Game Reviews I

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The email addresses used are those submitted with the review, so naturally some of them may be out of date.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

I Didn't Know You Could Yodel I Must Play I-0: Jailbait on the Interstate Identity I'll In The End Inevitable Infidel Inform School Informatory Inheritance Inhumane Insight Internal Documents Internal Vigilance Intruder Isle Of The Cult It's Easter, Peeps

I Didn't Know You Could Yodel

From: Jason F. Finx <jff SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #17 -- May 10, 1999 NAME: I Didn't Know You Could Yodel AUTHOR: Michael R. Eisenman and Andrew J. Indovina EMAIL: I don't know, and frankly I can't really say I care DATE: Some time in 1996, apparently (the copyright message at the top of the game says 1997, but the copyright message it gives when you get the "last lousy point" says 1996, so I'm assuming the earlier one is when the game was first created). PARSER: Better than Scott Adams, but not up to TADS/Inform standard. SUPPORTS: IBM PC only AVAILABILITY: Freeware, though the surviving author seems to be planning a commercial (or at least shareware) release. Currently available in the contests98 folder of the IF-archive. URL: ftp://if-archive/games/competition98/msdos/yodel "Oh, no. It can't be." That was my reaction when I looked at the results from the 1998 IF contest and saw, near the bottom of the list, the title "I Didn't Know I Could Yodel". Why this reaction, you might ask? Well, about six months ago I downloaded a game by that title from FreeGames Online (, and made the mistake of actually playing it. This was before I had heard of SPAG or the IF archive, and had I heard of those, and known how many other, much better text adventures were available, I would never have slogged my way through this one. As it was, I probably still wouldn't have were it not for a promise of some spectacular ending. I was, at least, gratified to see how close to the bottom of the list the game had placed (ranking even below a game coauthored by the infamous Rybread Celsius! ;) ), which meant that other people had shared my opinion of it. But no, I later reasoned; it couldn't possibly be the same game. After all, the 1998 competition rules explicitly state that no game could have been released prior to its entry to the contest. Either this was an illegal entry, or it was a different game by the same name - which was, I thought, entirely possible; after all, the title came from a rather old joke. Then I looked at the file "yodeltxt.txt", and saw the phrase "type 'vanna' to play hangman", and knew that my worst fears were realized. It was the same game. (Before I go on, a few notes about the fact that the game had been released well before the contest date. If I understand the rules correctly, and this does constitute a violation of them, then there are things which lead me to believe that the rule violation was not intentional. The statement in the file yodeltxt.txt that "[a]fter the contest, I would like to try to release it, if that's ok with you guys" suggests that the author assumed that "release" means "attempt to sell for money". If, as I suspect, the author did equate "releasing" the game with charging money for it, then his violation of the rules was not a knowing one.) [ Editor's note: According to the Contest organizer, David Dyte, the pre-competition release of the game was made unbeknown to the authors, and without their permission, and a decision was made to let it compete despite this. ] Now, why did I dislike this game so much? Well, the main problem with it I can sum up in two words: bathroom humor. (And I use the word "humor" loosely.) More bathroom humor than I've seen in all the other text adventure games I've ever played combined. At two different locations in the game, you find yourself in desperate need of - ah, emptying your large intestine - or dire consequences result (i.e. your character dies horribly). If that were the end of it, well, that would be that, but unfortunately it isn't; there's also a repulsive bit after the second time involving... well, we'll all be better off if I don't go into that. Actually, toilet humor wasn't even all of it. The game almost seemed to go out of its way to be offensive and disgusting at every opportunity. There are ethnic slurs, gay jokes, and jokes involving a certain other bodily secretion (I can't be more specific without giving away one of the puzzles), and at two different points you have to kill an innocent character (two different characters, of course). I think the single section of the game that stands out as the most repulsive was the Jed's House sequence, but the bulk of the game wallows in the same filth, if to a slightly lesser degree. Also, the insult-the-player-character device is getting really old, and this game takes it to rather extreme levels (which makes the endgame make even less sense than it otherwise would). And speaking of devices that are getting really old, and are taken to extreme levels in this game, some other games may include their authors as powerful NPCs, but... well, I can't say more without giving away part of the ending. Speaking of NPCs, though (while I'm segueing anyway), the NPCs of this game - and there are a lot of them - are fairly typical for old, second-class (i.e. not by Infocom or the other classic companies) text adventures. Most of them are only there as puzzles to be solved; you can't interact with them outside of a few very narrow possibilities (the NPC, DO SUCH-AND-SUCH command structure isn't even implemented), and they do nothing on their own; either they just stay in one place until you get rid of them, or they appear, do whatever they're supposed to do, and then vanish. The only possible exception is the comedian, and even he only really has a set joke he spouts on entering each new room, which isn't even related to the room itself. Actually, there was a lot of missed potential with the comedian - he could have made sarcastic comments on the player's actions, taunted the player when something didn't work, et cetera - but no; for the most part he just spouts irrelevant jokes. Now, to the technical issues. To be honest, I didn't remember much about these details, but I figured if I was going to write a review of this game I'd better play through it again (especially since the version submitted might have been a later release than the one I played originally), so I stiffened my lip and subjected myself once more to its inane repulsiveness. As it turns out, the grammar and spelling are far from perfect - there are some misplaced modifiers, missing ending quotation marks, and words that should be capitalized that aren't, among other things, and quite a few misspellings (the most annoying of which was the constant "your" for "you're", though I found it odd that the authors misspelled "monstrous" two different ways in the same paragraph!) - but it could have been a lot worse. The writing is awkward, though; sometimes a simple contraction or two would help its flow immensely, and in a few places there are obvious mistakes (usually in the form of omitted words) that the authors failed to catch, such as "A pudgy cop steps out the vehicle". The attempt at poetry in the dogs' challenges in the Lawn is particularly awful, but at least its awfulness is acknowledged within the game. (Perhaps it was meant to be _dog_gerel? Nah, I don't think the authors were that subtle.) Most of the scenery objects are examinable, though there are some glaring omissions. For example, one room contains dogs with sombreros and big mustaches, but the game doesn't recognize the words "sombrero" and "mustache", and despite the fact that the game tells you that you read the walls of a bathroom stall, and examining the walls tells you they're "written all over", typing "read walls" gives the message "There's nothing to read". Many room descriptions, unfortunately, neglect to mention the exits (and in at least one place the exits are listed incorrectly!). The parser - a homemade one written in Modula-2 - can handle multiple-word commands - adjectives and prepositions are allowed - but I got the idea that it didn't really so much parse them as just do a keyword search. If there's an NPC you're supposed to ASK about something, for example, if often doesn't make a difference what you're asking about, or even whether the NPC is the object or the object of the preposition! At the West End of Lawn, for example, "TALK TO WAITER", "ASK WAITER", "ASK WAITER ABOUT TOMATO", and even "ASK PRUNES ABOUT WAITER" all elicit exactly the same response from the waiter (which incidentally has nothing to do with tomatoes or prunes), while "TALK", "ASK", or even "ASK PRUNES ABOUT TOMATO" yield a different response from the waiter, even though you haven't said you're talking to him. Worse, if there's an NPC around but not one the game requires you to talk to, the ASK and TALK commands get the response "There is no one to talk to," regardless of the objects. Also, such now-standard commands as "undo" and "oops" are missing ("wait", rather inexplicably, yields the response "You must supply a noun"). Additionally, there are a few places that could use better support of synonyms or rewordings: you can MOVE or PUSH a certain body, but not TURN it OVER or ROLL it OVER (despite the fact that when you push it it rolls over anyway), and KNOCK ON DOOR works where KNOCK is answered by the response "It doesn't do any good." There are a number of relatively minor bugs, but I only found three that I would consider really disastrous. First, even after everything else is done, "ENTER BOAT" makes a voice say "YOU ARE NOT READY FOR THE BOAT YET!", but "WEST" gets you on the boat just fine, which is likely to lead players who only try the former command to think there's something left they have to do first. Second, when the game requests a one-letter response, it only accepts lower-case letters, and in fact entering a capital letter in the hangman game (don't ask; its connection to the rest of the game is tenuous) crashes the program with the error "function fell thru the end". Last, if you go to the Indian Battle Ground after getting the collar from the dogs, your collar disappears and you can't get another one, which makes the game unsolvable unless you've already finished everything in the dogs' area. As for the puzzles, well, to be honest, most of them weren't bad, and some of them were quite imaginative. There were few that seemed totally illogical; though I admit I was turned off enough by the bathroom humor that I cheated on a few puzzles by looking at the code to get it over with (there was no walkthrough available when I first played it in August), even for those few puzzles that I cheated on when I found the solutions I thought I could have gotten them if I just hadn't given up so soon. (Granted, though, a few of the puzzles that I did get without cheating involved little logic and a lot of guessing.) One of the two puzzles that involved killing an innocent person was especially clever and well-done, though I wish they had made it so the NPC was only incapacitated instead of killed in cold blood. Another puzzle (getting past the enraged Injun Simon) had me stuck for a long time when I first played it, but when I did finally figure out the solution it seemed blatantly obvious - which I think is one mark of a good puzzle. Most of the puzzles were, however, very disconnected, and there wasn't any plot to speak of (despite the explanation at the end); this again is fairly typical of many old second-class text adventures which were just hodgepodges of plotless puzzles. Also, I seldom like the idea of riddles in a text adventure, and this one had a lot of them. They were readily solvable (well, the last one had me stumped, and even after I cheated by looking at the code I didn't understand it for a long time, but after I finally "got" it I thought I should have gotten it sooner), and the end of the game at least gave some justification for them. In fact, for what it's worth, the ending didn't completely fail to deliver on its promise. It didn't completely succeed either: the fate of your character was positive, but far too much so, so much that it seemed unmotivated (especially given the previous constant emphasis on your character's stupidity and general worthlessness - what exactly did he do to earn such a great reward?), and frankly rather unspectacular by its very superlativeness. I did, however, like the idea of the brief descriptions of what later happened to all the game's NPCs. Unfortunately, the authors' descriptions of what happened to the characters were as juvenile and unfunny as the rest of the game, but the _idea_ of having such a "where-are-they-now" list was original (as far as I know) and entertaining, even if the implementation in this particular game left a lot to be desired. In fact, something similar could be said of much of the game. The authors were not at a loss for good ideas. Subpar parser, plotlessness, and static NPCs aside, the biggest problem this game had was simply its authors' fixation on bathroom humor - and that _was_ a big problem. There were quite a few positive aspects of the game, however. Quite a bit of imagination went into it; it's just too bad that so much of it was directed toward jokes involving bodily functions. There was at least one very nice red herring that I was convinced I must have to do something about (but, as it turned out, I didn't). The geography, if bizarre and illogical, was at least consistent (with the possible exception of wherever exactly that horde of desert natives was supposed to be). The "last lousy point" is actually given for something that makes sense for a change (within the context of the game). In short, these authors aren't completely without potential - well, "this author", I should say; according to the notes in the yodeltxt.txt file one (Michael Eisenman) is now deceased. The main thing he needs to do is get his mind out of the gutter. Sadly, in "I Didn't Know You Could Yodel", the authors' minds were so deeply and firmly wedged in said gutter that this completely overwhelmed any positive things about the game. If Mr. Indovina makes another game without all the toilet jokes and other objectionable attempts at humor, it may conceivably be worth looking at (though unless he takes great strides in a lot of other aspects too it still will be far from top-of-the-line). But unless you have the sense of humor of a particularly snickery preteen, "I Didn't Know You Could Yodel" is decidedly not worth the download. My score for "I Didn't Know You Could Yodel": Atmosphere 0 - None to speak of except repulsive "humor" Gameplay 0.9 - Not bad for a homemade parser, but far from state of the art. Writing 0.3 - The writing was pedestrian at best, and far from devoid of spelling and grammar errors, but at least it didn't have as many as some other games. Plot 0.2 - No real plot, but at least there's some attempt to explain things at the end. Discretion 0.3 - I didn't like toilet humor when I was 10, and I don't like it any better now. I didn't give a 0 for the discretionary points, though because I felt the authors deserved some credit for a few unique touches like the "where are they now" bit at the end. Characters 0.3 - Lots of NPCs, but they're all caricatures you can't interact with Puzzles 1 - By far the best aspect of the game, but still, few really interactive puzzles, and a few felt like guessing games. Plus, the riddles annoyed me. FTP FileDirectory with PC executable and related files

