SPAG
Game Reviews M

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The email addresses used are those submitted with the review, so naturally some of them may be out of date.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

Madame L'Estrange and the Troubled Spirit The Magic Toyshop Magic.zip The Magnetic Scrolls Collection Maiden of the Moonlight Masquerade A Matter of Time Max Blaster and Doris De Lightning Against The Parrot Creatures Of Venus Mercy Metamorphoses The Meteor, The Stone, And A Long Glass Of Sherbet The Mind Electric A Mind Forever Voyaging Mingsheng The Mission: see Jim MacBrayne games A Moment of Hope Moments Out Of Time Moonbase Moonglow The Moonlit Tower Moonmist Mop and Murder Mother Loose Mountain MST3K1: see Detective: An Interactive MiSTing MST3K2: see Mystery Science Theater 3000 Presents "A Fable" The Mulldoon Legacy The Mulldoon Murders Multi-Dimensional Thief Muse: An Autumn Romance My Angel My First Stupid Game Mystery Island Mystery Science Theater 3000 Presents "A Fable" MythTale

Madame L'Estrange and the Troubled Spirit

From: Paul O'Brian <obrian SP@G colorado.edu> Review appeared in
SPAG #13 -- February 5, 1998 NAME: Madame L'Estrange and the Troubled Spirit AUTHORS: Ian Ball and Marcus Young E-MAIL: iball SP@G maths.adelaide.edu.au DATE: 1997 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Inform interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition97/inform/lest/lest.z5 VERSION: Release 1 (1997 competition release) Madame L'Estrange and the Troubled Spirit (hereafter called MmeLTS) is a frustrating game, because it builds such a slipshod house upon a very promising foundation. The game is riddled with what I would guess are at least a hundred grammar and spelling errors. It flipflops seemingly at random between past and present tense. It can't seem to decide whether to address the player in the second or third person. It consistently causes a fatal crash in at least one interpreter (WinFrotz). All this would be easy to evaluate as simply the product of incompetent authors if it didn't take place in a game that starts with an interesting premise, executes a number of great interface decisions, and manages to unroll a complicated mystery plot along the way. As it is, MmeLTS is a great mess that could've been a contender if only it had been written with more care. One area in which the game does succeed is that of the innovations introduced by its authors, especially in the area of navigation: MmeLTS combines the direction-based locomotion of traditional IF with the more intuitive "go to location x" type of travel used in games like Joe Mason's "In The End." The title character (a "spiritualist detective" who is also the player character) can travel to various locations around Sydney with the use of the "travel to" or "go to" verb. However, once she has arrived at a particular location she uses direction-based navigation to walk from place to place (or room to room, as the case may be.) Moreover, the authors often write direction responses as a simple set of actions performed by the title character rather than implementing entire rooms which serve no purpose. These methods of navigation combine the best of both worlds, providing a broad brush for cross-city or cross-country travel but not taking away the finer granularity available to the direction-based system. A related innovation concerns Madame L'Estrange's notebook, in which the game automagically tallies the names of important people and places which come up in her investigations. This notebook (similar to the "concept inventory" used in some graphical IF) provides a handy template for travel and inquiry, and would be welcome inside any game, especially those involving a detective. One other point: MmeLTS takes the character all over Sydney, and in doing so provides an element of education and travel narrative along with its detective story. The medium's investigations take her from Centennial Park to the Sydney Harbour Bridge to Taronga Zoo to the University of New South Wales. Locations are often well-described, and after playing the game for two hours I felt more knowledgeable about Sydney than when I started (I hope the game's locations weren't fictional!) As an American whose knowledge of Australia is mostly limited to "Mad Max" movies, I can attest that the travel aspect of the game is a lot of fun. Prose: It's not that the game's prose was terrible of itself. The game is quite verbose, outputting screenfuls of text as a matter of course, and much of this text is effective and worthwhile. As I mentioned, many of the descriptions worked quite well, and the game does manage to clearly elucidate its plot as events happen. It's just that the mechanics of the prose are *so* bad (see Technical/writing). When technical problems are so pervasive, they can't help but have a tremendous negative impact on the quality of the prose. Plot: The game's plot is actually quite interesting. Mme. L'Estrange is presented with two apparently unrelated mysteries: strange wildlife deaths ascribed to a mysterious beast loose in Centennial Park, and the apparent suicide of a marine biology worker. As one might expect, these two situations eventually turn out to be linked. I wasn't able to finish the game in the initial two hours of competition judging time; in fact, I only scored five points out of 65 in that time, which gives an indication of just how much text there is to read. By the time I finished, I was really quite impressed with the machinations of the plot. The game employs several clever ideas and brings the whole together nicely at the end. Puzzles: I didn't really find many puzzles as such -- the game is mainly focused on exploration. Those puzzles which I did find were quite soluble as long as enough exploring had been done. What took up most of my time was visiting locations, talking to characters, and "tuning in" to the spirit world to commune with the spirits of the dead or learn more about a place's spiritual aura. This kept me busy enough that I didn't really miss the lack of puzzles. There are a few rather perfunctory puzzles as the game progresses, but they serve less as brain-teasers than as adjuncts to the plot (as is appropriate in a game as plot-driven as MmeLTS). Technical: writing -- The mechanics of the writing are just horrible. Sentences constantly lack periods or initial capital letters. Words are quite frequently misspelled. Typos are everywhere. The tense shifts back and forth at random between past and present; either one would have been workable and interesting, but the game seems unable to make up its mind. A similar phenomenon occurs with the voice, which vacillates between second and third person address. This avalanche of mechanical problems cripples what could have been an excellent game. coding -- The jury is still out on how well the game is coded. When I was using WinFrotz to play the game, I encountered Fatal errors repeatedly, but I'm not sure whether they were the fault of the designer or of the interpreter. JZIP presented the game with no problem, but again that could be because the interpreter was ignoring an illegal condition. Several aspects of the coding, such as Madame L's notebook, were quite nifty (unless that's what was causing the problem with WinFrotz crashing), and the implementation was solid overall. From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G merle.acns.nwu.edu> Review appeared in SPAG #14 -- May 17, 1998 One of the more puzzling entries in this year's competition, Madame L'Estrange and the Troubled Spirit is an entry that would probably work better as straight fiction than as IF. If, as some as speculated, one of the two authors wrote the story and the other adapted it to an interactive medium, the adapter needs a lot of work--and yet this is far from all bad; there's an interesting story here beneath all the glitches. As the title character, you are sent off to investigate, by means of your psychic powers, two separate mysteries, which before long merge into one, naturally. And investigate you do; your actions are almost entirely wandering around and learning things, rather than solving puzzles. With the help of a well-implemented device for tracking your investigation--a notebook in which you record people or locations that you should visit, and which you can visit by means of TRAVEL TO [place]--you are saved from having to think all that much, even; a few commands and a minimum of thought will carry you through most of the story. Moreover, the story is rather intriguing in its way, if a bit conventional--ruthless scientists overreaching themselves and such--and the surprising or suspenseful moments are, more often than not, exactly that. As noted, though, the strength of the story can only partly counteract the weaknesses of the implementation. For one thing, the prose swings wildly back and forth between present and past tense, and between third person and second person; it seems likely that the writer wrote the story in third person, past tense, and the programmer didn't bother to adapt things much. Moreover, the relationship between what happens in the long text chunks and the actual game is often tenuous, as in the following... during all of this Madame L'Estrange has been taking occasional notes on her pad. Then Mr Jones stood up and thanked Madame L'Estrange in advance before heading back out into the wet Darlinghurst streets. >look Madame L'Estrange's Living Room Mr Jones is sitting in a comfy chair Obviously, grammar problems abound; though the prose isn't awful, it needs to be proofread in the worst way. (Actually, perhaps that already happened.) One of the authors brags that he has "never willingly played a text adventure," which seems an odd claim to fame; it does, however, explain some of the problems with how this game is put together. For example, in one location, you carry on a conversation with someone who, the game repeatedly tells you, is on the phone with someone; a randomized message outputs the "talking on the phone" response fairly often, whether it makes sense or not. There are other problems, including some fatal bugs associated with SAVE. Whoever did the writing here did a LOT of it; there are several situations where many full screens of text go by between inputs. Often, those scenes include fairly complicated dialogue by your character, handy in a way--since this game certainly isn't up to much in the way of parsing input--but also a bit destructive of the interactive element. Most of the characters have a two- or three-screen spiel to tell you, and once you've found that, you're generally safe moving on to the next character; the authors did not conceal the relevant information under a variety of topics. That speeds things along, I guess, though it does make the whole thing feel mechanical. Often, you can "tune in" to the spirit world to communicate with departed souls, a technique that provides an interesting sidelight but also some rough spots in the writing, as in this encounter with a fellow who'd passed on: "I then realised that it was my body down there and I'd just died, but, funny enough, I didn't seem to care. Then I found I could just fly about the place and I tried that for a bit. Then finally the police came and they looked around and then carted my body away. I thought I should see where they were taking it, just in case it was important, so I followed them and here I am. But I don't think I'll stick around much longer- there must be plenty of much better places I can go now I'm dead, though it's funny saying that." If that's all the dead have to say, those of us who don't contact them aren't missing much. The story is also cluttered somewhat by irrelevant details and locations or leads that don't offer anything, certainly welcome in the realism department--but with the amount of text this game has, more of it for no reason is not a real treat. And, naturally, there is very little development of your own character; she has a mind of her own, in that she carries on conversations without your help, but not much of it actually says anything about her. In fact, none of the characters in the game feels particularly real, oddly considering how much space there is for them to develop, and how freely the author gives several screens of text over to the characters to let them say whatever they want. There is so much text, in fact, that it's easy to miss the odd funny moment, such as, after you've been wandering around in a drainpipe: "If only the sodden and bedraggled look was in this year!" This all leads to an exceedingly strange endgame, very time-sensitive and hard to picture in what it does and doesn't allow you to do. However, it does add another puzzle, and it does manage to be somewhat suspenseful. It should be said, though, that the scenes that are well done are very good indeed, particularly one toward the end when you discover the fate of a certain villain; from about the three-quarter mark on, the game sets a pace of sorts and engages the reader very effectively. That pace is slowed a bit by the puzzles in the endgame, unfortunately, but as pure thriller, the end of Madame L'Estrange is quite good; the player can simply follow along rather than having to do much interacting. An earlier sequence involving the mysterious beast also brings some excitement, and on the whole the story is more than convincing enough, as pure story, to outweigh the minimal interactive possibilities. To that end, the streamlining device of the notebook works well; it allows the plot to move along without the player having to worry about irritating things like transportation. With similar attention to the mechanics of the game, this might work quite well. Madame L'Estrange is not a particularly successful effort, but its enjoyability depends on the standards of the player; for those who regard a story as an excuse to string puzzles together, this will be a waste of time, but those who appreciate a reasonably well-crafted story and don't mind minimal interactivity might find it reasonably diverting. If anything, this illustrates the difficulties inherent in detective-story IF- -of which Infocom's are still the best examples--and in collaborative efforts; I gave it a 6 on the competition scale. FTP FileInform file (.z5)

The Magic Toyshop

From: Palmer Davis <palmer SP@G ansoft.com> Review appeared in
SPAG #7 -- October 14, 1995 NAME: The Magic Toyshop PARSER: Inform v1502 AUTHOR: Gareth Rees SUPPORTS: Infocom Ports EMAIL: gdr11 SP@G cl.cam.ac.uk AVAILABILITY: IF Archive ATMOSPHERE: Nonexistent (be sure to wear a pressure suit!) WRITING: Minimalist to the point of information underload CHARACTERS: Unresponsive PLOT: What plot? (Sequential pairs of puzzles.) PUZZLES: "Guess the verb", "What am I thinking?", and the like DIFFICULTY: Frustrating I really wanted to like this game. I really did. In a competition that intends to reward meaningful brevity, a one room adventure is a really neat idea. And a very spare, minimal writing style can work well if done right, as in _Enchanter_ (and _Christminster_'s opening). Unfortunately, this entry takes both concepts too far. There is a brief blurb in the teaser about wandering into a Victorian toy shop with a rocking horse in the window, in search of a birthday present for your niece, but rocking horse, window, and the charm of a Victorian toy shop are all entirely absent from the game itself. The player is dumped into an apparently empty room with a chest and a young woman, both of which frustrate most attempts at interaction. This can be unintentionally funny in spots: > CATHARINE, OPEN THE CHEST Catharine has better things to do. Catharine opens the chest and roots around inside it. "I wonder if your niece would like something like this?" she says.... [Your score just went up by 1 point.] In the example above, Catharine *still* would have opened the chest, even had the player said nothing, or waited, or looked around, or done *anything*; all interaction with her (except for her function as a primitive hint system) is initiated by her, and you are awarded points for doing absolutely nothing! In fact, both Catharine and verbs pertaining to her are incompletely implemented: > SAY "GO WEST" TO THE ROBOT MOUSE (to Catharine) Catharine has better things to do. Top quality interactive fiction requires both good writing and good programming. _Detective_ MST3K had wonderful writing, but the technical content wasn't there. _Toyshop_ presumably (I ran out of time playing "guess the verb" and therefore didn't encounter most of it) contains some clever programming, but the writing isn't there. Literally. The game's sole location doesn't even have a description, just a rhetorical question asking what might be contained therein. Object descriptions omit useful details like shapes and features, and the parser doesn't know about most of what detail there is. The limited vocabulary set combined with the sketchy descriptions of what is going on reduce _Toyshop_ to one of the most frustrating games of "guess the verb" that I've had the misfortune to encounter in years. This may sound nitpicky, but is there is an important distinction between > EMPTY THE BOX The box is empty already. and > EMPTY THE BOX You can't see anything inside the box! The second is a clue that some sense other than vision must be used to determine if there's anything in the box; the first is an unequivocal statement that there isn't anything in there. Since the game uses the first wording rather than the second, I wasted my entire two hour review period searching in vain for an alternative solution to the robot mouse assembly puzzle that wasn't there. (The sole hint that the game provided wasn't any help either, and no walkthrough was included.) I played an endless series of stalemates at tic-tac-toe in the hope that Catharine would give me a tube of glue after losing, I mistook the "carpet" for a glue strip to be peeled off, and I tried to break into the chest or search elsewhere all with no success (there being no elsewhere!). There may also be a cultural issue at work here -- in the United States, tubes of glue are not normally provided inside model kits. Airfix may in fact do this in the UK, but it was only through process of elimination that I finally tried searching, examining, looking into, reaching inside, throwing, dumping, tearing, destroying, opening the other end (to peer through), and jumping up and down on top of the box (all in vain) before finally guessing that "shake" was the magic word. By that time, the review period had expired, so I am basing my review on what I encountered up to that point. _Toyshop_ gave me of the most unpleasant experiences that I have ever had from a work of IF. You are dumped into a bare room and told to fiddle with a group of vague objects that are handed to you, for no clear reason, and must contend with a rather limited set of ways to manipulate them and eventually guess which of several possible solutions has been implemented. From what I've read on r.g.i-f since completing my evalutation, I'm not alone in getting stuck; this is probably *not* a two hour game. Especially given how nice Gareth's other work has been, _Toyshop_ is a most unpleasant surprise. BOTTOM LINE: This game is evil, and must be destroyed. Gareth Rees is also evil, but must *not* be destroyed -- at least not until he has a chance to finish the next _Christminster_.... FTP FileInform file (.z5) (updated version) FTP FileInform file (.z5) (competition version) FTP FileSource code (updated version) FTP FileSolution (Text)

Magic.zip

From: Molley the Mage <mollems SP@G pulsar.cs.wku.edu> Review appeared in
SPAG #3 -- October 26, 1994 NAME: MAGIC.ZIP (Three games) PARSER: Mostly 2-Word AUTHOR: John Olsen PLOT: Simple EMAIL: ??? ATMOSPHERE: Okay AVAILABILITY: IF Archive WRITING: Terse PUZZLES: Easy SUPPORTS: IBM CHARACTERS: Few DIFFICULTY: Quite Easy MAGIC.ZIP contains three IBM text adventures written by John Olsen. The games are all very simple, but they are enjoyable and should provide you with a few hours of fun. The games unzip as MS-DOS executable files, using Mr. Olsen's own interpreter. The parser used in the games is simplistic, but the puzzles are generally so easy that you won't have any problem telling the game what it is you're trying to do. The three games in the package are: Merlin's Magic Forest: In this game, you are transported to a magical forest where Merlin the magician (of Arthurian legend) has been placed under an evil spell. You must collect the five components needed to mix up a counterspell that will free the great wizard from his torpor. Along the way, you'll get to play with Excalibur and face some evil monsters (including some really mean trees who really got on my nerves). Merlin's Golden Trove As a reward for your services to him in the first game, Merlin transports you to his castle, where you seek to discover all his hidden gold. There are hidden tricks and traps for the unwary, and treasures hidden in some surprising places. The weakest of the three games, but still an enjoyable distraction. Son of Ali Baba To win the Caliph's daughter, you must venture to the island of the evil wizard Roxor and bring back a piece of the shell of a Roc's egg. You'll face a dragon, among other things, but luckily you have several magical talismans to assist you in your quest. The best of the three games, I think, except for a few rather arbitrary puzzles. All three of the games are quick plays -- an afternoon apiece at most. They use text very sparingly, but the writing is not bad. These games reminded me very much of the Scott Adams adventures, in fact, although they are much easier than some of Adams' puzzlers. Merlin's Magic Forest is arguably the most difficult of the three games, with some non-intuitive puzzles to be solved. Merlin's Golden Trove is strictly an exercise in searching for treasures. Son of Ali Baba is my favorite of the three, providing a little bit of the flavor of the Arabian Nights tales. The author is asking $20 for the three games, which comes out to less than $7 apiece. That's a good deal for a text adventure, but in truth these games are so short and simple that they're probably not worth registering. However, Mr. Olsen also has three other collections of similar text adventures, and all of them can be found on the if-archive. It would not be unreasonable to expect someone to play two of the three-game sets and then register one of them. But you didn't hear that from me. If you're looking for a game or three to kill an afternoon with, or if you wax nostalgic about the Scott Adams-type adventure games, give MAGIC.ZIP a try; and check out Mr. Olsen's other games, which include more fantasy, and even some horror, among other things. FTP FilePC Executables (.zip) FTP FileSolution (.zip)

