -- the rest of this review is dedicated entirely to puzzles. Of course, the game has a story, and a setting, but it really isn't what it is about. ;) Well, the opening section of Heist could probably be as off-putting as the beginning of this review. From the very start, the author demonstrates he's not inclined to any compromises -- once the player has decided to take her brain to the gym, she has to sweat her guts out from the very start. No warming-up exercises are provided for; the prologue is at least as hard as the rest of this work. In some respects, it's even harder: you see, as you progress, you begin to get accustomed to the author's design style, and start to know what to expect of him. The early stages of just *any* game, on the contrary, have chances (at least, theoretically) to take the player by surprise. Heist doesn't quite miss these opportunities. The first thing the player needs to get accustomed here is, uh, let's call it adventure game logic. What do I mean by that? Now, suppose your relative is going to die, and wants you to visit his place after his death. (BTW, this also represents the first problem to solve in Heist). On the other hand, he intends to make getting there some sort of challenge (for whatever reason), so that he doesn't just send you the key by mail. There are several ways to accomplish that, but in real life, something like travelling to India to kill a tiger whose stripe pattern matches that of your relative's door-mat, reading the combination tattooed on the beast's stomach, then returning and using the combination on the safe in your relative's office to open it and discover there the key sought for hardly would come to anyone's mind, although it can't be contended that this action sequence has no logic at all. What is more, even a "lite edition" of this solution based on a visit to the local zoo, or even on catching a like-coloured cat on the nearby garbage heap wouldn't be much of an option, either; however, it probably would fit reasonably well into a text adventure. While this very example isn't adopted from Heist, the game often uses similar approaches to puzzle creation, and heavily relies on the assumption that people will fiddle with certain things/visit certain places not because there's any indication it's going to help them, but just because it's possible. There are a couple more things one needs to get used to, regarding technical aspects of game creation. The first of them is illustrated best by yet another abstract example. Let's imagine that in some text adventure, the player gets to an abandoned airfield, finding there a wreck of a plane. So, (s)he types "X PLANE", and sees the following lines: This aircraft hardly will ever fly again: the hull is all rusty, and the covering of the wings has rotted through here and there, revealing the underlying ribs. The undercarriage, its posts twisted and bent, rests on two flat-tyred wheels. The cowl is missing, as are a few other, more essential motor parts. From where you're standing, you can't look inside the pilot's cockpit, but its shattered hood and a bundle of wires sticking out of it quite unambiguously hint at the fact marauders already have been there. A glance at the empennage brings you to two important conclusions: 1. judging by the rests of the markings, the airplane once belonged to the Royal Ligutanian Air Force, and 2. even if all its other parts were intact, this machine still wouldn't be able to take off. Further on, our player randomly tries out, say, "X WINGS", "X COCKPIT", and "X EMPENNAGE", each time getting the same description. I think 99% would give up after that, rightfully deciding the aircraft was implemented as a single object, and stop examining its parts. How could they possibly know that, if they happened (by chance or by persistence) to enter "X WHEELS", they'd be rewarded with an entirely different response: You never thought of the reasons why the airplane had been left here to rot away, but as you look at the wheels you realize that at least one of them was sabotage: protruding from the left tyre is a sturdy steel needle (needless to say, it appears to be crucial for your further progress). Such situations are very common in Heist, so that inspecting every single element of a multi-part object is a good idea. To be fair, it's to be said the whole is by far not as draconian as it might have been, because the game does its best in limiting the scope of objects the player can interact with by using the standard "That's not something you need to refer to..." response. Still, not being aware of this particularity could be pretty confusing. The other feature requiring getting used to is a strange minimalism of some descriptions (as with the previous issue, examples are scattered all over the game). For instance, somewhere in the middle of the story, I found a remote control unit, which claimed to have "three simple buttons", yet gave no hint about how I could distinguish between them. I tried "X BUTTONS", but was told that I couldn't see any such thing. Pressing the remote control didn't earn me any information about the buttons' unique characteristics either (it merely replied with "Nothing obvious happens"). As it turned out, this cul-de-sac could be overcome by typing "PRESS BUTTON" (note the singular) and learning the distinctive features for the buttons from the standard disambiguation response -- "Which do you mean, ...". OK, this method worked, but don't tell me it's a good game design style! Normally, I'd dismiss something like that as slopwork; however, it's hardly applicable in this case, because Heist clearly isn't sloppy. Thus, I tend to see these features as some sort of the author's conceptual design choices I'm just failing to understand. After the prologue, the game splits up into a number of sub-games -- a decision amiable for both the author and the players. The author has obviously spared a lot of coding work, especially considering the fact that the player's inventory can't be transferred between the game parts; the players have received an additional chance to complete at least a major section of Heist on their own (while solving the entire game without help from outside probably also is possible, it'd certainly require more time and efforts most people could afford to spend on a text adventure). And, of course, there are puzzles, puzzles, puzzles. Puzzles abound. Most of them are decent, original and fun to solve, although they make massive use not only of adventure game logic, but also of adventure game conventions (you know, things like the player becoming able to pick up an object that previously had been too heavy for him to carry after (s)he swung the dumb-bells a few times). One of the puzzles seems to be loaned from Zork II, but I think the reason for it lies in the author just being unfamiliar with the immortal masterpiece by Infocom; since there's enough proof in Heist of Mr. Phillips' creativity regarding puzzle design, I can't blame him for that -- not having played Zork certainly isn't the worst crime in the world (actually, it's no crime at all). And this is pretty much all that can be said about this game. It's not without faults, but true puzzle-lovers will forgive all of them: occasional typos (admitted, their rate is kept quite low, especially considering how huge the whole thing is), a few wording problems, and a couple non-fatal bugs. As to those who aren't true puzzle-lovers, they shouldn't play this game, anyway. As to me, I'm completely happy with Heist, and I hope games of this kind (and size) will be kept being released. At times, it's great to have something you could put your brains to work onto, and to do so (with my inclination to bad puns, you could bet I was going to say it!) without haste. The SNATS (Scores Not Affecting The Scoreboard): PLOT: OK for a puzzle-oriented game; otherwise, I'd rate it lower (1.2) ATMOSPHERE: See PLOT, although a few places are really atmospheric (1.3) WRITING: Even and solid (1.2) GAMEPLAY: Well, puzzlefest. An entertaining puzzlefest, though (1.4) BONUSES: The amount of work that obviously has gone into a work so huge automatically deserves at least... (1.2) TOTAL: 6.3 CHARACTERS: Well-implemented and not annoying - what else can be required of a NPC in that kind of game? (1.2) PUZZLES: Lots of 'em, a vast majority being decent, original and fun to solve (1.4) DIFFICULTY: The game is obviously intended to keep the player busy for a very, very long time (10 out of 10) FTP FileZcode .z8 file FTP FileBundle with PC executable FTP FileStepwise solution