I Must Play

From: Joao Mendes <joao-mendes SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #39 -- January 7, 2005 TITLE: I Must Play AUTHOR: Geoff Fortytwo EMAIL: ifcomp2004Public SP@G DATE: October 2004 PARSER: TADS3 SUPPORTS: TADS3 interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: VERSION: 42.00.009 A story of a little kid who sneaks into the video arcade after hours to play some games while the mean big boys are away. Cute but a bit pointless, if you ask me. Or not! The very first video machine I try. I find myself _inside_ a huge game of Tetris! This was a moment of realization for me, which is always nice. Unfortunately, once the novelty wears off, this becomes just another game with puzzles in it, although in its defense, I was able to figure out all but two of the puzzles on my own, and I only failed one of them because I have been awake for more than a few hours and am getting a bit tired. Of course, I think this game was meant to be very easy, and in that respect, it succeeds. There is one problem, though, and that is that the puzzles feel contrived. It doesn't feel like they're there to support the premise, rather, it feels that the premise was attained as a good means to collate all these random puzzles together. The writing in this game, though error-free, is rather bland. Then again, I suppose the author would have to be an absolute genius in order to manage to be powerful and evocative, given the subject matter. I mean, there's only so much you can say about Tetris. Also, technically, the game works very well. TADS3 handles itself beautifully, as expected, but the author isn't creditless either. Lots of attention to detail, and all the attempted actions seemed catered to. Story: 2 (basic, but well-rounded) Writing: 1 (error-free and gets the job done, but the subject matter lacks in power) Technical: 2 (a very competent use of the power of TADS3) Puzzles: 1 (easy and accessible, but rather contrived) Final rating: 6 FTP FileDirectory with .t3 TADS3 file and walkthrough FTP FileTADS3 source code

I-0: Jailbait on the Interstate

From: Christian Baker <lankro SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #20 -- March 15, 2000 NAME: I-0: Jailbait on the interstate AUTHOR: Adam Cadre EMAIL: ac SP@G DATE: 1997 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: When I first started up I-0, I didn't know what to think of the game. It starts in the front seat of your fantastic new car, which has broken down on the way home to celebrate Thanksgiving. The game has a gimmick, or rather, two gimmicks. The first one would be that you can take all your clothes off, and it really is fun to watch the NPCs react to partial or total nudity. This makes you want to classify it as a Leather Goddesses type game, but it isn't really. It's just about fun. I for one would love to see the reaction of other people if I started stripping in a garage. The second gimmick would be the fact that you can take multiple paths. There is more than one way to win. It is quite easy to win, but I don't really think the point of the game was mind-bending puzzles (Adam has shown his love of non-puzzle games with Photopia.) I-0 is a very good (and funny) game, but there are a few things lacking. The NPCs seem a bit stereotyped, but there is a good bit of conversation from Larry, the loveable truck driver. The writing is very good and always shows the funny side of things, as shown here: You'd like to be able to say you're in the middle of nowhere, but that would be wishful thinking. You're stranded at least fifty miles away from the middle of nowhere. The entire landscape is nothing but barren desert dotted with scrub. Being a desert kid, you're well aware of how much danger you're in. The scenery may be beautiful in its own way, but the sun is beating down like it's got a personal mission to melt you into goo, and you're well aware that out in the desert everything is either poisonous or covered with spikes. Not to mention what could happen to a pretty girl all alone on a deserted highway... As for this particular spot, well, a barbed-wire fence lines the roadside, and Interstate Zero itself stretches endlessly to the east and west. There's a sign here, too, and its twin is on the other side of the freeway directly to your north. I thought the inside of Taco Junta could have been used better, as it seemed a pretty useless location to me. The game isn't particularly big, or particularly difficult, but it doesn't give you any "You can't do that here" messages, and everything is very detailed. It lets you roam free, it doesn't let you sit there and have the plot stuffed down you throat. Adam, a darn fine piece of work. FTP FileInform .z5 file FTP FilePC executable FTP FileInform 5.5 source code FTP FilePlot tree


