Game Reviews L

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The email addresses used are those submitted with the review, so naturally some of them may be out of date.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

Labyrinth The Lady in Green The Land Beyond The Picket Fence LASH Last Resort Leather Goddesses of Phobos Leaves The Legend Lives! The Lesson of the Tortoise Lethe Flow Phoenix The Light: Shelby's Addendum Lists And Lists Little Blue Men Lock & Key Lomalow Losing Your Grip Lost Lost Kingdom, Brainf*ck Edition Lost New York The Lost Spellmaker Love's Fiery Imbroglio Luminous Horizon Lurking Horror


From: DJ Hastings <dj.hastings SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #47 -- January 16, 2007 TITLE: Labyrinth AUTHOR: Sami Preuninger EMAIL: samantha_casanova SP@G DATE: October 1, 2006 PARSER: Inform 6 SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF Archive URL: VERSION: Release 1 Labyrinth consists of a series of puzzles set in a maze of sorts. Not a "twisty little passages" maze where the directions are non-reversible and the rooms are indistinguishable. No, this maze is logical enough; the main difficulty is figuring out how to get from room to room, and I think I would really have enjoyed it if it hadn't been for a small problem. That problem was the room descriptions: they completely confused me! Each wall in a room is of a different colour, as well as the floor and ceiling, and there are several doorways from each room, usually in strange positions like upside down against the ceiling. These doorways were my main problem; they are described as "archways," and when I first read about "an archway halfway up the south wall, extending from its western edge toward the middle of the wall," I imagined a stone arch sticking out into the room. The archway is really a doorway through the wall, with its base against the west wall instead of against the floor, but I didn't figure this out until I was quite a ways through the game using the walkthrough, and by that point I had already spoiled the rest of the puzzle. The other puzzles were mostly things like Nim or a cipher that would work just as well on paper. I didn't like the inclusion of the cipher. Ciphers essentially say to me, "pause the game while you go figure out this puzzle, and come back here when you're finished." And it was a keyword cipher, which I have no idea how to solve, so I never would have made it past this puzzle on my own. On the other hand, I did enjoy the "magic number" puzzle. It's another "go solve this and come back" puzzle, but the difference is that I enjoyed going and solving it. I probably wouldn't include it in an adventure game, because someone who didn't like that sort of thing would be just as irritated by it as I was by the cipher, but I still had fun with it. In the end, a game like Labyrinth stands or falls on its puzzles. Labyrinth's "maze" is creative and with a bit more clarity would make an excellent setting for a collection of unique and interesting puzzles. Unfortunately, most of Labyrinth's puzzles don't fit that description. There are a couple of exceptions, but they aren't enough to make the game worthwhile. From: David Jones <drj SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #47 -- January 16, 2007 A word of warning. This game has a problem when played with the Zoom based interpreters (including Gargoyle and Spatterlight). Play with Frotz. As far as I know, Preuninger is working on a new version that presumably won't have these problems. Another word of warning: this game is almost pure puzzle. Right from the very first description: "A Sweet-Smelling Room: The room is a perfect cube, about 30 feet on a side. The ceiling is yellow and the floor is purple. The north wall is blue, and the eastern wall is green. To the south, the wall is orange, and the western wall is red. The walls are bare of ornament, and no furniture occupies the room." we can tell that we are entering into a world where certain things, like the colour of the walls, are going to important. The fact that the floor and ceiling are described probably hints at the importance of the third dimension. Our suspicions are immediately reinforced by the following paragraphs that describe in meticulous detail the doors in the room. Most of which are not in their usual orientations and are situated in inaccessible portions of the walls and ceiling. It all adds up to a strong reference to Escher and The Cube (the entertainingly low-budget movie). The game consists of a sequence of puzzles embedded into the framework of a text adventure. Some would say that many of the puzzles would do better without the wrapper. I'm not sure, I think what wrapper there is adds character to the game. You're not merely pulling levers and pressing buttons in some abstract puzzle, you play the part of a trying-to-be-cool maths professor (we can tell because X ME reveals that the PC is into rock climbing and air guitar). Each room has a distinctive smell, this is very handy for orienting yourself, but these are not mere scent markers on your map, they too add character: "The room smells rather strongly of wet dog. You reaffirm your decision never to acquire a pet.". The help text says "I'll just say that drawing a map would be helpful". Well, that _is_ true, and you definitely should draw a map. I drew three. It's one of those games where you realise, perhaps with horror, perhaps with glee, that your map drawing efforts are documenting completely the wrong thing and you'd be better of starting over with a different sort of map. In actual fact the game isn't all that big, and the map isn't that complex, but much of game, the central puzzle as it were, is figuring out exactly what is going on. This puzzle involves transforming the geography in quite a cool way (let's just say that NORTH doesn't always mean the same thing), and you'll probably have needed to paid attention in your algebra class to fully understand it. The puzzles are hard; as well as the main geometry puzzle there are the usual object composition puzzles and riddles, and the rather less traditional, at least in text adventures, game of nim and a cipher (actually I wouldn't be surprised if nim and ciphers cropped up in some very old school games, but they're not common now). There's even an last lousy point puzzle (which I haven't got). Preuninger includes hints and a walkthrough (as separate HTML files); you may be able to finish using them, but they won't necessarily enlighten you. There are those who would say that the game is too puzzle-heavy, it lacks story (it doesn't actually, but the story _is_ more of a cliched veneer than anything else), the descriptions are too mechanical. They miss the point. Labyrinth stands out like a lightning-rod for gaming, it deliberately and directly opposes the modern style of story led interactive fiction. What it lacks in quality and finesse it more than makes up for in reviving freshness. In addition I suspect that the game has a little bit more heart in it than most of its detractors realise. In how many games can you voluntarily FART ? No, I don't really want an answer to that question. With my tongue in my cheek I would say that I found this game a refreshing change from all the diplomat-on-an-alien-planet and mutant-spider games in this year's comp. Z-code game file Hints (HTML format) Full walkthrough (HTML format)

The Lady in Green

From: Graeme Cree <72630.304 SP@G CompuServe.COM> Review appeared in
SPAG #11 -- September 16, 1997 NAME: The Lady in Green AUTHOR: D.F. Stone EMAIL: ? DATE: ? PARSER: AGT standard SUPPORTS: AGT ports AVAILABILITY: URL: The Lady in Green is another from the Electrabot/Detective school of gaming, although it has more in the way of puzzles and story than either of those two. Like them, gameplay consists primarily of following a more or less straightforward path through the game area until you reach the end, at which point you win. Detective had no puzzles along the way and Electrabot only required you to match random weapons with the monsters that they killed. The Lady in Green goes beyond this with some genuine puzzles, but they are still very easy and buggy. A couple even solve themselves (literally). The story begins with you as a tired, bored businessman, returning home from a trip to your wife, kids, and unmowed lawn. At your hotel, you are captivated by a mysterious portrait of a sad-looking woman in a green dress that seems to be reaching out towards you. In true Twilight Zone fashion, you end up traveling through the portrait 200 years into the past into the (empty) bedroom of the lady in green. At this point, it appeared that the story would be either a time-travelling love-at-first-sight story, or some kind of reincarnation affair. It turns out to be neither. When you find the Lady in Green, it turns out that she just wants you to find her 13-year old son who didn't return home last night. You search for him, and find that he has been press-ganged into the British Navy as a galley slave (!). You must rescue him and return him home. The game is divided into several sections. A minor puzzle is usually required to get from one section to the next, and it is impossible to return to an earlier section until the end of the game. It is possible to get the game into an unwinnable state if you fail to obtain a necessary item in one section before leaving it. The game is so short and easy though that this is not a major inconvenience. Furthermore, the game comes with both an ASCII walkthrough file and the AGT source code, so the chances of getting stuck are zero. The puzzles are extremely easy, and as I said, there are some that solve themselves. In two instances, I merely entered the appropriate area while carrying the necessary item, and was automatically told that I had done the right thing with it. The game is still rather buggy. For example, the horse is needed twice during the game, however you are only allowed to ride it in two certain areas. Elsewhere you are simply told that you can't ride it at all. Unfortunately, the horse CAN be picked up and carried around (!). Since the horse is a part of the room description in the stables, you can still see it there when it really isn't. Of course, this could be fixed by changing one line in the source code. You can also be blocked from entering an area by a dog that really isn't there when you examine it. At one point there is a barrel that cannot be taken by saying TAKE BARREL. You need to solve a puzzle to get it. Or you could just say TAKE ALL, which will take everything including the barrel, obviating the puzzle. The characters are cyberphantoms; you're never sure whether they're really there or not, and not only the dog and the horse. When you are returning with the Lady in Green's son, you get the same descriptions you got on the way out. There is no creature (AGT's programming term for all entities other than yourself) accompanying you. You once or twice get a message that indicates that he is with you, but usually have no indication of it at all, and can neither see nor interact with him. The Lady in Green is similarly spectral (which may be appropriate). One turn after you enter the room with her, she gives you your mission and leaves with no chance for interaction (Know what I mean? Say no more. Nudge, nudge.) The game is over the next time you find her again. One interesting thing about the game is the ending, which gives you the option of staying in the past with the Lady in Green, or returning to your old life. Providing genuinely different endings is a rarely seen touch (Plundered Hearts being the only other example I can think of). However, in Plundered Hearts, one of the endings is described as being clearly superior to the others, where here, you are told that they are both valid, even though if you choose to stay, you are abandoning your wife and children in the present simply to run off and live in what the game calls a more exciting time. It's plain to see that D.F. Stone isn't female if he calls this a valid choice. I would have liked it much better if your character had been a bachelor returning home to a life of dirty laundry and ravioli eaten straight out of the can, who had no real ties to the present. This game won an honourable mention in the 6th AGT Game Writing Contest. { As far as I know, _all_ entrants in the AGT Game Writing Contest (that didn't win prizes) got honourable mentions. -- MO } FTP FileAGT source code(.zip)

The Land Beyond the Picket Fence

From: C.E. Forman <ceforman SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #10 -- February 4, 1997 NAME: The Land Beyond the Picket Fence AUTHOR: Martin Oehm EMAIL: oehm SP@G DATE: October 1996 PARSER: Homebrew SUPPORTS: DOS runtime AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF Archive URL: VERSION: Version 1.0 Here's an interesting twist on fantasy games. Rather than making you, the protagonist, a denizen of a fantasy world, "Fence" casts you as an outsider from the "real" world, and sends you into the fantasy to accomplish a goal and escape. To me, this lends more appeal to the atmosphere and makes the adventure decidedly charming. The world itself is far more Carroll than Tolkien, and the difference shines through (though there's nothing inherently wrong with traditional I-F fantasy as it currently stands). The perfect length, nice prose, a couple of clever puzzles, and a surprisingly good parser and DOS-based game engine. It doesn't break any new ground, and it's not "Uncle Zebulon's Will," but it carries the same spirit and it made me want to visit the land beyond the picket fence again soon. FTP FileDirectory With PC Files and executable

Last Resort

From: Jimmy Maher <maher SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #47 -- January 16, 2007 TITLE: Last Resort AUTHOR: Jim Aikin EMAIL: editor SP@G DATE: December 2, 2006 PARSER: Inform 6 SUPPORTS: Glulx interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF Archive URL: VERSION: Release 1 In his newsgroup discussions of his new game and on his webpage devoted to it, Mr. Aikin set it up as something bold and fairly experimental. "Last Resort," he tells us, "is an attempt to use the medium of interactive fiction for a serious story with an actual plot." I thus downloaded the game expecting to find something that, successful or not, would at least push the envelope of the possible. I was surprised to find instead a well put-together, well-tested, and well-written work of IF... but one that does little or nothing really new with the form. It's not that Mr. Aikin was being dishonest. Last Resort IS a serious story with an actual plot. It's just that there have been plenty of serious stories with actual plots before in IF, and Mr. Aikin's tone had somehow made me feel that he meant something new in using those words. Be that as it may, there is nothing here that advances the form in any new directions. Luckily, though, there is a lot to like about this one. In this age of bite-sized IF, a big, solidly designed effort like this is worthy of celebration on its own merits. The plot casts the player as a fourteen year old girl from New York who has been dragged off to the tumbledown resort camp of Eternal Springs in Mississippi by her spinster aunt. Once there, she quickly begin to realize that things are not right. Evil is afoot! The resort is actually a front for a demon-worshipping cult, and in some four hours of game time she will be sacrificed... unless she can thwart the plans of the cult. Like much -- arguably too much -- IF before it, Last Resort settles itself firmly into the genre of Lovecraftian horror. I find it surprising that so many IF authors continue to go down this road, as Anchorhead nailed the genre so well that it seems to me that virtually anything else -- including (retroactively) even Infocom's The Lurking Horror -- is likely to come up short in comparison. Anyway, I tend to find a more understated, psychological approach to horror infinitely more chilling than Lovecraft's wild ravings about unnamable horrors from other dimensions gibbering EVILY. Even a bit of good old Satan worshipping would have gone down pretty well, and this was in fact the direction I initially thought the game was going in when I found, first, a Bible with particularly violent and disturbing passages marked, and then a rather creepy, thoroughly unholy priest. I had decidedly mixed feelings when I realized what direction it was actually going in. And so, perhaps inevitably and certainly not unexpectedly, the plot of Last Resort suffers in comparison with Anchorhead. I think that much of the problem is down to a failure to maintain dramatic tension. The game is indeed, as advertised by Aikin, non-linear, but I'm not sure that its story is the better for it. Basically, the player can wander freely over its fairly extensive terrain -- for which Mr. Aikin has helpfully provided a PDF map -- right from the beginning, attempting to solve the variety of puzzles that block her from thwarting the cult's plans and effecting her escape from the resort. There are a few timed and triggered events, but not enough to make the game feel like a satisfying story rather than just a collection of static obstacles to conquer. The plot has no real climax as all. If she solves all of the puzzles in time, she leaves the island on which the resort is situated and it's game over, accompanied by a massive case of anti-climax. If not, she is sacrificed and that's that. Something more is definitely needed here. But if the plot is a bit thin, there is much else to appreciate. The puzzles are sometimes difficult, but generally satisfying. The writing is detailed and evocative, and the scenery is well-implemented throughout. Eternal Springs in all its overheated, dilapidated splendor feels like a real place. Two things really set Last Resort off from games like it from five or ten years ago. One is the aforementioned level of scenery implementation. The other is the NPCs. There are quite a few of them here, all vividly described and memorable, if sometimes a bit cliched. They aren't terribly active -- most stay in the same place pretty much throughout the game -- but they have a surprising amount to say. Almost any reasonable query that these people SHOULD know something about they DO. Inform unfortunately does not (yet) have anything of quite the sophistication of the TADS 3 conversation model, but Mr. Aikin has made good use of the tools he does have. This contributed greatly to my enjoyment of the game, and is I suspect the main reason that the it ballooned to a size too big for the Z-Machine to contain. I hate to think of the amount of work that must have gone into Mr. Aikin's characters. Last Resort is not a terribly easy game. As mentioned previously, there is a time limit, which is something I generally have mixed feelings about. The game is quite generous as such things go, though, allowing plenty of time for exploration. I actually never ran out of clock in my time with the game, although I was always aware of the time limit and thus occasionally restored to an earlier point after spending too much time going down some fruitless path or another. It is also quite possible to make the game unwinnable. The game will not warn its player in any obvious way when this happens, but just continue merrily onward. I think that the reasonably careful player will, however, generally be able to recognize these situations. The key here is to approach Last Resort as a text adventure, not a piece of interactive literature, contrary as this may be to the expectations created by Mr. Aikin's own comments on his game. Hint: If you find yourself asking why no one comments on the fact that you are carrying around several dozen bizarre, non-related items in a huge sack like a fourteen year old Santa Claus, or how this young girl is able to lift this much assorted junk in the first place, you are officially in the wrong frame of mind. Luckily, I like text adventures a lot, and this is, all things considered, a pretty darn good one. Together with my girlfriend I was able to solve all but two of its puzzles. At least one of those two -- the final step in clearing the dog away from the shed door -- I thought was a bit dodgy, but then every game seems to have at least one. Overall, Last Resort is a fine piece of work that will likely consume several evenings of happy adventuring. All but the most puzzle-averse should definitely give it a go. Glulx game file, PDF map, and author's notes