From: Eytan Zweig <eytanzw SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #27 -- January 4, 2002 TITLE: Heroes AUTHOR: Sean Barrett EMAIL: buzzard SP@G DATE: Oct 1st 2001 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-Machine interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 1 "Heroes" is a game with a gimmick, which is obvious the moment you start it up -- you have a choice of playing the game as one of five very different characters. The characters are standard fantasy fare, though two of them (the dragon and the king) are not often cast as the protagonist in fantasy games. The setting and goal for each character is the same -- the stories are mutually incompatible, since everyone is doing the same thing, though in vastly different ways. And in each of the stories, you get a small hint of the backstory, which leads you towards discovering what is really going on. In order to reach the final scene of the game, you must play through each of the characters. There is much that is good about "Heroes" -- much that is very good. Each location has a totally different description for each character, based on their unique outlook, all well-written. And not only the scenery but also the game objects are different -- guards that know the adventurer by name are just a nameless obstacle to everyone else; a crate that the thief can climb on goes totally unnoticed by the enchanter. Also, the setting is of a perfect size - a large enough collection of areas to be interesting and not feel too cramped, small enough so that no one can get lost. While they are not of uniform quality (more or this below), the different stories are mostly interesting -- especially the well-rounded adventurer and the destructive dragon. And the programming is very good as well -- I didn't notice a single bug, and a second version is out now to fix those that were found. However, despite all that, "Heroes" is far from a perfect game. Some of the stories aren't as interesting as the others -- the Enchanter is rather easy, his spells conveniently suited for the task; there was no place where I really had to think about how to proceed. Of course, easiness isn't bad, but compared to the other stories, it felt contrived. The king was confusing, with too many random things happening at each spot. A worse problem derived from the recycling of locations -- especially the shop, which combined so many functions it seemed totally contrived. Also, some of the obstacles felt TOO easy -- once you finish the game you realize that some of these are motivated, but some are not -- would a magic shop's defenses really be so easy to overcome by a use of simple spells? Also, several logical solutions to some of the problems simply weren't implemented, but this was a minor problem, since once one solution failed it was usually quite clear what would work; no guess-the-verb puzzles here. But the main problem of "Heroes" isn't any of these relatively minor nitpicks -- the main problem, just like the game's main strength, is derived from the overall structure. With five characters all doing the same thing in the same locations, the game simply becomes boring after a while. I found myself resorting to a walkthrough for the last three characters -- not because I couldn't solve the game myself, but because I couldn't be bothered. I wanted to see how certain things worked out, but I had had enough of the setting and the story by that point. Also, the backstory that is slowly revealed didn't work very well -- a lot of it is left unsaid, and it is not always clear what is meant by what is said. This is worst for the dragon, as it is not at all clear how he got involved in these actions (was he too an adventurer once? If so, how come he knows so little about humans?). And the finale is very unsatisfying, partially explaining what's going on, but at the same time opening many more questions that should be explained. Anyone who goes through the entire scenario five times deserves more. But don't let my criticism fool you into thinking it's a bad game. It's a good game, but one that over-reaches -- if it wouldn't have tried to make the player go through all five possibilities, but instead just offered them as alternates, it would have worked much better. And I'd advise anyone who tries it to take it that way -- play the game in your one or two favorite flavors, ignoring the rest. That way, you'll be playing a solid, enjoyable game, that someone worked extra-hard on to provide additional paths to, but you don't need to work extra hard just to see them. I only played this game after the comp was over, but if I had played it in time, I would have given it an 8. From: Duncan Stevens <dnrb SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #27 -- January 4, 2002 Sean Barrett's Heroes is a nicely done implementation of a clever and long-awaited idea -- multiple PCs within the same game, between which the player can switch at will. As proof of concept, it works just fine; as a game, it works slightly less well, as the game makes some unfortunate choices that obscure its most interesting features. The game bills itself "a most traditional CRPG experience," ironic on several levels. For one thing, the game has no RPG features besides the multiple player roles; itís true that the setting and general plot appear to be very RPG and stock fantasy -- a dragon's gem, a nasty warlord-type fellow, a quasi-medieval milieu, large dollops of magic, and other such familiar elements -- but the multiple-PC angle adds a good deal. For example, progress for some of the character depends on knowledge that the other characters have -- sometimes in minor ways, as in itís hard to know where youíre going when youíre one of the characters unless you already know the landscape, and sometimes in more major ways. Some characters have an obvious motivation to go to a certain place; others have no such motivation, but the playerís knowledge that useful objects (for that character) are there replaces that motivation. Thatís interesting in itself, though Iím not sure I call it a triumph of game design, as the game does tell you (in the walkthrough) that you can play the parts in any order. (It mentions that some roles may help you understand the others, yes, but thatís not much help.) The plot involves a certain object that you want to steal, except that there are no less than five of you -- four of you appear to be erstwhile members of a band whose exact purpose (besides general heroism) is fuzzy but which apparently was the bÍte noire of the warlord presently in power. As such, my first assumption was that the five PCs are working together, which, it turns out, is not the case -- theyíre all working toward the same goal, but theyíre not trying to help each other. In fact, only one of them can be considered to exist, in the gameís timeline -- itís not as if you can come across an object as character 1, using your special skills, and surreptitiously pass it to character 2, who has the power to use it. (If that aspect were realized, it really would be CRPG-esque, or at least closer.) Perhaps no one expected this but me, but I spent quite a while wondering when my various compatriots would show up. At any rate, you see essentially the same scenery five times, through five different pairs of eyes, each of which sees what matters most to it and characterizes the setting in ways that might be expected of that particular character. The plot sounds, and in many respects is, pure conventional fantasy; three of the characters are an adventurer, an enchanter, and a thief, who do pretty much what youíd expect. The only elements saving the main story from utter conventionality are the "royalty" character, who accomplishes his or her goal by ordering underlings around, and the "dragon" character, who achieves the desired result much more directly than its human counterparts. (Suffice it to say that "smash" and "burn" are key verbs.) The royal character is followed around by a mob of hangers-on who produce dialogue like this (apparently created by a random patter generator akin to that of Jacks Or Better...): "Baronet Pom says to Knight Thannishessolf, 'Did you hear? Lady Lalla was with Lady Reloppimmib behind the throne in the palace, and they were having a disagreement with Baronet Jurzad!'" This sort of thing palls after a while, but it did keep me amused -- and the notion of accomplishing an adventurerís objective by stomping around with a huge entourage is pretty funny in itself. The dragon is even funnier -- it speaks in first person plural, past tense, which makes it sound oddly grandiloquent, and whenever a human shows up, you get something like this: "We heard shrieks from a man-thing, ĎWuthe-elistha-migodisa-drakin. Dran-dran-dran.í" The dragon has an entertainingly contemptuous view of human affairs -- it remarks about a garden, for instance, that "we perceived fresh plants in a location inappropriate to their origins, with insufficient bare earth." The writing, here and elsewhere, sustains the game and retains the interest of a player who might not necessarily care to keep plowing through a stock fantasy game. Whatís odd, then, is that Heroes isnít really conventional fantasy at all -- at least, thereís a twist that pulls it out of the realm of the archetypal fantasy quest -- and yet the game hides its creativity under a bushel basket, so to speak. Not only is it not apparent until the end that something more might be going on, itís far from clear even then; the clues are so evanescent that the player could easily dismiss them as just an attempt to be vaguely enigmatic. (For my own part, Iím not sure I would have been able to put it all together without some helpful ifMUD input.) This layeredness is not, of course, a bad thing, and it worked in another Comp01 entry, Jon Ingoldís All Roads -- but there the meta-puzzle of the game was right on the surface, and the player couldnít very well ignore if he or she wanted to gain even the most superficial understanding of the game. Here, superficial understandings are in ample supply, and the prodding to probe deeper is a touch too gentle. (If nothing else, however, it became apparent why the collaboration I was expecting didnít happen, as there are nudges in the direction of the larger plot at the end of each chapter.) The deeper problem, obviously, is that apparent stock fantasy is a turnoff for many players, and even the multiple-PCs hook isnít necessarily enough to overcome that; if the tugs at your consciousness, so to speak, hinting that you may be missing something were a little more pronounced, the fantasy-haters among us might be given pause. The other problem is that the puzzles themselves, quite apart from the framing puzzle, are pretty difficult and require some obscure connections (or connections that are only supplied to the other characters, multiplying by five the usual poke-around-and-pick-up-clues problem). Not only is it occasionally not apparent why you want to do something, itís not apparent how to do it either -- and while puzzles are usually bearable if you have either the why or the how, having neither makes things rough. Adding to the difficulty is an ample supply of red herrings--some are irrelevant to everything, and most simply arenít relevant to any particular character, but with so many apparently useful objects to choose from, getting inside the authorís head is often a challenge. Technically and artistically, Heroes succeeds admirably; the few bugs in the competition release appear to have been cleaned up, and the POV-shift is nicely done. The game does commit some design sins, but I appreciated the artistry of the multiple perspectives and the layered plot sufficiently that I gave it an 8 in this yearís competition. From: Francesco Bova <fbova SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #33 -- June 25, 2003 At first glance, Heroes appears to be another typical D&D-influenced IF game, with perhaps a few novel ideas scattered throughout. For starters, you begin your quest by choosing between five different D&D staples as the player character. You can choose among the following: a dragon, an enchanter, an adventurer, a thief, and a member of the royal family. You then work your way through some puzzles in an attempt to acquire the fabled Dragon Gem and upon your quest's completion, you replay the same scenario but this time with one of the other characters. You then repeat this process until you've won with each character. So, Heroes is typical standard fantasy to be sure, with the interesting twist of multiple and diverse playing experiences. However, what you'll soon realize after completing each player-character's perspective is that there is a macro-story present here that encompasses all five characters and some subtleties in each of their stories. For those not paying careful attention to the storyline, the game's final epilogue (which is triggered once all 5 player character perspectives are completed) will come as a shock and be next to unexplainable. Come to think of it, you might still feel that way even if you followed closely. Still, the macro-story that has to be inferred is an interesting and novel concept, and for the most part, a success. The subtleties in each of the stories about the true nature of the game's chief antagonist are, for the most part, beautifully woven together if a bit obscure. The big picture in Heroes is a complex one and probably won't be easily inferred by many except the most perceptive. The weaving of the story is not direct or blatant. Instead, interesting facts and tidbits are sprinkled throughout each character's prologue and epilogue; the interactions they have with other NPCs; and the various scenery, room, and object descriptions that change with each new player viewpoint. The landscape, although fairly small, is beautifully rendered, specifically because each of the characters' games takes place in the exact same setting (i.e., same locations, same items to be found, etc.) but with each character's personality coming through in the scenery descriptions of their relevant story. For an example, try viewing the garden in the town's square as each character for some unique perspectives. Each individual game will also bring different objects and structures to the forefront of each player's perception. For example, there is a crate leaning up against a building near the entrance to the city, but it is only visible in the scene's description by the thief (which is understandable as he'd be used to lurking in the shadows), and the adventurer (which is also understandable as he's a roughshod mercenary-type who would notice it). The same crate is not in the dragon's description of the same room (because it is understandably insignificant to him) nor the enchanter's (as he views things on a metaphysical and magical level) nor the royalty character's (as the crate is also insignificant to him, albeit for significantly different reasons than the dragon). Although not in the room's description however, the enchanter and royalty character can still interact with the crate and I thought was interesting. Essentially the crate was still in scope, and if you remembered that it was there from a previous character's experience you could still attempt to manipulate it. It was a nice way to maintain mimesis because obviously a crate or any other object shouldn't just disappear when it's not essential to a specific player's storyline. In terms of each character, I found the writing style fairly distinct. The enchanter, for example, notices the magical chemistry and ley lines present in his surroundings, while the dragon perceives things in a way completely foreign to the other characters. However, there was a big difference between characters in terms of how relevant their individual stories were to the story as a whole and their relative levels of playability. The following is a critique of each character and their respective degrees of influence on the story and levels of playability: DRAGON The dragon is a lot of fun to play with because the geography descriptions change dramatically with his viewpoint. He's got very straightforward goals, with some interesting puzzles. Storywise, he fleshes out the relevance of the Dragon Gem, but doesn't do much to add to the mystery of the chief antagonist's motivations. ENCHANTER The enchanter is a great character and has a great story all around. I found I didn't learn much about the overall story in this section, but I did learn a great deal about the world the game takes place in, and about the magic that forms such and integral part of it. The puzzles are wonderful and most are solved with Enchanter-style spells, some of which you start with and some of which you acquire throughout the game. The end game of this story is the strongest of the five (there's a great sequence of puzzles to conclude this section) and provides some insight into the chief antagonist's motivation. This section is, all around, a logical and entertaining section. ADVENTURER The adventurer is a fairly dull character and story in my opinion. He didn't really bring much to the table story-wise and his claiming of the gem is pretty straightforward and mundane. Not much is added to the story as a whole either during his prologue or epilogue and the puzzles here are solved more often through brute force and trial and error rather than by elegant puzzle design. There is some bonus information generated by one NPC that fills in some missing gaps in the story, but approaching him with the relevant conversation topic is neither intuitive nor reasonable, in my opinion. A bit of a filler chapter, overall. THIEF The thief is an interesting character whose relevance to the story as a whole is significant. The gamplay aspect however suffers a bit from some guess-the-syntax and some actions that require more guesswork than is strictly necessary. The thief has an interesting cache of thieving tools, but not all of them have to be used to complete the section. This fact saw me spend a bit too much time wondering what they should be used for. Otherwise, I sped through this section rather quickly except for one bottleneck that was caused by having no real indicator of how to proceed. An interesting story, and the epilogue in particular was quite relevant. ROYALTY The royalty character is another integral character, story-wise, to the entire plot. However, the gameplay aspect suffers more with this character than with any other. For starters, there are some serious problems in this section with guess-the-syntax. For example, ordering NPCs in a certain way yielded a desired result but ordering the same NPC in another way albeit with the same intent, yielded nothing of interest. I struggled with this section for quite a while, convinced that I was on the wrong path while really, I had the right idea but was getting bogged down in the grammar. Also, receiving the default responses "There is no reply" and "I know not of which you speak", while ordering around and questioning various NPCs got to be a bit frustrating. I'm the king dammit! You'd better reply. Other bits of annoyance came from the king/queen's substantial entourage. This section of the game spits out randomly created gossiping noble NPCs that crop up in whatever location you happen to be in. They were amusing at first, but eventually became tiresome as their constant babbling actually got in the way of my reading the text. The author thankfully parsed some applicable royalty-type verbs to get rid of the bothersome NPCs such as dismiss, arrest, and execute (execute in particular was quite unintentionally funny, as the executed corpse remained in the room of its execution), but as soon as you got rid of one NPC, another one unfortunately took its place, so the glee was short lived. Also, because you're a royal, you don't do anything for yourself. This includes various sundry tasks such as picking up objects, turning dials, or pulling levers. You unfortunately have to order other people to do it. This convention maintained mimesis perhaps, but boy was it tedious to have to ask an NPC to pick something up, and then ask him to give it to you. A more fluid method, I would think, would have been to just type in the command and have the closest NPC do whatever it is you asked. One final piece that had me guessing for a while came while trying to acquire one of the game's central objects (an object, in fact, that is featured prominently in each storyline). The problem arose when I tried to acquire the aforementioned object in a fashion similar to one of the other characters. For the most part, the game created good reasoning as to why each character had to interact differently with this object to acquire it. Incidentally, this aspect of the game was one of my favorites, because essentially each character had to interact with the object on a different level which typically related well to their substantially different backgrounds. With the king however, these same rules didn't apply. Following the exact same steps as a previous character I was sure I would eventually acquire the object the same way, but the process yielded no results and even worse, no rationale as to why my efforts weren't successful. So, overall, this section was a bit of a drag to slog through although the prologue and epilogue, as well as some smaller bits within this section, were very important to the story as a whole and integral to having a shot at understanding what the final prologue meant. All in all, I loved this game. I'm a little biased, I suppose, because I love the fantasy genre to begin with, but even the most contemporary IF player will find something to enjoy here. After having completed Heroes, it occurred to me that the writing and subtle hints reminded me a lot of another fantasy series penned by one of today's great static fiction writers, Robert Jordan. His Wheel of Time series (at least the early novels) were brilliant because they incorporated subtle hints amongst the different books that, when combined, could be used to infer the solution to some of the many mysteries present in the series. Heroes, again, follows a similar style although obviously, on a much smaller level. If you don't think you've figured out what's going on after one playthrough, I would encourage you to play it again. Following that, visit the author's website at and read his take on all the innuendo and intrigue. (Warning: major spoiler at this link.) FTP FileZipped archive with .z5 zcode file and solution (updated version) FTP FileDirectory with .z5 zcode file and solutions (competition version)