From: Cirk Bejnar <eluchil404 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #39 -- January 7, 2005 TITLE: Identity AUTHOR: Dave Bernazzani EMAIL: daveber SP@G DATE: October 2004 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: VERSION: Release 6 Identity is an amnesia game set in a generic sci-fi setting. Your patrol ship has crash-landed on an unknown planet and you must unravel the mystery of its sabotage and find a way to get home. It bills itself as an Interactive Short Story, but I found the story element to be rather slight. Though the game told me that my memory was 100% complete at the end I was still none too sure of my character's name and had seen nothing to flesh out the backstory hinted at in the opening scene. Instead, pride of place is given to the puzzles which are generally well thought out and intuitive. There was one place where, when faced with a similar goal as in a previous puzzle, I tried the same solution and was not even given a good reason as to why it didn't work. In another vein, I couldn't find the radio because I missed an exit and so was in no mood to deal with its rather involved puzzle solution. The coding was strong overall and I found no explicit bugs. There were a few moments of awkward phrasing (why is attach implemented but not as a synonym of connect?), but I was able to make myself understood. The writing is serviceable but does not really shine. The real problem here, though, is the world. There is nothing strange or interesting about the spaceship with its standard issue escape pods and a supply closet. Likewise the planet is normal to the point of oddity. There is a yak in the mountains and a simple farming village whose friendly inhabitants converse with you freely. It makes a reasonable frame to hang the puzzles on, but gripping fiction it is not. All that said, I enjoyed Identity more than not. I got to figure things out on my own thanks to the simple puzzles and the planet seemed a rather nice place whose inhabitants I was happy to help. FTP FileInform source code FTP File.z5 Zcode file (updated version) FTP File.z5 Zcode file (competition version)


From: Stas Starkov <stas_ SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #30 -- September 20, 2002 NAME: I'll AUTHOR: Sean Barrett EMAIL: buzzard SP@G DATE: 2000 PARSER: Inform Standard SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: VERSION: Release 1 There are some IF games that can't be narrowly described without completely spoiling the enjoyment of somebody who hasn't played them yet. And "I'll" is one of those. So my review will be ultra-short. "I'll" is very well written from (my) literary point of view, and, while being experimental and a bit oddball, the game provides a good heap of enjoyment. It is puzzle-less (sort of). And you may finish the game in... well, very fast... or you will not. If you like literature experiments, you should try the game. Absolutely. FTP FileZcode .z5 file

In The End

[There are some spoilers in the reviews for this game. --PO] From: John Wood <john SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #10 -- February 4, 1997 NAME: In The End AUTHOR: Joe Mason EMAIL: joe.mason SP@G DATE: October 1996 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Inform Ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF Archive URL: VERSION: Version 1.0 Well, this was a hard one to score - and it's a hard one to review without spoilers. It's a mood piece, with a brooding atmosphere, which starts at a funeral and doesn't get much more cheerful. The quality of writing is exceptional - possibly the best I've seen in IF, and certainly the best of this year's competition. In style of play, it reminds me of the earliest scenes in "So Far." There are no puzzles, and (somewhat to my surprise) this didn't bother me at all. It is possible to play it through several times in two hours, doing things slightly differently each time. Where the game falls down is in some of the technical aspects. The characters have a limited range of responses (though when they do respond they respond well) - "woman, hello" results in a standard "What are you talking about?". The game also fails to recognise obvious actions - when the woman knocks on your car window, "open door" results in "You see no such thing" - and also fails to provide descriptions for much of the scenery (such as the priest conducting the funeral service). Finally, the game crashed once. All of these things hurt the atmosphere, and they happen far too often. It's a tribute to the writing that the atmosphere is maintained to a large degree in spite of this. One experiment that should be mentioned is the complete lack of compass directions. Most of the time this worked well - you drive between the buildings, then enter and leave them on foot. In one location (the Parking Lot) I was stuck trying to move somewhere ("cross lot") for a while before I realised I didn't need to. Summing up, this is well worth playing in its current incarnation, and will be even more so if the author spends some more time "filling in the gaps". From: C.E. Forman <ceforman SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #10 -- February 4, 1997 The author calls this the first attempt at puzzle-less I-F, though this is debatable (and has been debated). Does it succeed? I'd have to say not quite. But it tries very hard. I think what some people overlook is the fact that, as puzzle-less I-F is so inherently different than I-F with puzzles, two different sets of default messages are needed. Why should you be told "You find nothing interesting" in a game when you're not even SUPPOSED to be searching for hidden goodies? Another response is definitely needed here, as well as with other verbs. Further, a couple of guess-the-syntax problems crept up while I was playing - inside the car, "LET WOMAN IN" works, but "OPEN THE PASSENGER DOOR" or "ROLL DOWN THE WINDOW" fail. Trying to figure out the proper syntax constitutes a puzzle, in my opinion (and a rather annoying puzzle at that). This breaks both the realism and the flowing of the plot, and hence it doesn't quite appear puzzle-less. Even the final move ("KILL ME") wasn't easy to deduce. The funeral was certainly depressing, and I'd had some real disappointments (with Annie, in the convenience store, etc.), but I certainly wasn't contemplating suicide, and the author didn't make me feel the need or desire to. Again, I had to guess at his intentions to figure out how to advance the plot, which makes this seem like a puzzle. One thing I did like was the imaginative method of navigating from place to place. A compass-less game is not a unique thing in I-F, but it's not easy to do, and I applaud the effort there. All things considered, this was an interesting experiment, but, even ignoring the guessing puzzles, it was also very short, and didn't quite convince me of the feasibility of larger puzzle-less I-F games. Maybe I'll give it a whirl myself, though. "A" for effort, "C+" for results. From: Chris Klimas <cklimas SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #10 -- February 4, 1997 "In The End" bills itself as 'puzzle-less IF.' It's right -- there are no puzzles to be found here. Puzzles traditionally have existed to buoy up a sometimes lacking plot in IF -- if the plot was marginal, at least the puzzles were interesting. Of course, if the plot is nonexistent, then an infinite number of insanely great puzzles won't help it. The problem with "In The End" is that there aren't any puzzles to help it out. It begins in a church, where you're attending a close friend's funeral. Never mind that we never learn much about your friend. You leave, you get in your car, you meet Annie, who somehow knew your dead friend, you go to a bar, you go to a convenience store, you go to Annie's house, you go to your house. You don't get it at all and read the walkthrough, find out you're supposed to kill yourself, kill yourself, get a quasi-profound poem, and leave dissatisfied. In each of the locations, there are only one or two things you can do. In the church, you can sit through a sermon. In the bar, you can get as many drinks as you feel like. After you've done that one thing, the location closes up to you, so you're left in your house with nothing to do but to kill yourself. The overall genre and setting of the story is a bit confusing. It seems fairly contemporary; there are touches of the future, like giving your car voice commands (never mind that the 'voice command' thing was covered extensively in the Inform Designer's Manual). It doesn't really make sense why the story is set in the vague future, because the story could very well take place right now with very little work. (my soapbox statement: if you're going to use a special genre, make the story integral to it, and vice versa). There is really only one main character aside from the player; the other two (the bar owner and convenience store owner) don't really interact with the player. Annie, the other character, doesn't seem to have much motivation; she bums a ride off you, but nothing happens after you drop her off. She seemed to be somehow involved with your dead friend, but whenever the player questions her, she breaks down in tears and refuses to answer any more questions, so she is a very nebulous character. The writing itself has a nice quality to it. It's above hack-level, but not up there with the likes of Hemingway and Vonnegut. Overall, then, I was disappointed. Following Chekov's metaphor (if you hang a gun on the wall in act one, make sure it gets fired by act three), lots of guns were on the wall, but none were fired. This is really because the narrative is left in the hands of the player. If you can make a complete story out of fragments, then you and "In The End" will work out nicely. However, the point of IF is not to hand the player a bunch of fragments to sort out, it is to place a complete story in the hands of the player. In reality, the only difference between linear fiction and interactive fiction is the method that a reader uses to access the narrative. "In The End" would make a sorry linear story. I dare you to say the same about "AMFV" or "Jigsaw." So this review is not intended as a condemnation of puzzle-less IF. It is a warning to the fools who would tread lightly: writing puzzle-less IF is walking a tightrope without the net. IF with and without puzzles is equally difficult to write, but if you screw up once in puzzle-less IF, you've screwed up the whole thing. FTP FileInform File (.z5)