Leather Goddesses of Phobos

From: Graeme Cree <72630.304 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #4 -- March 2, 1995 NAME: Leather Goddesses of Phobos GAMEPLAY: Infocom Standard AUTHOR: Steve Eric Meretzky PLOT: Excellent EMAIL: ? ATMOSPHERE: Excellent AVAILABILITY: Mail Order (maybe) WRITING: Excellent PUZZLES: Excellent SUPPORTS: Infocom Ports CHARACTERS: Very Good DIFFICULTY: Advanced In this risque imitation of 1930's pulp fiction, you are captured by the Leather Goddesses of Phobos. For some reason, you escape, and with your trusted companion Trent/Tiffany, you tour the Solar System searching for a collection of incongruous objects, which when put together will form a super-duper-anti-Leather-Goddesses-of-Phobos-attack-machine. The game begins by patting itself on the back for the outraged reactions that it will likely induce in old fuddy-duddies, though truth be told it is not much dirtier than your average beer commercial (though it is much more clever). The game has three naughtiness modes for dealing with sex scenes: TAME - No sex scenes SUGGESTIVE - You're told that the scene is happening, but no more LEWD - Level of description about equal to a Harlequin novel In addition, Lewd mode has one or two 4-letter words, seemingly thrown in out of some sense of obligation, as they don't mesh very well with Meretzky's humour at all. The game wonderfully recreates the feel of 30's pulp fiction, from the swordfight on the hull of the Space Battleship (without spacesuits, naturally), to the Sultan and other colourful characters you meet on Mars, to the delightfully contrived situation at the South Pole, to the marvelous running gag concerning the lucky escapes of your faithful companion. The final scene where you try to assemble your machine while under attack by all of the Leather Goddesses minions is one of the greatest moments in interactive fiction, and one that would be utterly impossible to reproduce with graphics. I generally enjoy games like Spellbreaker that spread the action over a wide area, and Leather Goddesses has one of the widest areas of all, with the action ranging between Venus, Mars, Phobos, Earth, and Saturn orbit. Leather Goddesses has some of the best freebies of any Infocom game, including a 3-D comic book, 3-D glasses, and a scratch and sniff card. It was one of the five games made into a Solid Gold edition. The Solid Gold edition contains not only onscreen hints, but the ability to get through the difficult catacombs maze with a single special command. The game also allows you to play as either a male or a female, depending on which restroom you enter at the beginning. Some early editions of the game had a Lost in the Desert maze in place of the Martian Desert room. I have only heard of this edition, not seen it, and if anyone has a copy, I'd love to see it. The non-Solid Gold editions of the game had a "Boss key," whereby you could bring a specially created text file onscreen by hitting Control-B. The file included with the game was a sample screen of Infocom's Cornerstone database, the easy-to-use productivity software that almost [Well, did. Let's be honest. -GKW] bankrupted the company. Later Infocom games that used the same interpreter also had the Boss key feature, though it was never mentioned. A sequel is promised at the end of the game. This was released as a graphic adventure in 1992 by Activision/Infocom, but this is already out of print, and probably getting difficult to find. LGOP2 promised yet a third installment, but there is no word on this. All in all, Leather Goddesses of Phobos is one of Infocom's best efforts. [A few brief notes. MINOR SPOILER, beware! That boss key screen is a real chuckle, and if you have the version with it, definitely read it over once, just for yucks. Here's the scoop on avoiding the catacombs. As soon as you descend into them, type $CATACOMB. If it works in your version, you will have skipped past one of the most insidious and evil puzzles in all of Infocom-dom.] FTP FileSolution (Text)


From: Duncan Stevens <dnrb SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #21 -- June 15, 2000 TITLE: LASH AUTHOR: Paul O'Brian E-MAIL: obrian SP@G DATE: 2000 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 10 Paul O'Brian's LASH is a puzzler (and not in the sense that it's full of puzzles). It's an intriguing story, well told, and technically it all hangs together well. The writing is strong, and the exploration options wildly diverse--there are lots and lots of endings and different options to explore, and any given player is unlikely to see all the text the game has to offer without the aid of TXD. But for LASH to really work as interactive fiction, it has to resonate emotionally with the player, and unfortunately the nature of the story makes significant emotional impact somewhat unlikely. The backstory is complicated and intricately done, and the game sets it up nicely. The Second American Civil War has come and gone, and you're picking through the rubble, looking for valuables, via satellite link to your handy robot. The documentation leaves some ambiguity about whether your ostensible aim is historical knowledge rather than simple lucre, but the trajectory of the game tends to shape your character into a looter rather than a historian. (The SCORE function, for instance, tracks your earnings.) At any rate, you're searching through a mansion that dates to before the First American Civil War, and your robot acts as your eyes and ears, to some extent at least. The premise, therefore, is terrific--at least, I thought so. I love reconstructing stories from clues and bits of information, and LASH seemed initially to be taking that path. It turns out that it doesn't, really; you end up exploring the past, but not in the way I'd expected, and what does happen, for lack of a better way to put it, isn't quite as subtle as pure historical reconstruction might have been. To be sure, the other way might have been unsubtle too, but my main reaction to the way LASH told its story was, okay, I get it, don't yell at me. It's certainly not a bad story, nor is it badly told, and the subject has hardly even been touched on in IF; there's nothing inherently wrong with any of it. But the game throws you so suddenly into the scenes that should affect you that it's easy to become detached from it all--you don't have enough time to get to know the central character before the relevant events begin. It's also clear that the distancing is, to some extent, deliberate; it matches a similar distancing that is going on in the game (arguably, in fact, two of them)--but as well as it works from a theoretical standpoint, it undermines the game's effect on the player. Likewise, there's a sequence toward the end of the game that's cleverly done--subtly, even--and yet, even when the player recognizes what's going on, it's unlikely to pack much of an emotional punch. Appreciation of the author's craft, perhaps, but that's not quite the same. As noted, LASH offers the player lots to do; some of the puzzles and problems have a significant effect on the outcome, and some don't, though there's not really a single way to "win" as such. Solving certain problems gives your character more money, of course, but it's not really clear that that's an unequivocal good, or sufficiently so that you should be striving for it at the expense of other goals. There's an odd division going on, however, between items and events that are there purely for historical perspective and those that merely represent more money, and it isn't even always clear whether solving the few puzzles there are (most of which are optional) will lead to insight or to riches. The player who's interested in one more than the others may be disappointed, in other words, to find that solving a given puzzle won't advance his chosen goal. To the extent the bifurcation represents a split between the player and the character, it's an interesting division, but it also makes for some awkwardness. And yet LASH also has a lot going for it. It's thoroughly researched, for one thing; there isn't much IF that could be called historical, but if other authors put as much thought and effort into historical IF as this one did, there's plenty that can be done with the genre. The quality of the research is manifested not so much in the story or characters, which are a mite on the generic side, as in the details of the setting--objects, customs, map layout. When, as here, the reality of the historical scenes depicted is part of the point, it seems all the more important to get things right, and LASH cannot be faulted in that regard. It's also possible to screw up in a variety of interesting ways that shed light on the story; step outside the realistic constraints of your role and you're in trouble. (It's tempting at several moments to do rather unwise things, in other words, things that might seem perfectly appropriate to the generic IF adventurer, and the game reminds you quite forcefully that you're not the generic IF adventurer.) The writing is strong throughout, enough so that the historical setting comes across vividly and the Wishbringer doubled-landscape trick is believable (and highly atmospheric). LASH is a well-thought-out, polished work of IF that I wanted to like more than I did, sadly; I recognized its good intentions, but I didn't respond as viscerally as I suspect the game wanted me to, and ultimately my experience became more detached appreciation for the author's skill in crafting the technical aspects of the game (which is considerable) than real involvement in what the game was trying to do. In that it's difficult to say categorically that others will share my reactions, I recommend that all fans of good IF give it a shot, but I consider it only a partial success. FTP FileInform .z8 file FTP FilePC Executable


From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #14 -- May 17, 1998 NAME: Leaves AUTHOR: Mikko Vuorinen E-MAIL: mvuorine SP@G DATE: 1997 PARSER: ALAN, not great but good enough SUPPORTS: ALAN executables, available at IF Archive AVAILABIILTY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 3 I must say that there were plenty of things about Leaves that I did like, or at least didn't mind. The puzzles weren't extraordinarily clever, but they weren't dreadful either, the prose was largely competent, and the story reasonably compelling though minimalist. There were some plot holes, naturally, but they weren't too outrageous, and generally this was on course for perhaps a 4, perhaps a 5. And then, well, a certain moment happened, and I revised everything downward several notches. First, though: ALAN came off reasonably well here. One important object was hidden effectively--the game didn't recognize the noun until you'd actually found the object--and though some logical commands weren't coded and some verbs were a bit clumsy, I doubt that actually had much to do with ALAN. The most glaring flaw was the lack of a scripting command--there was no way, as far as I could tell, to keep a transcript, and no documentation either within or outside the game that provided advice about such things. (Meaning that all those ALAN advocates shouldn't bombard me with angry messages saying that, yes, there's a command, it's "transcriptify." I'm sure there is. No one actually mentioned it to me, though.) That aside, everything seemed fairly solid, though there weren't a lot of complicated things going on either. The author is a native of Finland, and I'm not sure what his familiarity with English is, but this is, by and large, well-written; there are some ungrammatical moments here and there (a tree is "no more different" from other trees, pointless actions are sometimes rewarded with "Now that would be the trick"), but on the whole the writing is competent, and sometimes even wryly funny. (If you try to chop up a tree with the wrong tool: "Cut a tree with a knife? Marvellous idea." And kicking most objects elicits "This is not a football game." ) Though plenty of familiar verbs weren't implemented, notably "touch" and "climb" and "move", the writing here is adequate for the purposes--the game isn't long enough, nor are actions complex enough, for it to feel deficient. The plot is sorta rudimentary. You're escaping from, er, something--a prison, a concentration camp? Dunno. But you get out--hence the "leave" aspect, which actually makes this one of the cleverest titles of the competition--and just keep going. Incongruities along the way include a _very_ dense guard, one rather bizarre character, and more cutting tools and puzzles in which to apply them than you can shake a proverbial stick at. Still, if you can live with a little absurdity, the story of Leaves isn't bad; in its own minimalist way, it works reasonably well. The puzzles are uneven--one conditions your finding an object on a completely unrelated (and fairly stupid) action, and one, a maze, is sheer guess-what-the-author's-thinking, but they don't make the game unplayable; they fit with the absurdist plot. Truth to tell, I had accepted the game's absurdities early on and wasn't particularly troubled when I hit on illogical solutions; one thing one doesn't do with Leaves is take it seriously. (One of the odder bits, actually, is that certain directions are given but the game prevents you from using them, sometimes for no obvious reason--e.g., "You really don't want to go there." It did give the game a certain tension--what's more frightening than the unknown and unmentionable?--but it was a strange touch. And then...for the uninitiated, there's a puzzle toward the end of the game that is possibly the most blatant instance on record of an author assuming that the player is a straight male. (Well, okay, I suspect that things like "Softporn Adventure" do more in that respect, but at least there the title is a warning.) Now, Mr. Vuorinen was 14 when he wrote that puzzle, or so he suggests in the notes, and 14-year-old boys are not known for their maturity regarding matters of sexuality, and though I doubt I'd look kindly on the 14-year-old Mr. Vuorinen submitting that puzzle, I might be less annoyed. But 10 years have passed since then, it seems, and including it in its current form goes well beyond bad taste. Quite apart from the sheer perversity of the concept--those are ROCKS you're so excited about--the author insists on putting everything in schoolboy language and on giving the player a sort of juvenile fascination about it all. (Plus, well, solving the puzzle in the first place requires entering the mind of a 14-year-old boy, since the solution doesn't really jump out at the rest of us.) This is not the place for a discussion of sex in IF, but I _know_ it can be done better than this. (The author's preoccupations don't only come out in this, actually; reading through the data file for this is not particularly edifying.) As I indicated, this little sequence brought down the game several notches in my estimation. Sex is one thing; sex handled in juvenile fashion is another. Most of Leaves is competently put together, I found, though not always with much of an ear for logic; there are few glaring flaws. If Mr. Vuorinen can refrain from severe lapses of judgment, he might help make ALAN a presence in the IF community; this effort, though, gets a 3 from me. FTP FileDirectory with ALAN files and text files

The Legend Lives!