The Magnetic Scrolls Collection

From: The Magnificent Linnard <mithee SP@G internetland.net> Review appeared in
SPAG #14 -- May 17, 1998 NAME: The Magnetic Scrolls Collection AUTHOR: Magnetic Scrolls/Virgin EMAIL: ??? DATE: Rerelease 1991 PARSER: Magnetic Scrolls standard AVALIABILITY: Rare URL: None available I managed to stumble across this boxed set in a clearance bin about 2 years ago, and for $10, I've never been disapointed. This is a collection of the three 'best sellers' (I assume) from the now defunct Magnetic Scrolls--Fish!, The Guild Of Thieves, and Corruption, all for the PC (which contradicts what I've read before about there being only Amiga and C64 versions). All three make Infocom look pretty blase by comparision. The interface is rather like a Macintosh, with mouse support, backgrounds, resizeable and moveable windows, automapping, an inventory listing using some alright icons, and a built-in compass. Each also features some degree of graphics for some scenes. Although most are low quality, and the animation isn't impressive in the least, it does add atmosphere when it's on. Variable fonts also help the text, allowing you to bold certain types (such as descriptions or game responses), italicize, or just use different font sizes. Very well put together. The help menus are about the same as late Infocom, using levels of hints for various events in each game. At times, the details are a little -too- much, giving away whole solutions step by step. Unfortunetly, this seems to be necessary. Certain sequences, such as Corruption's escape from the hospital, make absolutely no sense unless you have the help file--there's nothing to tell you what you need to do or what you did wrong, but if you -did- do something wrong, you're loading up that last save game. The save/load is well done at least, using a listed window like most Windows applications do. The games themselves vary quite widely, and they're all every bit as good as Infocom's best in MOST departments. Fish! sits you in the role of a secret agent, transplanted into the body of a fish in order to stop The Seven Deadly Fins from whatever evil deed they have in mind. Three different mini-missions place you in other bodies (of humans, at least) in order to get the parts so that you can head into the Fish City. Before I give away too much of the plot, I'll just say that I was subtely annoyed to finally make it to the end, just to find a TIME LIMIT on the last sections. I managed to make it to the very end sequence, just to find that I didn't have enough time (each move costs you a few minutes) to do what was required of me. Painful. Corruption comes from a different angle. You've just been named partner in a law firm, but someone's out to eliminate your presence in some not-so-moral ways. The idea is to, before the day is over, pin the blame where it goes without getting snagged yourself. It's harder than it sounds. The game is timed right to the clock, and if you aren't in EXACT right places at EXACT right times, events go right past you. If that happens, you're starting over--you won't have enough evidence. The casette in the box helps some too, but it's not totally necessary. This game features possibly the most devious puzzle in the game, and the cheesiest one I've ever had to deal with--The Hospital. I have yet to see how you're supposed to figure this out without the help window wide open. Basically, you're in a hospital, and if you don't get out unnoticed, you'll be given a lethal injection (boy, those guys are just -everywhere-!). It's rough, since a wrong turn will put a nurse right next to you. Guild Of Thieves is my personal favorite. The story works like this: you're an apprentice thief, trying to get into the guild. You're told that to get in, you have to rob this country blind. That night, a master thief drops you off on a dock and lets you do your thing. This is actually loads of fun, trying to cop the many treasures of whereever you find them. It's a gas, really, until the end. Just too many timing-based puzzles for anyone's good. All in all, a tres fun set to play around with, if you're lucky enough to actually -find- the box. FTP FileDirectory on IF Archive with Magnetic Scrolls info

Maiden of the Moonlight

From: C.E. Forman <ceforman SP@G worldnet.att.net> Review appeared in
SPAG #10 -- February 4, 1997 NAME: Maiden of the Moonlight AUTHOR: Brian P. Dean EMAIL: 73704.176 SP@G CompuServe.COM DATE: October 1996 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS Ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition96/maiden VERSION: Version 1.0 A haunted mansion story whose plot is revealed through object descriptions as well as room text - sort of "Theatre" meets "Uncle Zebulon's Will" with a dash of "Curses." Some genuine atmosphere and a good deal of backstory despite the fact that some room descriptions are simply lists of exits. It's a pity I didn't get to this one until after Halloween. Simple but clever puzzles, with the only annoyance being the very, VERY forced method of getting the perfume bottle over the fence. (Was this necessary?) I liked having to piece together solutions from the writings, books, and room descriptions, though there's the occasional guesswork. Unfortunately, there seems to be some sort of problem with saved games. Two or three times, the game would hang when I tried to restore, and the save file became corrupt. As the two-hour limit approached, I used the walkthrough to see the game in its entirety. FTP FileTADS .gam file and associated files (.zip) (updated version) FTP FileDirectory with TADS .gam File (competition version)

Masquerade

From: Suzanne Britton <tril SP@G igs.net> Review appeared in
SPAG #23 -- December 29, 2000 TITLE: Masquerade AUTHOR: Kathleen M. Fischer E-MAIL: mfischer5 SP@G aol.com DATE: 2000 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2000/inform/mask/mask.z5 VERSION: Release 3 "Masquerade" is an excellent work of story-based IF in a little-used genre (romance, specifically, Civil-War era romance). It is perhaps the most immersive game I've played yet this year. When I started playing, my mind was still spinning with outside thoughts and residual stress. Soon, I became utterly engrossed in the well-sketched gameworld and all else faded to black. The setting is impeccable: no anachronisms or oversights. I truly felt like I was in the 1800's. The protagonist (a feminist before her time) also came across quite strongly, and I enjoyed stepping into the shoes of someone so like and yet unlike me. Though the plot of "Masquerade" is fairly linear, for most of the way, there are several forks in the later parts of the game which lead to different endings based on your decisions. This was a big part of my enjoyment: of the 12 endings, I've found about a third, and am eager to go back and find more after the comp. I was especially pleased that choosing to strike out on your own (sans deed, sans husband) was a valid option, and though the author didn't quite sanction it as a "winning" ending (an odd word to use with story-based IF anyway), the outcome was positive and rewarding (it's my favorite ending of those I found). In that respect, Masquerade is hardly a "genre" romance. In spite of this praise, "Masquerade" didn't quite make my 9-10 bracket. There are several reasons for this. The first is something the author couldn't have done much about: the genre is not my usual cup of tea. I prefer stories with fantastical or SF elements (the story-in-a-story in "Photopia" counts) to straight fiction. The second is implementation: there were enough guess-the-verb and guess-the-action problems to be annoying. This is an especial show-stopper in such a linear game, which often halts your progress entirely, locking you in your current location, until you deal with the matter at hand. Example: "dance with Jonathan". It sounds embarrassingly obvious now, but at the time, I assumed that we would go into the ballroom together, then dance. But "west" returned the stock failure message about Mrs. Stanford being at the door, and this stymied me for a while. Sometimes the problem is syntax, other times it's more a problem of being expected to read the author's mind. I'm not referring to puzzles (of which there are a few), rather cases where what I want to do is obvious, but how to tell the game that is not-so-obvious. Another example: the only way I've found to get Ethan's attention in the train is to "get tickets". Until I've done that, I can't talk to him, touch him, sit with him, or otherwise interact with him. The reason given is fairly lame ("You wouldn't want to be that forward") and doesn't do much to point me in the right direction. Worse, if I flounder around like that for more than a few turns, I'm ejected from the train and it takes off! When the game mechanics worked--and make no mistake, they often did--they worked splendidly. I wended my way through the story in mimetic bliss, barely conscious of the fact that I was typing rather than living out my actions. The tight boundaries of the gameworld remained invisible. But when the mechanics failed, they failed with a loud crunching halt. (One extra positive note on implementation: I was impressed by and appreciative of the many stock message replacements [in fact, I've been impressed that way by several games this year]. E.g., when you type an invalid command: "You mutter something incomprehensible". Or for disambiguation, "You pause to think, or ?") Third: the game sometimes went overboard in limiting my actions. Some of this is acceptable--there are things a 19th-century woman simply does not do--but some of it came across as programming laziness. Whatever the reason, I was disappointed at not being allowed to give Jonathan a good slap! Rating: 8 From: Tina Sikorski <tina SP@G eniac.stanford.edu> Review appeared in SPAG #23 -- December 29, 2000 Walkthrough? No (in-game hints) Genre: Historical Romance +------------------------------------------+ |Overall Rating B |Submitted Vote 8| |Writing A |Plot B | |Puzzles C |NPCs B | |Technical B |Tilt A+| +------------------------+-----------------+ *** Initial Thoughts It's interesting. I'm not a big romance story fan, but I am a fan of historical romance... perhaps because I'm a big fan of historical -anything-. And this story is set in a period that I find fascinating. So right from the start, I was interested. But it wouldn't have held if the game wasn't so extremely well constructed.... *** Writing (A) Simply put, the writing in this story is first-rate. It was descriptive, it was evocative, it was thorough without being wordy, it was fun to read, and best of all, it fit the period the game was set in. If there -were- any errors, they escaped my notice. The example I have in my notes -- which I feel is representative -- is from the interior of a coach: "The coach is richly appointed, with two leather cushioned benches facing each other and a nice clean smell that marks it as either privately owned or an expensive rental. Heavy black drapes have been drawn across the windows, casting the interior in a gloom that precludes close scrutiny of the conveyance or its passenger." As someone who is a big fan of (mostly horror) stories written in the late 1800s, I can say that this actually is the type of writing one encounters in that period, which, not coincidentally, is when this story is set. *** Plot (B) Although I was disappointed with the particular ending I got and once or twice felt that things were a bit forced, the overall story in this is good. It's not simply a boy-meets-girl style romance by any means; the actual initial thrust of the plot (and, in fact, potentially the majority of it) has nothing to do with romance. I think perhaps the complaint some people have of heavily story-driven IF -- notably, if you've been not reading reviews regularly, that maybe they would do better as static IF -- would probably apply here, but as usual, I am not one of those people. There is flexibility here you could not incorporate into a static work, and while the plot advances are an unstoppable force, you can change things a bit by your reactions. *** Puzzles (C) There were a few. They weren't bad. If that seems a bit short, let me a note that I was so captivated by the story I didn't really notice them. I certainly didn't get hung up on them, so that's all that really mattered to me in the end. *** NPCs (B) The NPCs were, for the most part, quite well developed, although at times the interactions with them were a bit too predestined for my taste, hence the "mere" B rating. *** Technical (B) I have to say that this rating is predicated on two particular biases of mine: rich, full, detailed story worlds, and alternate conversational styles (the ask/tell routine is not exactly my favorite, and IMO doesn't work very well in stories like this). The fact that I could >smell stranger ...and get a valid response was worth a lot. Too, the fact that standard library messages were altered to fit the mood and setting was nice. None of this is necessarily -difficult-, but it does take the type of forethought and planning that many people do -not- bring to their games. *** Tilt (A+) and Final Thoughts I found this game so enticing and so thoroughly enjoyable that I intend on playing it again to see what alternate endings I get, and expect that even the parts that repeat will still seem wonderful and fresh. If not for the fact that I like surreal better than I like romance, this would have easily been my favorite of the games I played. FTP FileInform .z5 file (competition version)

A Matter of Time

From: Francis Irving <francis SP@G pobox.co.uk> Review appeared in
SPAG #14 -- May 17, 1998 NAME: A Matter of Time AUTHOR: Michael Zerbo EMAIL: Unknown DATE: Jun 4, 1997 (according to www.download.com) PARSER: ALAN version 2.5 SUPPORTS: DOS, Amiga, and possibly Alan ports (but without sound/graphics) AVAILABILITY: Shareware ($10) URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/pc/time1.zip (the version reviewed) ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/amiga/time[123].lha (the original Amiga version) VERSION: 1.0 (according to www.download.com) Time to try out the most heavily downloaded game in the IF archive... "A Matter of Time" is another story about saving your Professor from a land of dinosaurs, where his experimental time machine has gone slightly awry. The plot twist? The Professor is also accused of murdering a colleague over a funding war. It's apparently written using ALAN, with calls to external programs to add graphics and sound. Unfortunately this means that you have to wait for each picture to appear and disappear, and for each sound to finish, before you can get on with the game. And it happens every time you do "look". So, anyone making a multimedia piece of IF, make sure the sound and graphics are concurrent with the text. And that you can turn them off. (You can in time1 - by deleting or renaming viewer.exe and sbplay.exe...) Similarly annoying was that every time you die and restart you have to sit through the whole of the intro (including pictures) before you can even restore again... Whatever happened to "Would you like to RESTART, RESTORE or QUIT?". The writing is readable in its simplicity, but needs more imagination. The puzzles are straightforward item manipulation games which I couldn't work out; the games unresponsiveness and shaky parser didn't encourage me to do so. More synonyms are required; you can do "climb tree" but not "climb vines". Graphics are varied and made with fractal and ray-tracing programs. This gives them a certain lack of liveliness and inconsistency of style. The sounds didn't add anything much to the game, although they served well to identify where I was. Good sound in the background could make each area of a landscape feel more distinct. I didn't finish Time, but I did read through the text from the data file. I didn't miss much. It really is only a short work. I don't know what you get if you register, but from this demo I don't feel that it would be worth doing so. With over 17,000 downloads of Time from the IF-archive via www.download.com, Michael Zerbo is clearly an excellent publicist, or there is more interest in IF than we imagine. Perhaps people like the idea that it has sound/graphics in it, and are put off downloading plain text adventures. When the first quality piece of graphical IF, with an Inform/TADS standard parser, comes out, it will be interesting to see if it fares better in the download world. FTP FilePC executable (.zip) FTP FileReadme describing diskette version FTP FileAmiga image of disk 1 (.lha) FTP FileAmiga image of disk 2 (.lha) FTP FileAmiga image of disk 3 (.lha)