From: Mary Kate Alexander <mkalex1 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #37 -- July 10, 2004 TITLE: Inevitable AUTHOR: T.L. Heinrich (a.k.a. Kathleen M. Fischer) EMAIL: mfischer5 SP@G DATE: 2003 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: In Kathleen Fischer's Inevitable, you find yourself wandering through a deserted city, your ostensible goal to find a way to repair your plane and leave, though it quickly becomes apparent that the player will also be delving into the PC's past at the same time. The atmosphere and puzzles in this game are reminiscent of Myst, and the descriptions are vivid enough to make this work well in a text-based game. Inevitable has several interesting features. One is the ability to set the difficulty level to easier or harder than the default (an option only available at the start of the game). While there are no hints or walkthrough available, attempting a particular puzzle in the easier version of the game is a pretty good substitute; the difference in difficulty between levels is not great, but enough to help a couple of times when I got stuck in the harder version. The puzzles themselves are pretty straightforward, with minimal guess-the-verb problems. In addition to the score and number of moves, a number of memories is given at the top of the screen; at various points throughout the game, something that you see will remind you of the past, and the number of memories will increase. The command REMEMBER will retrieve these memories. I found this to be a relatively smooth way bring up things that the PC knows but the player doesn't. Another set of commands that I found convenient was LIST PLACES, which gives a list of locations that you've already visited, and GO TO [location], which lets you jump to places that you've already visited (the response is, "You make your way back to [location]"). The map in this game isn't big enough for moving around in the usual way to be too onerous, but I'd love to see GO TO implemented in larger games, where moving from one place to another can get to be rather tedious. The writing was excellent; as mentioned above, the puzzles require a very clear visualization of the setting, and the location and object descriptions were more than sufficient for this. I only caught one typo, in an object description. The game was well-implemented; most things I tried to do or look at gave an appropriate response, and the default messages were altered to avoid breaking the mood (e.g., when you try to go in a direction without an exit, "After a moment's thought, you realize that you can't go that way."; or when you try to do something that's not allowed or not possible, "You scowl at the thought," or "You laugh at the thought."). My only criticism would be that there's an interesting (though not strikingly original) backstory, and well-designed puzzles, but the two are not very integrated with each other--basically, you end up trying to get a series of machines working without any good reason why. Overall, though, I found this a thoroughly enjoyable game; on a scale of 1-10, I'd give it a 7. FTP FileZcode .z5 file, updated release FTP FileZcode .z5 file, Spring Thing 2003 release


From: Stephen Granade <ssgranade SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #1 -- May 15, 1994 NAME: Infidel PARSER: Excellent (Infocom) AUTHOR: Michael Berlyn PLOT: Good EMAIL: ??? ATMOSPHERE: Fair to weak. AVAILABILITY: LTOI 1 WRITING: Excellent PUZZLES: Heiroglyphics puzzles are interesting. SUPPORTS: Infocom ports CHARACTERS: None DIFFICULTY: Medium On your first big archaeological dig, you manage to waste most of your money and alienate your workers. To top it off, you can't find the pyramid you're after. And then your crew drugs you and abandons you... The game's parser is up to Infocom's usual level. Michael Berlyn's writing helps bring the pyramid to life, although I found some sections of the pyramid to be a bit weakly written. The plot moves along fairly briskly at first, then widens to allow more exploration once you find the pyramid. There are no true NPC's in the game; how many characters are you likely to meet while exploring a long-dead pyramid? My wildcard points went to the game's hieroglyphics. I had a lot of fun trying to decode them, and they made many of the puzzles solvable on the first try. Infidel can be found in Activision's Lost Treasures of Infocom, a re- packaging of Infocom's games. LTOI lacks much of the flair of Infocom's old packages, but at least the games are still available. Infidel is of medium difficulty, an entertaining game but not a true classic. From: Derek S Felton <derek SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #1 -- May 15, 1994 The story is straightforward and the puzzles aren't _that_ complicated. I enjoyed the game's descriptions of rooms and objects because they give the player the feel of being inside an adventure movie. I was disappointed with the other living characters, though: there aren't any! What's a good desert adventure story without a few scorpions, asps, and mummies? Nonetheless, INFIDEL is a good adventure for players with little or no experience with interactive fiction. Get ready to map and translate hieroglyphics. FTP FileSolution (Text)

Inform School

From: Adam Myrow <myrow SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #24 -- March 24, 2001 NAME: Inform School AUTHOR: William J. Shlaer EMAIL: shlaer SP@G DATE: December 1999 PARSER: Inform Standard SUPPORTS: Infocom/Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware IF Archive URL: VERSION: Release 1 I originally downloaded this file because I've always wanted to learn Inform and start writing games eventually. I am somewhat familiar with mainstream programming languages like C and C++, but I figured that it was best to use the tools that are already designed for games. Like any prospective Inform programmer, I had a copy of the Designer's manual, the compiler, latest library, and sample source code. I had a vague understanding of things, but wanted to experiment further and really try to grasp them better. I tried a program called the Informatorium, but found it sorely lacking in tutorial potential. It just wasn't interactive enough although I got a good laugh at its IF references. So, while browsing the index file on GMD, I encountered the entry for school.z5 which proclaimed to be an Inform tutorial. "What the heck?" I thought. It can't hurt to try it. So I downloaded it and discovered that it is much more useful than Informatorium. In fact, the author wrote it to be an improvement on that game and expand on it and make it truly educational. The result is amazing for this purpose. Not only do you get to see source code, you get to write it! That's right, you can try out object creation and even create a simple game within the program and yes, make mistakes. It's an implementation of Inform within Inform. Actually, it calls itself INF, a severely truncated version of Inform, but it lets you do most typical activities. In fact, I suspect that most of the "Ruins" sample in the designer's manual could be created within the context of the game. The program starts out with a warning that it could crash an interpreter and may not work on all Zcode interpreters. After that dismal warning, you have the choice of going to the Inform lab, fully equipped, restore a saved game, or start from the beginning. I started from the beginning and got a lengthy notice about what to try if things didn't work and an introduction about how I decided to take summer classes in a self-taught Inform school. "Ok, whatever," I thought and started to explore and read. It didn't take me long to find a text-book that explained what was up and find a lab where Igor is! He sits around and comments on some of your errors and can be made to give you a demo of how to go about creating objects. From here, you're on your own. You have some assignments in the book that is part of the game and you can read them with simple commands. You can even mark which ones are done and which still need doing. The assignments start out very simple and get harder from there. The first assignment is to create a starting room and then you add objects to that. Next you add doors, more rooms, locked containers, and scored objects. You go into things that can be turned on and off, and finally, get to start defining rules to make something a poison, make it produce sound, and change default responses for taking and dropping. You get to also experiment with naming objects in ways that make it hard to interact with them. On top of all this, you can go to "class rooms" that have the same numbers as the assignments and they have fully implemented answers to each exercise. You can view their source code and the book that you read within the game in some cases, tells you exactly what to type. I haven't really followed the assignments in exact order. I went out of my way to use them as examples to create my own objects. For example, I started out with an airplane, a bag of peanuts, and the tray that you would put food on while in flight. I went from their and defined some other ideas that I wanted to try to implement and now have a HAM radio that if on will generate a description of hearing a conversation through static and if off, is silent. It's fun to create objects without having to compile a complete story file. Actually, I'm trying out ideas for my first Inform game which I may or may not ever write. If I should write it, the game will involve surviving a plane crash and having to get out of the forest. I was thinking of having a HAM radio that you have to repair or make an antenna for and use it to send out a distress signal. Like I said, I don't know if this will ever amount to anything, but I like experimenting and learning interactively at the same time. As for the warnings about crashing the interpreter, it isn't kidding. The program doesn't do real strict error checking, so if you forget quotes where they should be, you may find yourself looking at something like "fatal error: print at illegal address." This doesn't really bother me, as I figure it's part of the learning experience. Besides, if you want error checking, use the standard compiler. This gives you an idea of what would happen if the compiler let you get away with bad syntax. For example, mess up an after rule, and you might make an object untakeable with no response whatsoever if you try to take it. In short, if you want to learn Inform, but are having trouble, give this program a try. It isn't perfect, but it will give you a nice place to practice without having to constantly compile story files. You can create objects and change them on the fly and see how they will behave. It's really worth it for any potential student of Inform and could save a lot of aggravation when you're ready to write a real game. FTP FileInform file (.z5)