From: Molley the Mage <mollems SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #5 -- April 19, 1995 NAME: The Legend Lives! PARSER: TADS + WorldClass AUTHOR: David M. Baggett PLOT: Visionary EMAIL: dmb SP@G ATMOSPHERE: Incredibly rich AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF Archive WRITING: Extremely good PUZZLES: Creative SUPPORTS: TADS ports CHARACTERS: Unfulfilled potential DIFFICULTY: Slightly above average _The Legend Lives!_ is probably one of the most highly anticipated text adventures since the demise of Infocom. Written by David Baggett, author of the popular shareware game "Unnkulian Unventure II", _Legend_ takes the Unnkulian Universe far into the future. However, it is a future where despite the soaring technological advancements of mankind (and creaturekind in general), the threat of the dread Unnkulians still lurks. You, as student Gavin Kelly, stumble upon the most horrifying plot the Unnkulians have ever unleashed as a part of your thesis research. Your quest will take you across the universe and even through time as you seek to once again penetrate the secrets of the Akmi corporation and uphold the tenets of Dudhism. However, _Legend_ was not so highly anticipated just because it's another game in the popular Unnkulian series. It was billed as an experiment of sorts, an attempt to see if the interactive fiction medium can be used to do more than just provide entertaining puzzles -- to see if IF can be used to make a statement, convey a message, really get inside your head and make you think. In this, _Legend_ succeeds admirably. The emphasis here is clearly not on the puzzles (although there are plenty of those) but rather on the experience: the atmosphere, the writing, the message. To this end, there are a fair number of very long text sequences which are many pages and contain a great deal of conversation between the player (you) and certain NPCs. These "vignettes" are the strongest point of the whole game. They are very well written and loaded with all sorts of allegory and subtleties. I was disappointed that there were not more of these "cut scenes," in fact, because they add a lot to the storytelling aspect. I certainly don't mind reading 10 screens of text if it helps to advance the story and give me something to think about. And _Legend_ will definitely give you something to think about. I won't spoil the plot for you, but I should mention the overall "quest": the goal of the game is to thwart an unbelievably powerful computer virus unleashed by the Unnkulians which is self-aware, self-replicating, and taking over the entire universal computer network. Once it has established control over the technology, it will have established control over the people, and the Unnkulians' dream will be fulfilled. This of course would be a Very Bad Thing (tm) for the rest of creation, and you are the only person who is even aware that the virus exists. Unfortunately, Akmi (the corporation which runs basically everything and controls nearly all information) is on to you and they will attempt to foil you as you try to gain information about and eventually defeat the virus, thus saving all of creation from an Unnkul fate (sorry). Of course, you can't do it alone; and _Legend_ provides a suitable cast of NPCs to help you (or hinder you). There are computer programmers, a star musician, aliens of various sorts, and an artificial intelligence program, among others, who will appear along the way. Sadly, this is where _Legend_ suffers the most. The NPCs are not developed well enough. In fact, some of them are not developed at all. This is a real shame, because there is an awesome amount of potential in these characters. I was really disappointed by this aspect of the game, but the quality of the writing goes a long way to make up for it, and the environment (the "Unnkulian" mythos) is top-notch. Still, no story can be fully successful without effective, quality characterization. And there will be obstacles in your path; after all, defeating the nefarious schemes of the unnkulians will require you to be even more devious than they. There are a good number of puzzles in the game, ranging from very easy to quite difficult. However, David did not want players to get distracted from the story by being stuck on a puzzle, so he provides a remarkable "adaptive hint system" which will give you intelligent hints based on your current situation. There is no penalty for using the hints, or limit to how many you can use, but be warned that they do go right on up to the outright spoiler level after the first couple of hints. Luckily, there is an encryption feature you can turn on to prevent yourself from reading all the hints too quickly. The game is difficult; however, I was able to finish it in about a week without needing to resort to the hints. Nice to have them if you want them, though, and the hint system is really a great piece of work. As for the quality of the puzzles themselves, they are by and large very good. (And no mazes!). Most of the puzzles are logical and fair, and I got a real sense of satisfaction out of solving them. There are exceptions to this rule of course; but every game has a few bad spots. I would imagine that most people will need a hint or three as they go through the game. Then again, I didn't, so you might not either. Some of the puzzles are very tricky, though. Others, however, can be solved purely by dumb luck -- i.e., having the right item in your inventory when you speak to a particular character. Puzzles like that irritate me. However, as I have said, the puzzles are not the emphasis in _Legend_. They are supposed to add to the story instead of distract from it, and for the most part this is fairly successful. Until you get to the end of the game. This is my biggest complaint about _Legend_. The ending is a tremendous disappointment. Not because it's an emotional downer or anything like that; it's just totally unexpected and very unsatisfying. I would say that the ending seems like an afterthought, except that it was obviously carefully written to make certain statements. Unfortunately they fall flat and there is not a satisfactory resolution to the main plot themes. However, I cannot in good faith say anything *too* bad about the game, because it's one of the most visionary and daring works to come along since, well, A Mind Forever Voyaging from Infocom. Honestly, AMFV is the better game, but _Legend_ is damn fine as well. If you liked AMFV, I think you will not be disappointed by _Legend_. If you like good puzzle-solving games, you won't be disappointed by _Legend_. If you like good writing and lots of prose, you won't be disappointed by _Legend_. If you like a great atmosphere and enticing plot, you certainly won't be disappointed. The only place _Legend_ fails is that it does not exploit the incredible amount of potential for characterization. But you probably will forget that in the wake of all the other images _Legend_ is going to throw at you. Let me sum it up this way: _The Legend Lives!_ is not the best IF game I have ever played in my life. It is, however, the best IF game I have *experienced* in a very long time. That, perhaps, is the highest recommendation I can give. Hats off to David Baggett for a fun game which is also a fine work of fiction. Even though it doesn't completely succeed in getting the message across, _Legend_ really pushes the envelope and challenges our definitions of interactive fiction. It also challenges a lot of other things, like our relationship with technology (a major theme of the work). _Legend_ deserves to be played if for no other reason than to think about what David is trying to say. I mean, when was the last time you played an IF game which *really* had a message and a vision? Maybe never. Well, now's your chance. And best of all, it's freeware, which means that after reading this review you have absolutely no excuse for not downloading it right now and playing it. You'll be glad you did. From: Valentine Kopteltsev <uux SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #30 -- September 20, 2002 -- as part of a Review Package In previous reviews, I've been trying -- I know, with varying success -- to remain objective, and not to over-praise the reviewed games. But now we got to a game that can't be over-praised;). I think it's a true gem among other Unnkulian games (that doesn't mean the others are bad, mind you), and deserves to be called a classic not less than, say, Curses!, or Spider And Web. ...And now, I'm going to try digging up some grounds for this rather daring statement. ;) Let's start with the setting. The game is set in a rather far future, with space travelling, and matter moving, and stuff, and it must be said that the game world is very convincing. It seemed alive alright -- but at the same time, I got the feeling of being inside a somewhat buggy program. Well, it must be said that in the last few years, our *real* world often gives me the same feeling -- very much because of the steadily intensifying rhythm of life, and the growing amount of hack-work in all spheres. In this respect, Mr. Baggett's work turned out to be prophetical -- in 1994, the year when Legend was released, life wasn't quite like that, though the trends certainly were present. Let's add that the scenery in Legend is one of the richest in the whole IF-history -- one could spend a couple of hours just playing with the gadgets in the game, or watching EV (the Unnkulian analogue of our TV). The "create a world that'd be fun to explore" approach clearly rules here; the player is taken through a number of vastly different worlds -- from a computer centre to a rural backwater, from a crowded supermarket to jungle -- and yet, all of them feel like parts of a whole. Furthermore, the author cleverly uses the opportunities provided by the futuristic technologies (in particular, matter moving) to consequently continue the war against linearity he declared in Unnkulia 2. For instance, Legend can't be mapped out in principle -- only the separate areas of it, because you travel from one area to another via matter movers. And while the gameplay is somewhat more directed than in Unnkulia 2, because the goals stand out much better here, the player still has a lot of freedom. Yes, there is a prescribed set of puzzles you need to solve to win the game -- but you can, to a quite significant extent, determine the order for them to be solved. Which brings us to the puzzles as such. At the very start, Legend tries to scare players off by declaring its difficulty rating is 10 out of 10; but let me assure you -- it isn't that difficult. Yes, the puzzles are hard, but they are very logical, too. I'm not very good at puzzle-solving, but I managed to get through the game using the built-in hints only for three puzzles (of those three, one was a riddle, which traditionally represents a stumbling-block for me, and one I'd probably solve without help if I kept trying for a few more days -- as it turned out, I was working in the right direction) -- though it took me a few weeks. Take this as a hint -- I'm not the most persistent person, but I was perfectly willing to spend so much time on the puzzles. And remember me saying that most games reviewed here, with little exception, are packed with OGDs? Well, Legend is such an exception. Legend has been criticized for not having its NPCs developed enough. I'd disagree; to me, it rather seemed that Mr. Baggett was experimenting with animation techniques - probably because he had got disappointed in the traditional "ASK ABOUT/TELL ABOUT" method. Among other things, he used long "cut-scenes" of non-interactive text for those purposes -- but since references to such "cut-scenes" in reviews of Legend have become commonplace, I won't say anything else about them. I felt the characters were quite vivid; one of my favorite moments was asking a visitor at Terminal Velocity about something (though people with UNIX knowledge probably will appreciate the response much more). But the coolest thing about Legend is, it makes you THINK. Think about... er, well, an enumeration probably would spoil the fun for you. So, why not try to find out by yourself? SUMMARY: PLOT: "Unprecedentedly deep" isn't an exaggeration ATMOSPHERE: Plenty of it WRITING: Makes me envious GAMEPLAY: Thrilling BONUSES: Too many to be listed here CHARACTERS: Rather unconventionally designed PUZZLES: Great, just great DIFFICULTY: approx. 8 out of 10 (though it claims to be 10 out of 10) FTP FileTADS .gam file, bundled with other Adventions games (.zip) FTP FileTADS .gam file, bundled with other Adventions games (.tar.gz) FTP FileTADS .gam version (.tar.Z) FTP Fileself-extracting MacBinary version (.bin) FTP FileBinHex version (.bin) FTP FilePC 386+ executable (.zip) FTP FileSource Code (.tar.Z) FTP FileSolution (Text)

The Lesson of the Tortoise

From: Bonnie Montgomery <bkm SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #14 -- May 17, 1998 NAME: The Lesson of the Tortoise AUTHOR: Gerry Kevin Wilson (aka Whizzard) EMAIL: gkw SP@G DATE: December 1997 PARSER: TADS SUPPORTS: TADS ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 1 You're an unlikely IF hero: Wang Lo, a small but persevering and prosperous Chinese farmer. Your adversaries: a serpent, your faithless wife, and a disloyal farm hand. Your allies: a tortoise, your strapping son, a trusting servant girl, and a ghostly ancestral apparition. Quite a story ahead of you, wouldn't you think? Would you believe that the game can be won in only 30 turns and contains only 9 locations? With the economical prose characteristic of a folk tale, Whizzard drops you into the Chinese folkloric past, sketches out characters and plot, and delivers a moral, all in a very satisfying 30 minutes or so of play. Whizzard has streamlined his game in several ways: One is to simplify interactions with NPCs; verbal interactions are limited to "talk to NPC" and giving them commands. Carryable objects are few, and ones that have served their purpose are tidily moved out of the player's reach. Even with these simplifications, the game does not feel sparsely inhabited. The game understands most nouns that appear in room descriptions. Default responses have been nicely handled, often changed to reflect a more Confucian approach ("That action seems unlikely to save you, wise one.") than the epistemologically challenged standard TADS parser responses ("I don't know how to X the Y."). The puzzles are sometimes a challenge, but Whizzard provides a progressively more explicit hint system. The game therefore appeals to puzzle fans and story fans. Puzzle fans can tough it out without the hints. Story fans can breeze through the puzzles using hints, which is a nice way to allow the story to flow easily, a great pleasure in this game. FTP FileTADS file (.gam)

Lethe Flow Phoenix

From: Magnus Olsson <mol SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #9 -- June 11, 1996 Name: Lethe Flow Phoenix Parser: TADS standard Author: Dan Shiovitz Plot: Linear Email: scythe SP@G Atmosphere: Slightly surreal Availability: F, IF Archive Writing: Excellent Puzzles: Logical, rather simple Supports: TADS ports Characters: See review Difficulty: Below average "Lethe Flow Phoenix" is one of those works that one approaches without really knowing what to expect. On one hand, it's been mentioned as small and simple, solvable in a few hours; on the other hand, there's the obscure, almost pretentious, title that implies a mythical significance. Add to that various comments -- including spoiler requests -- that hinted at great depths, and it felt like a "must-play." I wasn't disappointed -- it turned out to be even more interesting than I had expected: "Lethe Flow Phoenix" is an ambitious attempt to deal with questions not normally addressed in IF, and an attempt to extend the traditional adventure game to be able to do so. At first, you are not very likely to notice much of this. The introduction is short and somewhat sinister: memories of a camping trip, and falling -- or stepping -- off a cliff, then nothing more until you find yourself in a slightly surrealistic fantasy world, with no idea of how you got there or what to do next. There is nothing very original about the opening -- the sudden abduction to a strange world seems to be becoming a cliche of IF -- nor about the world you've ended up in. In fact, everything in the world is vaguely familiar: it seems to be assembled out of common IF icons such as gazebos, bird cages and waterfalls. This is probably intentional (an explanation is given later in the game) and does not imply any lack of originality on the part of the author -- the puzzles involving these familiar icons are perhaps not of stunning novelty, but they certainly don't feel old and worn either. The atmosphere in this early part of the game is sweet and idyllic, somewhat reminiscent of "The Sound of One Hand Clapping," though there are dark undertones that foreshadow later revelations. After having you explore this tiny world (only 15 or so locations) and solve a number of not too difficult puzzles, all at a rather languid pace, the author suddenly turns the tables on his unsuspecting audience. It is here that "Lethe Flow Phoenix" changes from a light, innocent puzzle game to rather dark interactive literature, that at least attempts to touch deep, existential questions. It starts innocently enough with a puzzle involving a spider and a mushroom. The conclusion of the puzzle is, however, not just an increased score and a longer inventory, but an entirely unexpected series of events that plunges you into what first seems like a nightmare, plagued by ghosts from your past. Via a series of essentially non-interactive "cut scenes" -- there is seldom a choice of actions, but either just on obvious thing to do, which triggers another cut scene, or no option but to watch and listen as the plot advances by itself -- you are led to an encounter with the central NPC, Daniel, who in a long monologue explains what is going on and how crucial a role you're actually playing in the scheme of things. The encounter with Daniel is the climax of "Lethe Flow Phoenix," and acts as a centre of symmetry; it is followed first by another confrontation with your past, and then you are back where you were before, in a "traditional," puzzle-based adventure game. The difference is that after meeting Daniel, you are prepared to do something about your past, to derive inner strength from it rather than just grieving over lost opportunities. Similarly, when you're attacking the puzzles again, you are armed with the means to manipulate not only the various objects in the world, but the world itself. This enables you to go back and finish certain puzzles that were left open before, thus bringing everything to a satisfying conclusion. While not very original, the outer parts of the game are quite well written, with attention to detail even in objects that would normally be considered decorations. People who like red herrings will probably enjoy this; personally, I find significant-looking objects that turn out to be unimportant a bit of a distraction, but this is a matter of taste. On the other hand, the author sometimes fails to realize the full potential of the really significant objects. The gazebo scene, for example, or the remote control, are wonderful devices with lots of possibilities for experimentation and clever puzzles; I was a bit disappointed that in both cases the intended use for this complex machinery was quite simple. Still, in a game of this small size, it is perhaps just an advantage to have simple puzzles. And though simple, the puzzles are not trivial. In most cases they require thinking in several steps and solving them gives you that nice feeling of accomplishment that is perhaps the adventurer's best reward. There is only one NPC in the outer parts of the game. It is very simple and not very interactive, and anyway, in the case of this particular NPC it's quite in character. I had a few parser problems (the most serious one being that you can enter a cave by typing just "enter" in the right place, but the command "enter cave" gives the response "I don't see any cave here"), and the way the magnet is handled is extremely awkward, but my only major complaint with the outer parts of the game is the very first puzzle. Unfortunately, it is of the tired "find food or you'll die" variety, and, as usual, the time before you starve is far too short, forcing you to restart from the beginning over and over again until you've found all the objects necessary to get food. The puzzle in itself is quite nice, but the time limit detracts considerably from the enjoyment. Perhaps it was put in to give a sense of urgency to the rather placid early game, but in that case it is almost certainly not the right method. Apart from this, game-play flows smoothly and a reasonably experienced adventurer should be able to solve it in a few sittings. The central section is entirely different. Almost all the action takes place in the cut scenes, and the player is led through the plot without the option to deviate from the path, being told what he thinks and feels, never really give a chance to act. The centre of the centre, so to speak, is entirely non-interactive; a story within the story, told by Daniel in a monologue that must be the longest speech by any IF character so far, at least outside "The Legend Lives." There are no real puzzles in this section, and the NPCs are essentially non-interactive, although it is possible to extract some interesting background information by asking Daniel questions after he has finished his speech. The author uses the cut scenes very effectively, gradually leading the player into longer and longer, and less and less interactive scenes. The writing is very good indeed, the imagery evocative, the language beautiful and poetic, without degenerating into empty effects -- and what is being said is important: not only the background to the entire setting, but the player character's internal conflicts and attempts to come to grips with his or her past. Dan Shiovitz is addressing very deep questions for an adventure game and perhaps he has chosen the only realistic way of doing so. Still, I must confess that it fails to be really engaging. I think one reason for this is simply the enormous contrast with the outer parts of the game, and especially the differences in time scale. Solving the first part of the game takes at least a few hours, during which one gets into the mode of thought appropriate for a puzzle game. Then one is presented with an enormous amount of text, which takes perhaps ten minutes to read -- only to be abruptly dumped back into the remainder of the puzzle game, which will take some time to finish. The effect is that what should be the central part and climax of the work turns into a short interlude, while the rest of the game, which is infinitely less important in terms of emotional content, dominates it totally. Also, although the writing is excellent, I feel that the author attempts too much. He certainly seems to have given his imagination free rein; the result is a story that combines fallen angels with alien invaders, philosophical speculation with battle scenes; a struggle of enormous proportions -- and this is just the background. The player character's immediate concern is not this cosmic drama, but coming to grips with himself and with the ghosts of his past. Somehow, this combination of myth and science fiction, legend and psychological drama, science fiction and ghost story, saving the world and achieving personal fulfillment, all presented in just a few pages of text, fails to have the desired impact just because it is _too_ powerful, too all-encompassing. I'm not saying that it is impossible to combine these elements into one story, just that the author may be making it just a little bit too hard for himself -- and for his readers. There are limits to the ability so suspend disbelief. If the author had concentrated on one or two aspects of this story, instead of trying to do everything at once, it would have been much more effective; the message would have come across much more powerfully without all the fireworks. To summarize, "Lethe Flow Phoenix" is a work with strong centrifugal tendencies -- it flies apart into quite disparate components. Taken by themselves, these parts are perhaps not perfect, but very good indeed, considering that this is the author's debut work. Together, they fail to yield an artistic unit, partly because of the author's high ambitions; however, he shouldn't be blamed for failing to achieve everything but praised for even making the attempt. Without experimentation, we would never get anywhere. ";Lethe Flow Phoenix" is very interesting for what it tries to achieve, and the ways in which it succeeds or fails to succeed in doing so. It contains some pieces of excellent writing, as well as some good work in the invention of puzzles and intricate puzzle machinery. IF authors are advised to study it carefully. And for everybody, authors or non-authors alike, it remains a very enjoyable game. From: Gareth Rees <gdr11 SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #9 -- June 11, 1996 NAME: Lethe Flow Phoenix AUTHOR: Dan Shiovitz DATE: August 1995 PARSER: TADS SUPPORTS: TADS ports AVAILABLE: IF archive URL: It is universally acknowledged by writers of fiction that realistic characters are hard to do. Any adventure game programmer would add, I am sure, that maintaining that realism while making it possible to interact with characters is well beyond the current state of the art. So what to do? Keeping the interaction and accepting the loss of realism is one approach, from the mysterious gentleman who occasionally robs the player in "Zork," to the unseen and unsettling presence of Cousin Herman in "Hollywood Hijinx." David Baggett, in his game "Legend," experimented with a variation on this approach, by confining most of the character exposition and major turning points in the plot to 'cut scenes,' long conventionally narrated passages which break up the more conventionally puzzle-oriented interactive action. Dan Shiovitz's game "Lethe Flow Phoenix" (1995) takes this approach to its logical conclusion. In this game, all plot, characterisation and background is confined to the cut scenes, and the interactive portions are completely unrelated to the ostensible plot. The effect is unnerving and surreal. The matter of the plot is this: You play an unhappy young man or woman experiencing an existential crisis. While traveling in the American desert to try to make sense of your life, a supernatural force pulls you off a cliff, and you find yourself in a fantasy world. After some exploring, you find a fallen angel called Daniel who explains that the Earth is being invisibly taken over by alien invaders, and that you are one of the chosen ones intended to fight this secret war. [Spoilers removed.] It's hard to imagine how an adventure game could get to grips with this kind of powerful and emotional material, and Shiovitz doesn't even try. The interactive parts of the story are conventional puzzle-solving involving a talking tree, a levitating gazebo, a magic mushroom and other fantastic trappings. Various aspects seem intended to suggest Brian Moriarty's game "Trinity" (1986): there are giant mushrooms, and a sun that moves and casts shadows on a giant sundial. All very entertaining, but it seems rather petty when compared to the Earth-shaking apparatus of the plot. The most curious aspect of "Lethe Flow Phoenix" is how well done the individual parts are! The puzzles are uniformly excellent and well-motivated (except for one curious action, which most players will eventually work out for lack of anything else to do). There are several impressively complex interactive mechanisms, which all seem to have been coded flawlessly, and there are as many synonyms and alternate ways of expressing actions as a player could want. On the plot side, the writing is very fluent and readable despite the weightiness of the material (although not up to the task of compressing God, angels, alien invaders, human avatars, a deprived childhood, adolescent angst, family breakdown and forgiveness into the space of a few screenfuls -- as if any writing could be!). But the plot and the puzzles make a game bolted together like a Frankenstein monster: neither side supports the other, and the result is neither successful as a game, nor as a story. Still, I look forward to Shiovitz's next game with interest; if he can produce a game and story which go together to make something greater than the sum of the two parts, the result will be very impressive. FTP FileTADS .gam File FTP FileAlternate TADS .gam File (lethe.txt details the difference) FTP FileStep-by-step Solution (text)