Max Blaster and Doris De Lightning Against The Parrot Creatures Of Venus

From: David Jones <drj SP@G pobox.com> Review appeared in
SPAG #38 -- September 28, 2004 TITLE: Max Blaster and Doris de Lightning Against the Parrot Creatures of Venus AUTHOR: Dan Shiovitz, Emily Short EMAIL: Dan Shiovitz <dbs SP@G cs.wisc.edu>, Emily Short <emshort SP@G mindspring.com> DATE: 2003 PARSER: TADS3, I guess SUPPORTS: TADS3 AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/mini-comps/SpringThing2003/parrots/parrots.t3 VERSION: version 1.0 (SpringComp release) Max Blaster and Doris de Lightning Against the Parrot Creatures of Venus is a great title. This is space opera, in sexy pants. But first I should get a few boring things out of the way. This is a TADS3 game, the first one I've played, so I just had to compile a new interpreter, using a build system that was complicated enough to require configure but didn't use it (and I doubt it really needs to be that complicated). This does not put me in a good mood. But never mind, it does compile, and it does play the file. As ever, I'm playing without graphics. Oh yeah, another interpreter issue: on the interpreter I was using every time a conversation menu popped up it was like going into hyperspace. This is no doubt because tads3 is doing a graceless job of the curses screen management (it looks like it's doing a screen clear and full redraw. Fairly slowly). I discover BANNER OFF which pleases me greatly. That's the icky interpreter issues out of the way; I feel a bit dirty mentioning them in a review. As soon as I start playing my poor mood is dispelled. The humour is already winning me over and I've only typed 3 commands. And two of those were "i" and "footnote 1". In many ways I was reminded of Zucker, Zucker, and Abrahams. And the thing about them is that they never let up -- their humour is fired from a machine-gun. Shiovitz and Short try a similar trick, and they almost get away with it. The corny wisecracks, the cheesy lines, as long as it keeps flowing it works and it's funny. And it does flow. This description of your apparel is typical: "Rocket pants are, without a doubt, the best article of clothing ever invented. It's good to live in the future." Generally the game manages a witty banter whether you're chatting to your partner, solving puzzles, or just being mystified and examining stuff. The writing is spot on (bar a couple of minor exceptions). Speaking of your partner, you can play the game either as Doris or Max, and when they are together you can switch between them (with SWITCH TO MAX). Max is your typical space hero. He's sharp with a blaster, and has unflusterable hair. Doris is a sassy upstart agent trying to out-do Max (and trying not to fall for Max in a cheesy Cubby Broccoli sort of way). The characterisation is funny and comes across well. They're on a mission, something to do with Venusian birds taking over earth, blah blah blah. There are quite a few nice small touches. It has footnotes that are automatically numbered, so you can't tell when you missed one. It tells me about "oops" the first time I misspell something (maybe this is a standard TADS3 feature?). Max and Doris take different tracks through the adventure. Their paths are like a figure 8. They're together and the start, then they separate, they rejoin in the middle, only to separate again, and then rejoin for the finale. So, there is branching. But it's quite a shallow sort of branching. There are two points where being Max or being Doris is significant. For the first one the player has no idea that it will happen. You just get to follow the branch of whichever character you happened to be. At least for the second one you know the branch is going to happen, you just don't know what it might entail. The most annoying thing for me was that I couldn't switch after the branch point. It's not like a game where you have to solve puzzle A or puzzle B, because usually in those situations you can fiddle with puzzle A _and_ fiddle with puzzle B before you solve either one of them. Probably you don't really decide to pick one of them and solve it, it's just a matter of which one you solve first. In Max Blaster and Doris de Lightning Against the Parrot Creatures of Venus you have to pick a path before you know what lies on it. (Damn, that long name really puts me off my urge to write the title out rather than say "this game"). The reality is very linear. Initially as I raced through the introduction on rails I didn't mind, it's okay for introductions to be linear. But the rest of the game is linear too: most of the time there is exactly one puzzle to solve and nothing else to do but solve the puzzle. The linearity is enhanced by the occasional "you can't go that way because it will break the design and the narrative. Really, stick to the path that I've laid down for you" kind of message. This linearity didn't really worry me until I was stuck. Now, being stuck is ordinary, it's the normal mode for adventure games, and in a good game I don't mind being stuck. But in a good game even though I'm "stuck" I will usually have a laundry list of (increasingly improbable) things to try. And there is usually the variety of being stuck at more than puzzle simultaneously which means I can try and solve a different puzzle. Coincidentally the first time I got stuck was also around the time that I started losing faith with the game. There was a potentially dramatic situation broken by a crack in the fourth wall. I found a nasty "[Runtime error: invalid datatypes for addition operator]". I put the game into an unwinnable state but I couldn't tell if it was a straight bug or mis-design. But it was also at this point that I noticed something cute: Max and Doris notice different things and, when they are together, have to co-operate to solve puzzles. As Max: >x yellow Well, it's a small electronic thingy. With colored stripes. Not to get all technical or anything. As Doris: >x yellow There's a large yellow stripe on the left, and then smaller red, black, and gold stripes next to it. That suggests it's probably a standard-issue networking module; this is probably in there to let the computer make transmissions out into the main network. It wouldn't be hard to pop open and disable, if one were so inclined. The puzzles range from the trivial to multi-hour marathons with a mondo sandwich machine controlled by levers and switches. In fact, some of the puzzles "solve themselves" by virtue of your partner solving them for you. In an easy game this would be no bad thing, but this is not an easy game. The hard puzzles are very hard (and made a little bit harder by buggy clueing) and they don't solve themselves. So having the easier puzzles solve themselves doesn't really help anyone, because if you can't solve those you aren't going to solve the hard ones. There are hints online but in at least one case they fell crucially short of the whole answer. Ordinarily I wouldn't have read the hints, but I had already won the game and was playing through on the alternate track to write this review (see how thorough I am?) and had whacked myself out with the world's most insane lever problem that rated at least two cups of tea. As it happened I needed to do just a little bit more to sneak past the guard but I wasn't up to it and looked at the hints, which didn't help at all. Fortunately that last bit of the puzzle wasn't too hard. The hints, by the way, are as witty as the game and well worth reading and I would say that if you want to avoid banging your head against a problem for 3 hours then you should read them early! Some of the puzzles are good, some are funny, some are lame. It's a pretty mixed bag. The final section includes a timed puzzle, but at least it's totally obvious that it's timed (so you can save) and it's kind of optional and not too hard. At a couple of points I was impressed by a Nethack-like tendency in the game. There is an inexhaustible supply of pills, you can take as many as you like (one at a time; cut-and-paste is the obsessive pill-picker's friend). You can leave piles of pills around in various locations. There doesn't seem to be an inventory limit (not that I would want a limit), so you can carry mind-boggling amounts of stuff. You can find all sorts of problems with the parser. It's amusing (if you're me) and pointless. And it slows the game down, but really that's my own fault for having 40 odd pills and 30 odd novelty beak polishers. Another thing that struck me as being borrowed from Nethack (to be honest I would be surprised if the authors have had any experience of Nethack, but I have had lots so I often think "Oh yeah, it's just like how it works in Nethack") is the epistemic object descriptions. A pill is a "pill" when first discovered, but, when you discover that you can eat it, it becomes a "food pill". Similarly, a different object changes its initial name to become a "screen disruptor". (It's also reminiscent of the mongoose in Pirate Adventure.) All this nonsense with objects changing their descriptions is quite nice, but it is also the source of some unfortunate bugs. At one point I discovered that I could "show max the disruptor," but I couldn't show him the object that changes into the disruptor (it gives a runtime error, oops!) For the first few hours the humour was winning me over, the linearity wasn't bothering me, and I hadn't found that many bugs. I suspect the earlier parts of the game are more polished than the later parts, and as I played more I found more and more bugs. These were things like unimportant objects not being examinable, or it not being possible to disambiguate some object (this is a TADS thing isn't it?), or inconsistent choices of disambiguation. Some of them were more serious, like a TADS runtime error, or a crucial component in a puzzle being incorrectly described, or a plausible phrasing for an action in a long and crucial sequence not working and giving a misleading response. In the end the bugs wore me down and I come away from the game somewhat dissatisfied, despite some great writing which I found quite witty, a pair of appealing characters, and some interesting puzzles. I suspect that the game's length (7 hours of play for me on my first time through as Doris) meant that the quality suffered. The bug-finding and bug-fixing will have been spread more thinly. If I had taken a less thorough look then I suspect that I would have come away happier. So that's what I recommend to you. Play it, have a laugh, read the walkthrough early, and don't poke around too much. You'll have fun. FTP FileDirectory with TADS .gam file, resource file, readme, and hints

Mercy

From: Steve Bernard <x96bernard1 SP@G wmich.edu> Review appeared in
SPAG #12 -- December 13, 1997 NAME: Mercy AUTHOR: Chris Klimas EMAIL: christopher.klimas SP@G washcoll.edu DATE: August 1997 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-Machine AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/infocom/Mercy.z5 Your name is Dr. Peter Basham. Your job is Mercy, if you can call it that. There's nothing you or your colleagues can do about the recent outbreak of smallpox but help people to die as easily as possible. Once you were a pediatrician; now all you do all day is "euthanize" (the medical profession's nice term for "kill"). Chris Klimas' "Mercy" is probably my favorite of all the games to be released this year, including the competition. It can hardly be called a game, though. As the author says, it's more of a short story. It's heavily plot oriented, but flexible enough that the player can still make many choices along the way and take different branches. The character is predetermined with feelings and background supplied by the game, but it avoids the pitfall of simply telling the player that they feel a certain way. Rather, the character interjections fit so well with the plot and the atmosphere they never seem forced. The make-it-or-break-it aspect of "Mercy" is its lack of puzzles. That's right folks, "puzzle-less I-F"... That isn't to say that your actions don't affect how the story turns out, but it does mean no locked doors to open, no odd futuristic machines to operate, and no "find the smallpox cure in some obscure location" situations. But to be honest, I hardly noticed the absence of puzzles until after I was done. Seriously, the story and atmosphere are engaging enough that the inclusion of puzzles would probably take away from the game as a whole. Flaws? Well yes, there are a few. A couple spelling mistakes or extra typos occur here or there. There's a verb or two that could be recognized and a couple objects in room descriptions that the player might want to refer to but can't. Honestly, I assume the author has noticed or been notified of these things already. I just hope he'll put out a Release 2. It's weird, if I just described the game quickly (i.e. No puzzles, predefined character, clear plot from beginning to end...), it wouldn't sound very enticing. In fact, it sounds like it would be a bad game if you boil it down to just that. "Mercy" proves that these descriptions are not bad in and of themselves. By no means do the standard I-F conventions need to be adhered to in order to produce quality work. Chris Klimas says that he hopes "Mercy" is something new in the interactive fiction universe. I don't know if that's true or not, but it certainly was a breath of fresh air for me to play and it clearly is different. I love the feelings it stirs in me, the disturbing moodiness that hangs over the whole thing, the "love story", as it were... I kinda wish he'd kept it until the competition. It would have grabbed *my* highest rating. My Rating: I give it an 8.5. I felt guilty at first for giving it a rating comparable to such long, great games as Trinity or Jigsaw. Thing is, I really did like it that much. The comparison really isn't fair, though: you don't judge short stories against novels. I liked "Mercy" for different reasons. FTP FileInform file (.z5) FTP FileSource code for the in-game computer (Text)

Metamorphoses

From: Duncan Stevens <dnrb SP@G starpower.net> Review appeared in
SPAG #23 -- December 29, 2000 TITLE: Metamorphoses AUTHOR: Emily Short E-MAIL: emshort SP@G mindspring.com DATE: 2000 PARSER: Inform standard (mostly) SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/zcode/metamorp.z5 VERSION: Release 2 As has often been noted, there are many difficulties inherent in telling a story through the IF medium, and one of the most-remarked-upon is the difficulty of keeping the player/reader involved (by giving him/her something to do) while still telling the story that the author wants to tell. The solutions usually boil down to relinquishing control of the pace of the story (typically through giving the player puzzles to solve), or avoiding/minimizing the puzzle aspect of IF and sending the player through the story with little opportunity to affect it. Emily Short's Metamorphoses doesn't, exactly, transcend this usual duality in IF design, but it does do some interesting things that help bring the poles together, and it's a wonderfully immersive playing experience. What's going on is hard to pin down, but the heart of it is that you're a slave/servant girl sent on a quest/errand of sorts by your master, with whom you have an uneasy and complicated relationship. The literal content of the quest (to the extent that there is any) disappears as the setting changes: the game is set in a fantasy world of sorts, though it's not quite accurate to call it fantasy. The action, so to speak, lies mostly in the realm of the figurative: you're encouraged (well, I felt encouraged) to view your quest as important more in what it suggests than in what it literally depicts. By the same token, when you encounter puzzles, they have symbolic significance that goes beyond the "acquire the object" goal. (All the more so since it's not immediately obvious why you're acquiring the objects.) Since the plot goes on beneath the surface of the literal action, the game can safely permit the player to do whatever he or she wants with the pace and order of the story, since there isn't really a narrative thread as such that can be broken. For example: one puzzle requires that you give up something familiar to you to advance the story, an act which clearly has its own resonances, and another requires that you transform another familiar object and put it to a novel use. The game comments directly on some of these points but not all--very little is spelled out. The world where all this takes place is only indirectly related to the ordinary physical world, and the relationship parallels other elements in the plot. Idealized forms play an important part: two statues of a man and a woman are described in ways that suggest Greek sculpture, and perfect solids are central to the story. Essences are important as well: virtually every object is made of a single elemental substance (wood, glass, metal, etc.), and you have the power to alter those substances in certain ways. Symmetry is everywhere (in the game's map, and elsewhere as well), and the multiplicity of mirrors suggests the reflection and introspection that are central to the plot. (Likewise, the idealized forms suggest the absolutes that make up the plot.) At the same time, the game's world is sterile, arid: there's nothing particularly warm or welcoming about it, and there's no suggestion that you find it pleasant or comfortable. (Left ambiguous is whether the dryness reflects the protagonist's life as it has been, or represents some hostile reality external to her that she's trying to overcome.) The setting itself tells a story, in other words, in a way not often found in IF. Not only does the setting play a part in the plot, however, but it's also beautifully described, with plenty of arresting imagery--some descriptive, others suggestive. For instance: Dome of Broken Light A straight white light comes through the hole in the ceiling, but it is soon after twisted and bent: mirrors cast it from angle to angle; crystal divides it; glass stains it. The picture is indeterminate: the reader is encouraged to imagine a riot of reflections and refractions. The only perfection here is that of perfect confusion. Here, by contrast: Glass Grove An orchard of glass trees: trunks slender and orderly as the columns of the Alhambra, foliage iridescent and frail. No wind stirs, and yet, from time to time, a leaf casts free of its branch and drifts to the ground. The whole floor of the cavern is deep with them. The image is more concrete: "iridescent and frail" conveys both the beauty and the sterility of the game's world. The writing also underscores the contrasts between the two locations: the (relative) activity of the first is reflected by the active verbs ("mirrors cast," "crystal divides," "glass stains"), whereas the aridity of the second is suggested by the intransitive verbs ("casts free," "drifts", "is deep"--and the first sentence has no verbs at all). Most of the writing is spare, like the game itself--you eventually learn some things about yourself, your past, and how you came to be in your present position, but the snippets are small indeed. What's there, however, is well worth reading. Metamorphoses does an impressively nuanced job of worldbuilding, in short, but what's noteworthy is that the gameplay is nearly as good. The puzzles feel reasonably novel, due mostly to the transmutation/magnification machines you're given and which figure in all the puzzles. The technical aspect is impressive--the objects by and large do what they're supposed to do when transmuted or enlarged or shrunk, and they interact with each other in plausible ways, nothing to sneeze at considering the complexity involved. Moreover, there are plenty of multiple solutions that draw on the various qualities of the objects whose size and essence you can alter, which makes the puzzles flow by fairly quickly. (This is not, in other words, a "guess what the author's thinking" sort of game, at least not when it comes to puzzle solutions.) Not every object in every state and size gets a customized description, of course, but everything behaves sensibly enough. Metamorphoses is not a flawless effort--some of its design choices risk leaving the player cold in certain respects. In particular, the game leaves so much about the protagonist ambiguous for so long that it's difficult to connect to her emotionally. Some of the most emotional experiences for the protagonist come early enough in the story that the player is unlikely to be as strongly affected as he or she might be with some more setup and explanation. As always, the tradeoff between story and puzzle raises the possibility that the player will forget about the story amid all the mechanical fiddling (particularly here, where there's so much fiddling to do)--the puzzles are reasonably well integrated into the story, for the most part, but most of the plot is sufficiently abstract that it's easy to lose sight of what's supposed to be going on. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there are a lot of endings to Metamorphoses, and many of them don't provide much resolution in any obvious way; finding an end to the story that adequately brings the various threads together may take a while for some players. In a way, that works here; it reflects the general bleakness of the game's world that the end of the story doesn't tie up all the loose ends or furnish an especially satisfying conclusion. The game aspect, however, demands some sort of conclusion, whether optimal or not, and only a few of the endings offer real conclusions as such. These drawbacks are to some extent inherent in what Metamorphoses appears to be trying to do, though; tastes on what constitutes a satisfying game experience differ--and the latitude for experimentation provided by the machines helps make up for any other problems. For my part, the setting itself was enough to make this the only 10 of this year's competition (and the only one I've given since 1997)--as worldbuilding, this is a triumph. FTP FileInform .z5 file (updated version) FTP FileDirectory with Inform .z5 file and walkthrough (competition version)