From: Paul O'Brian <obrian SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #17 -- May 10, 1999 NAME: Informatory AUTHOR: William S. Shlaer EMAIL: shlaer SP@G DATE: September 1998 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 1 Every year I've been writing reviews for the IF competition, I've seen several games which are their authors' first attempt at learning Inform. These usually aren't the better games -- I find that most of the really good Inform games in the competition are not the first pieces of code ever hacked together by their authors. Informatory, however, gives a twist to this tendency -- it is the author's first attempt to *teach* Inform. Rather than replicating its author's apartment or dorm room, Informatory instead replicates a number of familiar scenes and objects from various canonical IF games, and allows its player to peek at their source code in order to give some insight as to how Inform could be used to create them. It does this through a handy device known as the "Codex Helmet" -- whenever the player character wears this helmet, source code for all objects becomes visible. Of course, a couple of elementary puzzles must be overcome in order to gain access to this miracle of technology, but hints are provided for those puzzles. Once the Helmet is acquired, Informatory presents a new kind of puzzle: to progress in the game, you must decipher the Inform source code of its objects so that you may use their special properties to your advantage. For me, this kind of puzzle worked well, because it relied on information I had already acquired through working on my own Inform creations. However, for someone who did not know Inform and wasn't particularly interested in investing much time to learn it, I think those puzzles would be a major nuisance. In fact, if you're not interested in learning Inform, my advice would be to give this game a pass. Its interests are much more in helping novices to learn Inform in a fairly fun and ingenious way than to provide a fun gaming experience for everyone. This is a perfectly acceptable goal, but it makes Informatory more educational software than entertainment software. The game invokes the genie from Andrew Plotkin's Lists and Lists, and the reference is quite apt -- that game also didn't much care about entertaining, instead giving the focus to its own (remarkable) z-machine implementation of Scheme. Informatory didn't feel quite as oppressive as Lists to me, probably because I'm already familiar with Inform, an advantage I sadly lacked when it came to Scheme. However, the two share a common theme: they are not so much games as teaching tools, and if you're not interested in learning, the tool isn't for you. Having thus limited its audience, Informatory does its task rather well, I think. The author bills it a "not-very-interactive tutorial," and I think he's only half-right on both counts. Depending on how you define the term "interactive", I think Informatory is quite interactive indeed. It's probably the only game I've ever seen that actually assigns outside reading to its players so that they have a better chance at the puzzles. This obviously doesn't work in the competition context, but someone might find it a little useful when used as a tool in its own right, especially if that person is already in the process of learning Inform. Furthermore, Informatory's source-code-oriented puzzles are *much* more interactive than the typical tutorial style of "announce the concept, show the concept, now you try it." Now, this is a double-edged sword too: sometimes the lack of guidance can really be rather frustrating. I sometimes found myself wishing for the genie from Lists to keep hanging around, giving me clues when I needed them. Consequently, I didn't find Informatory to be "not-very-interactive", but I didn't really find it to be a "tutorial" either. Instead of teaching Inform piece-by-piece, it assigns reading in the Designer's Manual, and in fact those assignments are only reachable after solving a number of source code puzzles. Informatory therefore isn't much of a teacher, but it's a good quiz for those who are already learning. As a competition game, it's no great shakes: at its best, it's about as much fun as taking a really interesting test. However, I can see it becoming one useful tool for people who are beginning to get their feet wet in the sea of Inform. Rating: 6.8 From: David Ledgard <dledgard SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #17 -- May 10, 1999 The first time I tried this game, I couldn't get in the White House so gave up. I had another look at it because I was suckered into doing these reviews, and am rather glad I did. The problem wasn't very difficult, just took a bit of time and intellectual albow grease. There are quite a number of humerous jokes in this game including the leaflet (having written a game myself I totally agree), and the sink and flame jokes. This game resonates with me, and I'll wager (a) the Author is British, and (b) has spent several years doing a computer course. A few minor gripes, toad should have said 'POOP! POOP!', and the letter Z is not recognised by "crudely" or "carved", ditto for the journal. I kind of figured I'd find a skeleton key in the skeleton, comment required for this action. I had thought of including inform snippets in my Spacestation game as well, but ran out of time. They'll probably be in the next version. The codex helmet did get very annoying very fast, though, it was just like looking up hints, only much more tedious. A FULL command, telling you where you scored your points, might have been good too. FTP FileInform file (.z5) (updated version) FTP FileDirectory with Inform .z5 file and walkthrough (competition version)


From: Duncan Stevens <dns361 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #20 -- March 15, 2000 TITLE: Inheritance AUTHOR: Eric Toth E-MAIL: ericndana SP@G DATE: 1999 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABIILTY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 1 (I think--no version number in the game) Eric Toth's Inheritance is a throwback of sorts: it's a house filled with puzzles for the sake of puzzles, puzzles for their own sake rather than for the purpose of a story. While there's an ostensible plot, it doesn't really have much to do with the action besides providing an excuse for the puzzles. On the other hand, several of the puzzles are very clever indeed, and the whole thing is solidly done. It seems that your rich uncle has asked you to come to his mansion to discuss your inheritance, so here you are-- the trick is finding your uncle, who doesn't seem to be around. The mansion is crammed with strange puzzles, though, as noted, and as you might guess, solving enough of them entitles you to fabulous wealth. And off you go, solving puzzles, and eventually you reach the end. The puzzles themselves vary--some are a bit obscure, but all are logical and some are rather ingenious; one relies on an object that the room description seems to dismiss as unimportant, and another suggests that there's a way to manipulate it that doesn't in fact work, but there are worse sins, I suppose. The plot itself hinges on a series of shapes you pick up here and there--plastic circles and squares and such--which go into an device with appropriately shaped slots. There are very few surprises along the way, really--just puzzles. They're not bad puzzles at all, really; several of them span multiple rooms in reasonably creative ways. But they're puzzles for their own sake. The various elements of Inheritance hang together quite well. There are no bugs to speak of, and the few misleading responses aren't game-killers. A few objects go underdescribed, and one puzzle is a bit contrived, but the game design, while not incredibly innovative, is quite adequate for the job. The writing, likewise, is unremarkable but competent; I didn't see any errors or awkward phrasing. (You may miss the final bit of text, however, because the game kicks you straight out to the DOS prompt when you reach it. Play Inheritance from DOS rather than from a window, in other words.) There are attempts at cobbling together a story of sorts--one significant object is described as a gift from your uncle that doesn't really fit, another is identified as incongruous in another respect--but the bits don't add up to a story. There's not much inherently wrong with Inheritance, really, other than the point when it appeared, namely late 1999--as all-puzzle, minimal-story games are hardly in vogue these days. The puzzles would have to be impressive indeed for such a game to be received well--see Erehwon for a puzzle-driven game whose puzzles were good enough to make up for the lack of plot--and while Inheritance's puzzles aren't buggy, they're not all that original either. The shift toward the fiction aspect of IF has raised the playing population's standards regarding what works as a game, and even the most skillfully done crossword will get a tepid response if the narrative doesn't justify it. Here, I'm afraid, the narrative doesn't do much more than provide an excuse for the setting. Nostalgic fans of IF--those who first encountered IF when story was subordinate to puzzles--may well enjoy Inheritance--it's a solid example of its type. But IF as it has come to be known rarely works this way, I'm afraid. From: Karen Tyers <karvic SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #20 -- March 15, 2000 My attention was drawn to this little gem by a posting on the newsgroup I read, and it was precisely because it was deliberately being under-promoted that made me go online and get it. I can't remember the exact wording now but the responses to the posting ranged from 'if it's that *** bad why should I play it' to 'I played it and loved it'. Anyway I duly downloaded the TADS gamefile and this was the intro that greeted me: "You haven't spoken to your rich, eccentric uncle in several years, but when he asks you to visit his mansion to discuss your inheritance, you gladly agree. His private helicopter picks you up at his office building and flies you to his secluded mansion. The pilot sets down on a roof-top helicopter pad, and informs you that your uncle is waiting for you in the south tower, before flying off into the night. INHERITANCE by Eric Toth (ericndana SP@G Developed with TADS, the Text Adventure Development System." So I found myself on the roof of the mansion looking at two towers, one of which I could enter and one I couldn't. Having got down into the mansion, I duly began to explore. It's not a very large game - about 27 locations, excluding the arbitrary maze, which is not large and very easily mapped. Actually I am probably wrong to call it a maze, since the exits are clearly marked and there's no real way to get lost. I soon came across my uncle's laboratory (minus one uncle....), which contained a peculiar device which looked like one of those childrens' puzzles with slots of varying shapes. At last, I could use the various pieces of plastic I had found. There was also something that looked like a printer attached to it. This is a simple little game, and should be easily finishable in a couple of hours, or as the author says, over a lunchtime, unless you are like me of course. I got totally stuck because I couldn't get a blasted cat to move out of the way. However, a quick email to the author solved that problem, and one other concerning a photo (which was a bit oblique but when you knew the answer, quite logical). This could easily be developed into a much larger game, although I don't think Eric has any intention of doing anything else with it. It's a real shame, because it is a lovely traditional game, and if like me, you are not keen on the way a lot of i-f is going, you will have a lot of fun zooming around this one. There were one or two grammar errors ('a' instead of 'an' and wrongly used apostrophes for example), but I only found one 'proper' bug and that does nothing to stop you playing the game - just try typing 'sleep' when you're sitting in the armchair and you'll see what I mean. It would also have been improved by the addition of more synonyms. Overall this is ideal for beginners - they should only come unstuck in one place, where a more detailed description of a very mundane item could point you in the right direction, but this is really my only gripe. Go download it - you'll have a couple of hours fun. FTP FileTADS .gam file