Heroine's Mantle

From: Jimmy Maher <jimmy.maher SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #34 -- September 24, 2003 TITLE: Heroine's Mantle AUTHOR: Andy Phillips EMAIL: aphillips SP@G DATE: December 2000 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: VERSION: Release 3 Sometimes I think people in our little community take this new literary form of ours just a little too seriously, and games occasionally suffer for it. A case in point is Heroine's Mantle, an ambitious gem by Andy Phillips that came and went with far too little fanfare. Heroine is either a comic book or (bizarre as it may sound) a first person shooter adapted into IF... or perhaps it is both. The player takes the role of one Lisa Flint, a young lady about to be transformed into the Crusader, whereupon she will devote her life to fighting for Good (TM) and Justice! After a prelude, the game is played out over seven chapters, each of them as large as the typical Competition game. In each, Lisa must thwart the evil scheme of a different villain. These villains are one of the highlights of the game, as each is larger than life and possessed of unique powers of their own. Take the Toymaker: "What did you used to play with as a child, Lisa? Colouring books? Lego? Dolls? Plasticine? There was one little boy who enjoyed building his own toys: razored yoyos, acidic crayons, explosive balloons-- yes, a real problem child. He still hasn't grown up yet, despite reaching physical adulthood ten years ago." Stan Lee himself would be proud! I may have been influenced by having played No One Lives Forever and Freedom Force at around the same time, but this game's episodic structure (each chapter featuring a "boss" to kill) reminded me of a more mainstream action-oriented game, and its general sense of good humor and fun reminded me of both of those (wonderful) titles as well. Some of the puzzles are unusual for IF, being more action-oriented than the standard cerebral affairs. Lisa has some very potent powers, and you will have to make use of all of them (often in very creative ways) to solve the game. Be warned that a lot of saving and restoring will be required (especially to work your way through the intricate final battle sequences which climax each chapter), but the game is generally solvable for anyone willing to spend a bit of time and mental energy, and working out the correct next move in these action sequences especially is great fun. I had to turn to a walkthrough for a couple of somewhat dodgy puzzles, but solved 99% of the game on my own. I should mention that there are some suggestive scenes involving Lisa and Mistletoe, a villain who kills her victims by, ahem, "seducing" them to death. These scenes are hardly explicit though, and I found them to be completely innocent fun. Indeed, fun is the adjective I find myself using over and over to describe this game. Yes, the moral universe it presents is black and white to an almost comical (pun intended) degree, but sometimes that's perfectly okay with me. Andy Phillips' writing is occasionally a bit awkward, but his prose is energetic and generally effective. At times you can almost see the "BASH! BANG! POW!" captions surrounding the scene in your mind's eye. Heroine's Mantle is huge, challenging, exciting and ambitious. The more literary and experimental works from authors like Short and Plotkin are fascinating, yes, but sometimes everyone feels like a good comic book... if they know what is good for them. When that time comes, Heroine's Mantle will fill the bill admirably. FTP FileZcode .z8 file FTP FileSolution

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

From: Graeme Cree <72630.304 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #5 -- April 19, 1995 NAME: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy AUTHORS: Douglas Adams GAMEPLAY: Infocom Standard & Steve Meretzky PLOT: Very Good EMAIL: ? ATMOSPHERE: Outstanding AVAILABILITY: WRITING: Outstanding PUZZLES: Excellent SUPPORTS: Infocom Ports CHARACTERS: Very Good DIFFICULTY: Standard [Possible minor spoilers, folks. -GKW] The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was Infocom's first game based on a novel (Shogun was the second), and is certainly their most famous product. As such, it faced heavy expectations both from the text game crowd and from fans of the book (I saved this game until I had played all of Infocom's 34 other text games, hoping to guarantee finishing with a winner). Fortunately, the game meets most expectations. For those who don't know, you begin the game as Arthur Dent, a typical Englishman whose home is about to be demolished to make way for a new highway. Soon afterward, the earth itself is destroyed to make way for a new interstellar spacelane, and you must escape the holocaust with your alien friend Ford Prefect; first to a Vogon warship, and then to the Heart of Gold, run by Ford's friend Zaphod Beeblebrox. Once there, your goal becomes to land safely on the lost planet of Magrathea. To do this, you must search various corners of reality (changing identities a few times along the way) to acquire several different pieces of fluff, which when used properly will produce an item that will give you the clairvoyance necessary to open the hatch and set foot on the planet. The writing is some of Infocom's very best, which is fortunate because the game itself is a little too short (only The Witness and Seastalker have fewer locations). The atmosphere produced is almost exactly like that of the book, even if specific details of the plot are often changed. The puzzles (including the legendary Babel Fish puzzle) are based on a brand of "consistent illogic" that is rather reminiscent of Lewis Carroll, and make the game one of those few that many will some day play again even after having solved it once. Hitchhiker's is one of the more literate text games on the market, as you will often have to pay more attention to how things are worded than you might in other games. There are a few things that may aggravate purists. As in Sorcerer, there is an action which must be taken at the beginning in order to win the game. If you don't do it, you may play for quite some time before realizing that victory is impossible. [Not quite so. You have another opportunity later in the game to take this action. -GKW] Perhaps the biggest disappointment is the absence of the promised sequel. The story does not really end, it merely pauses and gives you a "to be continued" message just as you set foot on Magrathea. Though the sequel was promised many times (such as in the New Zork Times, and in the crystal ball in Beyond Zork), it never materialized. Since Infocom no longer has the rights to Hitchhiker's, it is unlikely that it ever will. (For those of you keeping track, the sequels promised by Infocom/Activision that have not yet come out are: Hitchhikers 2, Journey 2, Leather Goddesses 3, and Simon the Sorcerer 2). Despite this, Hitchhiker's plusses massively outweigh the negatives, and the game remains one of the great classics of interactive fiction. FTP FileSolution (Text)