The Meteor, The Stone,and a Long Glass of Sherbet

From: John Wood <john SP@G elvw.demon.co.uk> Review appeared in
SPAG #10 -- February 4, 1997 NAME: The Meteor, the Stone and a Long Glass of Sherbet - The Interactive Memoirs of a Diplomat. AUTHOR: Graham Nelson (writing as Angela M. Horns) EMAIL: graham SP@G gnelson.demon.co.uk DATE: September 28, 1996 PARSER: Inform Standard SUPPORTS: Infocom ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition96/sherbet This game starts, interestingly enough, on the back of an elephant. Reading the background notes it quickly became obvious that it is intended as a tribute to the Zork games, and this it does rather well, capturing the essential feel of the early Infocom games. The time spent on the elephant is actually a prologue, very different to the main body of the game. This transition feels rather clumsy; the change in style is sudden, but not remarked upon, as you go from bored diplomat to dungeon delver. I did not finish this game in the two hours, despite heavy use of the hints toward the end of that period. It seems to be quite large; if it stops soon after the point I reached, which I doubt, there will be a lot of loose ends. This is basically a puzzle game, in the Zork style. I had quite a bit of difficulty getting into the right mindset for the puzzles - when referring to the hints, it occasionally seemed unclear to me how I was supposed to think of things. Nevertheless, an entertaining work. From: "C.E. Forman" <ceforman SP@G worldnet.att.net> Review appeared in SPAG #10 -- February 4, 1997 This one's sort of "Zork," "Enchanter," and "Christminster," but sort of not. I can't really decide for sure what to call it. Even the author doesn't seem to be certain about what type of game this is supposed to be. It's identified in the byline as "The Interactive Memoirs of a Diplomat," but aside from the opening procession and the very end, there's little to connect the game to this description. In between, the game is a jumble of unmotivated treasure-hunting, applied spellcasting, and spelunking. Not that this is necessarily bad. All things considered, it's a pretty solid historical-based fantasy, though the author's visions (as seen in the hints) will undoubtedly be lost on many players. "Zork" and "Enchanter" are mixed nicely into the plot, but "Sherbet" still suffers from the problems inherent in Infocom's spell-casting games. I know I've said this before, but having to memorize spells before casting them is a pain. It was great in the 1980s, but like mazes, it's worn out its welcome. If anyone else is planning on a game of this type, please consider a system of casting magic straight from the book or scroll. The spells themselves are sometimes derived from the "Enchanter" trilogy - "gloth" and "azzev" ("vezza" backwards) show up - but "frotz" is replaced by "chiaro," which took a bit of getting used to. There is also one very annoying parsing problem: Typing "X SPELL BOOK" instead prints out an ambiguity-resolution query, asking which spell you mean, while "READ SPELL BOOK" lists your entire repertoire of magic. Trivial, admittedly, but it turned up a lot. The writing, however, is well-polished and flowing, with no grammatical errors and few typos. In fact, the prose is SO good that I forgot about most of the above imperfections until the game was finished, when I found myself feeling a bit empty. I guess after seeing the opening I expected too much political intrigue, but instead received a dungeon crawl. It IS a very entertaining one, but strangely devoid of Zorkish elements, aside from the white house and adventurer. (Where are the grues? The elvish sword? The Flatheads? "Hello Sailor"?) Speaking of finishing the game, that took the full two hours, because this is a hard one with a lot of experimental guesswork required. I doubt it would be possible in two hours without the hints. I'm still a point short of the full score, with no idea how to get it. Anyone? From: "Magnus Olsson" <zebulon SP@G pobox.com> Review appeared in SPAG #10 -- February 4, 1997 It seems as if any new game by Graham Nelson is destined to be an instant classic. This one is no exception; I had barely played past the title screen when I realized that this was something quite out of the ordinary. The title, to begin with: impossibly long for a computer game, with its slightly bizarre combination of subjects; and the slow-paced introduction, with its Victorian atmosphere and hints of diplomatic intrigue made it impossible to stop playing. Unfortunately, the game doesn't quite live up to these promises of originality: once one has found the crucial action to upset the orderly progression of events and enter the game proper, the pace of the narrative slackens, and the plot turns into a traditional treasure-hunt. For traditional it is, following the oldest tradition there is in IF: like "Balances" by the same author, "Sherbet" is an Infocom pastiche, set in a copy of the "Zork" universe (though all names have been changed, probably for copyright reasons). Unlike the minimalist, sketchy "Balances," this game is very rich in detail, with some detailed background history and other commentary provided in the hints. But any complaints about the lack of originality are compensated by the sheer joy of playing the game, and of exploring its rich world (which is not at all a copy of "Zork," if my previous comments have made that impression, but rather some sort of parallel universe where things are hauntingly familiar). The writing is excellent and the atmosphere exceptionally vivid - the cedar cave, in particular, has etched itself into my memory as if I'd really been there. Above all, when playing Sherbet I felt the same sense of wonder as I remember from my first contact with "Zork"; a sense of wonder that's often missing from newer games, however sophisticated they may be. The puzzles are good; nothing extraordinary, perhaps, but not trivial either. Unfortunately, there are some "guess the verb" situations, and one or two cases where the room descriptions are a bit confusing. But these flaws are all very minor and do not detract from the general impression. A very worthy winner, and a game that surely will bear to be re-played over the years. From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G merle.acns.nwu.edu> Review appeared in SPAG #12 -- December 13, 1997 It is virtually a film cliche nowadays: early on, one character tells another everything the audience might need to know, sometimes in circumstances justifying such a tale but sometimes not. It's a clumsy device, but it keeps the audience from having to work too hard, always a vital element. Graham Nelson's Meteor... preempts that approach by setting out the plot in menu format, distinct from gameplay, a wholly laudable move in this particular game -- for the backstory that Nelson elects to give us is exhaustive enough that it would clutter gameplay considerably were it thrown in Hollywood-style. But it also catches the player somewhat off balance to find that the complicated setup is only minimally relevant to the game -- at least, to puzzle-solving; no puzzles require knowledge found in the backstory. Rather, Meteor... reduces the "solve puzzles because they're there to solve" feel by embedding the motivations for the player's action in the story, so that the plot makes sense of your actions while not requiring you to consult the setup constantly as a guideline. The game gives you an initial plot and set of motivations -- you are an ambassador from a small province sent to investigate strange doings while keeping relations amicable -- that provides credible reasons for your required actions. This is not to say that there are no holes or improbabilities, but there are remarkably few, considering how complicated the story become. It may not seem like the most notable feature of the game, but it's an element rarely seen in IF nowadays: a reasonably involved storyline that, suitably understood, makes sense of the game, even though the game is quite playable by itself. Well, mostly. Considering its authorship (*bow* *genuflect*), Meteor... is encumbered with a surprising number of gameplay problems, as in Stuff An Author Really Shouldn't Do. Among the less flagrant is a puzzle that involves waiting around, by my count, 23 turns before a solution is possible. Granted, there's nothing to do for those 23 turns anyway, and yes, a few things of some (but only some) interest happen while you're waiting around -- but given that the relevant event is not a one-turn happening when it does come along (you notice something that is henceforth there for the examining until you figure out what to do with it), it seems like the author could have hurried things along a tad. Now, yes, the point of the scene in question is to establish boredom, and it's certainly effective in that respect -- but mightn't effective writing have the same effect? In short, it's a questionable decision that risks annoying the player out of the game. More egregious are guess-the-verb moments -- a few relatively mild, one absolutely horrendous. (When you get there -- you'll know -- the relevant verb is "give." You're welcome.) It isn't at all clear what happened, besides, perhaps, that the author was rushed in putting the game together. There are other puzzling glitches -- some unlisted exits (one that made a puzzle's solution a complete surprise to me) and a description that I found wholly inadequate to convey the scene. (It relies on a better understanding of the term "scree" -- a Britishism? perhaps -- than I had, anyway.) One puzzle in particular toward the end of the game, involving the correct combination for a dial, is not blessed with huge whopping amounts of sense, and several other actions involve painfully exact wording that slows down the game. At one point, you lose some of your possessions unless you take steps to safeguard them -- but while it doesn't seem so unreasonable to have them appear again beside you if you've taken the right steps, the game requires a long circuitous route to retrieve the stuff. None of this makes the game unplayable or less than enjoyable, but it's a bit disconcerting in an otherwise strong entry. The puzzles are excellent; many involve a certain large-scale thinking, an awareness of how the game environment fits together as a whole, that feels genuinely fresh. A few, true, involve semi-suicidal actions, but they're so strongly hinted at by the game that they're more or less reasonable to try. (And what player really rejects actions on grounds that they're semi-suicidal anyway?) A few are a bit obscure, true, but not unguessable; the only one that seemed unfair was the result of a poor setup, as mentioned above, not the puzzle itself. The game is a tad inconsistent about what it rewards with points -- I was initially convinced I was wasting a needed resource on the wrong puzzle because I wasn't given a point for solving it -- but that's a minor blip on a set of very good puzzles. The reliance on physics and common sense recalls the appeal of the Zork series: the puzzles required understanding and using conventional objects to achieve your ends, even in fantastic settings, rather than mastering complicated systems or foreign concepts. In that way, the Zork games were always accessible -- lack of a scientific bent was never a bar -- and here, similarly, the puzzles reward logic and logical experimentation. (Particularly good is the problem requiring use of the stick, and the way you use the hornet is certainly intriguing.) The game manages to recapture the magic element of the Enchanter trilogy without making your puzzle-solving largely magic-based; a few of the puzzles involve magic, but few enough that trying all your spells in a given situation is not generally reliable. In short, the puzzles in Meteor... are generally good, and even memorable in a few cases. As for the format of magic itself, the "learn spell" routine -- well, it never troubled me much, but apparently it makes many weep and gnash their teeth. It fits the feel here, wherein magic is only being rediscovered, but it isn't, strictly, necessary. A game that purports to return to the Zork universe -- given, that is not Meteor's express claim, and its plot is far more involved than that, but that is part of its premise -- must understand and recapture its feel, and in that Meteor... succeeds admirably. The central location -- an inverted cedar -- is vivid and strikingly written: This is a slate-littered shelf high up at the northwest eaves of a dark, vaulted cave, from which a meadow-fresh breeze blows. The ledge broadens down a slab "staircase" to the east but wastes away into a tight squeeze southwest. Natural passages extend like tendrils into the rock all around this cavern, but only one is accessible from here, back north under the lintel. Hanging down toward the dim, distant cave floor is a flourishing, inverted cedar, its roots grappling the roof, its nearest outflung branch a good 10 feet across the abyss from here. Moreover, it is fantastic in a way that suits the genre well, intriguingly unusual but not so bizarre that the player can't imagine it easily. As with the Carousel Room in Zork II (or, even, the living room and its various entries in Zork I), mastering the layout means getting the hang of traveling through that location, and the geography here makes sense once the player accepts the premise. Just as successful is the bridge between fantasy and reality, especially since that relationship is central to the game -- the real-life element is thoroughly (if tediously) established before you, the ordinary fellow, are cast into the fantasy side, and the conclusion ties things back together nicely. As a result, the player need only suspend disbelief in a few elemental ways -- the existence of magic, for instance -- because the original "ordinary" persona is believable. It may not seem like much, but it's an element that the original Zork games certainly never tried to capture. And there is even a sense of perspective on Zork and its progeny, captured in an encounter with an adventurer's ghost that concludes thus: The Adventurer, having now acquired the whole nearby wealth of treasure, spreads his arms around the pile of loot. As he does so, he and they vanish like the dawn into the past where, perhaps, they belong. It might be said, therefore, that Meteor... returns you to the Zork universe but does not send you there as an adventurer, as such, merely a chance visitor, and even with the variety of Infocom references -- including the living room from Zork I and several of the original treasures -- the plot given, not "exploring the Zork universe," drives the story and keeps things moving along. As noted, the writing is strong, particularly in the way it conveys the hanging cedar and the surrounding scene; Nelson, as with the best game authors, paints each scene vividly in just a few sentences. Particlarly effective is the way the locations that are intermediate between ho-hum everyday life and the fantasy Underground Empire hint at the latter -- they point to something unusual but avoid telegraphing it in overly obvious terms. To wit: Bubbling Pool This is a red-brown earthy bole, a cavity in hardened soil with but a single crawl leading out to the southeast. The ground is covered with autumn leaves, russet and variegated. In the centre is a bubbling pool of spring water, glinting with shades and flickers of green phosphoresence. Intriguing enough on its face -- and why are there autumn leaves underground? Why is the pool "bubbling"? Nelson draws the player in through a series of increasingly intriguing discoveries, rather than throwing the entire Zork universe into one momentous discovery. There are a few somewhat overwritten moments... ...And suddenly, there is the Power! It crackles through your whole body, sparking at your fingernails and toenails, sending shivers along your limbs. You feel suddenly afraid to imagine, afraid that you can no longer tell imagination from reality. ...but only a few, and they don't distract much from the game. Moreover, the humor integral to Infocom's fantasy efforts is here in spades, with a wryness that avoids an "I'm being funny now" feel. For example: >examine elephant The magnificent grey beast is wrinkled and has a wise look (but then, after an entire day of Amilia's conversation, your average potato would have a wise look). His two great ears flap a little up at the front sides of the basket, his trunk curls and pokes at the air. Equally amusing are the dummy spells you can encounter late in the game, including "gloth," referred to in Spellbreaker (fold dough 83 times), and others to "paint picket fence orange" and "reduce herbs in over-spiced stew." As Infocom liked to do in its day, these bits help make magic amusing rather than fearful and awe-inspiring. And there are the usual Nelson touches -- an Eliot reference here, references to obscure science fiction authors there -- and there is a spell to "view the past" that allows perspective on every location in the game, giving the game a sense of completeness (though the spell is not necessary to win the game, nor is it even useful). As is in the case in the best games, there is much more going on here than the bare plot and puzzles; the wealth of extraneous details give Meteor considerable explorability and replayability, and allow the player to keep discovering more about the game on subsequent attempts. There are no alternate paths -- in fact, no puzzles have alternate solutions -- but there are many things to ponder along the way that the initial gameplay might not necessarily reveal. Just as importantly, though, even when the puzzles are simply there to solve rather than part of the story, the writing preserves the feel -- ordinary fellow discovers extraordinary things -- and reminds you now and again of who you are. (For example, upon reading a document: "Scratchy handwriting adorns this text, and the writing's in a dialect almost unrecognisable today. But, like any diplomat worth his salt, you've a way with language..." Touches like this diminish the sense of puzzles grafted into the game, and help merge plot and gameplay -- not entirely successfully, but skillfully enough. In sum, Meteor is a worthy return to, and comment on, the Zork world, and an entertaining game in its own right. While not as polished as many of Nelson's works, it certainly stands among the better games out there (though it was rather long for a competition entry, with more than 300 turns required). Glitches aside, there is enough Graham Nelson here to make it well worth any player's while. FTP FileInform .z5 File (updated version) FTP FileInform .z5 File (competition version)