From: Christopher E. Forman <ceforman SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #9 -- June 11, 1996 NAME: Inhumane GAMEPLAY: Bare-bones Infocom AUTHOR: Andrew C. Plotkin PLOT: Parody of Infocom's "Infidel" EMAIL: erkyrath SP@G ATMOSPHERE: Dememted AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF Archive WRITING: Passable PUZZLES: Get youself killed SUPPORTS: ZIP Interpreters CHARACTERS: Nope, afraid not DIFFICULTY: Half-hour at most [A spoiler for the ending of Infocom's "Infidel" follows. If you haven't solved it, don't read on.] I'll start off by saying this: "Inhumane" is not meant to be taken seriously. It's a puzzle-less parody of Infocom's "Infidel," written by the author when he was 15 or so, and translated from the original AppleSoft BASIC version to Inform. But it's actually kind of fun, with a few small laughs, and it brought back some great memories of my own abysmal (though they seemed great at the time) early attempts at I-F. Perhaps more good-natured sharing of first-try games is in order. I may even translate on of my own, if the interest is there. What little plot there is begins along the same lines as "Infidel." You've been abandoned on an archaeological dig, and must find and explore a hidden pyramid. Once you get inside (and a couple of notes left behind by your partner tell you haw), you're confronted by a malevolent spirit who offers to give you the key to the treasure room in exchange for your getting killed by a series of traps to prove yourself a complete moron. This aspect of the game pokes fun at the fact that your character dies at the end of "Infidel" -- in "Inhumane," you have to get killed nine times to win. Some of the traps are rather imaginative, though it's nearly always painfully obvious when you're going to die. For the most part, though, "Inhumane" is just an excuse for a bunch of incomprehensible inside jokes about high-school geometry class. Though you'll get a couple of laughs, it sounds a lot funnier than it actually is. Far more entertaining is the "History of Infocom" section of the online help, which describes some of the other Infocom parodies author Andrew Plotkin and his friend worked on at one time. From: Francesco Bova <fbova SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #20 -- March 15, 2000 Have you ever wondered how some of your favorite interactive fiction authors got started? I can remember playing Jigsaw for the first time and thinking that its author (Graham Nelson) must have been born from an exceptionally intelligent gene pool, gone to an ivy league school, or been raised by alien technology. The game was incredible and I'd always wondered what sort of experience had lead to producing someone with such good programming and writing skills. Well, the game Inhumane provides us with a brief snapshot of what one of the better known IF authors, Andrew Plotkin, was up to in his younger years. Inhumane (a game originally coded in basic by Plotkin when he was 14), is a spoof of the Infocom classic Infidel. Infidel was one of the easier Infocom games (I think I won in it in about 2 days), and keeping with that tradition, Inhumane is easily winnable within an hour. No guess-the-verb puzzles, no scenic landscapes, no moral plays. Basically, it's the antithesis of everything Andrew Plotkin has made since. (see So Far, Spider and Web) The game follows the same premise as Infidel (find the buried treasure), but that's where most of the similarities end. Much like Infidel, Andrew has incorporated a few novel traps into this game. Unlike Infidel, the goal is not to disarm or avoid them, but rather to get killed by as many of them as possible. Only then can you attain the ultimate treasure (you'll understand this bizarre logic once you play the game). I'm not really giving too much away here because you should be able to win the game in the time that it takes you to download it. As a game, the traps are adequately programmed and maybe the only real flaw is that the objects you can examine usually don't have any descriptions. This seems to be a fairly small shortcoming considering the age of the author when he wrote it, and the fact that this game was coded in BASIC. All in all, not a bad little game. Certainly better than some other first attempts out there. At the very least, it's interesting from a historical standpoint to play the first offering from one of the premier talents in the interactive fiction community before he became a premier talent. FTP FileInform File (.z5)


From: Felix Grützmacher <felix.gruetzmacher SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #36 -- March 16, 2004 TITLE: Insight AUTHOR: Jon Ingold EMAIL: jonnyingold SP@G (as given by the game's help text) DATE: 2003 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-machine implementations AVAILABILITY: IF archive URL: RELEASE: 4 "Before I've arrived I can see myself coming." -- Robbie Williams, from his song "Feel" From his previous games "All Roads", "Failsafe" and "My Angel", we know that Jon Ingold likes to experiment with the various possibilities the medium of IF has to offer. "Insight" brilliantly continues in this tradition. He is not through with us yet, poor experimental subjects that we are. Interestingly, the help text states that "INSIGHT is a standard text-game in many ways." Well, it's non-standard in many others. "Insight" is not a puzzler in the sense that "The Mulldoon Legacy" is. Neither is it a static story in the guise of interactive fiction, like "Photopia". But it also isn't an adventure game of the old school like most Infocom classics. This one is different. The game starts off with the PC interviewing a man who is being accused of murdering his wife. This interview serves the purpose of equipping the player with certain pieces of information he needs later on when investigating the scene of the crime, if indeed a crime it was. The atmosphere balances precariously somewhere between science fiction and political thriller, the sci-fi feeling resulting from the fact that most of the action takes place on Mars. These are two genres which have seldom been combined in literature (Frank Herbert's Dune being an interesting exception), let alone in IF. To my mind, the combination was successful. There are two major puzzles in the game. The PC has a certain special talent, and one of the puzzles consists of finding out what it is and putting it to good use. The second puzzle is piecing together what really happened. You won't find any of the standard adventure game frustrations such as mazes, battery failures and inventory restrictions. When I was playing "Insight" for the first time, I eventually felt I had exhausted every possible way of gaining more information, so I decided to leave the scene and do something else. The game reacted by simply telling me my investigation was finished, and asking if I wanted to restart or quit. Frustrated, I gave it a break. When I came back to it a few days later, I played with more insight. Don't give up when you feel stuck, just try again. As to the experimental nature of this game, I cannot go into any substantial detail without spoiling the fun. You'll have to find it out for yourself. But take my word for it, it's worth every second of download time. On the technical side, I didn't find any serious flaws. Mackenzie, the only substantial NPC, has a vast repository of responses, and the program keeps track of which topics have already been talked about. He speaks a language foreign to the PC, thus his inability to understand certain complex questions appears quite realistic. This reminded me a lot of "Failsafe", "LASH" and "Suspended", where the parser's restrictions are brilliantly excused with a bad communication channel. On a scale from 0 to 10, I would rate "Insight" at 8. Difficulty is 3 out of 10. Experienced IFers will probably complete this one in three sessions. FTP FileZcode .z5 file

Internal Documents

From: Cirk Bejnar <eluchil404 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #35 -- December 31, 2003 TITLE: Internal Documents AUTHOR: Tom Lechner EMAIL: lechner SP@G DATE: October 2003 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: VERSION: Release 1 (competition version) At last! A real game! This was the first title the Comp03 randomizer gave me that was neither terminally bugged nor in aid of a specific gimmick. I certainly enjoy text adventures -- that's why I judge the Comp, after all -- but this one was not quite perfect. Firstly, puzzle design. Several of the puzzles require reading the author's mind, but in strikingly different ways. Getting into the estate requires an unmotivated action. Sure I could do that, but why? The basement puzzle has decidedly non-standard syntax. The game accepts *that* phrasing? And using the computer requires that the steps be done in a particular order. I completed it on my own, but the game wouldn't advance until I had gone back and followed the walkthrough. Nothing that can't be cleared up in a post-comp release. Even then, however, this wouldn't really be a ten, for me. I'm not quite sure why. Maybe it has something to do with how the theme of electoral fraud falls flat with me. But I think the real problem is the connection between the story and the puzzles. Both elements are present but they consistently fail to connect. I wanted to learn more about the house, the damming of the river, how Holden got connected to Gov. Blight, but the game just doles out enough to keep the plot moving along. Details are sometimes colorful, but they never add up to a satisfying picture. FTP FileDirectory with zcode .z5 file and walkthrough