The Light: Shelby's Addendum

From: Molley the Mage <mollems SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #9 -- June 11, 1996 NAME: The Light: Shelby's Addendum PARSER: TADS 2.2 AUTHOR: C. A. McCarthy PLOT: Darkish science fiction EMAIL: illusory SP@G ATMOSPHERE: Excellent! AVAILABILITY: Shareware, IF Archive WRITING: Highest quality PUZZLES: Obscure, not well done SUPPORTS: TADS 2.2 ports CHARACTERS: Richly developed DIFFICULTY: NP-Complete "The Light: Shelby's Addendum" is a fascinating piece of science-fiction IF from a very talented writer, C.A. McCarthy (a regular contributor to the interactive fiction newsgroups as well). The game casts you as Shelby, the "apprentice" (functional equivalent of a graduate student) to the Regulators, two physicists who maintain a beacon which is critical to the survival of the Earth (in between their studies of subsurface sonar phenomena). When you return home from a trip to find that the beacon is no longer alight, and no one seems to be left at the project site, you must embark on a search for the truth behind the evil happenings which have befallen the Lighthouse. What fate has befallen the Regulators? What's happened to the phase modulator? And why didn't anyone feed the chickens, for crying out loud? As it turns out, you'll get to know the Regulators quite well before meeting either one of them. Barclay and Holcroft come to life through Shelby's observations on the everyday things around him, and through other sources (a diary, for example). You'll learn that something sinister is definitely afoot, and that one of the Regulators has placed all of Earth's inhabitants in danger by embarking an a dangerous "quest" of his own. His motivations, as well as his methods, must be unraveled if Shelby is to succeed. The first problem, however, is the fact that without the beacon, Shelby (and any other living thing) is out of phase with the rest of the world. If you do not find some way to prevent it (and quickly!) Shelby will meet a grisly death within just a few turns of the game's beginning. In my opinion, the time limit imposed by the game to solve this first puzzle is too tight. You get 100 moves before dying, which may seem like a lot, but trust me -- it's not. This is definitely a "restore puzzle" and one which will probably take you several restarts to solve. Which brings me to my only major complaint with the game: the puzzles. "The Light: Shelby's Addendum" contains several puzzles which are more or less original in concept. Unfortunately, they are terribly executed. While a genuine attempt has been made by the author to integrate the puzzles into the story, the nature and difficulty of the puzzles is such that they stick out like a sore thumb. Not only are some of the more important puzzles (like the first one you'll need to solve in order to stay alive) just downright obscure, the author has chosen to "hide" most of the objects in the game deep within the scenery. You'll need to look under, over, around, behind, and through every single piece of scenery to avoid missing vital objects without which you cannot complete the quest. In particular, the places where the keys are hidden on the mainland is extremely unfair. Quite frankly, I don't recommend playing this game without at least a hint sheet (and probably a walkthrough) or you will almost certainly become hopelessly stuck at any of several places. You may consider this "puzzle wimpiness" on my part, but consider that Trinity and Spellbreaker are my two all-time favorite Infocom games, and perhaps that will put my opinions of "Shelby"'s puzzles into perspective. This is not to say that *all* of the puzzles are bad: several of them are quite clever, and the implementation of all the puzzles is basically seamless (with one exception, but it doesn't affect your ability to finish the game). There's one puzzle near the end of the game which involves a weight-sensitive elevator and is quite nifty in its execution. In fact, the implementation of the whole game seems *very* solid. I didn't discover any unknown bugs in the game, nor did I notice any typos (other than a couple of places where "its" was used instead of "it's") and the game mechanics and pacing flowed beautifully. In truth, despite the incongruency of the puzzles, I hasten to say that I enjoyed "Shelby's Addendum" a great deal. This game is well written. The plot is great, there's a bit of horror (but nothing overboard), the characters are well developed (including the player's character, which is unusual in IF but handled beautifully here), and the room descriptions and scenery descriptions are vivid and consistently of the highest quality. The "cut scenes" (areas of long text where various central characters interact) and the original storyline throughout made me think I was reading a top-notch science-fiction short story instead of playing a computer game. Did I mention that I think the prose is *really* good? I have to be sure and work that little tidbit into this paragraph somewhere. There's an undertone of ecological (ir)responsibility in the game, but the player is not really "hit over the head" with any kind of great theme or moral message. One does get a glimpse into how far a man might go to regain that which he has lost, and a more convincing NPC than Barclay I have not seen in an interactive fiction game for some time. There is plenty of material here for your philosophical brain cells to chew on, as well as a good amount of technical descriptions and other "futuristic" science. The game logic is consistent all the way through, and everything is eminently believable. The author has certainly created a seamless experience as far as I am concerned. However, many players will be turned off by the puzzles. I know that after several hours of extreme frustration when Shelby first came out, I was unable to survive the 100-turn limit and put the game away for another day. I just dragged it out today, actually, and pretty much lucked into the solution to that first puzzle. Once you have managed to locate the wall safe, however, the rest of the steps needed to preserve Shelby's physical integrity should be easier. However, this is only the first of several major frustrations you will encounter. The only word of advice I can give to players is examine EVERYTHING. And I mean everything. If a noun is mentioned in a room description, you had better look at it or you may well miss something crucial. While I always have been and remain a great advocate of the rule that "if a noun is used in a room description, the player should be able to examine it," I believe that the author has gone a bit too far in making the player search for important objects and other pieces of information in unlikely places. In summary, "The Light: Shelby's Addendum" is not going to make my list of the top three interactive fiction games of the year, because frankly it wasn't that much fun to play, what with the puzzles being such a mess. However, it rates number one for 1996 in quality of writing, characterization, story, and plot. This is a game which begs to be *read*. This is a game which could have been published as a short story. This is a game which, if you can get past the first few frustrations, will reward you amply. I've not played any of Colm's other games (he mentions two in the accompanying text file), but I would sure like to read some of his fiction -- because his instincts as a writer are right on the money. Some better puzzles and a bit less random searching, and this would be one of the best games ever to come down the pipe. As it stands, "Shelby" is much like a lighthouse itself -- brief periods of dazzling illumination punctuated by deep darkness. But the light pierces, straight and true. Give this one a chance, folks. Also, I have to give a good review to any game which implements a full bottle of the finest liquid refreshment on Earth, Guinness Extra Stout. Brought a tear to my eye, it did. The only thing I regretted was that there was only one bottle. :) From Gareth Rees <gdr11 SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #9 -- June 11, 1996 NAME: The Light: Shelby's Addendum AUTHOR: Colm A. McCarthy DATE: December 1995 PARSER: TADS SUPPORTS: TADS ports AVAILABILITY: IF archive URL: In this game you play Shelby, a young apprentice to the 'Regulators,' Holcroft and Barclay. You live in a remote lighthouse where you nominally study physics, but actually spend most of your time cooking and scrubbing floors. Returning to the lighthouse after an extended period of absence, you find that things have gone wrong. An ominous mist surrounds the lighthouse and Holcroft and Barclay are nowhere to be found. It is up to you to find out what is the matter, and to put things right again. Most of the fun in this game is figuring out the background to the world McCarthy has created here, so I won't reveal too much about it. Suffice to say that this is a world somewhat like ours, but in which 'physics' is a very different subject from the physics we know. The how and why of this world is revealed tantalisingly slowly, a little but in the room descriptions, some more in books, magazines and other papers that you read, and some more that you have to guess for yourself. The idea of alternate worlds, and the uses to which they might be put (if technology were to allow their manipulation), play a strong part in the rationale for the plot and some of the game mechanics. (However, it is a bit disappointing that the working of the plot depends on so many people being complete idiots! If the 'phase modulator' is so essential that its removal can threaten the destruction of the world, why does the UN leave it to be guarded only by two old physicists?) Although the discovery of the background is interesting, the actual mechanics of the game are disappointing. Some of the text is good, notably the introductory paragraphs, but much of the rest is rather lacklustre. Room descriptions have a tendency towards lists of furniture and exits, and there are rather too many rooms in which nothing happens (I counted 25 that could have been removed without loss). Far too many of the puzzles require you to read through the room description, examine every object mentioned and look under every piece of furniture. Several locations seem to be full of clutter for the express purpose of distracting you from the one object you need to investigate. There are a few places where over-enthusiasm on the part of the writer rather spoils the atmosphere. There's a submarine trip in which you're treated to jokey descriptions of characters from television programmes (Flipper the dolphin, the puppets from "Stingray" and so on). These seem completely out of place with the more serious tone of the rest of the game, and would have been better turned into Easter eggs. Late on in the game, with the island crumbling around you and doom approaching, you are treated to messages along the lines of "All around you the earth groans horribly," presumably in order to instill in you some sense of urgency. But these messages appear every turn, and it turns out that there is in fact no time limit, so after fifty or more repetitions the effect is ludicrous rather than alarming. Some of the puzzles seemed completely arbitrary to me, and even after solving them I still don't understand why the solution worked. For example, there's a puzzle with two circles on the ground; if you put the right objects in the circles, a secret door opens. As far as I can tell, there are no clues to which objects to use. Another puzzle uses an oxygen cylinder and a pump to make a submarine appear; I might have understood this if the submarine had been in an underground chamber full of water that needed to be pumped out, but in fact the submarine appeared in the open sea. So what was the oxygen used for? Some other puzzles are made difficult by programming errors: There's a trapdoor in the ceiling which is too high to reach, but you might not realise this because the commands 'touch trapdoor,' 'push trapdoor' and so on give messages that suggest you can touch it. A pivoting balance is implemented so that it only moves when you put an object on one of the plates. If you change the weight of an object while it's on the plate, the balance stays where it is. However, a few of the puzzles are well done: Two cleverly-clued password puzzles gave me an "Aha!" feeling when I got them right the first time. I've been rather harsh in this review; there are good aspects to "The Light: Shelby's Addendum," and it would not have been out of place had it appeared as a mid-period Infocom game. But I didn't enjoy playing it very much because the moments of excitement were few and far between. I had expected the eventual encounter with Barclay and Holcroft to liven things up a bit, but, when they do appear, these characters are passive and unresponsive, implemented with the minimum of effort necessary to carry them from their rediscovery to their disappearance a handful of turns later. The one point in the game that really ought to be exciting -- a ding-dong fight between Barclay and Holcroft in an underground laboratory -- was made completely non-interactive, with nothing for the player to do but yawn as several screenfuls of text scroll by. FTP FileTADS .gam File FTP FileMacBinary format (.bin) FTP FileBinHex format (.hqx) FTP FilePC executable (.zip) FTP FileStepwise Solution (Text)

Lists and Lists

From: C.E. Forman <ceforman SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #10 -- February 4, 1997 NAME: Lists and Lists AUTHOR: Andrew Plotkin EMAIL: erkyrath SP@G DATE: October 1996 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Inform Ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF Archive URL: VERSION: Version 1.0 So THIS is what Andrew Plotkin meant when he announced that his entry this year wouldn't be interactive fiction. He wasn't kidding. Aside from the genie who (sort of) guides you through, there is little prose, not much interaction with an artificial world, and even less storytelling. Players expecting another "Change in the Weather" or "So Far" are bound to be disappointed. Instead, the bulk of this "game" is a stripped-down interpreter for Scheme, a streamlined derivative of LISP. This makes for an intereating use of the Z-Machine, and a nice complement to the likes of "Robots," "Z-Life," and Andrew's own "Freefall," but it's really more for programmers, or persons at least interested in the subject. I've heard from non-programmers who didn't get much out of it, some of whom became hopelessly confused. This is not to fault Plotkin's skills as a writer. Indeed, he has a knack for making this sort of thing fun for players possessing the natural aptitude for it. (Even "Inhumane," his attempt at I-F as a 14-year-old, as its moments.) Although "Lists" barely scratches the surface of Scheme's capabilities, I was surprised by how much functionality was crammed into such a small program, particularly with the ease-of-use features. Even if you complete all of the sample exercises within the two-hour time limit, there's plenty more to come back and investigate afterwards. I'm dying to see the Inform source code for this. Now if only Activision would give us Infocom's ZIL compiler and docs (ZIL being the LISP-like language used by Infocom's programmers), I might have a real-world application for this, and a motivation to learn more about the subjects presented here. FTP FileInform File (.z5) (updated version) FTP FileInform File (.z5) (competition version) FTP FileSource code of updated version (.tar.Z)