The Mind Electric

From: Magnus Olsson <mol SP@G df.lth.se> Review appeared in
SPAG #7 -- October 14, 1995 Name: The Mind Electric Parser: Inform Author: Jason Dyer Plot: Linear Email: jdyer SP@G kitts.u.arizona.edu Atmosphere: Quite good Availability: F, IF Archive Writing: Quite good Puzzles: Logical but difficult Supports: Infocom ports Characters: Simple Difficulty: Quite difficult This game takes place in cyberspace. Not the cyberspace of "Neuromancer" - the infinite, open matrix where you move at will between network nodes - but rather the opposite: your enemies have captured your consciousness inside a virtual prison of just a few rooms. Not surprisingly, your task is to escape before your virtual body dissolves. Like dream scenes, a story set in virtual reality demands a lot of the author. Somewhat paradoxically, the very fact that anything is possible in your world makes it very important that you make it believable to the reader. Bearing this in mind, I think that the author has done quite well; he's managed to create a small world with its own laws and a pervasive atmosphere. Where he fails is perhaps in making it quite credible; I couldn't quite suspend my disbelief at some points. This shouldn't be taken as a very serious criticism, though; my doubts never quite broke the spell; true to the game's sub-title "An Interactive Vision," the author does have visions and he does manage to get them through. The writing is quite good, with one exception: the final denouement just doesn't feel right. I can appreciate the point the author is making, and why he's making it; still, I felt that the last page of text detracts from the quality of the game. Perhaps this is because he, having a lot to explain (including hitherto unprovided background) in just a page of text, falls into the classic trap of letting a character hold a short speech that neatly explains everything; whatever the reasons, the present ending is not very effective and dramatically unsatisfying. Perhaps some of the information the speech provides could be moved back into the story proper; this would also add some foreshadowing of the ending. What I found disappointing about this game was the puzzles. It's not that they are bad - they certainly aren't, and a few of them are quite clever, but rather that I constantly felt that I had too little information to solve them. The solutions are certainly logical, but there weren't enough clues to find them, and I found the game's world too strange for previous experience to guide me. Fortunately, the game has a comprehensive hint system - a bit too comprehensive, perhaps, since it's not context sensitive and it's easy to read too far - without which I'm afraid I wouldn't have made much progress at all. Of course, what's cryptic to one player may be obvious to another (and I freely admit to not being very good at solving adventure puzzles), but I have the feeling that the author should have provided more clues to allow the player to deduce the internal logic of the puzzles. Alternatively, the puzzles could have been made a bit more intuitive; as it is, the they were simply too difficult for me to enjoy them. Finally, a very minor thing: the game uses Inform's "box" command to present a number of rather obscure quotes; this is a nice feature of Inform, but a feature that shouldn't be overused. I feel that "The Mind Electric" does overuse it a bit, considering the very small size of the game. "The Mind Electric" is a very interesting game, and in many ways a very good one. With some rewriting (especially of the ending), and perhaps with more intuitive puzzles, it would be even better; as it is, it is still one of the best games of the competition. From: Palmer Davis <palmer SP@G ansoft.com> Review appeared in SPAG #7 -- October 14, 1995 NAME: The Mind Electric PARSER: Inform v1502 AUTHOR: Jason Dyer SUPPORTS: Infocom Ports EMAIL: jdyer SP@G kitts.u.arizona.edu AVAILABILITY: IF Archive ATMOSPHERE: Incomprehensible WRITING: Surreal CHARACTERS: Limited PLOT: Linear, branching in two in several spots. PUZZLES: Quite a bit of "What am I thinking?" DIFFICULTY: Easy enough once you figure out what is going on This is the only game in the division with a clear plot not firmly tied to the everyday. You are captured by the other side in some sort of virtual reality war, and your "mind essence" is somehow imprisoned (exactly how is never satisfactorily explained); the object of the game is to escape. The environment is highly stylized and rather surreal, like many cyberpunk depictions of the "Net"/"Matrix"/"Cyberspace"/VR/whatever. Too stylized and surreal, in fact -- the game doesn't always provide enough context to figure out what is going on without resorting to the help system, making much of the game an exercise in trying to guess what the author is thinking. I *still* don't understand why the answer to one puzzle that I stumbled across by brute force worked! You don't even get a large part of the background to the situation until you reach the very end. The endgame was perhaps this entry's strongest feature; a nice (and finally understandable!) little puzzle led to a denouement with a neat philosophical twist that left a much nicer impression than the previous two hours of head-scratching otherwise would have. Sadly, the issues raised in the teaser and ending have no impact on the rest of the game and aren't otherwise expanded upon. A nice plus, particularly for a reviewer anxious to explore as widely as possible within the two hour time limit, was the rather extensive help system, like that in _Zork_Zero_. It isn't context-dependent, and the player can completely spoil the game by referring to it, but it's quite complete, and, for that matter, the best in the competition. Unfortunately, it is needed to explain what's going on in places where the game is indecipherable. BOTTOM LINE: Huh? From: Gareth Rees <gdr11 SP@G cl.cam.ac.uk> Review appeared in SPAG #8 -- February 5, 1996 NAME: The Mind Electric PARSER: Inform's usual AUTHOR: Jason Dyer PLOT: None EMAIL: jdyer SP@G kitts.u.arizona.edu ATMOSPHERE: Good AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF Archive WRITING: Good PUZZLES: Impossible, bizarre SUPPORTS: Inform ports CHARACTERS: None DIFFICULTY: Impossible w/o hints I enjoy playing a game in which I am plunged into a new universe with unfamiliar but logical laws which I can discover by experimentation and careful thinking. "The Mind Electric" seemed to promise that, but it didn't deliver. The world it presented made no sense as a real world, and still made no sense when interpreted as some kind of "Neuromancer"- style virtual reality (i.e., the objects and landscapes are visual representations of programs and data in the memory of a network of computers). I didn't feel as though I was in a world with logical laws that I could deduce; I felt instead that I was in a world where an ad-hoc rationalisation could be produced for any event, however meaningless. I think the majority of those who commented on "The Mind Electric" on rec.arts.int-fiction (and it was the game which seemed to receive the most debate) would agree with me. For example, at some point in the game I need to pick out one of ten thousand boxes, or else I will die. There is an intelligent cube which cannot talk, but wants to tell me the number of the correct box. There are several easy and straightforward ways it might do this. One way would be binary chop: the cube blinks if the number I guess is too high, and nods if I guess too low. Another way would be for the cube to communicate the number directly: "The cube blinks four times, then pauses, then blinks three times, then pauses...". But instead it insists on playing "Mastermind" with me, which might have been appropriate in "The Magic Toyshop," but not in a life and death situation! One possibility for improvement would have been to give a set of rules at the start. Infocom's games "A Mind Forever Voyaging" and "Suspended" are similar in some ways to "The Mind Electric," and those games come with manuals explaining the nature of the world into which the player is plunged, and details on the kind of commands that might be expected to work in that world. The shareware game "Enhanced" doesn't come with a manual, but it does have a gentle introductory section in which the player is prodded into experimenting with the game's capabilities. Either of these approaches, followed by a consistent way of interacting with the virtual world, would have helped "The Mind Electric" become playable. Even ignoring the debate about the nature of the world and the difficulty of the puzzles, it was just a dull game! The backstory (who are the Kaden and the Souden? what was I spying on and why? how did I got into this mess in the first place? who is the mysterious character who is trying to get me out?) sounded much more interesting than what actually happened in the game. Jason Dyer's responses in rec.arts.int-fiction suggest that he had a much more clearly worked-out rationalisation for the events in "The Mind Electric" than actually appears in the game: As for the paper puzzle, well, the paper was a gift from the tall man. He had access to the passwords, but, was unable to send messages that were too long without being detected [...] logically speaking, knowledge of how a duplicator operates is one thing not erased in loyalty transfers since both Kaden and Souden use it. Perhaps there should have been more of this background (and maybe a character or two?). FTP FileInform File (.z5) (updated version) FTP FileInform File (.z5) (competition version)

A Mind Forever Voyaging

From: Graeme Cree <72630.304 SP@G compuserve.com> Review appeared in
SPAG #5 -- April 19, 1995 NAME: A Mind Forever Voyaging GAMEPLAY: Infocom Standard AUTHOR: Steve Eric Meretzky PLOT: Quite Good EMAIL: ? ATMOSPHERE: Perfect AVAILABILITY: LTOI 2 WRITING: Quite Good PUZZLES: Not puzzle-oriented SUPPORTS: Infocom Ports CHARACTERS: Well developed DIFFICULTY: Advanced A Mind Forever Voyaging is often billed as Infocom's first serious science fiction (much to the chagrin of Starcross and Suspended fans). You are Perry Sim, who believed himself a normal human being until one day (in adult life) you awake to find that you are in fact the world's first sentient computer, and that the illusion of your earlier life had been a necessary part of your programming process. Your first mission is to test the value of the controversial Plan for Renewed National Purpose, a long-term economic stimulus program. To do this you must travel into a virtual reality computer simulation of the nation ten years in the future and make recordings of several everyday activities you will find there. After doing so, you discover that simulations of times even farther in the future have been made available for you to investigate. In the final section of the game you must deal with the information you have discovered. Right away I had two serious problems with the game's premise. First, computer simulations of the future have always been extremely unreliable, and here we're asked to believe that we will develop one so accurate that it can actually determine the location of (as yet unplanned) parks and small businesses in Rockvil, South Dakota, where the game takes place. It is simply impossible to have enough information about people's private thoughts, especially ones that they haven't even had yet, to be able to factor this into a simulation. Secondly, even if such simulations were available, why couldn't the data simply be retrieved from the computer, rather than have to send someone into the simulation to view it directly? If you can suspend disbelief enough to accept the situation, then the game is quite good. Unlike other Infocom offerings, it is meant to be experienced, rather than played. The first two parts of the game have almost no puzzles, focusing instead on exploration and discovery as you walk the streets of Rockvil, watching daily life, seeing what activities can be attributed to the effects of the Plan, and watching the changes that take place over time. If you've ever enjoyed returning to places you once lived to see the changes, then you will probably enjoy this game. Vacant lots become drugstores, buildings get torn down and replaced with different ones, and people's attitudes towards you may change from time to time. On the other hand, if what you enjoy most about text games is the puzzle solving, you will probably get quite bored. It isn't clear why Infocom rated this game as Advanced. Most of the puzzles are in the third section of the game. As should surprise no one, the Plan turns out to be not such a good idea, and you must defend yourself and your friends from its supporters who are not entirely pleased with the data you have uncovered. Meretzky was so pleased with the puzzle at the end of this section that he used virtually the identical one at the end of Leather Goddesses of Phobos 2. Years ago in an online Compuserve conference, Dave Lebling remarked that most of Infocom's games were done tongue-in-cheek because those titles invariably sold better than the others (this may explain why some of their non-tongue-in-cheek games, like Spellbreaker and Cutthroats, had funny documentation). A Mind Forever Voyaging is no exception, as it never sold particularly well. Nevertheless, I consider it one of Infocom's top three serious games (Spellbreaker and Arthur being the other two), and worth a playthrough by anyone except the most die-hard puzzle fanatics. From: Gerhard Peterz <peterz SP@G mags.net> Review appeared in SPAG #15 -- October 11, 1998 You are PRISM, a super computer able to "live" in simulations in the future. Right now, the world were you were created is slowly being pushed into chaos. Schools are becoming violent. Suicides are up. Overpopulation and food shortage threaten the world. A Senator Richard Ryder has proposed a plan that everyone is willing to follow. But there is one thing that stands between the plan's finishing stage. You. It is your mission to simulate the future of the plan and hurl yourself far into the future. A land of wonders and peace, or one of cruelty and death? Only you can decide if the plan shall fall through. Overall, AMFV is a great game. The plot is really intriguing and Rockville, the city that the simulations take place, is a vast area of exploration throughout the time periods. The writing is good quality and excellent. It draws you into the game. The best points of this game are: 1) The writing is just superb. 2) The ability to visit and compare the same city in 10 year intervals. 3) The amount to explore and see. A few weak points: 1) The library feature doesn't really need to be used. 2) You have to wait a bit, but sleep mode takes care of most of the time. FTP FileSolution (Text)

Mingsheng

From: Cirk Bejnar <eluchil404 SP@G yahoo.com> Review appeared in
SPAG #39 -- January 7, 2005 TITLE: Mingsheng AUTHOR: Deane Saunders EMAIL: deane SP@G rexx.co.uk DATE: October 2004 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2004/zcode/mingsheng/mingsheng.z5 VERSION: Release 1 Mingsheng is an interactive retelling of the mythical origins of Tai Chi. The puzzles are not to difficult and are for the most part intuitive and well clued. Only the last one left me scratching my head. The writing is fairly strong and creates a good sense of place, through the occasional asides about Taoist philosophy were a bit much for me. The game inhabits a very different metaphysical space from my own and I found its more didactic moments off-putting. But there was never more than a temporary annoyance. The coding was competent and I found no bugs. The design was likewise strong with no wasted locations and clear connections between them. Items were only used once, but locations sometimes had more than one purpose. Special kudos for the design of the knowledge puzzle. I've seen several IF games attempt to test learning rather than merely item gathering but this is the best example that I've seen to date. To sum up, Mingsheng is a strong if not particularly outstanding entry. It is fairly short, even by comp standards and there are one or two places where additional polish would be nice. Nevertheless, it fully succeeds in what it set out to do, and does so with style and grace. From: Jacqueline Lott <jacqueline.a.lott SP@G gmail.com> Review appeared in SPAG #39 -- January 7, 2005 I appreciate this piece on a couple of different levels. As a fellow author, I appreciate writing a piece of interactive fiction to explore a concept, to create a world in which themes can be envisioned and realized, to develop an atmosphere that nurtures the quiet that you embrace through your observance of the Tao. This isn't a game about achieving a goal so much as it's a piece about exploring the path. My guess is that Saunders wrote this as much for himself as he did for others (or perhaps more). As a player, I appreciate the concepts that shone through in the piece, even if they weren't fully realized: beauty, nature, complement, strength through peace; though this was not a good medium for what he was trying to achieve. I'm at a loss as to what method might be better suited for the task, though... short of experiencing the story in the real world. As someone who has spent a bit of time comparing the Tao and Buddhism (though not nearly enough), and as someone who practices daily meditation, and as someone who is fascinated and inspired by the traditional (not necessarily contemporary) Chinese love of nature, as someone who spends a disproportionate amount of time thinking about and interacting with nature, I enjoyed the experience as much as I could. It's difficult to appreciate the quiet of the piece while you're running about through the woods solving puzzles. The drive behind the plot will have meaning for some, I think, but not most. Again, however, I respect the author's reasons for writing this (though of course I'm only speculating as to his desires). This was an excellent attempt, but for some reason it just didn't grasp me in quite the way that I believe was intended. The appreciation of the subject definitely shines through, but somehow it's jumbled and confused and tarnished by the medium. It should have affected me more, and I suspect that I'm probably one of the competition players most open to the idea of a game like this. FTP FileDirectory with .z5 Zcode file, readme, and PDF feelie

A Moment of Hope

From: Joe Mason <jcmason SP@G uwaterloo.ca> Review appeared in
SPAG #19 -- January 14, 2000 TITLE: A Moment of Hope AUTHOR: Simmon Keith E-MAIL: traevoli SP@G usa.net DATE: November 1999 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition99/tads/amoment/amoment.gam VERSION: 0.258 My definition of successful atmosphere in a piece of IF is one that makes me feel I can type things far outside the scope of the default library. A Moment of Hope has exactly this type of atmosphere. Even though the game hadn't shown any particular flexibility of parser, at one point I felt certain that it would understand "grin at girl" and take appropriate action. Of course, the action wasn't understood, but it's a testament to the quality of the writing that I felt it might be: it seemed like the thing to do in that situation, and I really felt like I was there. Unfortunately, this illusion of freedom doesn't translate into real freedom. A Moment of Hope doesn't really have much interaction: its mostly limited to reading messages and moving around. In fact, there's one scene where you are writing a message, and going through several drafts. There's not even an option to send the "wrong" draft: both "write message" and "send message" will erase the current version and give the next, until your character hits on the right phrasing. The effect is more like a static story dribbled out between prompts than a true interactive story. However, the story is good enough that I didn't really mind that much. One of the best things about the story is its sense of timing. It's told in a series of short scenes, and although it could easily have unfolded in one location, each scene is set in a different place. The locations are very well described and serve to give a different mood to each scene, which otherwise would leave the story hitting the same tone over and over. A lot of the action is internal. There are usually two parallel streams of description - one describing what is happening, and one describing the protagonists thoughts, which are often elsewhere. This occasionally seems a little mechanical, but mostly is effective at portraying someone who is distracted by their own emotions. Some may find that they are told how they feel too much, though. Some may also find the main character a little bit over acted as well. In my case, he reminded me too much of myself in high school to be able to level this criticism fairly. Quickly cutting from scene to scene also allows the story to avoid having two dimensional NPC's: the game will fade out just before a conversation, and the next scene will summarize through the player's musing on the outcome. Other interaction occurs by email. The technique works very well, but I'm not sure how well it could be sustained in a longer game. On the whole, A Moment of Hope succeeds much more than it fails, thanks to good writing and a plot that is about relationships rather than quests and monsters. It's a nice change from the bulk of IF. Base: 8 (Really good game, but a few flaws) -1 (Not very interactive) +1 (Tells a good story) Final: 8 (Really good game, but a few flaws) FTP FileTADS .gam file