The Hobbit

From: David Jones <drj SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #38 -- September 28, 2004 TITLE: The Hobbit AUTHOR: Veronika Megler, Philip Mitchell EMAIL: ? DATE: 1983 PARSER: Inglish SUPPORTS: Spectrum Emulator AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: VERSION: 1.2 What am I doing reviewing The Hobbit? No idea. I first played it fairly close to when it came out in 1983 on my old faithful ZX Spectrum. At the time it was a major release and was probably state of the art, boasting a parser, NPCs that did their own things and which you could command, and graphics. It has significant nostalgia value for me. Make sure you play the 1.2 version (it has a little 1.2 on the loading screen at the top left). The earlier version is buggy (sometimes hilariously, sometimes just frustratingly) and not possible to complete. I'm playing it on an emulator (which makes typing a whole lot easier). The Hobbit is graphical and I am playing with graphics on (mostly because I don't remember how to switch them off). For its time, the graphics weren't bad. Now they're just extremely simple. In a nice touch, one of the graphics changes as night turns to day. Not all the locations are blessed with pictures, and disappointingly Rivendell, surely one of the most alluring places in Middle Earth, has no picture. The game carries on in real time if you sit around and do nothing. Sometimes with terminal results, which frustrates my efforts to draw a map as I go. The NPCs also wander about on their own, with Gandalf popping in and out and Thorin sitting down and singing about gold. The parser is surprisingly competent, understanding GET SWORD AND ROPE and KILL THORIN WITH SWORD. But then, it also "understands" SWORD DROP AND ROPE so perhaps "parser" is a term too generous. Still, it's an accomplished effort for its time and even in modern times is bearable. Although X and Z are not implemented, words can be abbreviated (I assume to the shortest unique prefix). So EXAMINE WARG can be abbreviated to EX WAR. It tries to be a little helpful, if you have the key then "UNLOCK DOOR" works but "OPEN DOOR" does not. There are some annoying verb problems: in one place SMASH works but HIT does not. The parser sometimes has problems with disambiguation, THROW SWORD AT GOBLIN eliciting the response "WHICH TING?". Talking to NPCs can be achieved with commands like SAY TO GANDALF "GIVE ME MAP" (and a lot of the time, he will.) There's neither ASK nor TELL. As mentioned, the NPCs wander about of their own "will" and will sometimes do helpful things for you, like open a door which you could have opened yourself. They also sometimes do not so helpful things, like take objects from your possession. The NPCs can carry objects and seem to be able to do most of the things that you can, so there's clearly a high level of symmetry in the world model. For example, SAY TO THORIN "READ MAP" elicits the response: "Thorin examines the curious map. There seem to be some symbols on it but Thorin cannot read them." It can be quite amusing to play around with this stuff (you can get Thorin to carry you for example) but there's rarely any point. Frustratingly, when do you need to interact with an NPC, and you do need to in order to complete the game, they can be a little bit stubborn. Many NPCs from the book are here: Gandalf and Thorin (but not the other companions), the trolls, lots of goblins, Elrond, Gollum, Dale, the dragon. Room descriptions are brief, and object descriptions are even briefer. The first time you enter a location its picture will be drawn if it has one. It will also be drawn every time you subsequently LOOK which, since it takes more than a few seconds to draw the picture, can be a bit annoying. It will also be drawn every time you get captured (which will probably happen a lot) -- this is outstandingly annoying. Don't expect to be able to examine everything because you won't be able to. Most of the time you can only interact with the objects essential to the game. For the convenience of the game designer, the distances between adjacent locations on the map are often wildly different. You step straight out of your house into the lonelands -- there is no Hobbiton or Shire -- and from there another step to a clearing with trolls in. It's a bit bizarre. Sometimes "objects" in locations are not mentioned on subsequent visits unless you LOOK (for example a web.) Also, the description of a location when you first visit it and the (briefer) description on subsequent visits is different, and sometimes sufficiently different to be confusing. The writing is brief, basic, and flawless in spelling and grammar. The opening lines, "You are in a comfortable tunnel like hall / To the east there is the round green door", are fairly typical of the writing throughout the whole game, not even attempting to emulate Tolkien's style (thankfully). The brief style was almost certainly forced on the authors by the constraints of the machines at the time (The ZX Spectrum has only 48 Kilobytes of RAM). The story follows the book roughly, and takes in the major locations and encounters described in the book, but none of the drama and wonder of the book is captured in the game. The encounter with Gollum, the spiders, the dragon are all reduced to rather boring events. The puzzles are, I think, hard. It's a little hard for me to judge the difficulty now, because I solved the game (with one reference to a walkthrough) about 20 years ago now (eek!), so when I was replaying it for the review I was able to draw on those memories. Several of the puzzles are non-obvious, and several of them are time based. Some of the puzzles require an element of chance (or at least perseverance). The game gives no feedback for attempts that are "almost right". One or two of the puzzles would be more difficult without having read the book. Some of the puzzles can be avoided or substituted, so the game exhibits multiple solutions (although no particular puzzle does). It's quite easy to die, often without warning. It's possible to enter unwinnable states, sometimes through your own actions, but sometimes simply because the random behaviour of the NPCs conspires to kill off some crucial character or leave you stranded in a dungeon with no-one to help you escape. The game is mean, unfair, and unpredictable. There is no UNDO, but if you're playing on an emulator then emulator snapshots are a fine substitute. There are _two_ mazes: the mountains, and the goblin caves. Thankfully, in each of them each location has a unique description (its exits). This makes the mountains not so bad to map, but the goblin caves are not only vast (22 locations), but the wandering goblins will capture you returning you to their dungeon. That, coupled with the fact that whilst you're drawing your map the game will insert WAITs (giving the goblins more opportunity to wander round and capture you), makes this segment really really annoying. A bug (or a useful misfeature at any rate) means you can kill the goblins, which is the only thing that makes the whole experience (painfully) bearable. Still, no one would stand for it today. The rest of the, quite large, map is laid out a bit confusingly, which makes navigation stumbling and awkward. Overall I can't really recommend The Hobbit except for historical interest. It requires a lot of patience and random inspiration to solve (even with a walkthrough!) and doesn't offer much in reward. None of the puzzles have any outstanding "Aha!" moments; one of the puzzles might have were it not for the fact that it's in the book. None of the situations are interesting or inspiring. FTP FileSpectrum disk image, along with several other Melbourne House games FTP FileStepwise solution