Little Blue Men

From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #17 -- May 10, 1999 NAME: Little Blue Men AUTHOR: Michael Gentry E-MAIL: edromia SP@G DATE: 1998 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 1 Little Blue Men is, at bottom, a highly bizarre game. It begins in a ho-hum office setting and abruptly shifts into...well, it's hard to say. Sci-fi/horror/dystopia/fantasy, maybe. The result, though uneven in spots, is certainly unique, and rather disturbing as well: familiar elements of the office environment are given a sinister cast, and the game is enlivened throughout by macabre humor. The game begins with you at your desk doing menial tasks, and it can end there very quickly as well unless you, the player, decide to put down your menial tasks at a certain point and go explore the rest of the office. In other words, the game gives you a quick "ending" after about five moves and doesn't emphasize that this ending is suboptimal. In an IF Competition rife with one-room or one-puzzle games, the size of the story file might be the only thing keeping the player from missing most of the game. This is an issue mainly because the game keeps you from wandering away at first, and provides minimal motivation for you to get up and wander around; it's not clear _why_ you do what you do. The problem of unclear motivations recurs later, as the game transforms into, well, whatever it is: some of your actions have no obvious reasons. The author, to be fair, was trying to explore the idea of a protagonist motivated by evil ends--or, at least, ends with which the player cannot easily sympathize. It's an underdeveloped area in IF, and this is an intriguing stab at it. But without some flashes of intuition in that regard, the player is likely to discover what the character's goals are through the hints, which doesn't exactly have the same effect. As the game progresses, though, and the genre/setting becomes more clear, the author delivers several excellent shock-twists in ways reminiscent of Delusions, and just as effective. Once the player accepts the premise (and figures out what it is), Little Blue Men is terrific sci-fi in a vaguely absurdist way. Some lengthy speeches by NPCs could have come straight out of schlocky movies or books, but that just adds to the overall effect here: the author's main satirical theme is the line between irritating office banality and sheer evil, and the game plays the dichotomy for all it's worth. The puzzles largely reinforce that: most involve putting conventional office objects to new, devious uses, or turning humdrum objects into weapons, or conquering perennial office irritations (like the blaring smoke detector or the fickle vending machine). The cross-genre nature of the game leaves a lot of unanswered questions, of course--more backstory would help--but the dystopia part is so thoroughly done that it works well nonetheless. One of the more interesting aspects of Little Blue Men is its separation between goal and motivation. The character's goals are not always clear; it is clear that the character does not anticipate the ending of the game before it happens. Instead, the goals are more personal, more centered on the self: your emotional balance is somewhere between "steamed" and "frosty," and your object at any given moment is to become more frosty and eliminate those things that make you steamed. Once the player accepts that premise--that your objective is to get rid of annoyances--it drives the game, yet the author never provides any goals larger than that. The result is, in a sense, a rather narcissistic game--the importance of everything around lies in how it makes you feel--which is, no doubt, just what the author intended. One of the questions that Little Blue Men poses is whether getting rid of those things that annoy you leads to anything better: the ambivalent nature of the ending suggests otherwise. In fact, one of the best, and most frustrating things, about the game is the ending: the effect is both surreal and disturbing. It is not clear that the player has "won" when he or she reaches the end of the game; there is good reason, in fact, for thinking that the end of the story is merely another ending, no better than the "deaths" you can die earlier on. This is a Zarfian ending taken a step further: whereas other games have given a clear resolution without allowing the player to "win," in the sense of resolving the problem or riding into the sunset with the treasure, Blue Men raises the distinct possibility that it might have been better not to reach that ending at all. It's a unique feeling that, unfortunately, doesn't necessarily make for a satisfying game experience, assuming the player realizes what's going on at all. Indeed, Little Blue Men works somewhat better on the theoretical level than as a game, though it's still a good game. The author seems to have set out to demolish certain IF tropes, and, give him credit, he does. Many of his points are sufficiently subtle that they're easily missed--after all, not many games attempt such things. The game itself, though funny in spots, doesn't work as well as the theory behind it: the unclear or questionable motivations are part of it, but it's also that the cross-genre feel keeps the player off balance, wondering where the story will go next, for most of the game. Those not interested in the theory of game design might well get to the end, say "what was THAT all about?", and quit. Still, perfect marriages between entertainment and subversion/experimentation in IF are rare--Spider and Web comes close; not many others do--and Little Blue Men does well to get the player through the game and raise some intriguing questions. This is, in short, an interesting effort, perhaps best suited for those experienced in IF and willing to question its conventions. There's lots of intriguing stuff going on in Little Blue Men, enough that I gave it a 9 in this year's competition. From: Paul O'Brian <obrian SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #17 -- May 10, 1999 WARNING: Because Little Blue Men uses obscenities in its text, that language will also appear in this review. Well, the first thing I have to say is that starting Little Blue Men right after finishing Human Resources Stories was quite mind-bending. The game starts with a character who is sitting at his desk thinking of his job as "another day in the trenches," looking at his corner as his "own little slice of the shit pie those sons of bitches call an office." I had this sudden vision of IF authors as angry loners, driven by their misanthropy and lack of social skills into highly solitary hobbies like writing and programming, friendless misfits who hate their jobs, hate their lives, and generally hate people, and who write supposedly entertaining games that are really about how much the world sucks. Luckily, the vision passed as the game underwent a curious transformation. First of all, the game's disclaimer assured me that "at its most fundamental level, this game is about learning to love yourself." OK, maybe we're not loving anybody else yet, but loving yourself is at least a little positive. Next, I entered a few commands, the first ones that came to mind, really, and... won the game. Or did I? My final message said "*** You have learned to love yourself ***", which is what I was told the game was about. So I won, right? In 10 moves? I wondered how in the heck a game whose .z5 file was 171K could end up being so short. I wondered, in the game's words, "What the hell...?!" It turns out that although LBM may be about learning to love yourself, if you do the things that help you reach that goal too quickly you end up missing the entire story. That story consists of scheming ways to kill or otherwise waylay your co-workers, destroy the things that aggravate you, discover the secrets hidden behind the bland office walls, and figure out just who or *what* your boss, "that bastard Biedermeyer", really is. In short, it consists of getting an unpleasant character to do unsavory things, in service of a plot that grows more and more metaphorical and surreal as you progress through it. When I finally got to the end, I wasn't sure that I was any more satisfied with the "real" ending than the one I got to in 10 moves. In his postscript, the author tells us that he wants the story's structure to help us question to help us analyze some of our assumptions about IF. For one thing, we should think about what really is the most "optimal" ending of the game, and whether it's worth it to actually play through a game if it's possible to reach a positive ending at the beginning, and/or if the motivations of the character are twisted and repugnant? Now, these are not new ideas. Andrew Plotkin's A Change In The Weather offers a similar situation at its outset -- if you rejoin the picnic, you end up having fun after all, but you also miss the story. To go back earlier, Michael Berlyn used a related technique in Infidel by making the main character a shallow, exploitive greedhead who probably deserves a desert demise, then asking you to solve puzzles and find treasure on his behalf. Little Blue Men, though, makes these propositions starker than ever before by making its main character thoroughly repulsive and an optimal ending immediately reachable. Now, my answer to this question in its abstract form is that responses will vary depending on the player. Some people probably have no interest in playing a repulsive character, and so will just delete the game. Others might be driven by curiosity to complete the game even though they find the experience unpleasant. Still others will view it as a chance to get a glimpse into abnormal psychology, or to have some fun playing a villainous character. In this way, playing such a game is akin to watching a movie like Natural Born Killers, or reading a book like In Cold Blood -- it may be very well-done, but it's not everybody's cup of tea, and that's fine. Consequently, I guess I don't view the question as all that interesting, maybe because any assumption I might have had about IF characters having to be good was eliminated as soon as I finished Infidel (in 1986). But even though I feel this way, LBM still didn't work for me, not because of its main character but because of its choices of setting, imagery, and metaphor. The game invokes the movie Jacob's Ladder a couple of times, which is a movie I loved. That film was by turns profound, chilling, and inspiring. LBM only achieves glimpses of these things, and I think the reason is because I found its imagery muddled and incoherent. The game is obviously taking place on some metaphorical level, but it was never at all clear to me what the metaphors were supposed to be representing, and as they stack up it only becomes more confusing. In addition, there was basically no connection with reality, which left the game's symbols floating unanchored. Some flashback scenes, some glimpses of reality, *some* type of explanation for the heaven/hell dichotomy the game presents would have gone a long way toward connecting its symbolism with something more meaningful than just other symbols. There's a lot to like about this game. It is written well, and although it doesn't achieve an overall arc, it does contain moments which can be quite moving or frightening. Technically I could find very little for which to fault it, both in its writing and its coding. Its puzzles may have had some unpleasant content, but they were clever and engaging, and generally quite well integrated with the storyline. But for me, it did not succeed as a work of art. Nonetheless, I respect it for being an ambitious but flawed experiment -- I'll take that over competent repetition any day. Rating: 6.3 From: David Ledgard <dledgard SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #17 -- May 10, 1999 I quite enjoyed this game, although it was a bit vulgar, but not too vulgar. Basically it's about a guy in an office, trying to get though the day, with out getting too stressed, by the job, and his colleagues, and failing miserably. I would probably have given this game first place. I got about half way through the game before I felt the need for hints, and then went into hint-o-matic mode and totally ruined the game, and gave up. I really don't think it's a very good idea including on line hints, they're too tempting. Maybe people just want to show off their programming skills. It's much better to have easier puzzles that you can solve yourself, then you get the satisfaction of completing the game, and if you do have complicated puzzles make it difficult for people to obtain hints, so they give them a go. FTP FileInform file (.z5)

Lock & Key

From: Duncan Stevens <dnrb SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #28 --March 20, 2002 TITLE: Lock and Key AUTHOR: Adam Cadre E-MAIL: ac SP@G DATE: 2002 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Glulx interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF archive) URL: VERSION: 1.12 Say this for Adam Cadre: he doesn't repeat himself. There are darn few substantive themes that tie any two of his games together, and even those are pretty abstract (a dash of misanthropy and cruelty here, a smidgen of mental instability there, etc.). Lock and Key, Adam's latest, is very much a case in point: the gonzo humor and the queasy feeling that you're not entirely aligned with the forces of light are familiar, but the context, namely One Big Puzzle, is new in the Adam oeuvre. It works quite well, though, particularly if you like that sort of thing but even, to some extent, if you don't. You're head of a security company hired to build a better dungeon for a fairly unpleasant king -- the king's portrayal is largely comic with a dash of brutality tossed in now and again. You arrange a series of traps in the dungeon, then stand by and watch as an adventurer overcomes all of them and lose your job and your head as he escapes. So you try it again, and again, and again, eventually noting that different traps have different effects, and at long last, after several dozen repetitions at least, the adventurer's escape is foiled and you brag to the king that no one escapes your dungeon (reminiscent of Varicella, of course, where similar massive repetition was necessary; your character makes a comment at the end about no one having the chance to go back and try it over again). Adam made a comment in his competition reviews this past year about "participatory comedy" in Fine Tuned, and Lock and Key strives for some of the same thing. That is, some of the humor here derives from the player's cluelesness, meaning unfamiliarity with the logistics of the game. It turns out, for example, that you need to make a path into and out of the dungeon in a specific way, but you have no way of knowing what the game has in mind beforehand. Rather than dropping a message in brackets along the lines of "[You need more doors, dummy.]," the puzzle does its correcting through the game itself -- sometimes via a trusty assistant who helpfully points out when you're being stupid, and sometimes by actually letting you try out your defective dungeon (from which the adventurer promptly escapes, of course). This is all very well, and often it is funny, so I shouldn't complain too much -- but I'm not sure I think it's a great concept (particularly when the mistakes are beyond the reach of UNDO). It's actually not intrinsically different from rooms-of-instant-death in Detective and such -- i.e., stumble into comical suboptimal ending because you have no idea what the game has around the corner -- and while the writing here is good enough to make the suboptimal endings amusing rather than simply a drag, not everyone writes as well as Adam does. This is an idea, in short, that worked okay for Adam because he actually got me to laugh along at my own/my character's stupidity (and likewise for Dennis G. Jerz in Fine Tuned) but the chances aren't that good that the next person to try it will carry it off with the same flair. (And even so the figure-out-how-the-world-works section of Lock and Key was not the highlight.) The puzzle -- hmmm. It works well, I suppose; there's a certain element of "why does this work and not that? and why doesn't this affect that?," but some degree of that is inevitable and my logical objections were few. What makes it hard is that the relevant hints are often dropped relatively unobtrusively into the text, so it's easy to miss them -- all the more so when you appear to be getting the same old failure message. This is participatory comedy of another sort, I guess -- you've seen the adventurer escape from your dungeon so many times that you no longer pay attention to the details -- but it's not all that howlingly funny. Still, it's a good puzzle on a lot of levels; it combines resource allocation, logic, and detail-spotting in a way that goes well beyond most IF. There are also a lot of technical tricks that serve the game well -- there's a diagram of the puzzle that helps keep track of what's where, and a record/replay command that lessens the tedium somewhat. There are a lot of good puzzles on the IF archive, though, and I'm not sure I would have kept this one on my hard drive if it hadn't been written by Adam. There are lots of funny snippets, and some priceless ones -- the sequence involving the gladiator whom you install in one of the dungeon rooms to kill the adventurer, and who turns out to be a long-lost friend, is funny enough in itself, but the adventurer's rage at the king ("YOU'LL PAY FOR THIS!") when the gladiator meets an untimely demise is hilarious. A significant chunk of the gameplay is there solely for humor value; for instance, you need to order each trap individually, which means calling the trap's vendor (in a manner of speaking). Think about the comic possibilities of deathtrap vendors (each specializing in a particular kind of deathtrap) -- okay, humor potential, but trust me, Adam appears to have thought about those possibilities a LOT. Lots of familiar fantasy tropes -- evil king, mean guards, etc. -- come in for their share of mockery, of course (vain and impulsive king, bumbling guards), which isn't new in itself, but Adam has given the mockery such breadth -- so many ways the guards can bumble, so many funny lines for the king -- that it goes well beyond the usual fantasy-parody tropes. As in Varicella (along with other Adam efforts, but that one in particular), there's an element of misanthropy to the humor; it's not gentle stuff. And here, as there, your character is hardly an unequivocal force for good -- getting into the game means acclimating to the role of aider-and-abetter of evil tyrant, though it's an evil tyrant with funny one-liners. But for those who can wrap their minds around the game's worldview, there's fun to be had outside the puzzle-solving. Lock and Key works well, in short -- it's not revolutionary, and those who profess themselves unable to solve puzzles may find themselves stumped -- but as a puzzle and as another line in Adam's list of achievements, it's worth experiencing. From: Øyvind Thorsby <jthorsby SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #28 --March 20, 2002 Score: Atmosphere 1.0 Gameplay 1.7 Writing 1.7 Plot 1.2 Wildcard 1.0 Total: 6.6 Characters 1.0 Puzzles 1.5 Lock & Key is set in a standard comedy fantasy world. You start out without much back-story locked in a cell. However, for the main part of this rather short game you are trying to design a dungeon. You get a generous budget to buy traps and critters with, and a map of the dungeon to place your deadly surprises on. This is pretty cool. You also decide where the door in the dungeon shall be. Designing a dungeon could have been very complicated, but quite some effort has been made to make it easy, like the aforementioned map. There are some problems; after the first time I tried it I found out there are strict rules as to where the doors must be placed, so I had to start over again. Also, some of the functions put into the game to make it easier did not work as they should. So it is not perfect, but it is pretty good. Making the perfect dungeon is difficult, and one is clearly intended to play the game many times and learn from one's mistakes. Playing through the game is lots of fun at first, but gets a bit tedious after a while. There are many hints that you are on the right track, but I think there could have been more of them, or they could have been clearer, otherwise you just have to guess what to do. When a player is supposed to play through a part of a game many times, it might be a good idea to make this part as short as possible. There are parts in Lock & Key where one can not do much, and I think most players would have to play through these parts at least 10 times to complete the game. The parts are not horribly long, and it is not a terrible problem; you can just type z a lot, but still. The game makes fun of clichés of fantasy in general, and specifically fantasy computer games. The humour is OK. All in all this is an original and good, but not great, game. FTP FileBlorb resource file (.blb) with Glulx gamefile and graphics FTP FileGame, Windows interpreter, and batch file for one-click execution


From: Suzanne Britton <tril SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #19 -- January 14, 2000 TITLE: Lomalow AUTHOR: Brendan Barnwell E-MAIL: BrenBarn SP@G DATE: November 1999 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 0 Errrrgh. I really, really wanted to like this game more than I did. It has a fascinating storyline, evocative writing, and an uplifting theme. If the author had turned the concept into a short story instead of an IF work, it probably would have done very well. But despite all this, the best I could give it was a 5: 10 for imagination, 0 for implementation. And that was generous of me--I loved Lomalow's imagery so much that I intentionally placed it a step above the other games that were crippled by bad programming. Technically, Lomalow is poorly done--it abounds with sparsely implemented objects (to the author's credit, there are few "you can't see any such thing"'s), overuse of aliasing (where a bunch of related objects point to the same game-object), one-syntax-only situations (one of many examples: you can go "in" when you're by the cabin, but you can't "enter cabin", "enter door", or "open door"), lack of synonyms, and a few glaring bugs (particularly in the hint system--there's a problem with object names showing up as numbers, making certain hints distinctly unhelpful). Mimesis is shallow at best. Despite the many conversational topics on the two NPC's, they ultimately feel like cardboard, and this is a much more serious matter than it would be for a puzzle-based game. Why don't they make any reaction when I just waltz into their house ("hello"? "who are you"? "you look like you just fell down a cliff"? :-])? Why are they missing some of the most obvious conversation topics? (most grievously, "lomalow", "phoenix", "man", and "woman") Why don't they respond when I give or show various important objects to them (the book, the board, etc.), even though they respond when I ask about the objects? And so forth. The gameworld overall feels sparse and thinly implemented--it takes more than long, detailed room descriptions to bring an environment to life. I can't interact with much of anything. I especially wanted to interact with the strange forces/feelings in the pit, but couldn't find any way to do so (I know it's not standard practice to implement "intangibles", but I feel it's an extremely good idea in a game of this sort). Many of the Inform default responses could use overriding (e.g., "So-and-so is unimpressed" is almost never a good response to "show" in a story-based game). The end result of all these little oversights, and the resulting cardboardlike feeling of the npc's and the landscape, is that when I reached the end of the game, my response was a resounding "huh?". Until then, the characters had behaved almost robotically--reacting to nothing but the magic word ASK, and occasionally moving around after I asked a particular (predetermined) question. Then they suddenly came to life and everything happened at once. The man accused me of thinking him crazy, but I never did--there was never anything, other than a single conversation response, to indicate that he was any more or less normal than the woman. Except for the fact that the man moved around more and the woman said "honey" a lot, they didn't seem all that different. Both spoke in fragments, spoke only when prompted, and didn't do much of anything else. Neither of them seemed very responsive or human until the end. I know IF npc's are robots at base, but it's possible to create a very convincing illusion that they are more. I've done it and I've seen it done! It just takes a lot of work. Gamefile size is one reliable indicator--if it's 80k, you've almost definitely not put in enough code to create humanlike npc's. These are things that are only learned with time and experience, and I understand that a lot of the competition authors are novices (and should be encouraged!)--but it's hard for me not to be demanding when a game aims this high and has such a neat premise. The whole concept of using ASK--almost exclusively--to advance the story, is questionable. The game doesn't need to have more puzzles, but it needs more things to do. Photopia is an excellent example of how to immerse the player in a story without a single puzzle. And it needs a better reason for why everything comes together when it does--one more meaningful than "because you finished asking repeatedly about every topic the author thought to implement". Ideally, it should be the player who initiates those final scenes--as it is, it feels quite jarring and unfair to be shouted at for something the game forced me to do! One final beef: When I read the introductory text from the author (claiming that the only puzzle in the game was to "read all the text that you possibly can"), and saw that the game had no scoring system, I wondered whether it had a formal end. As it turns out, it did (an ending well-worth reaching, despite the above criticism), but I got stymied for a while when I reached a hint that said "if you can see this message, you have already won". It gave no indication that I needed to go back to the cabin, and since I had asked about all the topics I could possibly think of, there was no impetus to do so. I didn't realize something huge was going to happen as soon as I walked in the door! So I presumed that was indeed the end, and I quit. Nagging uncertainty led me to dump all the gametext via Ztools, at which point I discovered that I was wrong. I would strongly recommend: 1. revising the introductory text to make clear that the game has a goal and an end, and 2. adding a final hint, unless you choose to follow the advice above and make the ending more logical. I wouldn't be writing this long a review for "Lomalow" if I didn't have such high hopes for it and its author, so I hope the criticism isn't too disheartening. I would love to see a more fleshed-out version of this game after the comp ends. FTP FileInform .z5 file