Moments Out Of Time

From: Duncan Stevens <dnrb SP@G starpower.net> Review appeared in
SPAG #27 -- January 4, 2002 TITLE: Moments Out of Time AUTHOR: L. Ross Raszewski E-MAIL: rraszews SP@G hotmail.com DATE: 2001 PARSER: Inform standard (with modifications) SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters (some better than others) AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2001/inform/moments/moments.z6 VERSION: Release 1 L. Ross Raszewski's Moments Out of Time works almost despite itself; it appears to promise one thing and delivers another, does a whole bunch of things wrong on the game design front, and is almost certain to have an anticlimactic ending. And yet, for all that, it won my heart with the depth of its implementation and the imaginativeness of its worldbuilding, and I simply couldn't bring myself to dislike it. What's going on? That's a long, complicated question, and primary among the aforementioned game design sins is that it takes a long time to figure it out. It turns out that you're a researcher for some sort of futuristic lab that's developed a time-travel device, and you're going back into the past to poke around and learn what you can learn. This, however, is how your mission is described: Clearance granted for immediate StreamDive. Target is local grid reference 0x1549. Temporal Reference 785278.7 UDC. We will be in phase for StreamDive at 865741.3 UDC. Dive duration not to exceed .5 units UDC (12 hours local time). Stream Capacitance field will be set for auto-recall at this time. Research unit indicates high levels of stream distortion in this zone, indicating that premature extraction may not be possible. Mission Summary: The purpose of your StreamDive is historical research. We have isolated an evacuated area to minimize potential corruption. You are to record all findings, but avoid direct contact with any inhabitants. Records from this zone are fragmentary, so any documents of historical interest should be added to your DataStore. This is called "leaving the player with more questions than answers" -- what's a StreamDive? what's stream distortion? how am I supposed to record all findings? what's my DataStore? and who am I and what am I doing and why? -- and while the questions do get answered, the immediate effect is along the lines of "start taking notes NOW," not the best hook. The description above certainly gets points for having the feel of real scientific gobbledygook, but I'd have traded that for a little more accessibility. Worse, however, is what follows--it seems that in your delve into the past, you can take only a limited number of tools that will help you delve into what you find (one tool that scans for anomalies, another that makes a map, another that allows interfacing with electronic devices, etc.), and you have to choose which you want to take based on, er, not much besides your own intuitions. As in, you don't know much about what's coming, and you don't know how the interactions work, and you don't even know what the game considers important (more on this later), and frankly it's a peculiar game design choice (especially because it's easy to make choices that will severely limit your interaction potential). It's all the more perplexing because there's no inherent reason that I can see why the game had to limit your tool-carrying capacity -- it certainly enhances the replay potential, since it's impossible (or nearly so) to experience everything in the game with only one set of tools, but the tradeoff is likely to be frustration when the player realizes that his options are severely curtailed at move 300 because of a choice he made on move 5. Once the exploration starts, more problems arise. One of the game's most important locations is made inaccessible fairly early on by an unforeseeable event (one that's so reminiscent of a similar device in Zork III that I took it as an homage), necessitating that the player either do what's needed in that area beforehand or prevent the blocking off by being on the spot at the right time with, suffice it to say, a rather incongruous action (necessitating a certain tool, of course). There are umpteen locked doors, each with its own key hidden in a strange and unexpected place, and while there's a tool that helps get around that problem, without that tool progress is slowed considerably. And while you eventually get a feel for the interesting things that are there to be found, and accordingly figure out which rooms are likely to hold things of note, those leads are not at all initially apparent, leading to a lot of frustrating wandering hither and yon poking at stuff. The larger problem is that the game isn't entirely honest about what's going on -- the player is essentially told at the outset that this is an exploration game, so go poke around and see what turns up, and then gets sat down at the end for a debriefing that makes it fairly clear that your character had some goals in mind. (The debriefing is made even worse by a bug that makes it hard to progress at a key point without guessing a certain response; if there was a prompt for that response, I never saw it.) To some extent, the goals dovetail with an ordinary player's curiosity, but not entirely -- you're asked about details of the setting you find, even though there's no obvious reason why the details are important or why you should have noted them. The character may -- indeed, should -- have known about these goals all along, but he didn't share that knowledge with the player. The character remarks on some of the details as significant, to be sure, but not all of them -- and trying to remember small details (or poring over a transcript) so that you can answer trivial questions makes for a deeply dissatisfying ending to the game. It's possible that that was deliberate -- the game may set up a contrast between the wonder of discovery and the tedium and finickiness of the research apparatus -- but I'm not sure that that was a point worth making, if so. Ah, but the wonder of discovery -- for all its failings, the game gets that part down, and the most gripping points aren't so much Big Secrets as surprises and turning points in the life of a certain family. True, the total concentration of drama or intrigue in the stuff you find is a little high -- not all that much of it is as humdrum as you might expect -- but I didn't mind that aspect much, if at all, and the time frame (on the verge of war) tends to bring out drama anyway. What struck me was that I believed in the characters, even though I didn't like most of them all that much; two of them in particular both had enough warts and enough intriguing layers to make me interested in learning more about them. It's a pity, in a way, that the larger background (that of the period in general) is largely told to you up front, as the main thing I enjoyed about digging into the game was piecing together what had happened to the family, and piecing together what had happened to the world in general might have been even more fascinating (though, of course, a lot more work). The writing is good throughout the game, but the best-written parts are in the first person and take the voices of the characters; call me easily persuaded, but I was convinced. I found no false notes in the voices of the characters when they set their own thoughts down on paper -- some unappealing aspects, maybe, but very much true to life. That itís difficult to give a story/exploration-based game any sort of pace or direction is not news, of course, and I donít blame Moments for resorting to puzzles to achieve some sort of structure, keep the game from becoming a big lump of facts. In other words, the game as presently structured does make it likely (though not necessarily guaranteed) that the player will encounter general background introductory stuff first and only later find out the grittier details, and thatís not a bad thing. At the risk of Monday-morning-quarterbacking, however, Iím not sure it was necessary to introduce quite so many obstacles -- the portion of the game that closes off unexpectedly (and hence is unlikely to be found by the player until he or she knows to look for it at a certain time) might, in theory, have opened up after a certain time, or after the player learns certain facts (perhaps with something like "You take a closer look at the east wall. Sure enough, just as you read in the diary, thereís a hidden passage"). Likewise, the replay potential assured by the limited tool capacity might have been achieved by diverging paths of sorts, where alternative story branches offer different information, which would be a little less frustrating than you-see-the-opportunity-for-wondrous-insight-but-damn-you-brought-the- wrong-tool. The content of Moments is terrific, and it deserves friendlier game design. Patience and perseverance reveal Moments to be a worthy game -- well-written and well-imagined -- and itís to the authorís credit, in a way, that I wished that less patience and perseverance had been necessary. As it was, I enjoyed it enough to give it an 8. FTP FileDirectory with .z6 Zcode file, sounds, and walkthrough

Moonbase

From: Tony Baechler <baechler SP@G myrealbox.com> Review appeared in
SPAG #31 -- January 3, 2003 TITLE: Moonbase AUTHOR: Mike Eckardt (writing as QA Dude) EMAIL: mike SP@G tiredparents.com DATE: September 2002 PARSER: TADS 2 SUPPORTS: TADS 2 interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2002/tads2/moonbase/moonbase.gam VERSION: IF Comp release This game was all right, but apparently had a bug which prevented it from being completed. Also, there were spelling errors which should have been noticed. I am going to spoil a puzzle because I know that many players will not appreciate it. There is an instant death room to the north of the storage room, but because of the bug there seems to be no way to get around it. When I tried to get or wear the item needed, I was told that my load was too heavy, even though I dropped everything. Upon checking the walkthrough, I found out that I was in fact doing the right thing and no other solution was offered so I gave up. I have a slight objection to having to go to the author's site for the walkthrough. I also object to the assumption that everyone uses HTML TADS, so they must be using Windows or similar and can access Java. I am referring to the plaque in the foyer. It so happens that I do use Windows but my preference is the plain DOS TADS interpreter. It also happens that I am blind and have almost no access to Java sites, even if I use Internet Explorer. Authors, please quit assuming that everyone uses your OS and has the same resources available as you. This has applied to Adrift in the past and applies to this year's Glulx game. (No, I had no problem with reading the walkthrough, just the Java site. It did not look terribly interesting anyway, so I guess I did not miss much.) Sorry I was on my soap box, but I am done complaining for now. For a first time effort, the game is not too bad. It is fairly short and the puzzles are simple. There are no hints but they are not really needed. For amusement, read the curtains in the transporter rooms. That was probably the best part of the game. I quit with 13 points. Except the instant death room, I have no serious complaints. There is another slight bug, but not serious. If you climb the ladder, it never shows up on the status line and in fact it seems you cannot get off the ladder. Movement is unrestricted though, so I think a flag is set and nothing else. Also, the "x all" feature works and most objects have descriptions. There seems to be many unnecessary objects but I think I never got to the puzzle which required them. It also seems that you only need to use one puzzle per object. You must be carrying a certain tool to wear the item in the storage room. That is fine, but if you try to "tighten" something it will not work. My comp rating: 3 FTP FileDirectory with TADS .gam file and .wav sound files

Moonglow

From: Mike Tulloch <tarage SP@G bellsouth.net> Review appeared in
SPAG #41 -- July 15, 2005 TITLE: Moonglow AUTHOR: Dave Bernazzani EMAIL: daveber SP@G gis.net DATE: October 4, 2004 PARSER: Simple (Microform parser) SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware -- Author's site URL: http://www.gis.net/~daveber/miniventure/ VERSION: 3 Moonglow exudes a 50's Sci-Fi feel, that some may find to be cliched, but it does provide a familiar backdrop in an economy of words. You see a UFO crash in your field; you can guess what unfolds next. Moonglow, like Catseye, is a 10k adventure, but it feels more polished due to its more robust parser. Like the aforementioned game, it is lean on description, terse with its replies, and consists of only a few verbs and objects. I also discovered an instant death routine that seemed a bit capricious. As with Catseye, you can't save the game, should the need or desire arise. The puzzles here are a medium level of difficulty, but I found them rewarding. First, they are separate puzzles (not simply part of one big puzzle as in Catseye); second, they are creative, in that they made sense, weren't immediately obvious, and yet weren't insanely difficult. The plot proceeds linearly but does involve a lot of "guess the verb" towards the end, however, due to the lack of helpful responses. In comparison to Catseye, Moonglow is more descriptive, more interesting, and more realistic. (Yes, it's a realistic SF.) Moonglow is diverting and worth an hour or two of playing. Bernazzani hit the mark with this one. Score: 6/10.

The Moonlit Tower

From: Emily Short <emshort SP@G mindspring.com> Review appeared in
SPAG #31 -- January 3, 2003 TITLE: The Moonlit Tower AUTHOR: Yoon Ha Lee EMAIL: requiescat SP@G cityofveils.com DATE: September 2002 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2002/zcode/moonlit/Moonlit.z5 VERSION: Release 1 Prose compels a certain pace. This is a game to be read slowly, as though dreaming. I tend to be wary of poetic diction in IF, because it can confuse and clutter the imagery, make interaction difficult, and stop immersion with its excesses of pretense. There's some danger of that here, too. It takes discipline not to let the eye skim for nouns to interact with. There is much that is lyrical and strange and compelling here, all the same. This is a game of phantom scent and overheard whispers; it all takes place in averted vision, full of longing and grace. It is like haiku, or that poem of Ezra Pound's with the jeweled stairs and the dew on the stockings, where all the sense lies in the interstices of what is said. Now, you may call me inconsistent for liking this game when I decried The Granite Book for being mood-driven and obscure. The central story is a bit hard to be certain of here, too, but I felt I had a better guess. I don't deny Moonlit Tower has some flaws. The puzzle design is not its strong suit. I would not have guessed how to use the maple leaf; I never did figure out how to acquire the lanterns; I only saw what one can do with the comb when I read the AMUSING. Even leaving that aside, the structure of the game was a bit vague: it seemed as though parts were a little uncertain, a little less organized than they might have been, the symbolism chosen but its full meaning unexplored. The excellence of this game is in the language, and even more in the textures, the lighting, the play of senses. I was content to see and be amazed. The only thing that threw me was the amalgamation of material from distinct Asian traditions; I kept trying to place the story, and failing. But that's just as well, perhaps. I was grateful for the endnotes. This was my favorite game of the competition. Rating: 10 FTP FileDirectory with zcode .z5 file and walkthrough

Moonmist

From: Stephen Granade <sgranade SP@G phy.duke.edu> Review appeared in
SPAG #1 -- May 15, 1994 NAME: Moonmist PARSER: Infocom Standard AUTHOR: Infocom PLOT: Fair/Random EMAIL: ??? ATMOSPHERE: Falls short AVAILABILITY: LTOI 1 WRITING: Good PUZZLES: - SUPPORTS: Infocom Ports CHARACTERS: Excellent DIFFICULTY: - You are a famous young American detective who has been invited to Tresyllian Castle by your old friend Tamara Lynd. She is being haunted by the Tresyllian ghost, who seems intent on scaring her off. Can you solve the mystery of the castle? Infocom's parser handles most tasks with ease. The writing tries to convey a sense of the castle, but fails. Much of the description is left to the tour booklet included in the packaging, so the game itself neglects to add those touches necessary to make the locations spring to life. There are four variations possible in the game, but they did not add replayability as much as they made the plot feel random. Plot elements seemed tossed in mainly to differentiate each variation from the other three. The game is slightly redeemed by the characters; they help flesh it out. I awarded my wildcard points for the attempt to provide replayability. Moonmist is in the Lost Treasures of Infocom package, produced by Activision. Unfortunately, the LTOI package neglected to include the letter Tamara sent you; a minor omission, but one that bothered me. Moonmist is best used as an introduction to text-adventure mystery games, a gentle entry into the genre of _Deadline_ and The Witness. [The letters left out of LTOI are available on ftp.ifarchive.org in /if-archive/infocom/shipped-documentation/. Stephen noted that Moonmist is a 'substandard' Infocom game, in his opinion. I tend to agree with him. It is one of the least remembered of the LTOI bunch. ] FTP FileBlue Solution (Text) FTP FileGreen Solution (Text) FTP FileRed Solution (Text) FTP FileYellow Solution (Text)

Mop and Murder

From: Magnus Olsson <mol SP@G df.lth.se> Review appeared in
SPAG #5 -- April 19, 1995 NAME: Mop and Murder PARSER: AGT (insufficient) AUTHOR: Brad Friedman PLOT: Linear, predictable EMAIL: ??? ATMOSPHERE: A bit thin AVAILABILITY: IF Archive, F WRITING: Competent PUZZLES: Not very exciting SUPPORTS: AGT CHARACTERS: Few, non-interactive DIFFICULTY: Below average In the infancy of text adventure games, the number of rooms in a game was used as a measure of quality; basically, the more rooms, the better the game - or at least that's what advertisers thought. Judged by that antiquated standard, this game wouldn't stand much of a chance. In fact, its most distinctive feature is that the entire game takes place in one room! (There are actually two rooms, but one of these is the corridor where you start out, and is irrelevant to the rest of the game). Fortunately, there are other criteria of quality than the number of rooms. This alone would be enough to make the game interesting, but the scenario is also very promising: being a lowly janitor at CIA headquarters, working late at night cleaning the deserted building, you enter an office only to find its occupant lying in a pool of blood, with a suicide note on the desk. But was it really suicide? There's something's fishy about the whole business. Maybe this is your big chance to prove that you were meant for bigger tasks than sweeping floors! This is your starting point; as you start examining the room, you'll discover more and more evidence that points to murder. Your finds will help you unravel the plot that led up to the agent's death, and, finally who killed him and why. Unfortunately, while this may sound very promising, the game turned out to be a disappointment. This is partly due to the fact that the author, while competent enough at producing easily flowing prose and a logically consistent plot, has somehow failed at making the whole thing very memorable; the atmosphere is rather thin (considering that the setting - a closed, windowless CIA office with a dead body on the floor - should provide ample opportunity for atmosphere), the puzzles not very original or challenging, and the story that is gradually unraveled by your investigations just isn't very interesting (not even the murderer's identity was much of a surprise to me). Still, viewed as interactive _fiction_, the game isn't too bad. What really ruins things, however, is the game-play aspects. The author doesn't seem to have put enough effort into making the game playable - not only are there quite a few outright bugs, as well as some nasty cases of "guess the right word" ("cut paper with scissors" works, but "cut paper" produces the message "you can't do that" ), but the descriptions you get when examining things don't change when you manipulate them. For example, even if you remove all the objects that were on the desk to start with, "examine desktop" will gladly list all the objects anyway. This is a serious handicap when there are so many objects stuffed into one room! The fact that the parser (as in most AGT games) isn't quite up to the task doesn't improve things. Of course, all this may be due to this being the author's first game, or to shortcomings in AGT, but this really is no excuse - no author should ever release a game that's so awkward to play (or a game whose shortcomings would be so easily detected by letting a friend try it). If this sounds overly harsh to you, my irritation is mainly due to the fact that I got totally stuck on a problem that should be quite easy: opening a desk drawer. In fact, that problem had me (figuratively) running round in circles, trying every possible verb-noun combination I could think of, examining and re-examining every object for clues - with a total lack of success. Finally, I had to give up and ask for help on rec.games.int-fiction. The Usenet is wonderful - I did get in touch with somebody who had solved the problem (and was able to help him finish the game - he was stuck on another problem). As it turned out, opening the drawer was only possible if a certain object was in a certain state (I'm not saying anything more here - feel free to email me if you're stuck, too, and want a more explicit hint). While not inconceivable after the fact, the solution wasn't exactly obvious, either - and there isn't an inkling of a hint in the game; perhaps you were supposed to solve that problem through trial-and-error, or by sheer inspiration - who knows? To summarize, the setting and plot shows promise; the game is initially quite enjoyable, but after awhile you realize that nothing really interesting is happening, and then you start to get irritated by all the bugs and misfeatures. The puzzles feel rather contrived (sure, an agent working under a death threat would hide his notes carefully, but would he leave clues about how to find them lying around?) and just aren't challenging enough, and the plot isn't interesting enough to make it worth the inconvenience. FTP FileAGT files with PC Executable runtime (.zip) FTP FileAGT Source Code (.zip)

Mother Loose

From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G merle.acns.nwu.edu> Review appeared in
SPAG #17 -- May 10, 1999 NAME: Mother Loose AUTHOR: Irene Callaci E-MAIL: icallaci SP@G csupomona.edu DATE: 1998 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition98/inform/loose/loose.z5 VERSION: Release 2 Though Mother Loose is enjoyable, its premise is slightly misleading. The game begins alongside Humpty Dumpty, who is perched on a wall and asking for help, and it might seem that your mission will be to intervene to save some nursery-rhyme characters or to set their affairs right. But nursery rhymes are largely tangential to the story, it turns out; the real goal is to rescue your mother, who is in charge of this nursery-rhyme-influenced land, so that things return to normal. In a way, this is better than the alternative; it certainly allows for more originality than a player restoring a set of scenes to the pattern set down in the rhyme. But it takes some time to figure out where the game wants to do, unfortunately, and some parts are rather misleading. You meet someone named Mary who is indeed contrary, but her garden is not relevant to anything in the game. (She also has a little lamb, but the lamb does nothing of importance, and it certainly doesn't follow her.) In short, the player may get confused if he or she takes the texts of the rhymes as controlling or even illuminating; it is better to view the rhymes as providing a setting and some characters, but, with one exception, no more than that. The author wrote this for her granddaughter Jennifer, and in some ways it's suitable for kids. Its messages are simple and direct, and the humor is accessible to most ages. Some of the puzzles are difficult enough that kids are unlikely to get them without help, though--they rely on connections that children might not make. (The last puzzle is particularly difficult.) However, most can be solved more than one way; in fact, there is much more to do in the game than is strictly necessary to solve it, giving it lots of exploration and replay value. Your mother also scolds you for doing things you shouldn't, meaning that you can go back and try to eliminate those things from your path. There's a freshness of spirit to Mother Loose that is unusual--getting points for things like returning objects to their owners, not because it serves ulterior ends in the game but merely because the author feels it's a good thing to do, reminds the player that children are part of the intended audience. Were some of the red herrings either more fleshed out or eliminated, lest kids get frustrated, this could be the first genuinely child-friendly work of IF since Infocom faded from the scene. Plenty of wit went into the writing of Mother Loose: one character disparages the wolf as a refugee from fairy tales, not suited to nursery rhymes at all. Not all the jokes are solely for kids--kicking a cat elicits "I suppose you pull the wings off butterflies too"--but the author has plenty of fun with your various naughty deeds. There are, however, some odd moments--the wolf that follows you around makes a variety of comments, such as "Hey, what are you doing?", apropos of nothing at all, for example--and many of the naughty actions have no effect beyond one turn. (You can, for example, pull a character's loose tooth and get an angry reaction, but that character will smile and wave goodbye when you walk away the next turn.) Though not seamless, the writing is entertaining enough to make Mother Loose fun even for those not stumped for long by the puzzles. Mother Loose is notable, in short, because it represents a rarity in current IF: a well-developed story environment, thoroughly coded with humor to boot, whose elements do not necessarily exist for the sake of puzzles. It's not quite accurate to call it an example of story-based, rather than puzzle-based, IF, because the story in Mother Loose does not exactly dominate: indeed, the player is most likely to discover the entire story at the end of the game. Rather, it's a game where the setting and atmosphere are its most memorable features, and the author clearly devoted significant time to fleshing out the setting and making it real. It's the sort of game that requires thorough and creative writing to make the environment feel real, and Mother Loose does have that. In short, this is a well-realized, entertaining entry that deserves a look from those who didn't judge the competition, and I gave it a 9. FTP FileInform file (.z5) (updated version) FTP FileInform file (.z5) (competition version)