Hobbit -- The True Story/The Terror of Mecha Godzilla -- The True Story

From: Stas Starkov <stas_ SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #26 -- September 26, 2001 [As always with Mr. Starkov's reviews, I've heavily edited this prose (and that in his review of "The Weapon", below) in an attempt to hammer it into sensible English. Mistakes may have been made in this process; comprehend at your own risk. --Paul] NAME: Hobbit - The True Story AUTHOR: Fredrik Ramsberg and Johan Berntsson EMAIL: d91frera SP@G (Ramsberg -- no address provided for Berntsson) DATE: Monday 19 April 1993 PARSER: Very strange and not very good SUPPORTS: DOS AVAILABILITY: Shareware -- $10, but I think it's a joke URL: NAME: The Terror of Mecha Godzilla - The True Story AUTHOR: Fredrik Ramsberg EMAIL: d91frera SP@G DATE: Monday 4 October 1993 PARSER: Very strange and not very good SUPPORTS: DOS AVAILABILITY: Shareware -- $10, but I think it's a joke URL: First of all, the reviewed games are written as MS-DOS 5.0 batch files, and require some fiddling with your computer. (That doesn't mean that you need to hit the computer with a hammer.) Personally, I was not able to run these games in a DOS box under Windows 9x. But I have not tried hard -- for me it's faster to reboot the computer into DOS mode. I think you'll probably need to do the same. Another problem that I encountered _before_ I started the game is that the ZIP files are archived with rather old archiver (I think -- pkzip 1.x) and my archiver (7-ZIP, if you want to know) was not able to unpack all the files from the archives. Then I used WinZip and everything was well. But, hell, these are real puzzles in real life. Sometimes I like to solve these sorts of puzzles, but not very often. :-) As the authors claim, these two games were written in 1993, using a very strange language called Adventure Maker, which compiled the games to batch files. As a player, I sometimes like to switch from games written in a good authoring system to games written in another system, one that is not so good. It's fun to compare old computer technologies with modern ones. Well, the games' "parsers" are not very powerful, but it's amazing that you can type commands at just a DOS command prompt! Yes, after loading a "restart.bat", you can play in raw DOS. It's so bizarre that you don't need an interpreter to play these games, and that you can run any program, then quit from that program and continue to play the game. That _is_ fun. But quite strange fun. On the other hand, there are no UNDO, SAVE, or OOPS commands. If you've made a wrong move (as is especially likely in "Godzilla") you must start from the beginning. But that doesn't hurt, because the games are so small, and so linear. The games themselves are not very strong. I think they were probably written in one or two days each -- they're short and not very polished, but fun. Why are they fun? Because they use a somewhat offbeat sense of humor and because their scenery is very familiar. The first game, "Hobbit", is about the hobbit Bilbo Baggins, and the second, "Godzilla", is about Godzilla in Tokyo. If you've never heard these words before, you must have been living on the moon for the last fifty years. Of course, these games are parodies. "Hobbit" is a story about a hobbit who wants to kill a dragon and loot its gold. For the "untrue" story of this hobbit, you can read the book "The Hobbit" by J. R. R. Tolkien. But even more than it parodies the book, this game parodies Melbourne House's game with the very familiar name "The Hobbit". People who have played Melbourne House's game will notice that the solutions to some of the puzzles in this game are almost identical. Continuing the list of influences: I think the authors of this game have probably read the book "Bored Of the Rings" by Henry R. Berd and Douglas K. Kenny, (excuse me if I somehow changed the names -- I have only a Russian translation) [The authors of "Bored Of The Rings" are Henry N. Beard and Douglas C. Kenney. --Paul] which is itself a parody on J. R. R. Tolkien's work. There is nothing groundbreaking in this book, but there are a lot of funny moments, especially if you only read a few pages each day. Next -- I do (barely) remember that once I had read a solution to some game (whose title I don't remember at all) for the ZX Spectrum, a game that, as far as I can tell from the dull reflection of its solution, utilized the same approach to humor. The humor in this game is strange, but I like it. A small example, if you try to show a map to Thorin when you aren't carrying it: Thorin eyes you suspiciously. "Don't try any tricks, boy. We both know that there is no map here, now don't we?" he asks. He doesn't seem too sure about it himself. The implementation of the game is bad, but so what! A seasoned adventurer such as yourself will find a way through the rubble of bad code. If not, maybe the hints for Melbourne House's "Hobbit" will help. And if that doesn't work, "disassemble" this game -- it's not very hard. :-) The NPCs in the game are strange. For example, Thorin: Thorin, your old friend, is no longer the proud dwarf he once was. All the drugs have turned him into a drooling good-for-nothing idiot. The only reason that he has come along is to get more treasures for drugs, as always. Gandalf is a dumb magician who is inventing a new spell of a rather shady nature (and I recommend you explore that subject). Elrond -- a megalomaniac who wants to rule the entire world. Smaug -- a fat lazy dragon. If you put yourself in Bilbo's place, you'll notice that the surrounding world is very cruel and evil. Your good old "friends" despise you. It's terrible to live as a hobbit in such a world. "Godzilla" is not as good, nor as funny, as "Hobbit". It is longer, and has several "guess the word" problems that make it quite difficult. This game does have some violent moments (for example, a moment with a huge tank and a poor doggy), but if you remember the Japanese (and one American) movies about Godzilla, you will understand why the author includes those moments. (If you still don't understand, I'll tell you -- because those movies are so disgustingly pathetic and simultaneously have so much aggression that, after viewing them, you yourself want to kill several monsters or just animals. :-) "Godzilla" has a more "advanced" version of the parser. Because of that, the batch files are harder to read (yes, read the source code to get hints to the game), but that didn't stop me. To tell the truth, I tried six or seven times to finish this game before starting to read through the batch files Overall, if you have a little extra time to kill, try "Hobbit". If you like it, try "Godzilla", but do not try them in the reverse order. And be prepared for bugs, but again, these games are so short that the bugs should be no problem. And did you notice that both games were released on a Monday? Odd. FTP FileGlulx port of Hobbit FTP FileHobbit MS-DOS batch files FTP FileGodzilla MS-DOS batch files

Hollywood Hijinx

From: Emily Short <emshort SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #34 -- September 24, 2003 TITLE: Hollywood Hijinx AUTHOR: Dave Anderson/Liz Cyr-Jones E-MAIL: Unknown DATE: January, 1987 PARSER: Infocom Standard SUPPORTS: ZCODE interpreters AVAILABILITY: Commercial URL: VERSION: Release 37 Hollywood Hijinx is a late-period Infocom game, with a cheerfully kitsch theme and a premise of unabashed treasure hunting. You stand to inherit a fortune if you are able to discover an assortment of bizarre B-movie props in a very strange Hollywood mansion -- so off you go to hunt. It contains even more than the usual number of references to Infocom, and at no point does it seem to take itself terribly seriously. There are a few features of the game that irritated me. I might as well get those over with at once. The most severe is the time limit that prevents you from succeeding unless you have completed all the puzzles within an arbitrary number of moves. This is pretty much impossible to do the first time around, so I had to play until I'd earned about half the points, then start the game over. The game's other design sins are comparatively minor: several smaller-scale timed puzzles that seemed a bit unfair, and one puzzle that couldn't reasonably be solved except by discovering something and then restoring an earlier state. Coupled with the inability to UNDO moves, this was somewhat annoying. There's also an inventory limit that gets in the way at times, but since the treasure objects are not themselves useful for anything, one can safely drop them somewhere and keep one's collection of objects to a reasonable size. Finally, one or two puzzles seemed disappointingly trivial, with the solution consisting more or less of walking through a series of obvious actions. On the other hand, there are a couple of neat set-piece puzzles that show the attention to detail at which Infocom excelled: amusing and colorful responses to wrong answers as well as right ones, systems that you can learn how to work, red-herring partial solutions that seem right at first but then turn out to be wrong. If those are overdone, they can be infuriating, but I thought that Hollywood Hijinx hit just the right level of complexity on several of these. There is also one quite elegant puzzle that relies on solution-by-intuition, depending on your memory of how an earlier puzzle was solved and your ability to translate that information to a new context. This game also contains a massive maze. Most mazes in IF are designed to irritate the player by making him go to a lot of trouble to figure out a mapping, and are (relatively) harmless once successfully mapped. This maze, on the other hand, is probably nigh impossible without the map -- indeed, the game warns you before you go inside that you shouldn't even make a try for it. Even when you do have the map in hand, it takes a minute to figure out a good route: in other words, the challenge of this particular maze is like the challenge of mapping out a maze on paper, and not very similar to playing through other IF mazes. It can still be a bit exasperating to play through, especially if you lose your place as you navigate and have to go back to a saved position and start over. If I've talked mostly about the puzzles, it's because puzzles are most of what's worth talking about. The prose style is nothing stunning, and most of the scenery is sparsely implemented; there are plenty of items that don't exist at all, and plenty of others that garner a nothing-special sort of response. Considering the era in which the game was written, this is not very surprising. Many of the location descriptions do offer amusing reminiscences about past events in the house, which is a nice touch, and gives character to some rooms that would otherwise seem very spare indeed. As for the plot, it is fairly contrived, and, as in many Infocom games, most of the actual story occurs either in the prologue or at the very end. Still, putting the treasure-hunt agenda so blatantly in the foreground does, at least, remove any difficulty in explaining why the house is in such a strange condition. If things are implausibly scattered around, that's because someone put them there for exactly this purpose. Moreover, the central Hollywood-esque focus, and the emphasis on your history with Uncle Buddy, Aunt Hildegarde, and Cousin Herman, provides a nice thematic unity to the whole thing. The game also has a very satisfying easter egg; after the game was over, I realized that there was one obvious action I'd never taken, and taking it proved to work out exactly as I might have hoped. It took me only three or four hours to finish Hollywood Hijinx, even with the unavoidable replay of the early parts of the game. I referred to hints only a couple of times. In one case, I needed them because the action in question didn't seem obviously possible, given the descriptions of the rooms; in another, the solution wasn't something I would've thought of ever in a million years. For the most part, however, I felt that they were fair. For me this game didn't provide as much sense of adventure as Plundered Hearts, or offer the atmospheric richness of Wishbringer or Deadline, but it is still an entertaining, solid game of the old school. From: R. N. Dominick <rnd SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #34 -- September 24, 2003 Oh, hey, look, it's just after midnight. Two minutes into September 15th. Maybe I'd better think about going to bed... September 15th... hmm... that sounds familiar, for some reason. Oh, yeah. I volunteered to review that old Infocom game for the next issue of SPAG. The review's due on September 15th. Well, um, that gives me about twelve hours to solve the game before Paul O'Brian sends an oh-so-polite inquiry asking what happened... oh... oh, boy... That puts me in exactly the same situation as the nameless protagonist of Infocom's Hollywood Hijinx. As the nephew of infamous B-movie producer Buddy Burbank, you stand to inherit Uncle Buddy's movie business and fantastic Hollywood estate -- if you can prove you're clever enough to handle it by finding the ten mementos from Buddy's career hidden throughout the estate in twelve hours. Released in 1987, Hollywood Hijinx seems to be a deliberate throwback to the desolate treasure hunt period. There are no NPCs or animate creatures in the game (until the end-game, which is a timed sequence seemingly designed to hide the fact that the NPCs are pretty much cardboard ciphers). The puzzles are mostly of the clever mechanical type. The atmosphere is very jokey, and both Hollywood and Infocom in-jokes abound. There are throwbacks other than the atmosphere, however. (One annoyance is just a convenience that hadn't been implemented yet -- 'x' doesn't work, but damn if I didn't type it eleventy million times anyhow.) The game contains a maze. A *huge* maze. A huge sprawling maze it would take forever to map and even then you wouldn't know where you had to do what you had to do to get any value out of the maze. Luckily, you're given a map; unluckily, this doesn't provide any sort of automatic maze negotiation. Even after you've gotten the 'treasure' hidden at the center of the maze, you have to manually navigate your way back out. It takes more than 100 moves to complete the maze section of the game, meaning even with the map you spend an inordinate amount of time on it. Time? Yes, the game is timed. Even though the status line is the standard turns/score format, each and every move you perform in the game costs 1 minute of time -- even 'look' and 'inventory'. You only have 12 hours -- 720 turns -- to complete the game. This puts an exasperating focus on optimizing the solution to a puzzle after you solve it. The game requires you to save rather more often than I'm used to because of this; if you're not careful, restarting will be required. It is also very possible to waste resources required to progress elsewhere in the game or to go to a location too soon or with the wrong items and have to backtrack via 'restore' to fix your error. After getting trapped like this three or four times, I was daunted by the proposition of replaying part of the game yet again and turned to a walkthrough for what turned out to be the last three treasures and forty points. (One blessing, at least, is that you don't have to tromp around and deliver the treasures anywhere; just having had them in inventory at one time is enough for the game to progress.) At the end of it all, nothing in Hollywood Hijinx stands out all that much. The one stand-out treasure-retrieval puzzle (which involves atomic mutant mayhem in a scale model of downtown Tokyo) is marred by two instances of the "wasted resource" problem (if you fail, or if you do something too soon, it's 'restore' for you, buster, or you cannot win). I think the real problem is that even in 1987, Infocom had progressed far beyond the basic dry puzzle hunt this game provices. Already released before this game were much better puzzle-fests (Spellbreaker), much funnier games (Leather Goddesses) and -- much more imporantly -- advances in mood, setting and dramatics (A Mind Forever Voyaging and Trinity) that outclassed this game and type of game completely. Other releases the same year included the truly different (Nord and Bert Couldn't Make Head or Tail of It), the genre-busting (Plundered Hearts) and the systemically different (Border Zone). Namechecking so many other excellent games may not be quite fair, but those games set expectations that Hijinx just couldn't meet. ... Phew. There we go. 10 hours and 55 minutes. (Only five of those were spent playing the game and writing this review -- I had to sleep sometime!) FTP FileText version of Invisiclues FTP FileZcode version of Invisiclues FTP FileSLAG source code for zcode version of Invisiclues FTP FileSolution (packaged with other Infocom hints/walkthroughs) FTP FileThings to try FTP FileStepwise solution FTP FileAnother stepwise solution FTP FileYet another solution FTP FilePatch to create a "gamma" version, as Infocom distributed to external testers FTP FileIncluded sample transcript FTP FileYes, it's another solution, this time in THL format