Losing Your Grip

From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #14 -- May 17, 1998 NAME: Losing Your Grip AUTHOR: Stephen Granade E-MAIL: sgranade SP@G DATE: 1998 PARSER: TADS SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Shareware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 3 PLOT: Intricate (1.7) ATMOSPHERE: Complex, well done (1.6) WRITING: Solid (1.5) GAMEPLAY: Mostly good (1.3) CHARACTERS: A little sketchy (1.0) PUZZLES: Some excellent (1.3) MISC: Very rich in symbolism, thought-provoking (1.7) OVERALL: 7.8 Stephen Granade's Losing Your Grip is an ambitious effort: the plot draws heavily on symbolism and attempts to sustain it over the course of a full-length game. The result, though the symbolic elements are often a bit obscure, is consistently entertaining and thought-provoking. Merely figuring out what's going on is, truth to tell, challenge enough. You play Terry, in rehab for nicotine addiction, and the game switches back and forth between Terry's conscious mind in the rehab ward and--well, it's hard to say, really. You move through a series of five "fits" that deal with one aspect or another of Terry's mind or experiences, both discovering and setting right (in some cases) the neuroses and repressions of his life. This duality sometimes makes things rather complicated: when the fits delve into Terry's past, the game wants to present (in heavily symbolic terms) the events that have stunted or altered Terry's development, but also provide you, the player, a means of undoing those events (also in symbolic terms), leading to some fairly tortured plot sequences. One fit depicts your run-in with some "faeries," a reasonably obvious stand-in for your imaginative/creative side (at least, I thought so), and, in rapid succession, the maturation of that imaginative self, its disruption/negation by an outside force that threatens Terry's freedom, and the overcoming of that outside force and reliberation of the imagination. Whew. Bring a scorecard if you want to keep track of the plot, because there's lots of it and it happens on several levels. As a game, Deeper Meanings aside, Losing Your Grip is reasonably successful--there are many challenging puzzles, and they make sense, for the most part, in terms of the plot. There are, however, many and varied ways to close off the game, including some "planning ahead" measures that require considerable foresight. Notably, the way you transport objects between fits, though clever and even logical on the game's terms, requires that the player anticipate what the game is trying to do--not at all likely within the first fit, when the structure of the game still hasn't become clear. On two occasions, choices you make send the game down one of two entirely separate paths (which rejoin later), which enhances the game's replayability --and at other times, there are multiple independent solutions to problems or reactions to stimuli that shape what you make of your character. Generally, these choices aren't between right and wrong as such, though some have certain moral dimensions; they don't decide whether the plot will continue, merely the nature of what ensues. There is one section that devolves into sheer mathematical puzzle-fest, not inconsistently with the plot but frustrating nonetheless. Perhaps the most successful part of Grip is the first fit, in which Terry explores his own mind, thinly veiled as a majestic marble building. Terry confronts his memories, allegorized into a pile of spheres that a fellow named Frankie--Terry's powers of introspection, perhaps--is engaged in counting and categorizing; the parallel to the process that Terry is undergoing is clear and intriguing. Terry then reactivates, reopens for examination, various areas of his life that he had neglected, and deals with the resulting tide of guilt and anger (in a way that violates the allegory a bit, but let's not get picky)--and also manages to avert the complete breakdown (or death, perhaps?) that had been expected. But the author is not so concerned with hurling symbolism at us that he neglects to make sense of the ostensible action, fortunately, and the individual scenes in Grip are enjoyable simply for their playability and writing. But the depth of the insight that Terry achieves--in realizing how the negative emotions have tainted and darkened his memories, and how he needs to open up long-closed areas of his mind--give the first fit remarkable power. In that light, the limitedness of its effects on the remainder of the plot--whether you succeed or fail at a certain task, most importantly--feels analytically wrong; it seems like failing to get Terry's emotional house in order should preclude further introspection. (As in, the plot continues on the same course and you reach the same ending, which doesn't feel right.) The ending of Grip, while logical enough, brings up a certain point, not confined to this particular game but certainly relevant: increasingly, rather than giving the player the magic McGuffin or letting him ride into the sunset, authors end games on an ambiguous note: there's a conclusion of sorts, but it's not an unmitigated triumph, and there's no satisfying "You have won." The Zarfian ending, for want of a better term, is a welcome innovation, certainly--it makes us think about what we've done--but please, all you Zarfians, signify somehow that the player's _finished_ the thing, done all he or she is supposed to do.(An "afterword" from the author, or an "amusing" section, or something like that.) Particularly in games like Grip, where it's not at all hard to finish the game without earning all the points, reading an ambiguous ending just convinced me that I'd missed something and sent me back to solve puzzles that weren't meant to be solved. Enhancing replay value is one thing, but confusing the player about when enough is enough is another. (I should note, of course, that Grip does have substantial replay value, in the separate paths and in the intrigue of figuring out what everything means. I just wanted to know when I was done.) Where was I? Oh, right. One of the nicest things about Grip is simply that it hangs together well: the reappearances of the dark side that you struggle with, the veiled conflict with Terry's father, and the ways you drift back and forth between reality and memory/introspection make a remarkably coherent whole, or so I found it. Once the player picks up on the structure of the game (which takes a while) and the significance of the recurring parts, the seemingly unrelated sequences start to come together. Once I understood that the point of revisiting past periods of Terry's life was to overcome the negative associations he had attached to them, figuring out how to do it felt more rewarding, though it's certainly possible to finish the scene without thinking in those terms. Perhaps it was just that I appreciated and agreed with the underlying message (or at least the philosophy behind it), that Terry's anger at his father is misplaced and ultimately destructive, but I found that, certain blips aside, the plot both made sense and rewarded careful analysis--a rare combination. To that end, though, I was a bit puzzled that an apparent choice between giving up that anger and acting on it didn't affect the overall course of the game--again, you end up in the same place with the same text. I certainly don't claim to understand everything that the author was driving at in Grip; there are many parts of the game whose significance isn't clear to me, and may well remain that way. But I enjoyed the parts of it that I thought I understood, and it kept me interested enough to play through and think about in order to make sense of the rest, no small feat for a full-length game. As both game and story by symbolism, Losing Your Grip deserves praise. FTP FileTADS file (.gam) FTP FileStepwise solution (Text)


From: Duncan Stevens <dnrb SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #26 -- September 26, 2001 TITLE: Lost AUTHOR: Eric Mayer E-MAIL: emayer00 SP@G DATE: 2001 PARSER: ADRIFT SUPPORTS: ADRIFT runtimes AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: First release Making emotional content plausible in IF ain't easy. Getting a player to feel what the protagonist is supposed to be feeling requires subtlety (more than "you're feeling angry now"), good writing (at least, good enough that the player doesn't notice it and get pulled out of the flow), and, most of all, time -- a story that's long enough for the player to settle into the protagonist's skin before any serious emotion-imputing begins. Eric Mayer's Lost is a highly emotional game, and while it does passably well on the first two counts, it's simply not long enough, in my book, to achieve the desired effect. It seems that the protagonist is upset about all manner of things, primarily the decaying states of his marriage and his job, and he heads for a walk in the woods. As he wanders and examines things, thoughts run through his mind (in different colored text lest he miss their significance), and the forest setting, while nicely rendered, is of course merely a backdrop for the stuff going on in his head. He solves one fairly simple puzzle (rendered more complicated only by the unfriendliness of the ADRIFT parser), and a few sounds and apparitions later, the protagonist has a choice of sorts. One of two different endings ensues. Not to belabor the point, but it must be belabored: the protagonist can reach this ending point inside of 30 moves if he's pretty direct about it, and isn't likely to take more than 60-70 even if he stops to smell all the roses he can find. His ruminations about his past, however, start right away and come relatively thick and fast. If you, the player, don't decide to identify with the protagonist right away, you may just miss your chance entirely. Now, there may be some for whom losing a marriage and a job simultaneously strikes an instant chord of recognition, and if you're one of those, I sympathize and recommend Lost -- but the rest of us need some more prompting before we can identify with the protagonist. Perhaps, with more exploration of his personality, we might see ourselves, or someone we know, in this character. But the protagonist's personality is almost wholly absent from Lost: we know what he feels, but not who he is. As such, he had my sympathy, but I was a spectator. The backdrop, for what it's worth, is fine -- the woods are well rendered, with attention to detail. There are some glitches in the writing (e.g., "A few tough, spikes which used to be limbs, protrude"), and the style tends toward the choppy ("Here and there grassy hillocks are interspersed with dead trees. At the edge, cattails rattle in the breeze. There is a wooden post here. The swamp is impassable."), but there are some nice spots as well: "The lingering twilight floods the top of the reentrant with a rusty glow." There are occasional fuzzy pictures (which feel the need to reappear, necessitating window-closing, every time you return to the location in question), which don't enhance things much, but as a walk-in-the-woods game this is okay. (There are occasional sidelights about orienteering, which could have used some more explanation -- not everyone knows about orienteering, or even that the term refers to a sport, if that's the right thing to call it -- but as with publicity, there's almost no such thing as bad background detail.) When it comes to the internal strife, Lost isn't awful, but the game doesn't exactly have the lightest touch. The principle of "show, don't tell" is observed only haphazardly; one example, when examining a pine tree: You're reminded of the fragrant, prickly needled Christmas trees you used to bring home. How long since you switched to the plastic one? You just snap the limbs on and spray it with pine scent. From a distance it looks alive. Not unlike you marriage. Even aside from the "you marriage," the last sentence ruins what was, up to then, a nice little aside -- it conveys the protagonist's associations, and that's all it really has to do. The player can draw the contrasts, given that much: it's not hard to put the "those were happy times, unlike now" pieces together, nor are the plastic-instead-of-real-tree dots difficult to connect. The paragraph could easily have been stopped after four sentences, or three, or (perhaps best of all) two. As it is, the last sentence seems to assume the player isn't bright enough to draw any conclusions -- not wholly unfair, as the player may be no more than five moves into the game at that point (and no more than 25 moves from the end), but the answer to that is more game, not signal-flare writing. Similar is this passage: Everything here seems still, sheltered from the wind, quiet. It seems to you a soothing place, beyond the reach of the world. Ridiculous of course, since the highway is a few minutes walk. The first sentence is really all that's needed -- the second sentence, setting out what the protagonist feels, can just as well be inferred, and the player should know that the highway is within a few minutes' walk if he or she's been paying attention. The author can clearly write -- the writing here is always passable (typos and such aside) and sometimes good. It's just that he often seems to write one or two sentences too many. Picky and grumpy, that's me, but I'd like to think there's a good reason here. Writing IF whose success hinges on evoking emotion is a hit-or-miss matter; if you don't succeed, you're likely to end up sounding kind of mawkish. The player is tempted to snicker, which is never a good thing. (A puzzle game that doesn't work may leave the player frustrated or baffled, but usually not condescendingly amused.) No one likes feeling manipulated, and the nature of the string-pulling in Lost is such that it's easy to feel that way. And yet it seems to me that all that really needs to change here (aside from some writing stuff) is that the ratio of scenery/exploration to emotionalizing needs to increase substantially -- there needs to be more going on, such that the setting feels like a part of the game rather than an stimulus to get the protagonist's mental wheels turning. Give me enough of it so that it gets *my* mental wheels turning -- sufficiently so that you can tell the story without spelling everything out so, er, blatantly -- and you'll really have something. Lost has its heart in the right place, but it's trying to accomplish something very difficult while devoting minimal resources to the job. Good try, say I, but not quite. FTP FileADRIFT game file, readme, and walkthrough

Lost Kingdom, Brainf*ck Edition

From: Greg Boettcher <greg SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #43 -- January 7, 2006 TITLE: The Lost Kingdom, Brainf*ck Edition AUTHOR: Jon Ripley EMAIL: jon SP@G DATE: June 12, 2005 PARSER: extremely crude SUPPORTS: brainf*ck AVAILABILITY: Freeware; Author's site URL: VERSION: 0.11 I'm not sure why I like The Lost Kingdom, Brainfuck Edition. Its parser is crude in the extreme, and when you play it, you spend a lot of time mapping out mazes. That's not exactly a recipe for success. However, within the modest constraints of what this game tries to do, it is very well polished and playable. It's also rather amazing from a technical point of view, and it comes with an interesting backstory. For all of the above reasons, I think it's worth a play. The Lost Kingdom was originally entered into the 1st Annual 1 to 2K Classic Text Adventure Competition, back in 2004. It took first place out of six games, and the competition organizer, Paul Panks, called it "head and shoulders above any game thus far!" This new edition of the game is not just a new port of the game, but a considerable expansion of it. The new version has new features, better descriptions, and one or two new puzzles, in addition to the distinction of being written in an esoteric programming language. Jon Ripley claims that this game is "probably the first ever piece of interactive fiction written in an esoteric programming language and probably one of the largest non-trivial Brainfuck programs ever written." Indeed, the game is written in brainfuck, which does make it rather remarkable. Brainfuck is an esoteric programming language, a fully functional language, but one that is not at all designed to be practical, instead aiming only to be amusing to programmers due to its extreme minimalism. In Brainfuck programs, there are a maximum of eight commands, each of which are represented by a single character. (For more information, see .) Thus, the first line of the source code of The Lost Kingdom BFe looks like this... [-][.]>+<+[>[>[-]+<-]>[<+>>[-]>>>>>>>[-]+>>>>[-]<<<<[>>>>+<<<<-]<<<<<<<[ ...and the remaining 29,000+ lines of code look rather similar. The code is thus nearly inscrutable, and so it is not hard to figure out how brainfuck got its name. Obviously, Jon Ripley found a way of machine-generating all this code, but the game is still quite a piece of work from a technical point of view. The parser in this game is more crude than any I've ever seen. In the game's documentation, that author claims that a full-blown two-word parser might have made the program run too slow on some computers, given the very sub-optimal efficiency of brainfuck. As a result, Jon Ripley has set up a system where all nouns are referred to not by a word, but by a number. Thus: You can see: a small wooden box of matches sitting on the table. (2) To pick up the matches, type "take 2". At first this seems awkward and annoying, but there is an advantage here. Every verb has a one-letter abbreviation, and you can issue commands of no more than two characters. "t2" is an easier way of picking up the matches. Once you get used to the verb abbreviations, the system has a kind of simple elegance. Nobody will extol the game for giving you a feeling of complete freedom -- you can't use more than 22 verbs -- but within its constraints, it works well. By the way, it is worth noting that this brainfuck edition of this game allows you to save, making it much preferable to the version in the 2K Comp. Likewise, the game's help menus are well-designed, as are the menus that provide the backstory. Speaking of which, the backstory is another of the game' s great virtues, one that is shared with the original version of The Lost Kingdom. Although the game itself is very simple, even crude, it is surrounded by a very interesting backstory that gives the story more depth. (And you should definitely read the entire backstory if you want to win.) You can read all this at Jon Ripley's web page for the game's 2K Comp version -- -- or within the game itself, by using the "!" command. There is one other technically interesting aspect of The Lost Kingdom BFe. It is actually two games in one. When you begin the game, you get a chance to play it with either "short descriptions" or "long descriptions." The "short descriptions" version closely resembles the original 2K Comp version of the game, while the "long descriptions" version has much longer and more atmospheric room descriptions, as well as one or two different puzzles. That just leaves the game itself. Well, what can I say. You pick stuff up, you manipulate the stuff with the 22 verbs, you wander into a cave, you map out a couple of mazes, you defeat the bad guy (albeit a bad guy who is unusually well- characterized in the game's backstory), that sort of thing. The game itself says, "This game is intentionally written as a classic model text adventure game." Either you can get into that, or you can't. Anyway, in short, this game is pretty bad in some ways. In other ways, however, it's very impressive. I recommend reading the backstory, and if that sounds interesting, then this game is probably worth a play. Author's web site, with the game and information on it