Internal Vigilance

From: Michael A Russo <mar2116 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #43 -- January 7, 2006 TITLE: Internal Vigilance AUTHOR: Simon Christiansen EMAIL: simonchrist1729 SP@G DATE: October 1, 2005 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-Machine interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF Archive URL: vigilance.z5 VERSION: Release 1 When writing this review, I've continually been aware that perhaps I'm taking the game more seriously than it wants to be. I work at a human rights organization directly involved with issues - U.S. detention and interrogation policy, the proper role of civil liberties in wartime - which are very close to those implicated by Eternal Vigilance. As a result, I found the premise of being put in an interrogator's shoes and turned loose fascinating, if disturbing, and was eager to explore the dynamics of security. That the game turned out to be more spy-thriller than political-thriller was thus disappointing; both main factions appear rather cartoonish, and again, the struggle is rarefied and divorced from social reality. The fate of the poor writer is somewhat problematic, but not especially so - given my job, I feel like I'm rather more sympathetic to the civil liberties side of things than are most people, so if I thought his detention and interrogation was bad policy but ultimately justifiable, I suspect most players would be even less bothered. Internal Vigilance employs the rhetoric of the ideological struggle between liberty and security, but it fails to really address the issues, and they act more to flavor the plot than drive it. This is a valid approach, certainly, and can make for an enjoyable game - but it wasn't what I was looking for. Of more moment is that the game ultimately feels superficial. All through high school, my English teachers would repeat that most annoying of mantras: show, don't tell. Internal Vigilance presents a 1984-style dystopia, but doesn't provide any details or specificity on what, exactly, the society does that's so terrible. We're told that the Union tramples on individual freedoms, but the primary example is rather problematic - the writer who's been arrested on suspicion of being involved with terrorism in fact does have a link to a terrorist faction dedicated to the overthrow of the Union, after all. Once the plot picks up speed and the player begins investigating said faction, instances of government oppression are few and far between. The interrogation methods employed by the player are generally unsavory, but not so terrible in the grand scheme of things - indeed, the game perhaps includes an implicit anti-torture message, as direct beating gets you nowhere. As a result, the proceedings feel bloodless; the central dilemma which is meant to give force to the plot lacks tension, and the ideological struggle is an abstraction without weight. All of the above is rather personal and ideological (as opposed to the rest of my reviews, the arch reader points out), which is perhaps testament to the fact that the game doesn't really have any major problems. A few sloppy mistakes appear to have slipped through - I noticed some capitalization errors in the Investigation section, and the apartment number given for the author's mother is inconsistent - but overall the plot proceeds logically, the player has a reasonable amount of choice of where to push the story, and the puzzles are clever and well-clued. Indeed, the opening interrogation is a highlight - it's a conversation puzzle which involves asking probing questions and researching background intelligence on the subject, exactly what's required in actual interrogations. I would have liked to see more options for ideological debate - throwing the fact that the anti-statist author was able to write his book because he was on welfare, for example - but the options that are there are fairly robust. And while the password puzzle is reasonable enough, it's almost unnecessary, as I came very close to guessing the phrase without any clues. The game also shows flashes of humor - the record will show that I am a sucker for X ME descriptions which work in "as good looking as ever." In the end, my objections to Internal Vigilance probably boil down to wanting something out of it that it wasn't meant to give. As a spy story with an oblique nod in the direction of current political debate, it works quite well. But the focus on bombing plots and digging up conspiracies causes the social milieu to recede, and the governmental oppression which theoretically drives the story isn't sharp or specific enough to be anything but background. One advantage of this is that the player is relatively free to decide whether the Union or the terrorists have the right of it, and act accordingly. But this moral weightlessness prevents the game from really engaging with the issues it raises. Zcode executable (.z5)


From: Duncan Stevens <dns361 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #20 -- March 15, 2000 TITLE: Intruder AUTHOR: Volker Lanz E-MAIL: volker.lanz SP@G DATE: 1999 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 59 One of the most important advances in recent IF is what might be called player-friendliness, meaning the game's capacity to supply logical inferences. Michael Gentry's Anchorhead was a particularly good example of this: not only did the game have a large rucksack-type object (a trench coat, in that case) that could hold everything in the game, but it also handled the bulk of the item-juggling for you, so that you put items into and take them out of the trenchcoat automatically when you needed them. Likewise, you had a keyring, and when you came upon something you wanted to unlock, the game automatically sorted through the keys on the ring and checked whether any of them were the right one. Not many games do as much as Anchorhead to help out the player and keep annoyance at bay, unfortunately, and while Volker Lanz's Intruder is a good effort in many ways, the frustration factor is very much a problem. It seems you're a private eye hired to break into a house by a woman who wants evidence against her husband for their divorce proceeding--though it's more like coercion than hiring, since the woman threatens to have your creditors start collecting on their loans if you don't help out. At any rate, you do indeed break into the house, and the initial goal drives what you do in most significant ways for about two thirds of the game. At that point, you start trying to find something else, and how you know what you're looking for or where it would be escaped me completely. It's true, of course, that no IF protagonist ever really feels content if he or she leaves doors unlocked, but there's a difference between pure exploration games--fantasy, in particular, where it makes some sense to look under every stone--and others where you have a defined goal that doesn't include playing magpie. It's one thing to have ill-defined motivations throughout the game, but it's another to have very clearly defined motivations that don't in fact shape everything you do. (Well, they explain the importance of what you eventually find, but you get no hint as to why you would start looking for it originally.) It might have been helpful to actually throw in some of your mental processes: "your thoughts now turn to matter X, and you wonder whether it's possible to find object Y." At least, that would keep the plot moving. Complicating your task in addition is a _very_ small inventory limit, a finite light source (which is pretty easy to exhaust), a fairly restrictive time limit, and a puzzle that requires massive amounts of logistical planning and traipsing around. None of it is illogical per se, I should stress--I can't say that logic is advanced by infinitely large rucksacks, flashlights that last all night, and such--but sometimes cold logic and realism are not the friend of an IF designer. One particularly frustrating puzzle in Intruder necessitates either that you walk around turning on every light in the house or wander around in the dark, which is simply irritating, and while there are several clever puzzles (though some are old chestnuts), the annoyance aspect is considerable. Intruder seems to put a premium on having to do silly little things, like locking your car door before breaking into the house, and while it makes sense, these are the sort of gaps I'd rather just have the game fill for me. (Also, the hints only cover the first third of the game, which I found frustrating, since the puzzles for that section are pretty easy.) It's also annoyingly easy to lock yourself out of victory. Technically, likewise, Intruder is a mixed bag. One container object does not suggest that it is openable, another suggests that it's unlockable when it's not, and the syntax for another puzzle was a total shock to me. There are various little things that bothered me--dropping objects down a hole elicits a "you hear a sound as if something's breaking," even if you dropped a key or a bolt cutter, which aren't in fact likely to break. There are some typos and writing errors as well, but the bulk of the problems are design-related, and they diminish any potential for immersion considerably. The frustration factor is all the stronger because there's plenty to like about Intruder in other respects. The backstory is well done--it's rare that you have a PC with such a thoroughly defined set of motivations--and there's an actual reasonably believable plot. The characters--you and the woman who hires you, and to some extent her husband--come across very effectively; the author spends enough time developing each character to make them understandable and not caricatures. The setting itself is well described without excessive detail, and most of the objects and locations make sense. The tedium distracts from the story, unfortunately, and the logistical-planning aspect makes Intruder less a story than a set of tasks. In short, the story of Intruder has plenty of promise, but the implementation of the puzzles gets in the way. Intruder isn't a bad effort, at bottom, and it has its moments. If you can overlook the design flaws, it might be worth a try. FTP FileInform .z5 file and HTML manual