Mountain

From: R. N. Dominick <rnd SP@G bookmice.net> Review appeared in
SPAG #33 -- June 25, 2003 TITLE: Mountain AUTHOR: Benjamin Penney EMAIL: revolutionary_dust SP@G hotmail.com DATE: February 2003 PARSER: Platypus standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: freeware (IF Archive) URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/zcode/Mountain.zip http://users.tpg.com.au/penney/z VERSION: 6 Mountain is a game that, like several recent games, plays at being much older than it is. An accompanying "cover scan" indicates a price point of $1.99 and is of a size that suggests ziploc bags and 5.25" diskettes. The in-game help suggests that the game will be arbitrary and guess-the-verbish. I was willing to play along; I even set up Frotz to mimic the display of the Apple][ I originally played IF on back in the day. Unfortunately, shortly after starting to play, I started to actually think about what was going on. The text is sparse, and almost immediately jokey -- the PCs name is Gary Hikerson, he's accompanied by his "lesser, uglier and much shorter companion Biggs". Here's the first room description: Foot of Burly Mountain You are standing amidst the snow covered trees of Burly Forest, looking upward to the mountain you're delaying climbing. None of them get much longer than that. Some room descriptions describe actions you take, which are repeated when you "look" again. Much of the writing in the game is muddled, especially with regard to punctuation. An example: >kick biggs "Oww!", cries Biggs, "Sir, that hurts. Above the waist, please!". Implementation is sparse, perhaps intentionally so. True to the promise in the help text, the game is very arbitrary. Items are hidden in nonsensical places. Things only happen when obscure criteria are met. You can't command Biggs to do anything in the usual Infocom fashion; in one location where you have to ask him to do something, you do so with the command "talk to biggs". There's an item that needs to be "use"d. Points are given out for seemingly random things. You can never tell what items mentioned in text will be implemented and which ones won't; sometimes this is very frustrating, especially when Biggs suffers an injury you can't even refer to. There's a total of 32 points you can score, but you can't possibly score them all in the same game session. As I noticed these things, I kept thinking "Well, that's excusable, because this is a parody of That Sort of Game". As the list grew, though, I began to wonder: wouldn't this be better if the game laughed at these flaws along with me, instead of just actually containing them and expecting the humor to come from that? I disliked games like this back in the day, so why should it be inherently funny to play one now? I grew tired of the arbitrary nature of the game after finishing it a few times in different ways, so I took TXD to it to see what I'd missed. (Please excuse me if you think this is wrong; I had only the best of intentions.) Doing so revealed a few interesting things, best of all a (truly) humorous set of alternate versions of game events apparently tied to the Tandy bit. Unfortunately, setting the Tandy bit in three different interpreters had no effect, leaving me unable to accompany the cranky bear to the Tandy store. FTP FileZcode .z5 file and feelies

The Mulldoon Legacy

From: Duncan Stevens <dnrb SP@G starpower.net> Review appeared in
SPAG #24 -- March 24, 2001 TITLE: Mulldoon Legacy AUTHOR: Jon Ingold E-MAIL: mulldoon SP@G ingold.fsnet.co.uk DATE: 1999 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/zcode/Mulldoon.z8 VERSION: Release 6 Okay, I'm not sure we need Glulx's memory-extending capabilities after all. Not if the Z-machine as it presently stands can produce something as large as Mulldoon Legacy, which is easily the biggest IF game I've ever played. (*Much* bigger, amount-of-puzzles-wise, than Anchorhead, Not Just an Ordinary Ballerina, or Varicella, to take three examples of games that recently pushed the Z-code size envelope.) Granted, Mulldoon Legacy doesn't weigh itself down with a lot of NPCs, so there's a clear difference in priorities there, but still--I have difficulty conveying exactly how huge this thing is. (I suppose I could sit down with a transcript and count the puzzles, but that's not much fun.) The initial premise is familiar--explore your grandfather's museum so that you can get your legacy--but it gives rise to a highly convoluted story. Part of the reason that it's huge is that it's full of puzzles--this is, in every way, a puzzle-fest. Moreover, a lot of the puzzles are quite difficult, sufficiently so that you shouldn't expect this to take less than several weeks (unless you have a telepathic connection to the author or are relying heavily on a walkthrough). The length and complexity of the game adds to the difficulty, in fact, since you may be required to connect one puzzle with an earlier event that you might have encountered several weeks before, or with an object that you haven't touched in a month. Similarly, you accumulate quite a few objects by the end of the game, meaning that (a) it's easy to lose track of some in the shuffle and (b) it's easy to overlook the connection between the latest puzzle and one of the objects in your archive. That brings up another point, however, namely that the puzzles in Mulldoon generally don't boil down to apply-the-object. (There *are* quite a few keys and locked doors, but there are creative twists associated with those.) Some of them are set pieces--they could have been wrenched out of the code and plunked down in another puzzle-fest--but many turn on applying knowledge in relatively subtle ways, and even the set pieces are creative. There's an entertaining variant on the Zork III Royal Puzzle, for example, and another scene involving the manipulation of a marble maze that's done in a surprisingly novel way. They come from a variety of genres, too--there's a cryptic crossword clue that's key to one puzzle, a chemistry problem of sorts that features in another, and a math/logic problem of sorts at another point. There are a few old chestnuts, to be sure; you assemble the ingredients for a potion over the course of the game, and collect a set of four related objects as well. But there's enough of the game that doesn't depend on those old chestnuts to make it bearable for the IF veteran. The puzzles themselves--well, a lot of them are hard, and some of them are unfairly hard. Not all, but some--sometimes because they require intuitive leaps that simply don't come naturally, and sometimes because they assume that you're picturing something the way the author is, which ain't necessarily so. (One of the latter moments, unfortunately, comes very near the beginning of the game.) I'd like to recommend Mulldoon Legacy as a game for the puzzle fan to plow through without help, but I can't honestly do that, because there are a few puzzles whose logic is unclear to me even now. In other words, if you don't keep a walkthrough handy, you're liable to bog down, and when you give in and check the solution and find something completely unexpected, you're liable to lose faith in the game. Again, though, they're not all bad, and most of them are good enough to be worth spending some time on before you move on. Adding to the difficulty is the design: the layout is, for the most part, highly wide, so it's easy to get into a position where you have a lot of problems but only have the equipment to solve a few of them. Worse, it's not always clear when an object or room offers more possibilities in the puzzle department (though this is only occasionally a problem). It's relatively difficult most of the time to make the game unwinnable--and usually, when you do, it's obvious--but making any progress at all is at times quite a struggle. These are all standard problems in a puzzlefest, but I think Mulldoon deserves a spot a notch above your average puzzlefest because of the depth and complexity of the story. I wouldn't say it's a chin-strokingly profound story, but there's a lot of it and it's tied into most of what goes on in the game, a few set-piece puzzles aside. Moreover, the nature of the puzzles is often such that they reward attention to the progress of the plot--or, rather, you may find yourself lost if you regard the story as mere background. Some aspects of the story, to be sure, have been done; there's a time-travel angle, for instance, a very familiar trope (one moment comes as something of an homage to Sorcerer) and the framing story seems to owe more than a little bit to Curses. But some of the plot elements really are pretty novel, and the various pieces manage to come out of the blender in reasonably surprising ways. (Part of it may be that there's so much in the game--there are some familiar aspects of the plot that manage to be surprising because they're juxtaposed with familiar elements from entirely different genres.) It's also worth noting that the design is pretty good, even if not especially forgiving--I don't think it's possible to run into events or puzzles out of order (no small feat in something this large), and the pace of the plot development follows the pace of the puzzle-solving in a reasonably natural way. Mulldoon Legacy doesn't appear to have the most vivid setting initially--you're wandering around an old museum looking for your grandfather. But one of the whimsical charms of the game is the way that it keeps pouring more and more incongruous things into that setting--while occasionally transporting you out of the setting, of course; it's my belief that the author intended to try to make the player lose track of what's within the primary setting and what's outside it. The game spends a while teetering on the edge between explore-a-wacky-museum and something between fantasy and sci-fi (before eventually toppling full-bore into the latter), and while it's teetering, the author milks the confounding-expectations game for all it's worth. Not all that notable if you've had the genre bait-and-switch done to you before, perhaps, but still fun if you like having your head messed with. As with most puzzlefests, whether Mulldoon Legacy works is primarily in the eye of the beholder: if you find the puzzles challenging but fair, then it'll work, but I can't say confidently that it will or won't work for any given player. It does occur to me, though, that this is a throwback to the days when people expected IF to keep them busy for weeks at a time, and likely didn't have four or five other freeware releases competing for their attention. That is, you're expected to give an event your attention, enough attention that you can recall it (at least, the general contours) hundreds or even thousands of moves later. Likewise, when there's a plot development, the game isn't going to connect all the dots each time; it's expected that you'll recognize key people and events. Granted, '80s-era IF wasn't this large (excepting, perhaps, Acheton, which I haven't played), but it's the same general feeling: finishing the game takes a real commitment. If you plan to finish Mulldoon Legacy, prepare either to make a similar commitment or to consult the walkthrough more than occasionally. While Mulldoon is at heart more puzzlefest than story, it does a better-than-average job of integrating its puzzles with its plot and of making the latter more than a token effort, and arguably it's notable simply for those accomplishments. If you're not a fan of puzzlefests, you may not get much out of this, but it's a well-put-together game nonetheless. FTP FileInform file (.z8) FTP FileSolution

The Mulldoon Murders

From: Stas Starkov <stas_ SP@G mail.rb.ru> Review appeared in
SPAG #28 --March 20, 2002 NAME: The Mulldoon Murders AUTHOR: Jon Ingold EMAIL: ji207 SP@G cam.ac.uk DATE: 2002 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Inform interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/zcode/Mulldoon.z8 VERSION: Release 2 The last IF Competition's winner, Jon Ingold, is a very productive author. The Competition has just finished and Jon already has made a new game. And not just an easy short game, but a long, complex one. This game is great. This game is big. This game is puzzle-oriented. This game is detailed. This game is designed tightly. And all this made me happy. Is it worth your time to play the game? If you expect a semi-CYOA game where you don't play but turn pages, then probably not. If you prefer easy puzzles or no puzzles at all, if story is your first priority, and if you are fond of experiments with IF art forms, then I must advise you that this game is not for you. But if you're a puzzle zealot, if you like to exert your brainpower, you'll be delighted in the game. I have been banging my head against the puzzles in MM ("The Mulldoon Murders") for a long time. And it was an enjoyable time for me. (Sounds masochistic, doesn't it?) And the main reason for the enjoyment was: I love to solve good puzzles. I like to play with various forms of gadgets. And I'm fond of puzzles wedded with a good story. As the author of MM says, this game is "an interactive sequel". That means you're going to like the game much more if you've played its predecessor, "The Mulldoon Legacy". I confess, I didn't finish "The Mulldoon Legacy", because its puzzles were too hard for me. So, I'm not an expert here. Nevertheless, I enjoyed "The Mulldoon Murders" _on its own _. If you haven't played "The Mulldoon Legacy", don't worry -- you're not obligated to do that. The game's premise: you, a private eye, are sent to find the protagonist of the previous game ("The Mulldoon Legacy") in a big and spooky museum. But could it be said that the whole game is a big in-joke? No -- while the game's scene of action is the same, the puzzles and the story are totally different. But of course they're related to the old puzzles and, which is even more important, to the old story -- and this adds a lot of fun. In spite of MM being a sequel, its approach to writing is entirely unlike the previous game's. It's sufficient to say that your protagonist thinks he's been sent "to find the idiot" -- the classically cynical point of view of a gumshoe. Is _that_ bad? No, how can classic be bad?! Jon Ingold managed to mix the cynicism with really good atmosphere. Look at this: >go east You crash through the bushes. What a life. West of the River Suddenly you are hemmed in, by bushes on the west side, the museum building to the north, and a tall wall to the south. Your torch light flicks around the space, dragging a lit circle which makes your eyes sting; flecking on the unkempt grass under your feet. Leaning near the river is a metal canister, the side ominously split. To the east is the dagger-blade of a stream, running through a low arch in the wall under the museum itself. It has frozen solid. The atmosphere was great. It was the second reason why I loved the game so much. It was very effective and... gothic(?). Another aspect where the game meets the highest modern standards is the extent to which the author intervenes with the player's actions. On one hand, the game won't allow the player to perform really stupid actions; on the other hand, it doesn't assume too much of what the player really wants to do. This way, you never get messages like "You open the door and shoot at the guardian who appears in the room" in MM. (Well, that's _almost_ true - there is one exception to this rule in the game.) And that's how I like it: limited author appearance in the player's actions gives the game more interactivity and doesn't make it unfairly hard or unfairly easy. And now about how hard this game is. Yes, it is quite hard, especially in the middle part. However, if you've solved "Mulldoon Legacy" on your own (Wow, you're kind of cool!), you'll find this game _easy_. Most of the game puzzles are intuitive and realistic -- if your mind is a bit twisty. And the puzzles don't require you to perform unmotivated (if you believe that solving a puzzle is a sufficient motivation) and strange actions. The puzzle realism -- that's why the game has won a place in my heart. And the realism was deliberate -- you'll see that in the end. To tell the truth, some puzzles could be solved only the hard way, i.e. you couldn't just smash a locked door and move further through the game like a locomotive, using just brute force. But this game is puzzle-based, so puzzles are there to let the player solve it the hard way. If you think that puzzles must be solved in all possible ways, this game is not for you. However, Jon Ingold has limited the manipulation of objects in such a way that you'll meet a possibility of alternative solutions quite rarely. Yes, puzzles are deliberately hard, but that's why the game is puzzle-based. But as some games have shown, easy puzzles can be made hard when designed badly. If the player needs to apply twenty objects in his/her inventory to hundred objects scattered across the map in hundred rooms, he/she will lose interest pretty soon. Each object in a game should be thought over carefully -- concerning both the way it works, and its relevance to the game. If the game has too few complex objects, it's a Scott Adams adventure. On the other hand, if a puzzle-based game has too many objects, not only will it turn the author's work into a nightmare, it also will bore the player to death because he/she hardly will be able to solve a single puzzle, let alone the whole game. And Jon has shown that he is a master at creating puzzles -- they are solvable but not easily. So the game design was well thought-out. Of course, the game's puzzles were not as trivial as "move the rug", or "collect four parts of the obscure key". You may ask now, of what type were the puzzles, then? To answer in short -- Jon Ingold has created puzzles that lie _a bit_ out of the player's first reaction to a puzzle. To me, some puzzles were easy, some not. For example, I ran through the second half of the game quite fast. But before... I asked the author for hints and Jon gave them to me. I don't think that I'd be able to finish the game without his help. But I think that soon someone will upload a hint file to the IF archive. Recommended for all puzzle lovers. From: Francesco Bova <fbova SP@G mts.net> The Mulldoon Legacy is a big game, in fact the biggest I've ever played. In spite of its expansive and interesting scope however, it's a game that is seldom if ever analyzed or discussed. Taking a look at the annals of IF review you see a lot of great games being mulled over like Photopia and Spider And Web, but nary a mention of the Mulldoon Legacy. In fact, finding a Mulldoon review is next to impossible (barring, of course, Duncan's review in SPAG). So the question remains: why is a game as dense and interesting as the Mulldoon Legacy not being discussed? One reason might be that with so cavernous a game to review, it's hard to know where to start. The Mulldoon Legacy has 100+ rooms, many set-piece puzzles, and countless little subplots that all form threads in an overall pattern, but deciding which thread to start with is daunting to say the least. Another problem might be effectively summarizing what all the threads put together really mean. This was my biggest problem, because when I'd finally finished the Mulldoon Legacy, although duly impressed, I found myself unable to articulate my gaming experience. Well, I'm now glad I didn't hypothesize as to what it all meant because it appears I wasn't on the right track all along. The Mulldoon Murders, Jon Ingold's sequel to his mammoth epic of a masterpiece goes a long way in capping off the Mulldoon Legacy and bringing closure to some unanswered questions from the original, while opening the doors to a few others. There's a great story in there somewhere, but I'll take a look at that a bit later. For now, let's focus on the gameplay. More an epilogue that takes place a few weeks after the original Mulldoon than a true sequel, the Mulldoon Murders focuses on the same weirdly constructed museum we loved plodding through in the original. This time however, instead of giving us 100+ rooms to explore, the game focuses primarily on one corner of the museum. A smaller amount of rooms also means a smaller amount of items to interact with, which is significant because the original game in the series was often bogged down by the combinatorial explosion that comes with a lot of rooms and hundreds of items. Most of the scenery and room structures are very familiar with slight twists in the geography; That is to say, it's not the exact same layout as the original but the grounds, principal NPCs and some items have taken on mutated, often darker, characteristics from the original. Considering the landscape by and large is the same, I found it impressive that there was very little duplication of puzzles. By my count, prior knowledge from the original game only helped me in one or two areas, as Jon implemented some novel and interesting ways to traverse the same hurdles. The puzzles tended to be multi-faceted, which is to say you'll need to do a fair bit of lateral thinking. Almost all the puzzles are satisfying, and there is plenty of reuse of apparently single-use items (an Ingold hallmark) in creative and initially unforeseen ways. The puzzles are mostly fair, with only one or two relying on a blind faith that rewards you without really knowing why. Having said that though, the game play is tight enough and the landscape small enough that even if you get stumped, fiddling around with different objects should help you find your way quite quickly. Other nice features include not being able to put the game into an unwinnable state, and absolutely beautifully drawn out scenery descriptions. Ingold's descriptions are stark and rarely verbose, with the odd grammatical or spelling mistake. Interestingly enough I thought the odd mistake added to the raw feel of the prose. Here's an example: Strange Sculptures Room This is the western end of a long hallway, and where the rubble of your explosion stops, strange sculptures start. But these sculptures aren't stone - they're blocks of plastic, bits of cloth, squares of foil. The most striking is the large celery stick reaching up to the ceiling. A few stairs lead down to the southwest, out of this particular exhibit. So all in all, a great little puzzle game with great scenery. To my surprise however, it didn't end there. As with the original in the series, I found myself getting so caught up in the prose and the puzzles that I rarely noticed the fact that there were Weighty Issues Afoot. It's interesting that in both Mulldoon games I found myself discounting Jon's storytelling ability by focusing on the games more as puzzlefests, only to be ultimately surprised by the endings. At the beginning of this review, I had mentioned being glad that I had not hypothesized as to what was really going on in the original, and here's why: My initial feelings after finishing the original Mulldoon were that the final outcome in that game had been mostly *a good thing* for the PC. The sequel left me with a much more malevolent taste in my mouth, which in turn made me think differently about the original in the series and its many threads and subplots. This shifting of assumptions was in fact the piece of Mulldoon II that appealed most to me because, like a fine wine that takes on new characteristics with the right cheese, it left a completely different taste on my palate. The ending has sparked some good debate on r.g.i-f, and has turned on a whole new group of players to the Mulldoon series which is great for Jon Ingold and ultimately good for IF. As for myself, I think I've got a better inkling as to what's going on but I'm still not sure I have enough to hypothesize as to what it all means (fortunately, I didn't let that stop me from reviewing this time). Here's hoping Mulldoon III sorts out a few more of my quandaries (yes Jon, this is a request). Finally, in some of the game notes, Jon mentions that Mulldoon II works as a stand-alone game. Although I agree that prior knowledge of the original won't necessarily help you complete the game any faster, it will certainly enhance your playing experience as a whole. As a result, playing Mulldoon II without giving the original a shot first is not recommended. FTP FileInform .z5 file