Lost New York

From: J.D. Berry <berryx SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #20 -- March 15, 2000 NAME: Lost New York AUTHOR: Neil DeMause EMAIL: neild SP@G (Not sure how current this is) DATE: 1996-1997 PARSER: TADS (Also available in PC format) SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Shareware ($12) (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: 1.4 Start spreading the news Download this today You'll want to be a part of it It's "Lost New York" These time-traveling shoes Are longing to stray Right though the very heart of it It's "Lost New York" Sports aficionados say the mark of a good referee is that you never notice him. He quietly and efficiently does his job controlling the game without seeming to control the players. Lost New York (LNY) is that referee. There's a definite air of professionalism throughout the work, but you may not realize it until after the game. "You know, I don't think the ref blew any major calls." Interactive fiction players think one mark of a good game is when they become absorbed by it. For this to happen, the world not only must feel real but it must be engaging. Now, if you've ever been to New York City (NYC), you know the smell isn't always a pleasant one. But, not only its smells but by its whole atmosphere (good and bad), you KNOW where you are. You're in New York, *&^%$! Remember, though, a game must do more than capture the effect. It must do so in an interesting way. LNY succeeds here too. You never get the feeling you're just walking down each street for the sole purpose of realism. You never get the feeling you are just a tourist. You are part of an unfolding story as well. I love the rich history that permeates the game, often seeping into strange but satisfying places. Your score is compared to a mayor of NYC complete with a small biography. Excellent! This also ties in nicely to the game in general. Even the better mayors were not without their flaws and not without the sense that the city was so much bigger than they were. You, the player, are thrust into the same situation. You control some things, but the city largely has its own say, its own destiny. I must point out that I am neither a patient person nor a master game solver. Thus the complaints I do have about the game may be more accurately pointed at my own flaws as a player. As a reader of the newsgroups, though, I feel some of you may be in the same dock. With this in mind, I think you'll get an idea of how to approach this game based on your strengths and weaknesses. The game can become unwinnable quite easily. For instance, I didn't bring along a certain object because I had already taken the "important" thing from it. Later on of course I needed to use that object for something else. Restoring back so far was quite annoying. If you're the sort of player who has an intuitive feel rather than an expert gamer feel, you may find yourself in these kinds of traps too. Near the end of the game I resorted to the walkthrough. I'm glad I did, because I don't think I would have put everything together no matter how long I had played. But I was able to solve 5/6 of the game on my own. The puzzles and situations were generally very fair, although at one point you will perform an action of questionable morals which is a little out of character for the "average joe" player you are. (The rich man in the park.) Let me quickly finish the remaining other little nits. I had trouble figuring out how to use the future subway. Also, the timing of a subway encounter in another situation frustrated me. Every now and then I had difficulty in communicating what I wanted to do. None of these remotely resembled downright aggravation. If you love detailed and responsive NPCs, you won't find them here. However, this does not take anything away from the game. In the first place, NYC is not the most congenial of places. There are no kindly but knowledgeable grandmothers or entertaining yet clue-revealing minstrels here. The thieves are definitely not gentlemanly. Also, LNY is a history piece. You are dealing with the city as an evolving entity. The NPCs are like little cogs in a bulky, inefficient, black box machine. They may or may not have a minuscule role in city's existence and evolution. They are important only to the degree that they can help you. This attitude may hurt most games, but it works perfectly here. It fits. Lost New York is an engaging work of interactive fiction and even a standard on which all historical pieces should be judged. Bear in mind that its whole is definitely greater than its parts. Each element taken by itself is merely good. The overall effect is very pleasing. Experience it for yourself! From: Adam Cadre <ac SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #26 -- September 26, 2001 [Note: This review first appeared on the IF-Review website, at --Paul] NAME: Lost New York AUTHOR: Neil DeMause EMAIL: neild SP@G DATE: 1996-1997 PARSER: TADS (Also available in PC format) SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Shareware ($12) (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: 1.4 LOST NEW YORK by Neil deMause sends the player character bouncing around in time, from 1880 to 1905 to 1954 to 1780 to 2040. But none of these dates has anywhere near as much effect on the shape of the game as its year of publication: 1996. For in 1996, the conventional wisdom asserted that the remaining audience for text adventures was after just that: text adventures. Games were essentially just series of puzzles, with the story as a backdrop, the model world as set decoration. Yes, that backdrop and set decoration could be and often was masterfully designed, but the idea that one could create valid IF simply by building a model world for the player to poke around in, or telling a story in which the player could participate, only gained widespread acceptance over the subsequent five years, as increasingly daring games placed less and less emphasis on puzzles and were rewarded with plaudits from an audience that found it rather liked that sort of thing. But in 1996, how the audience might respond was an open question. Given the amount of effort that goes into a full-length work of IF, most authors elected to go with the proven approach. LOST NEW YORK is no exception. But while it follows the crowd, it does so with obvious reluctance. In the spirit of time travel, let's jump back about 400 years, to the time of Shakespeare. But not our Shakespeare -- this Shakespeare lives in an England where theater audiences are mad about juggling acts. Day after day, the Globe is witness to trio after trio of balls, pins and torches being flung into the air. But the audiences didn't want to see *just* juggling; they wanted the juggling folded into a little story. Enter Shakespeare, who soars to fame on the strength of "Romeo and Juliet", in which a pair of young people fall in love at a masked ball (the chief entertainment there: juggling), but then the boy's friend and the girl's cousin get into a ill-fated juggling contest and it all goes downhill from there. Now Shakespeare decides he might like to try writing a history, perhaps something involving King Henry V... yes, a piece tracing his evolution from carousing prince to the inspirational leader of his countrymen in a great victory over the French. But he can't just tell that story -- where's the juggling? If there's no juggling, it's not a real play! So the first act ends up foregrounding a bunch of jugglers at the bar while Falstaff and Prince Hal talk in the background, and proceeds to the point where the jugglers accompanying the army are told that the English have won the battle... and the audience response is tepid because while the historical stuff is interesting, the juggling isn't as accomplished as that in in RITO AND IMITA. Shakespeare is left to mutter to himself about the constraints of the medium. Similarly, it's clear that in LOST NEW YORK, deMause's heart is in the geographical and historical material. Virtually all the prose is extremely deft, but never is the writing more alive, more joyous, than when you die and the author gets to tell you another wacky story about a long-dead mayor; never are the quips funnier than when they're playing off the geography of the city (try going east from the City Hall area in 1880, or north into Hell's Kitchen later on.) The fact that the game begins with a slideshow and ends with a bibliography is another indication of where the author's interests lie. Hint: it's not in fiddling around with hairpins and stopwatches. But because this was written in 1996, the author felt obliged to fill it with juggl-- I mean, puzzles. And these are mostly not very good, being chiefly of the type where you're wandering around and find a fishing pole, which you take because, well, it's implemented; later on you find a stream, and go fishing because, well, that must be what the pole's for; you catch a fish and, when you cut it open to cook it, a key falls out. What was the key doing in the fish? Well, one of the conventions of the genre at the time was that you weren't supposed to ask questions like that. That's not actually a puzzle from LOST NEW YORK, but many similar ones abound. Of course, while the "take everything that's not nailed down, look under and behind and inside everything that is" ethic works fine in a dungeon, it gets to be a little absurd when transplanted to the island of Manhattan. In LOST NEW YORK, Manhattan has like twelve things. And that's too many. (Bet you thought I was going to go a different way with that, huh?) Again, to avoid spoilers, I'll disguise the details a bit. Let's say that the Upper West Side, circa 1965, has been reduced to a single location with a mailbox in it. Now, the problem is *not* that each street corner should be a separate location, nor that every item in every store and every apartment should be implemented. As it stands, the location works just fine as a representative area of the Upper West Side, and the mailbox works just fine as a representative mailbox. BUT! As soon as you fish around in the mailbox and pull out a live monkey (which you then stuff into your knapsack) you are no longer dealing with the Platonic Mailbox -- you're dealing with a specific, highly unusual mailbox. And by extension, this is no longer just a representative street corner: it's the particular street corner with the strange monkey-containing mailbox. And once players lose the sense that the locations they're visiting are representative, they're no longer wandering around Manhattan; they're navigating a diorama of Manhattan with twelve things in it. But it didn't have to be this way. LOST NEW YORK is as much about the New Yorks that might have been as the ones that actually have, and in that spirit, I can't help but muse about what might have happened had Neil deMause had his notes stolen one day in 1995. Disheartened, he puts off the project for a few years, till his enthusiasm revives -- only now the IF landscape is different. A MIND FOREVER VOYAGING is no longer a low-selling oddball; *lots* of games now revolve around exploration instead of dinking around with inventory. And so this alternate, post-'96 version of LOST NEW YORK takes on a different shape. Instead of players getting little more than a glimpse of New York's evolution, whatever gets mentioned in passing as they're messing around with goats and baseballs in curiously limited regions of the city, they can now roam the entirety of the city freely, watching the different neighborhoods evolve. Perhaps the interaction with figures who clearly fascinate the author -- Robert Moses, Emma Goldman, the various mayors -- is more substantial... leading to more New Yorks that might have been, perhaps? A fully implemented Moses-free New York, say, or one where Goldman's ideals took root... perhaps even a modern-day New Amsterdam, if you diverge early enough. And hey, TADS has multimedia now: why not throw some pictures into the mix?... oh, and... ...and at this point I've got the blueprints for a 21st-century skyscraper and am waving them at the base of the Empire State Building. The game has been written, and if deMause is anything like me, the idea of revisiting a project that was long ago declared done is hardly an appealing one... ...but hey, it's New York. If it were ever really finished, we wouldn't have that old story about the visitor from Nebraska. FTP FileTADS .gam file FTP FileMacIntosh Version FTP FileTADS .gam file bundled with DOS TADS runtime and instructions FTP FileSolution FTP FileListing of game Easter Eggs from an expired contest

The Lost Spellmaker

From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #13 -- February 5, 1998 NAME: Lost Spellmaker AUTHOR: Neil Brown E-MAIL: neil SP@G DATE: 1997 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Inform interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 2 PLOT: Reasonably amusing (1.2) ATMOSPHERE: Not much (0.9) WRITING: Mostly strong (1.3) GAMEPLAY: Weak in spots (0.8) CHARACTERS: One very funny one (1.2) PUZZLES: Not great (0.8) MISC: Some good ideas, didn't do enough with them (1.2) OVERALL: 5.4 Uneven but reasonably enjoyable nonetheless, Neil Brown's Lost Spellmaker pushes the boundaries of the genre somewhat. The setting is ostensibly fantasy -- your mission is to rescue a wizard of sorts, after all -- but Spellmaker is more comedy than fantasy; the game spends more time subverting or mocking fantasy conventions than abiding by them -- and to the extent that it succeeds, it does so mostly because of the comedic factor. You are a dwarf (an element almost entirely neglected by the story; it isn't clear whether you're in a land of dwarves or are unique in that respect) assigned by the Secret Service to hunt down a Magic Weaver who has disappeared. (Some hint of the tone of the game comes in the prologue, when you're instructed to retrieve the missing magician "so that he may entertain us further with his joyful sparkly spells.") You have no hint of his whereabouts until you stumble across him; the plot, typically, requires that you go out and solve puzzles, not actually track the guy down. Still, there is more than enough whimsy to keep the player entertained; among the better elements is a sarcastic talking cow and a reverend who speaks entirely in malapropisms. ("I never did heard such inscruciating nonsenseness in my whole lovely liveliness!") There is also some unintentional humor -- one character's ability to parse input is limited enough to produce this exchange: >mrs wisher, hello "Oh I'm sorry, dear," apologises Mrs Wisher. "I can't do that. The Reverend wouldn't approve." At least, I assume it was unintentional. The predominance of silliness, as opposed to coherent plot, is occasionally irritating, though -- one character must be given an object simply because it's nonsensical, and your final action is more than a bit contrived. The gameplay is slightly uneven; there are some actions whose syntax might defeat the less persistent, notably the problem of a certain well. At another point, in a dangerous situation, an escape route opens up for a turn or so -- but the game gives you no hints to that effect. More generally, you steal a jar from a sweet shop (well, you take it in plain sight of a dimwitted salesman), and, as noted, several actions are more than a bit illogical. There are several well-coded features, though, notably characters who manage to move around without obvious bugs (at least, not very many), a series of candies that can be regenerated, and a hint system in the form of a magical door that leads you back to the central office. Though the game revolves around magic, your contact with it is limited -- one instance -- and the story depends more on the silly characters in the village than on the ostensible plot. The central distinguishing feature of Lost Spellmaker is that you play a lesbian; you are attracted to the cute librarian Tilly, and the game tries -- not very successfully -- to resolve that along with the finding-the-lost-magician bit. The author has said that the game was underway before the argument this fall on gay characters in IF -- in which his position was that a gay or lesbian main character, even if made obvious, did not have to be a political statement. As far as that goes, Lost Spellmaker demonstrates the truth of it; unless your biases are such that you see the inclusion itself as political, this game does not come across as trying to Make An Important Point or any such thing. But nor does it do much with the relationship; your interactions with Tilly are so limited that it would be hard to call this a lesbian romance, somewhat improbable ending aside. It is worth wondering whether such a game would feel like a political statement if the game encouraged you to act in a way expressing your attraction -- along the lines of, say, Plundered Hearts. As it is, it's easy enough to forget that you're a lesbian -- for that matter, to forget that you're female -- for most of the game. This is certainly an interesting foray, but I'm not sure it answers many of the questions that the argument brought up -- not that it was required to, of course. With more development in the romance area, this might be genuinely groundbreaking. Lost Spellmaker is very short -- six puzzles, by my count -- and not all that remarkable, but it does manage to entertain (me, anyway, which is more than I can say for many humor games). As a demonstration of the viability of having a gay or lesbian main character, it's not particularly successful; it sends up the convention that the hero or heroine must be a strapping young thing, but that's a different problem. But it works well enough as a whimsical romp that I rated it a 7 on the competition scale. From: Paul O'Brian <obrian SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #13 -- February 5, 1998 It's not often that you see a thread from one of the newsgroups translate so directly into an actual piece of IF, but that's what's happened with The Lost Spellmaker. This summer, the discussion raged (and I do think that's a fair characterization) in rgif about "Gay characters in IF." Some people held that if a piece of IF were to feature a gay character, that piece would need to have homosexuality as its primary concern. Others, including Neil James Brown, contended that a character's sexual orientation can function simply as a vector to deepen characterization, of no more central concern to the game's theme than her gender, her height, or what food she likes to eat. The Lost Spellmaker proves Brown's point quite handily. The game's protagonist is Mattie, a dwarf Secret Service agent dispatched to discover the whereabouts of Drew Tungshinach, last in a long line of local spellmakers who have disappeared mysteriously. The fact that Mattie is both a dwarf and a Secret Service agent is an indication of the clever world that Brown has created, which consists of equal parts Ian Fleming and Brothers Grimm. The fact that Mattie loves candy comes in handy in a couple of puzzles, and helps explain why she lives in the town Sweet Shop. And finally, the fact that Mattie is a lesbian has a bearing on the love-interest subplot with the local librarian. Yet none of these incidental facts impinge on the game's central concern, the rescue of its eponymous Lost Spellmaker. Instead, they enrich our understanding of the characters, for which purpose Mattie's status as a lesbian is no more or less important than, for example, her status as a dwarf. After the competition ended, Brown posted to RGIF that he didn't write The Lost Spellmaker to prove his point -- the game was half-finished when the debate began, and in fact he wrote "It was unfortunate in some ways that Lost was a competition entry, as I was unable to use it as an example during the debate." No matter: The Lost Spellmaker stands as an example now, proving Brown's point handily. It's also a fun piece of IF apart from any political or identity considerations. The quest for Drew brings Mattie in contact with a number of amusing characters, and the milieu is small enough to make most of the puzzles fairly easy. Of course, I can't deny that I personally find it quite refreshing to play a game where heterosexuality isn't the implied norm, but The Lost Spellmaker has more than that to recommend it. It's a snappy quest in a creatively conceived world, a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours. Prose: The prose in The Lost Spellmaker never jarred me out of the story, and I often quite enjoyed reading it. The village wasn't particularly vividly rendered, but the characters often were, and some of the game's lighter touches were hilarious. Dialogue was, as a rule, quite well-written, especially the Reverend's constant malapropisms, which made me laugh out loud over and over, even when seeing them for the second and third times. Plot: Considering the weird, mutant setting Brown has achieved by breeding traditional fantasy elements (magic, dwarves, talking animals) with James Bond derivations (the Secret Service, a one-letter superior, his secretary "Mr. Cashpound"), the plot walks a fine line, and does it well. The plot is not simply a fantasy, though it does involve using magic to halt the decline of magic, and manipulating fantasy characters to solve puzzles. Nor was it simply espionage, though it did involve a heroic spy facing off against the obligatory Femme Fatale. Instead, it swerved back and forth between the two, making for a merry ride. Puzzles: I only had to consult the walkthrough one time, for a puzzle which was logical, but could have used an alternate solution. The puzzles weren't the focus of the story, so they served the basic purpose of small goals to help advance the plot. In this role, they worked admirably well. There were no particularly witty or clever puzzles, but by the same token there were no unfair or "guess-the-verb" puzzles either. Technical: writing -- I only noticed one proofing error in the game. The vast majority of the prose was competently and correctly written. coding -- There were a few bugs in the game, one of which may be more of a library issue than a lack of attention on the part of the author. Also, there were a few places where a response beyond the default would have been appreciated. Overall, the code was relatively bug free. Kudos must go here to the title page, which employed a really nifty z-machine special effect. FTP FileInform file (.z5) (updated version) FTP FileInform file (.z5) (competition version)