From: Graeme Cree <72630.304 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #5 -- April 19, 1995 NAME: GAMEPLAY: Generic AUTHOR: John Olsen PLOT: Not Bad EMAIL: ? ATMOSPHERE: Varies AVAILABILITY: S20_IBM_IF Archive WRITING: Minimal PUZZLES: Good SUPPORTS: MS-DOS CHARACTERS: None living DIFFICULTY: Below average is a trilogy of games by John Olsen (author of, another trilogy reviewed in SPAG 3). The package includes NIGHT OF THE WALKING DEAD, FRANKENSTEIN'S LEGACY, and THE SEA PHANTOM. These three games were each written by Mr. Olsen using his own interpreter, and none is larger than 38K. In NIGHT OF THE WALKING DEAD, you are trying to find your Aunt Bedilia's grave to recover a locket buried with her in order to prove your identity (how graverobbing proves this is unclear) and claim your inheritance. FRANKENSTEIN'S LEGACY is reminiscent of the sample transcript for THE LURKING HORROR. You arrive at Victor Frankenstein's house, instructed by him to find the monster and bring it to life. In THE SEA PHANTOM, you arrive at the coastal mansion of the late Captain Thorne. Once every 10 years his old ship appears offshore. It is your job to put his spirit to rest and recover his treasure. All three are interactive short stories having from 20 to 40 locations each. They are not especially difficult, but have a couple of arbitrary puzzles. This combined with the poor parser may make them a little aggravating if you don't immediately guess what the author is thinking. S.O.P. for an arbitrary puzzle is to keep trying whatever you can think of until you hit on the right thing, but these games have have only 1 or 2 generic "failure" messages, and after a bit it may get maddening to keep reading "You can't," or "You see nothing special." Especially since you get the "You can't" message for just about anything that isn't useful, even actions that you obviously COULD do (i.e. "Throw dagger" ). The parser can also be misleading at times. In one of the games you encounter a locked object. There is no key, you must use some other means of opening it. But if you try to pick the lock or unlock it with the wrong key you are told that you need the right key (implying that such exists). Another problem is that if the parser doesn't know what you're talking about, it will sometimes give you an answer that looks like it does. In one game, I tried to do the right action, using the wrong words. The message led me to believe that the ACTION had failed rather than the command, and I spent two days stuck, believing that I had already tried and rejected the correct thing. This is not to be too hard on Mr. Olsen. Considering that he's written these games from scratch without AGT, TADS, Inform, et al, he's done rather a good job. But if we compare his games to ones made using public compilers, then they suffer, even though it may be unfair to make the comparison in the first place. The atmosphere varies from horror to unintentionally comic. NIGHT OF THE WALKING DEAD at times seems more like Night of the Zombie Keystone Cops. You will often be running along with some item that you need, only to be hit over the head and have it stolen just when you get to where you would have used it. You must then chase down the creature that took it and drag him off to the crematorium to prevent him from doing it to you again. FRANKENSTEIN'S LEGACY's lack of graphic description is at times comic also. If you order the game to cut open a dead body, you are told "OK." That's it, just "OK." If you then take an organ out of the body and examine it, you are told simply "You see nothing special." Although this review has focused primarily on negatives, these are not at all bad games, and all three are well worth spending an afternoon playing. However, I would advise having a walkthrough handy before you start, and use it if you get stuck for more than, say, half an hour. These games are short stories and as such their pacing demands that the plot keep moving. If you get stuck by an arbitrary puzzle, a bad parser, or a guess-the-word problem, they become very unrewarding. If you don't, you will probably have rather a pleasant gaming experience. FTP FilePC Executable (.zip) FTP FileSolution (.zip)

Horror of Rylvania

From: Audrey A. DeLisle <rad SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #1 -- May 15, 1994 NAME: Horror of Rylvania PARSER: Excellent (TADS) AUTHOR: D.A. Leary PLOT: Excellent EMAIL: ??? ATMOSPHERE: Eerie AVAILABILITY: IF Archive (Demo) C20 WRITING: Excellent PUZZLES: - SUPPORTS: TADS ports CHARACTERS: Fair DIFFICULTY: Some Trickiness Horror of Rylvania (Adventions by D.A.Leary) tells of the horror you find on your trip to Rylvania with your friend, Carolyn. You become a vampire and must search for the 'cure.' There are two sections that are maze-like, but small and not hard. In general, this is not a hard game, but every game has its tricky places. It is somewhat linear, but not limited like some games. I enjoyed playing it. The atmosphere was well created to be eerie, but not disgusting. From: Valentine Kopteltsev <uux SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #30 -- September 20, 2002 -- as part of a Review Package Rylvania is reviewed here, because it's been (like the Unnkulian games) published by Adventions, has been written by the "father" of the Unnkulian universe, and contains several references to Unnkulia. However, it has little else to do with Unnkulia; it's a horror story. And it left me with mixed feelings. On one hand, the plot and the atmosphere were great (despite the Unnkulian references -- they really seemed out of place there). On the other hand... But let's begin from the start. Well, the game starts with you and your friend Carolyn being attacked by a pack of wolves during a trip through Rylvania, a small country somewhere in the backwoods of Central Europe. Carolyn gets seriously wounded, and your first task in the game is to help her. It gripped me at once, and I started to follow the plot enthusiastically. This run for Carolyn's life went on for twenty or so turns. Then, just as things really got rolling, I was resolutely grabbed by the collar, pulled back, and told, "Not so fast, my friend. From now on, you've got to do it the usual way - explore, pick up things, and enjoy yourself". This sudden change alone was baffling enough; to make things worse, it turned out that one had to be pretty careful, if not pedantic, in collecting items -- the game is split in two parts, with many rooms in the first part no longer accessible when you reach the second stage; however, puzzles at stage 2 often require objects from stage 1 to be solved, so that you're very likely to lock yourself out of victory, and find out something is wrong only several hundred turns later (sometimes without a hint what item is needed, exactly). Also, be prepared for a couple or more restarts; many decisions in the beginning phase of Rylvania depend on knowledge you only acquire later in the game. Combined with the fact that the game sometimes requires actions that seem completely inappropriate in the given situation, it makes a thorough strategic pre-planning practically inevitable. This degenerating into ADVENTURE is all the more a pity as the puzzles don't seem to be the main focus of the game, and as the storytelling aspect of the game has got so much potential. I'm not saying that the puzzles are bad -- they are very solidly done for the most part, but they're... well, unexceptional. I like creative, challenging puzzles (though I'm not very good at solving them); here, however, I'd rather prefer puzzles that'd be easier, but would fit the plot better: as it is, the plot and the puzzles seem to literally fight against each other. Still, the game's plot (which has several interesting twists), and the scary atmosphere make it worth playing (I'm deliberately not going into detail here in order not to spoil the fun). However, I suggest you keep a walkthrough handy for the first stage of the game: this might prevent you from many disappointments. SUMMARY: PLOT: A high-quality horror story ATMOSPHERE: Scary, though Unnkulia references spoil it a bit WRITING: Supports the atmosphere GAMEPLAY: Requires too much pre-planning BONUSES: Nice background CHARACTERS: Don't add much PUZZLES: Hamper the plot DIFFICULTY: The claimed rating of 5 out of 10 seems to be correct FTP FileTADS .gam file, bundled with other Adventions games (.zip) FTP FileTADS .gam file, bundled with other Adventions games (.tar.gz) FTP FileMacbinary Demo (.sea.bin) FTP FileBinHex Demo (.sea.hqx) FTP FileTADS .gam file of Demo (.tar.Z) FTP FilePC Executable Demo (.zip) FTP FileSolution (Text)