Isle Of The Cult

From: Eric Woods <ewoods SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #40 -- April 12, 2005 TITLE: Isle of the Cult AUTHOR: Rune Berg EMAIL: runeberg SP@G DATE: Dec. 23, 2004 PARSER: TADS SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: VERSION: 1 Isle of the Cult is the first work from Rune Berg, and I didn't discover this until after I had completed the game. I went looking for other games and was disappointed to find that there were none. We don't usually find such good games as an initial attempt by authors. I am very hopeful that he will give us another game in the near future. You play a thief who gets boated to an island that doesn't seem to have been inhabited for some time. You have been sent by the Guild, though thanks to seawater smudging your letter, you don't really have much idea of what you are supposed to do. What's more, you forget all your supplies in the boat that departs as the game starts. Let's go exploring. The setting is very good in this game, allowing for some oddities of a ramshackle, fantasy, super-natural, genre game. The sense of desolation and ruin is done well in the village, and the jungle and beach settings are adequate if somewhat sparse and terse. Overall, I found the island and its structures and locations to be very believable. One thing I did notice, however, is that, even though the overbearing sense is that this place has been run from long ago, there is still the smell of baking bread in the bakery. Odd, but we allow some discrepancies for the sake of puzzles. And there are puzzles aplenty. This game is a puzzlefest from the good old fashioned days of IF. It is impossible to go through two locations without encountering a problem to overcome. Personally, I love puzzles in my IF games and the ones you'll encounter on the Isle are well done, sometimes clever, most always logically based, and satisfying when you complete them. I only found one that didn't seem very logical but this can be explained by the supernatural aspects of the game. With minimal trial and error, manipulation of the items in your inventory, and a little thought, an experienced gamer should get through everything. Though ultimately the game offers only one outcome, many puzzles can be tackled in various orders without affecting the ending. Your goal becomes apparent through basic exploration and puzzle solving. You'll know what to do even if you're not sure why you're doing it at the time. I also liked the fact that Berg puts in red herrings throughout the game that seem to be objects or locations that one would expect to find on the Isle. I think it detracts from a game when you know you'll have to do something with everything you find or get through every locked door you encounter. Somehow it makes a game more believable for me if some unimportant stuff is just lying around. Technically the game is extremely sound. I noticed two minor bugs but neither was critical to completing the game or even inconvenient for that matter. It should be noted that Berg doesn't allow for "brief" mode in this game which I would have preferred since I became quite familiar with the lay-out of the setting with the running around and returning to locations that the puzzles sometimes demanded. There is one point in the game, however, where the PC has to return to a distant spot on the island and Berg did a good job of realizing this and incorporating it into the text so that the player is automatically transported there and back without the trouble of typing commands. He also doesn't choose to use the search, look behind, under, etc. functions but lets you know this the first time you try it by telling you examine will work well enough. Things like that made the game play easy and smooth. The story itself is a bit vague. Honestly, I had to play through twice and do some thinking before I came up with the ultimate reason why I'm doing what I'm doing on the Isle, and it's still only a theory, based on some hints in the game. The beginning and ending text is fairly brief, so drawing concrete conclusions is difficult. Regardless, I found this game to be very enjoyable in the old school style of IF which I grew up playing and loving. Those who like and admire good puzzles will feel the same, I'm sure. Those who like more interaction with NPCs will be disappointed. There are no other people on the Isle, and once the boatman leaves you all you can interact with is a monkey and an animated creature. But for those of us who like to go on an adventure alone, I strongly recommend you take an afternoon or two and get to the Isle of the Cult. Hopefully Rune Berg will find another place to cart us off to in the future. From: Jimmy Maher <maher SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #40 -- April 12, 2005 You are a new member of the local guild of thieves. To give you a chance to prove your worth, your guildmaster has loaded you into a boat and deposited you on a remote island as this game begins. Your assignment: to plunder everything you can get your hands on, then return to the jetty to meet the boat again and make your escape. IF old-timers will recognize this setup right away, for it comes from one of the beloved classics of the commercial era, Magnetic Scrolls' Guild of Thieves. Oddly enough, however, Rune Berg's new release Isle of the Cult has the exact same beginning, and is even structured in much the same way. Like Guild of Thieves, Isle of the Cult never pretends to be anything more or less than an unabashed puzzle-fest, with just enough of a stub of a plot to give the player a reason to solve its puzzles. I do not know if this is coincidence or deliberate homage. If homage it is, it is odd that no mention of its esteemed ancestor is made anywhere in the new game's text. Does Isle of the Cult measure up to its predecessor? The short answer is no, but the question is perhaps unfair. Taken on its own merits, Isle of the Cult is a solid and fairly satisfying piece of work, and a welcome debut effort from an obviously talented designer. A puzzle game like this must of course rise or fall on the basis of those puzzles, for there is very little else here. Luckily, this game largely succeeds. The puzzles are not particularly complex, difficult, or even imaginative, but they are mostly reasonable. The game is very solvable as long as the player reads carefully, examines everything, and uses the objects he finds in fairly common sense ways. Virtually everything revolves around the straightforward application of items from the gameworld. There are no elaborate logical setpieces, multi-stage puzzles, or research puzzles. In short, if this were a graphic adventure it would be Monkey Island (and not just for the similar subject matter) rather than Myst. That is not to say that Isle of the Cult is a trivially easy game. It started out that way for me, and I acquired the first 20 or so of 100 points with little thought or effort. However, there is quite a large area to explore by modern standards, and a fair number of objects to juggle. By the middle of the game, I found myself wandering over a large map liberally sprinkled with inaccessible areas and unsolved puzzles. The game is fairly linear in that there are generally only a few puzzles that can be solved at any one time, and the combinatorial explosion factor is significant. And a few puzzles do require some lateral thinking. The fact that the rest of the game is so straightforward actually makes these puzzles more difficult, because the player will likely not be expecting such an obscure solution. Still, I eventually solved the entire game on my own with no recourse to hints. While I am an experienced IF player, I am not always the best puzzle solver. On the old Infocom scale, I would grade this as a Standard level game. The TADS2 development system is designed by default to create traditional text adventures of this kind. Perhaps for this reason, Mr. Berg appears to have made few or no alterations to the parser and standard library. Playing this game confirms my perhaps controversial opinion that the standard TADS2 parser is not quite as robust and capable as the Inform parser. A fair number of common Inform verbs are unimplemented here, and it quickly becomes obvious that complex concepts are simply not possible to communicate to the game. That is not to say, however, that the parser ever presents a real problem. I quickly adapted to using only very simplistic commands, and the author never left me guessing for verbs or phrasing. On a few occasions, I was actually surprised when my commands led to the game doing something far beyond what I had intended. I solved one or two puzzles literally accidentally due to this. Still, I would prefer this situation to the alternative of struggling to get my point across. This philosophy of ease-of-use extends to all other areas of the game. While the game is old-school in form, all of the annoying aspects of that form have been removed. There are no mazes, time limits, inventory limits, hunger daemons, or sudden deaths to be found here. At one point, there is a fairly complex puzzle that the player will likely have to "solve" multiple times. After the player goes through the motions once and receives his score reward, the game automatically repeats the sequence for the player each time it is necessary, thus minimizing tedium. Such small kindnesses are commendable. The game's prose is serviceable, if (like everything else) subordinate to the puzzles. There are rarely more than a few sentences of description for any given location. Even the About text is unusually terse. Still, the prose is grammatically correct and clear, and makes up for in lucidity what it lacks in personality. This is one of the most well-tested games I have played in years. I found not a single bug, typo, or inappropriate response in a fair few hours of gameplay. Isle of the Cult, in spite of its considerable size, is not an ambitious game. It sticks to the tried and true, and there is nothing here that an experienced IF player won't have seen many times before. Yet the whole is executed with a care and polish that eludes many more daring efforts. If you are in the mood for a reasonably sizable old-school puzzlefest, this would make an excellent choice. FTP FileTADS2 .gam file

It's Easter, Peeps

From: Valentine Kopteltsev <uux SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #49 -- August 18, 2007 TITLE: It's Easter, Peeps AUTHOR: Sara Brookside E-MAIL: jsh11a SP@G DATE: May 14, 2006 PARSER: ADRIFT / Inform 6 (Inform port by David Welbourn) SUPPORTS: ADRIFT / Z-Machine interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF-Archive URL: (I played the Inform version of Easter, since starting Adrift games on my computer requires some shamanic activities). This review is going to be about as short as the game it is about -- you can easily beat Easter in no longer than fifteen minutes. As expected, this work features one room. It also features a bunch of puzzles, most of which are trivial. To solve the only one that I found *not* trivial, you need to contact the only NPC in the game, who then gives away the pretty obscure move that leads to success. The enclosed feelies were nice, though. Zip containing both Z-Code and Adrift versions of the game, along with feelies
Go to the previous page of reviews (H)

Go to the next page of reviews (J)