Love's Fiery Imbroglio

From: Graeme Cree <72630.304 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #11 -- September 16, 1997 NAME: Love's Fiery Imbroglio AUTHOR: Natasha Mirage EMAIL: ? DATE: 1988 PARSER: Multiple Choice SUPPORTS: PC and all AGT Ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: Natasha Mirage definitely has the best nom de plume in Interactive Fiction, but judging her game, Love's Fiery Imbroglio, by normal standards is not entirely fair. Although it is a "text game", it is not interactive fiction as we know it at all. It is a computerized version of a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book, and as a result, things that would be considered to be bad form in a true I-F game (such as choices that kill you or end the game without warning), may be entirely appropriate here. If you've played a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book, you already know what this game is. You get about a screen full story at which point you are prompted to choose an action from a multiple choice list in order to get to the next screen. The story is primarily linear, with a few side diversions, and has some choices which can end the game completely, though you never actually die. For example, early in the game when you are called for the date and asked if 6:00 is okay, you can say that it is, say that it is too early, or say that it is too late. If you say that it is too early, then the caller will get distracted, forget about you until it is too late, and then spend the rest of his life in a monastary to atone for his behavior, thus ending the game. However, these are not nearly as irritating as the "Rooms of Instant Death" in games like Detective and Electrabot however because a) they are not entirely without warning; common sense and textual clues may help you avoid many of them, and b) the game has keys letting you back up any number of screens, meaning that you don't need to restart the game or save first to get back to where you were. Just as in a real book, you can simply turn back to the page where you were (and unlike a real book, you don't have to remember what page number it was!) The puzzles, such as they are, are primarily diplomatic ones. For example, at the restaurant, your gourmet date mentions being puzzled by the secret ingredient of his favourite dish. Suggesting that it may be salt, will hurt his feelings by implying that he couldn't identify something so simple. As for the plot...well, the title tells you all you need to know. It is probably the only romance novel game apart from Plundered Hearts. You are a lonely female, sitting around your apartment, trying not to think about your accumulating laundry pile when a friend of a friend calls and asks you for a date. The game consists of getting ready for the big evening, and handling yourself well during dinner (no bad puns, please!) A lot of the (supposedly) usual Romance novel elements are in there; i.e. date has a secret pain which you must find out about and help deal with. Yes, the Schlock Factor does ride quite high. However, the writing is where this game really shines. The repartee between author and player is quite entertaining. The game's atmosphere seems to repeatedly switch between "real" reality, Romance Novel reality, and fantasy in a very entertaining way. The tone manages to remain bouncy (ah ah ah, no jokes! I'm not having things getting silly!) and lighthearted at the appropriate times without slipping into pure comedy. Overall, this is a very polished and enjoyable product. The simple multiple-choice interface makes the parser completely trouble-free. The writing (the core of any product like this) is first class. Though I've never felt moved to read a Romance novel (and still don't), I found the writing and interactivity, coupled with the games's very reasonable length, to be adequate compensation for any schlockiness, and considered the game to be well worth the time spent playing it. It's also not a bad introductory game. I've always felt that intro games should be much more heavily weighted towards story than puzzles (as anyone who has played my own Tossed Into Space game can attest). Furthermore, these days a good introductory game should not do things merely better than graphics, but do things that graphic games cannot do at all. For example, imagine the climax of Leather Goddesses of Phobos (okay, you can make a joke about that). That isn't an introductory game, but you get the idea. That scene would be flatly impossible to reproduce in a graphics game. The same goes for this game. A person can't play it and say "that was good, but I wish it had been graphical rather than textual." (Superfluous) graphics could conceivably be added to this game, but could not possibly substitute for the text. The game was written with a system called Pinntale, which seems to be specially designed for Choose-Your-Own-Adventure games, however I don't know of any other games written with it. I uploaded this one to GMD myself about a year ago, and GMD has no others, nor does the person that I got it from. Recently the game was ported to AGT by Mike Ryan, where its title was changed to "Love's Fiery Rapture" (to which I object, as "Imbroglio" is a much cooler word and doesn't mean the same thing as rapture). The source code for this version does exist at GMD. The AGT version is inferior to the original in that it does not let you customize the character names, and does not seem to permit backwards page flipping (although both of these things could be implemented using AGT). It's primary value is as a programming model for others wishing to create this same type of adventure. On the face of it, Love's Fiery Imbroglio is a game written specifically for women. In fact, you have to claim to be a woman at the beginning or the game will tell you that you don't really want to play it, and that it's all about knitting anyway. But really it's done well enough to be of interest to people of all sexes. FTP FilePC Executable (.zip) FTP FileSource code of AGT version (.zip)

Luminous Horizon

From: Adam Myrow <amyrow SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #39 -- January 7, 2005 TITLE: Luminous Horizon AUTHOR: Paul O'Brian EMAIL: obrian SP@G DATE: September 2004 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Glulxe interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF-Archive, freeware URL: Directory contains game file, readme, and another directory containing a virtual comic feelie which summarizes parts one and two. When Paul O'Brian announced that he wouldn't be finishing his third episode of Earth And Sky in time for the 2003 competition, I was slightly disappointed. Still, I knew that he would eventually finish. Well, he did, and once again, won the competition. In short, that extra year paid off. I said that part two was great, but part three is even better! One of the things that I wanted to see in part 3 was more team work. Well, that wish was fulfilled beyond my wildest dreams. In this, the final part of the story, you play both Emily and Austin Colborn. You can freely switch between controlling one or the other at any time. In fact, it is critical to do this in order to figure out which of them will have the needed super-power to get past whatever is blocking the path. This game is much more tightly timed than parts one or two. This is especially true of the final battle, which is a desperate race against the clock with little room for error. While the game has been designed so that it can't be put into an unsolvable state, that doesn't mean you won't meet a grisly end or fail to stop the bad guys. Most of the time, learning by dying annoys me, but not in this game. It helped to build the tension, and made me feel really proud of myself when I figured out what to do to survive. This final chapter in the story will bring the player face-to-face with the enemies they learned about in part two, and there will be a few surprises in store as well. Winning was a very satisfying experience indeed. More impressive than the battles and such, was the way Luminous Horizon handles the switching between the two characters. Both Austin and Emily are very well-developed in parts one and two, and the switches between them help to reinforce the attitudes of each. For example, Austin is a bit more level-headed than Emily, and there is both a little sibling rivalry and affection between them. Austin calls Emily "Em" for short, and she is occasionally annoyed at how Austin is somehow able to figure out things that go right over her head. Here are a few examples of room and object descriptions from each character's viewpoint. I've preceded each with either "as Austin:" or "as Emily:" to denote which character the player is in control of at the time of this description. As Emily: High Plains You've never been much of a fan of Westerns, but this area just seems to cry out for some cowboy to mosey through it. Everything's here -- the scrappy little bushes, the rocky ground, the mountains in the eastern distance, and the sense of barren desolation. All that's missing is a lonely ghost town and a tumbleweed slowly bouncing across the frame. The air seems unusually still here, as if the landscape were holding its breath in anticipation. A damaged road sign lies at your feet. Austin is nearby, apparently lost in thought. As Austin: High Plains Scrub bushes and sparse grasses provide a little ground cover for the otherwise rocky, sandy soil of this area. Other than the jagged mountains looming a few miles to the east, this spot seems entirely barren. Emily is here, watching you. A damaged road sign lies at your feet. As Emily: >x vehicle The vehicle (assuming Austin has guessed right about its function) is large and sleek, roughly rectangular in shape but tapering a bit at one end. Its entire surface is covered in a mazy tangle of pipes. Pipes wind around each other and down every side and edge, some terminating in a flare at the ground and others opening dark holes at the ship's untapered end. Except for the fact that its color scheme is muted greys and blacks, it looks rather like something that might have appeared in Yellow Submarine. No entrance is apparent anywhere. As Austin: >x vehicle The vehicle is large and sleek, roughly rectangular in shape but tapering a bit at one end. Its entire surface is covered in a mazy tangle of pipes. Pipes wind around each other and down every side and edge, some terminating in a flare at the ground and others opening dark holes at the ship's untapered end. The whole thing looks a bit like an unfortunate collision between a shoebox and a French horn. No entrance is apparent anywhere. As these examples make clear, I really enjoyed switching back and forth, just to examine objects and rooms as each character. Yet one more feature of this piece of IF is that it actually can show the player one of several different introductions. At the beginning, you can optionally answer some questions about how previous sessions with the other two games in the series turned out, and the introduction will be customized to reflect your answers. In short, nearly everything has been thought of already and taken care of. Lastly, like the previous two Earth And Sky games, this one is broken up into sections. Each game has used a slightly different method of dividing itself up. Part one used titles like "Suit Yourself," at the start of each section. Part 2 used quotes from Emily Dickinson which were chosen to fit the situation. Part 3 gives the player a peek at what the villain is up to at the start of each section. This is yet another way of building the suspense up. Even before the game starts becoming tightly timed, I felt like I had to hurry to stop the villain. So, in short, I can't say enough good things about this game. It closes out the trilogy in style, and shows that taking the extra time to polish a game is well worth the effort. From: Jennifer Maddox <kyria79 SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #39 -- January 7, 2005 There are two types of games in Interactive Fiction: those that are puzzle-driven, and those that are story-driven. Luminous Horizon definitely falls under the latter category, and if you're the kind of player who enjoys that type I highly recommend this game. It is the third and final episode of the Colborn siblings' attempt to find their parents, a mission that has taken them from a quaint University town, to the Sierra Nevadas, to outer space, and finally strands them in the middle of nowhere, New Mexico. There are a number of good things about this game, one of which is that you really don't need to have played the prior two installments of the series in order to play and finish this game. But if you're going into this game and want a good recap of the story so far, the web comic feelie that accompanied the game does a great job of bringing you up to speed without giving away any spoilers whatsoever. It's well written and quite entertaining, two attributes that are prevalent throughout O'Brian's works. I'd also like to give kudos to J. Robinson Wheeler for his artwork. I'd recommend that you read the feelie even if you have played the previous games - it just ties in so well with the style and feel of the games. The included comic feels especially appropriate, as the characters in this game could have come straight out of a graphic novel. The banter and conversation that comes forth when Austin and Emily talk really make one believe they are brother and sister. I might like to have seen a little more sibling rivalry between the two, but considering that their parents are missing I guess this pair of super heroes have had to put other differences aside and learn to work together. While playing EAS3 you can choose to inhabit either sibling, a great feature and addition from the previous games. This gives the player different perspectives on the events taking place, and really allows one to combine the powers of both the suits to defeat the forces of evil. Speaking of evil, I must say that the villains are equally well written and nicely wicked. Throughout the game the player is given glimpses of the pair, giving you not only a nice feel of what you're up against but also clues at what this devious duo is up to. This works well for the story; the occasional clues keep the tension going and leads the player towards the inevitable climax. Unfortunately, the competition release of EAS3 did contain a few noticeable bugs. It's good to note though, that none of them render the game into an unwinnable state and I hope the next release of the game fixes some of the more obvious bugs. As for the puzzles within the game, well... I did say before that this game falls under the heading of story-driven IF. The puzzles are simplistic and are in the "find key, unlock door" format. That is to say, they are not compounded or intricate, and the author is clearly more focused on the storyline and characters. And as for the previously mentioned climax, I must confess and say I was disappointed when I reached it. I had hoped for more, and found it easily overcome. The hint system in this game is in the format of talking to your sibling in order to get the help needed to overcome the obstacle. An intuitive move on the part of the author, but quite a leap from the previous game's hint system which was a web-based series of questions. It makes sense, if you think about it, to have your partner-in-crime-solving help you out as you try to get past the puzzles. I must say though, compared to the excellent hints from second game in the series I was dissatisfied by the hints received from the finale. They aren't as helpful -- being location based it's sometimes hard to know where you need to be focusing your attention on -- and once you have heard the final hint from your sibling there's no way to get them repeat themselves. It is therefore possible to have yourself stuck somewhere, unsure of what to do, and when you consult your hint source receive only "You've said all you can think of to say at the moment". It can be quite frustrating at times. I just felt that the format and quality of the hints from the second installment were superior, and would hope that O'Brian would continue in that fashion in his future games. Overall Luminous Horizon is a great way to pass the time and nice conclusion to the saga started by Earth and Sky. While it might not be the most challenging text adventure you're likely to come across, it is still amusing and certainly has made its mark in the annals of interactive fiction. If you're looking for a good challenge, however, might I recommend that you bypass this game and move onto the runners-up in the 2004 IF Comp: Blue Chairs and All Things Devours. FTP FileDirectory with .blb Glulx file, readme, and comic feelie subdirectory

The Lurking Horror

From: Stephen Granade <sgranade SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #1 -- May 15, 1994 NAME: Lurking Horror PARSER: Infocom Standard AUTHOR: Dave Lebling PLOT: Nice elements, but unconnected EMAIL: ??? ATMOSPHERE: Captures the genre well AVAILABILITY: LTOI 1 WRITING: Excellent PUZZLES: Clever to puzzling SUPPORTS: Infocom Ports CHARACTERS: Lack Flair DIFFICULTY: Medium Late one night, you, a student at G.U.E. Tech, have braved a blizzard to get to the Computer Center to finish work on a paper. However, the simple assignment takes you to the horrific underside of the school. Lurking Horror's parser is, as expected, up to snuff. The writing is excellent; the game is firmly rooted in the Gothic horror used by Lovecraft and Poe. Dave Lebling has captured the essence of the genre well. The plot, however, is not as well developed. It contains some nice elements, but at times the disparate plot elements felt unconnected. The characters also lack flair. The best of the NPCs are the different slimy creatures you encounter, from a winged something to a slimy something. Both the NPCs and the plot could have been helped had the NPCs been obviously working together. The puzzles ranged from clever to puzzling. There were a few puzzles I didn't understand until I finished the game and looked in the hint book. My wildcard points were awarded on the basis of the game's atmosphere. The Lurking Horror is available in Activision's Lost Treasures of Infocom 1 package. While a worthy attempt to bring back the old Infocom games, the repackaging removes much of Infocom's clever presentation. The Lurking Horror is mediumly difficult, and is especially good if you're a fan of Gothic horror. From: Brian Reilly <reillyb SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #3 -- October 26, 1994 In Lurking Horror, you assume the role of a college student who starts out trying to complete an assignment, and is caught up in an adventure of missing students, demonic Alchemy professors, and a showdown with the ultimate evil. As you wonder about the tunnels and corridors of GUE Tech, you must deal with everything from sticky-fingered urchins to fierce rats. The main strength of this game is the sense of atmosphere created. The writing creates a sense of suspense and terror, and the player is enveloped in a frightening world of the macabre. The only weakness that I found with Lurking Horror was the NPCs. I feel that they could have been developed to a greater extent, especially the hacker. I was also disappointed with the ending; it was a climactic let-down from what had been built up during the game. Besides this, though, it was a very good game. The puzzles are interesting and not too difficult, and there is enough humor to keep the player interested. Lurking Horror can be found in LTOI 1. FTP FileSolution (Text)
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