From: Neil Butters <neil.butters SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #37 -- July 10, 2004 TITLE: The House AUTHOR: Owen Parish EMAIL: doubleprism SP@G DATE: November (?) 2003 PARSER: TADS2 SUPPORTS: TADS2 interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: VERSION: Version 1.0 The House is a short game that represents Owen Parish's first attempt at IF, and it is fairly entertaining, despite its derivative story and some technical annoyances. Ostensibly the objective is to get out of a house that you woke up in, hungover and disoriented. You have heard disturbing rumours about this house and its occupants. Could they be true? If you decide to explore the house, other objectives become readily apparent, and you uncover goings-on that will be familiar to genre fans. The story borrows from Lovecraft and Frankenstein, but it is underdeveloped, and I never did get a clear understanding of the House's secrets. This may have been because I did not get the full score, but I think it is more likely that the ideas never mesh into a coherent story. Some games can be satisfying even with an open-ended conclusion (see "All Alone") but the House doesn't pull this off successfully. There are a few surprises but they also remain underdeveloped. For example, two possibly interesting NPCS are introduced but I could not figure out what to do with them or how to get any useful information from them. The story should have made it more obvious what I was supposed to do with these guys. Motivation is one of the glaring problems with the game since it is often stressed that you want to get out of the house ASAP and it is possible to do so in five moves without getting any points. Why should I stick around and explore? The only motivation is curiosity. However, the game does reward inquisitive behaviour with rooms crammed full of objects that can be fiddled with or examined. There are some nice atmospheric touches as well, such as the noisy staircase. The gameplay is straightforward for the most part. There are only a few points in the game where interaction with the world was difficult. The library and the kitchen come to mind, where searching or reading the objects, respectively, is awkward. For instance, in the library a "search the west books" command will result in "which books do you mean, the west books, east books, north books or south books?" that necessitates a further "west books" command. In the kitchen, you cannot read the notes attached to objects but must read the object instead (ie "read cupboard"). These problems could easily be fixed in future versions. You have to guess where the exit is in the room you wake up in, and the maze does not make any sense (although it is easy to do). Most puzzles are easy to figure out. However, as I mentioned, I did not get the full score and I am quite sure I missed out on a few things. It doesn't really matter though, since you can leave the House at any time without doing anything. A stay in the House was worthwhile, largely due to the lack of "empty" rooms. If you decide to visit don't expect to leave with your curiosity satisfied. The House keeps its secrets locked within. FTP FileTADS .gam file

House of the Stalker

From: C.E. Forman <ceforman SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #10 -- February 4, 1997 NAME: House of the Stalker AUTHOR: Jason Clayton White EMAIL: perseid SP@G DATE: October 1996 PARSER: Inform Standard SUPPORTS: Inform Ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF Archive URL: VERSION: Version 1.0 After seeing the title, and considering that Halloween was just around the corner at the time, I had really high hopes for this one. Unfortunately, there is a great deal of clumsy phrasing, and the author seems to be unable to decide what style to go with. A sort of snide, smart-alecky, and sometimes downright insulting personality pervades the text, and yet occasionally the game tries to convey a feeling of melancholy in your character's life. The plot is corny, suggesting a parody, but I never felt quite certain about the author's intent. The two styles are often contradictory (in one sentence you're told how much you miss your children, in another the game sighs about how "those dumb kids never made their bed"), which mars the attempt at personality. The atmosphere never feels particularly creepy, as in "Theatre", mainly because the game constantly jokes about the psycho who's probably downstairs right now waiting to kill you. The puzzles deal primarily with doing the right thing to the stalker at the right time, which means there's a lot of "guess what I'm thinking" to wade through. Particularly irritating is the fact that, when you try to kill the stalker before spraying him, tying him up, etc., you get the customary "Violence isn't the answer" message. (So what IS? "Please Mr. Soulless Psychotic Flesh-Rending Organ-Devouring Killer, can't we just learn to co-exist"?) The stalker himself, I theorize, must have been that guy from the music store in "Detective," since he vanishes as soon as you kill him. "Stalker" feels a lot like one of those AGT games where the author didn't implement everything necessary to make the game flow smoothly, and indeed a number of glaring signs suggests that this author didn't completely have a grasp of Inform. These include impossible verb resolutions, the reference to "a electric screwdriver," and several bits lifted directly from other Inform games - the instructions from Inform's port of "Adventureland," the compass rose from the Inform Programming Page, and the games "Robots" and "Freefall" (though I guess that was the point with the last two). Decreasing the score after using the hint system is a clever idea, but unfortunately this effect can be bypassed with the quot;UNDOquot; command. I don't mean to sound overly harsh, but I think this one could have been, and should have been, a LOT scarier (even if done as a parody). FTP FileDirectory With Inform .z5 File

Human Resources Stories

From: David Ledgard <dledgard SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #17 -- May 10, 1999 NAME: Human Resources Stories AUTHOR: Harry M. Hardjono DATE: 1998 PARSER: Multiple-choice (mostly) SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: A lot of people pooh-poohed this game, just because it wasn't standard IF. I think the author was quite brave, trying a different format, and applying the genre in a different way. I don't think it deserved to come last. The suspension of the save facility was a bit annoying, but justified by the game context, I suppose. The game was a lot more complicated than most people appreciate, with it calculating a different job grade/wage depending on your answers. Also I think, but am not sure, the wrong answers changed depending on your previous answers. Vive la difference. FTP FileDirectory with Inform .z5 file, source code, and readme


From: Crispin Boylan <viewtronix SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #11 -- September 16, 1997 NAME: Humbug AUTHOR: Graham Cluley E-MAIL: ??? DATE: Aug 1991 PARSER: Above Average SUPPORTS: PC AVAILABILITY: Public Domain, IF Archive (v.4.8) URL: This game has been around for years, and is one of the more popular interactive fiction titles in Britain, and was, until recently, a shareware title which had to be registered (with the registered version you got a solution to the maze which was otherwise unsolvable, and you could also save and load games to disk). Times they are a changin' however, and now the game has been released into the public domain due to the author not having enough time to sell or support the game anymore. Cluley has actually produced this game without the aid of any of the text adventure creation languages, a huge feat for a game this size! Anyway that's the history out of the way, now to get to the meat of this review, the game itself. It all opens with you, Sidney Widdershins, arriving at your senile old grandad's estate for a short stay during the Christmas Holidays. You planned to explore the old windmill in the grounds of Attervist Manor, but as you arrive you realise that something is amiss, especially when Grandad does not appear to be around! Closer inspection of the house reveals grandad sleeping in his armchair, seemingly unwakeable, he has a rather interesting document in his possession, a legal document asking for grandad to hand over the manor to his new neighbour, Jasper Slake, who will take proper care of the manor. It seems that the old fool is broke, and has let the manor fall into a state of disrepair, and his mutterings to Jasper of secret treasure hidden in the grounds of the manor, and the 'wild woman of the hills' have done nothing to prove his mental stability! Grandad and Slake are bitter enemies, only recently, the letter explains, did Grandad plant a scale model of the Champs Elysee in Slakes garden! So, on discovering this news it is still unclear as to your mission, do you have to find the treasure? or maybe stop Slake? This is one of the best points of the game, you are constantly fed with small snippets of the plot, which is consistent, and of good quality. There is one major feature of this game which makes it stick out from the rest, it is completely weird and surreal, you only have to look at the NPCs to see this, Kevin, a clockwork shark, built by Grandad as his contribution to the war effort; Sven, the viking, whose ship has been caught in the manors lake as it froze; and Horace the groundsman, who travels round the maze collecting any 'litter' in the form of objects, that you may have deposited, he also only talks to vegetables! Some of the NPCs are better than others, but all are likeable, apart from the villain, Jasper, of course. The NPCs, on the whole are not too talkative, but then again they really don't need to be. This game has a maximum score of 2000 points, so you can expect quite a few puzzles in this little gem, most of which are quite logical, but there are some very hard puzzles which you really have to think about. The game also has a bit of organisation needed, you must do the puzzles in a certain order or you won't be able to complete others, this is a bit annoying, but it is quite obvious, and easy to get around. To get the final few points you have to do a bit of verb searching, for example typing 'PRAY', earns the response 'A voice from below shouts, "I don't know how you've got the nerve!" ' and earns you 10 points, but does little else, my top score is 1920, so I still have to get those last few! There are over 200 objects and 100 locations in this game, so it's pretty big, and the locations are varied, and when I say that I mean Varied with a capital V, there are such bizzare locations as a alien bar, a trip back in time, a fairies den, a junk yard, a bus stop, and all of this takes place in the manors cellars!! The parser's vocabulary is pretty extensive, but it doesn't stretch to multiple commands in the same sentence. Still, I like it. This game is very funny, you can't help but laugh at some of the jokes that examining some objects brings up, and the whole thing is just so surreal! The atmosphere is very good and you can just imagine being there, the writing is on the whole very detailed and descriptive. As a player with a bit of experience (I haven't completed all the Infocom games, but I've played through a few) I found this game hard (I desparately needed the on-line hints), but very rewarding, just wait until you see the ending, it's brilliantly funny, and you'll never guess it!!!! This is a great game, download it now, the public domain version is at Graham Cluleys own web page (address above), and is version 5, there is a version at but it is only a shareware version (4.8), without the map solution or save ability. [Actually, this is no longer the case. Mr. Cluley has released the full version to the archive. See link below. --PO 9/99] From: Alex Freeman <Freemanry SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #24 -- March 24, 2001 In this game, you are Sidney Widdershins and have been sent to Granddad's for the winter holidays. When you arrive there after being deposited by a taxi and get in, you find that Granddad is asleep and is holding a document. When you read it, you find that Granddad's neighbor, Jasper, has offered to buy Granddad's home, Attervist Manor, since Granddad is so deeply in debt. Granddad claims that there is hidden treasure in the grounds of the manor, but Jasper apparently thinks he is nuts. Granddad thinks lowly of Jasper and has written a rude word on the document (not shown in the game). However, if Granddad is not nuts and if there really is hidden treasure, you could help him get out of debt. The atmosphere is unique and quite odd. For instance, there is a Viking called Sven whose boat has been caught in the frozen lake nearby the manor. There are also a bar, a hacker, and an octopus underneath the manor. The game also does not always make sense. For instance, what is giant slug doing in the manor? But, eh, who cares? It makes the game interesting. There are other interesting places you can explore, such as the forest maze and the manor back in the Victorian times (via time machine). The NPCs are fairly well developed. You can get to know them better by asking them questions in the format "ask character about subject". Obviously, the characters can't have a special response for everything, so when you ask a character about something or someone he doesn't know (e.g. asking someone who lives in the Victorian times about someone who lives in modern times) the character has a special response to indicate that he doesn't know anything about what you've asked. One of my favorite responses is the one you get when you ask Horace the gardener about something he doesn't know: Horace looks suspiciously at me, but remains silent. I am not sure it is in his terms of employment to actually communicate with sentient life forms. Herbs and vegetables he can cope with, but people give him problems. Another interesting NPC is Kevin the clockwork shark, who is one of Granddad's many inventions and was made by him during WWII. You get this description of him upon entering the pantry for the first time: I am in the pantry. It is a small, dark room - the only source of light being a barred oval window built close to the ceiling in the west wall. A definite niff of seaweed wafts around the shelves. Small mountains of marzipan and icing sugar are liberally scattered across the damp stone floor. There is a movement from behind one of the taller mounds of marzipan and a shark totters around on his hind fins. The shark smiles benignly at me, "Hello my little sugar-plum." The shark paternally pats me on the head with a damp flipper, flamboyantly places a small caddy on one of the pantry shelves. The shark smiles at me again, and waggles his eyebrows in anticipation of my response. There are many other NPCs, such as a Victorian grave digger, Alex the hacker, Jasper, and, of course, Granddad. As you've probably noticed, the writing is quite descriptive. It's also quite humorous. In fact, my wildcard points are for the humour in the game. You also get funny responses if you try do silly actions. For instance, typing DRINK PETROL gives you the response "Heh, heh. I think not." You even get 10 points for it! My only complaint about it is that it contains a few minor punctuation errors (as you might have noticed). The parser is very good. It can understand fairly sophisticated sentences and is easy to use, but it doesn't do some fancy stuff like recognizing multiple sentences (not that I would type multiple sentences if I could but still). However, this game has one serious flaw. Most of the puzzles are either too easy or too hard. For instance, I find a banana and later I find a chimp. Gee, I wonder what to do next. That one is, of course, an example of a puzzle that's too easy. A puzzle that is too hard is how you're supposed to put out the fire underneath the manor. I don't know how anyone is supposed to figure that puzzle out! It is quite illogical. The hint system partially solves this problem, and it is quite good, but it is no substitute for good puzzles. The only problem with it is if you can't solve a puzzle because you haven't solved another puzzle, it won't tell you that. Instead it gives a hint or the solution (it depends on which you choose) of the puzzle whose solution you have requested. I ended up getting solutions to puzzles I probably could have solved on my own in this way because I didn't realize that it wasn't the puzzle I was currently trying to solve that was the problem but some other one. However, don't get me wrong. Not all the puzzles are bad. In fact, almost half are quite good. It's just that there should have been more good ones. I also managed to find one bug in the game. In Humbug, you can EXAMINE objects, or you can LOOK at them in order to get descriptions. You can abbreviate EXAMINE with x and LOOK with l. I am more used to LOOKing at objects than I am to EXAMINing them, so I used the abbreviation l. This abbreviation worked on all the objects on which I tried it out EXCEPT one. During the game, I decided to look at my hair because I thought maybe that would help me solve a puzzle (I won't say how). When I typed "l hair", the game didn't seem to understand the command. I later used the hint system to get the solution to the puzzle that involved my hair. I wondered how I could have solved that puzzle since I figured that I couldn't look at my hair. However, when I looked at a written solution for Humbug, I found out that you're supposed to type "x hair". The hair, apparently, is the only object at which you can't LOOK but still can EXAMINE, which isn't supposed to be the case for any of the objects. This bug effectively prevented me from solving an important puzzle in the game. Anyhow, the plot in Humbug is wonderful! I'd say it's the best part of the game! You are given bits of the story as the game progresses, and there's one major plot twist! The ending is spectacular and was really fun to read! Overall, Humbug is a good game and is worth playing. Just be prepared for some illogical puzzles here and there. It could have been an excellent game if the puzzles had been better. Atmosphere: 1.8 Gameplay: 1.5 Writing: 1.8 Plot: 2.0 Humour: 1.6 Total: 8.7 Characters: 1.5 Puzzles: .8 FTP FilePC Executable (.zip) FTP FileSolution (ASCII text)

Hunter, In Darkness

From: Duncan Stevens <dns361 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #19 -- January 14, 2000 TITLE: Hunter, in Darkness AUTHOR: Andrew Plotkin E-MAIL: erkyrath SP@G DATE: 1999 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 4 More than one work of IF has revolved around an in-joke of sorts, a premise with significance to IF veterans or historians but inscrutable to anyone else, and Andrew Plotkin's Hunter, in Darkness is one of them, on one level. It sends up the early-'70s BASIC computer game Hunt the Wumpus, a pre-Colossal Cave relic that offers the player, with almost no description, the following possibilities: killing a Wumpus, getting eaten by the Wumpus, getting attacked by bats, or falling into a pit. A player familiar with the original can therefore begin Hunter... and note in short order that there is a Wumpus, a pit, and some bats involved, and consign the thing to the in-joke category. Hunter... isn't just an in-joke, though; the real joke that it plays on the source material is that it turns one of the most tersely described caves possible ("You are in Room 1. Passages lead to Room 2 and Room 3") into one of the best-described settings imaginable. Not only is the cave vividly rendered, but the PC's experience of it is thoroughly, and harrowingly, done; no "cave crawl" in IF has ever taken such a toll on the PC over the course of the game. As in the source material, you're hunting a Wumpus, but here the player suffers at least as much as the Wumpus over the course of the game, and the cave is just as much an enemy as the Wumpus itself; finding a safe way down a pit and surviving a tight crawl are some of the problems at hand. It's worth noting that the caves of the classic cave crawls were largely innocuous; the danger in Colossal Cave, Zork, and others came largely from sentient enemies scattered around the landscape, not from the geography itself. Here, surviving the cave is most of the challenge. As with Plotkin's previous works, the writing is skillful; most of the five senses are at work throughout the game, and the descriptions often reflect a multisensory experience. The beginning of the game sets the tone: Nearly -- nearly. The animal stink is rank and close. You raise your crossbow, try to peer beyond dark, wet stone. >smell The stink of your prey is all around. Something shifts in the darkness ahead, a great silent bulk. Your prey. As the cave is very nearly a character in its own right, it is appropriate that the level of geological detail is high. ("Needles of yellow calcite spray from the rocks nearby.") Moreover, the layout of the cave as a whole makes sense in ways that most IF caves do not; you find standing water when you descend, for instance, and there is running water at the base of a canyon. Small details like this help make Hunter... such a well-realized setting that it puts most other cave crawls to shame; few cave games since Colossal Cave have given geology even token acknowledgment, after all. As a game, Hunter works quite well. The plot branches and rejoins at certain key points, so there is some replay potential, though the paths don't, fundamentally, differ all that much (at least, not the ones I discovered; I may be wrong). One element of the final confrontation feels somewhat contrived, but not inappropriately so, and the solution to it is nicely subversive--you pit the elements of the cave against one another, in a sense, rather than conquering them yourself. Moreover, the course of the story calls into question the hunt itself, since you find along the way that you are chasing something with considerable intelligence, making the showdown more a battle of wits than an act of violence. The puzzles are well-designed and not too hard; they draw on understanding and being aware of the cave environment, moreover, rather than applying items to problems, which helps them feel part of the story rather than artificial barriers. The technical aspect of the game is admirable, as one might expect from Zarf; particularly good is a maze with randomly generated descriptions that can be infinitely large. Some will object to the inclusion of the maze at all, of course, but this is one of the more creative mazes in IFdom and as such gets a pass from me--no mapping is required, for one thing, and the random generation brings to mind real caves, which aren't limited to a defined number of rooms. Likewise, the disabling of compass directions strikes a blow for verisimilitude, since cave navigation is typically too complicated for anyone to preserve a clear sense of direction; instead, the game provides "forward," "left," "right," and such, and I found I didn't miss my compass at all. But the best thing about Hunter... is the setting. It is worth remembering exactly how many IF games have been set in caves or some equivalent--the answer is "many"--in order to appreciate the way this game brings the cave- crawl genre alive. The nature of a complex underground cave poses many obstacles, only some of which Hunter explores--darkness, water filling a passage, steep climbs--along with predators, of course. A little imagination helps the setting come to life in a way that makes puzzles for their own sake unnecessary, and Hunter... illustrates how much a little creativity can do. By making the cave itself the subject of the game rather than the excuse for a grab bag of artificial puzzles, Zarf reminds the player that a cave is more than an excuse for lazy fantasy storytelling; here, after all, the cave not only is the enemy, it wins most of the battles. Hunter... is therefore less an update on Hunt the Wumpus than an rebuke to the IF that has followed Wumpus but failed in certain significant respects to improve on it by giving the setting its due. It's one of the most vividly written pieces of IF in recent memory, and I gave it a 9, the highest score I gave any entry in this year's competition. FTP FileInform .z5 file, updated version FTP FileInform .z5 file, competition version
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