The Multi-Dimensional Thief

From: Toni Cortes <toni SP@G ac.upc.es> Review appeared in
SPAG #2 -- September 26, 1994 NAME: Multidimesional Thief. PARSER: AGT AUTHOR: ? PLOT: There is no real plot EMAIL: ? ATMOSPHERE: Good AVAILABILITY: IF Archive WRITING: Well Done PUZZLES: Good SUPPORTS: AGT Ports CHARACTERS: Very Poor DIFFICULTY: Easy-Medium The game plot is as simple as finding your way out of a dungeon in order to become a member of the thieves guild. The dungeon you move in is made of many different places with no relation between them. You can find a farm, a railway station, the city of OZ, and many other with no relation between them. This mix of environments makes the game very attractive. The NPCs could be improved as they do nearly nothing. They are treated as any other lifeless object. Another thing I didn't like is that some puzzles are very difficult if you have not seen that movie or read that other book (no names as I don't want to spoil the game). Something I really liked is that you can see the objects you are dealing with. Although it keeps the standard scheme of text adventure (no graphics), when you inspect an object it is displayed on the screen. From: Adam Justin Thornton <adam SP@G flagstaff.princeton.edu> Review appeared in SPAG #4 -- March 2, 1995 NAME: The Multi-Dimensional Thief PARSER: AGT 1.5 AUTHOR: Joel Finch PLOT: Crappy, on the whole EMAIL: ??? ATMOSPHERE: Not bad AVAILABILITY: IF Archive, F WRITING: Kind of cute PUZZLES: ______ SUPPORTS: AGT ports CHARACTERS: Cardboard Cutout DIFFICULTY: ______ The plot seems pretty standard. You want to be in the Thieves' Guild. So you're tossed in a dungeon and have to escape, as your bizzarro frat hazing ritual. There are early on bits stolen from "The Wizard of Oz" and "Robin Hood." I don't really know what else is here. The game didn't keep me interested long enough. It looks like it's supposed to be just a bunch of puzzles strung together. The portable hole is kind of neat. I imagine if I were really bored and had a few hours it'd be an entertaining diversion. It's not bad. The atmosphere is cute; the responses are often somewhat amusing, if cliched and predictable. The parser is pretty atrocious. Actually it's standard AGT fare, and in 1991 probably wasn't that bad. Now that we have TADS and Inform, its limitations are both obvious and annoying. If you're really bored, give it a shot. If not, play Curses instead. From: Christopher E. Forman <ceforman SP@G worldnet.att.net> Review appeared in SPAG #9 -- June 11, 1996 NAME: The Multi-Dimensional Thief GAMEPLAY: AGT or Parser/GUI AUTHOR: Joel Finch PLOT:Escape the Dungeon EMAIL: ??? ATMOSPHERE: Fragmented AVAILABILITY: Shareware ($15), IF Archive WRITING: Not Bad PUZZLES: A Few Surprises SUPPORTS: PCs CHARACTERS: Unresponsive DIFFICULTY: Below Average "The Multi-Dimensional Thief," which was a winner in one of the AGT programming Contests a few years back, comes in two formats: A text-only AGT-based version, and a Legend-esque graphical game engine, with command buttons, clickable text, and mouse input. Both versions of the game have the same layout, but I found the latter to be a bit more playable, as the parser is a slight improvement over AGT's standard, though still far from perfect (the AGT version is not bad either, merely missing a few nice features). They're both a bit buggy, though -- I found three or four rather obvious mistakes as I played through them, but nothing serious. The plot is nothing we haven't seen before. You're a thief, and you want to become part of the Multi-Dimensional Thieves' Guild. So you're placed in a magical dungeon and must escape to prove yourself. Pretty standard stuff, but the simple concept serves the game well. Throughout your travels, you'll visit a number of different places, many of which are barely connected to the game world. That's my primary complaint about "Thief" -- it seems as if many of the locations are simply stuck together with no regard for a streamlined overall design. Travel to exotic faraway places works well if I-F if there's perceived spatial distance and a central logic to it (for instance, the Oracle in "Zork Zero"). But "Thief" puts so many diverse environments in such close proximity to one another that it tends to make the game appear incongruous and fragmented. Some of the puzzles are quite clever. The portable hole, in particular (obviously inspired by the classic Warner Brothers cartoon), is one of my favorites. A few (some of the Oz puzzles, for instance) require some inside knowledge from the original sources that inspired their I-F counterparts. All in all, though, it's not too hard, and shouldn't take an experienced player more than a few days to play through. The AGT version comes with a set of pop-hints, which in turn come with a list of fun things to try and some rather amusing bogus topics. This is one feature that I missed in the graphical release. If you detest graphics, the GUI version isn't going to endear them to you, but it's worth checking out for the novelty of implementation. Better yet, show it to your graphic-crazed friends, and perhaps they'll be willing to give parser adventures a try. (BTW, the graphical version won't run on some older systems -- it requires a VGA or SVGA video card. Also, SVGA users need at least a 386.) FTP FileAGT files with PC Executable runtime, pop-hints, and walkthrough (.zip) FTPIllustrated version (large) (.zip) FTPAGT Source code (.zip) FTPSolution (Text)

Muse: An Autumn Romance

From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G merle.acns.nwu.edu> Review appeared in
SPAG #17 -- May 10, 1999 NAME: Muse: An Autumn Romance AUTHOR: Christopher Huang E-MAIL: xhuang SP@G po-box.mcgill.ca DATE: September 1998 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition98/inform/muse/muse.z5 VERSION: Release 1 Christopher Huang's "Muse: An Autumn Romance" is unquestionably a unique IF experience, and it's an ambitious effort. It attempts a story-centered approach; it emphasizes the characters and the plot over the puzzles, and virtually everything in the game turns on NPC interaction. While the writing is good enough to make Muse an enjoyable story, as story-driven IF it doesn't fully work. The story is that you're an elderly Victorian clergyman on your way back to your home parish in England, about to board a boat in a French coastal village, when you spy a German girl, traveling with her father, and are smitten. A poor artist named John Austin is also staying in town, and his looks and artistic ability may figure into the story--but they may not. Muse has several different endings, all of them quite plausible, though some are harder to reach than others. In particular, one suboptimal ending--one that is categorically different from the others--is almost impossible to attain without knowledge obtained by previous playings, in that you must do certain actions in a rather nonintuitive order. That aside, though, the alternate endings fit the feel of the story well: the game portrays your situation as torn between diverging paths; the decisions you make, it is clear, have a more than incidental effect on the course of your life. It makes sense to structure the game in such a way that you try to figure out how to change your life for the better, not simply how to make it progress. Furthering that aim is the first-person-singular-past narrative, which reinforces that the story is happening to a real character, not the player in period costume, and also conveys the feeling that the story is a reminiscence, not a happening-right-now tale of adventure that the character has to make his way through. Setting the story in the past makes it more clearly a "musing." Unfortunately, though story-centered, Muse is not entirely puzzle-free, and some of the puzzles break the feel of the story. One in particular requires calculated manipulation of a character to achieve certain ends, different in process but not in nature from manipulating objects to pass obstacles, as might happen in your conventional puzzle-oriented game. It makes your character less human and sympathetic to have to figure out which of another character's buttons to push. This is not an atypical IF experience, particularly in NPC interaction, when many games require the character to fire off conversation topics until the right one unlocks the door, so to speak, of the NPC--but Muse stands or falls on its NPCs, and it's disappointing when they become doors to unlock. (Moreover, in some situations, the game closed off entirely without warning--the conversation could progress no further.) Exacerbating that feeling is the small array of topics available--again, typical, but still frustrating, particularly when it produces results like these: >ask konstanza about mother's death Chatting with Konstanza, even on frivolous subjects, was a pleasant experience, and it was a while before I realised how far we had digressed. Muse does endeavor to show the limitations on conversation imposed by Victorian customs, and the feeling of constraint produced thereby is well done: I was forced to get at what I wanted indirectly, much as someone of the period would have had to. But so arbitrary seemed the point that determined whether certain information was available that it broke mimesis; it made the requirement seem like a programming flag, not a real turning point in the conversation. It's a shame because, as observed, Muse has a lot of terrific ideas going for it. The interactions among different NPCs are complicated and well-rendered; they don't feel nearly as artificial as those between the player character and the NPCs because they're not so obviously controlled. Muse makes a valiant attempt at bringing out the psychologies of its characters and making them central to the game. The reasons for many NPC actions are quite subtle--they may be doors to unlock in some instances, but they certainly are interesting doors. (Though only three of the seven NPCs offer much in the way of psychology, unfortunately--the others are fairly flat.) The game also relies on your role as a clergyman--your actions make sense from that perspective, you are constrained by that role, and other characters see you through your collar--which helps amplify the story element of Muse. And the story itself is rather moving at many points, particularly in the various endings, and the various box quotes that the author uses--Lewis Carroll, T.S. Eliot, Francis of Assisi--are particularly effective. The author has seamlessly rewritten the Inform parser for the first person, past tense, and I could find no technical problems with Muse. In virtually all respects, it's a thorough, well-thought-out, effective story. The inherent limitations of IF puzzles put a crimp in the NPC interaction and make you less a character than a player pushing through to the end of the story, which is unfortunate because you really do inhabit much of the story as a character. I enjoyed Muse, but considered it an idea with unrealized potential, and I gave it an 8. From: Adam Cadre <adamc SP@G acpub.duke.edu> Review appeared in SPAG #17 -- May 10, 1999 THE CALLIOPE EFFECT Muse by Christopher Huang A few minutes into this game, I scribbled down the following in my notepad: "I grow old... I grow old... I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled." Later on the game quoted those lines back at me. I wondered just how aware the author was of all the implications involved. You see, those lines were written by TS Eliot at the oh-so-elderly age of twenty-two -- the same age as the author of Muse. Prufrock himself, from whose "Love Song" these lines are drawn, is given no specified age in the poem, but I tend to side with Fred Crews in believing that he too is somewhere in his twenties, sure that his prematurely thinning hair indicates that his life is effectively over. In which case Eliot is mocking those twenty-two-year-olds who would write unironically from the perspective of a fifty-nine-year-old. (If not, of course, then Eliot is such a one himself. But there's too much implicit mockery in "Prufrock" for me to believe that if Eliot were to see those lines quoted at the end of Muse he would say anything other than "No, no -- if the mermaids aren't singing to you, it's probably because they're picking up that you're the type who identifies with someone three times your age. For pity's sake, Prufrock is not a role model!") I also couldn't help thinking about a comment I received on an early draft of my novel, which revolves around a bunch of high-school-aged kids: "Ninety-nine percent of the manuscripts I read are about middle-aged people giving up or old people wondering why they didn't give up sooner. I can't tell you how refreshing it is to read about some people who are actually *looking forward* to life!" This is of course not the state of affairs in IF: indeed, Muse deserves credit for introducing a well-realized PC unlike any IF PC I can think of. But still, considering that a good deal of the fun of IF is to step into a space where you can do anything -- go ahead, hitchhike naked! kick that head! scrape that parrot! -- it's rather draining to play a character who can barely make it up the stairs. But let me, like J. Alfred Prufrock, reverse myself yet again. The fact that the good reverend's collar felt confining is a testament to the author's success in creating a world with an atmosphere so seamless that I did very much feel like I was there. And since that may well be what I like best about playing IF -- the ability to walk around a world born from someone else's mind, and knock over vases while I'm there -- Muse guaranteed itself a top score from me right from the get-go. Not only was the world well-constructed, with nary a line to break the illusion of being somewhere else, it was exactly the right size for the story being told: any larger and it would have been daunting; any smaller and I would have been overcome by claustrophobia. This is just one small example of the craftsmanship involved in this game, which is simply superb throughout. The idea behind the game gives one pause, though. Here we have a game that advertises itself as having been built around interacting with NPCs -- the hardest thing to do well in IF, especially with an ASK/TELL interface. And Huang doesn't quite carry it off. The characters are all quite thin: partly because they each only have maybe a dozen things to say, and partly because what they do have to say isn't really all that interesting. It was hard for me to work up any kind of feeling for my ostensible love interest when she couldn't have been less exciting had you shot her up with a tanker truck full of Haldol. But, of course, that made sense in a way: she *is* Victorian. I'm used to getting frustrated struggling with the parser; in Muse, I found myself in a similar struggle, not with the parser, but with Victorian protocol. That seemed to me to be an evocative association: I wondered how not being able to act naturally even to the extent we can today, having to fit everything you did or said into the strict bounds of a rigid code of propriety, resembled struggling with a sort of "parser" every waking moment of your life. And then I started musing (appropriately enough) about Konstanza's character, or lack thereof. So she's completely colorless as a character. This may be boring -- but is it unrealistic? This was, after all, a culture where women were trained from day one to be purely decorative creatures with nothing to say, no wills of their own... a culture that squeezed the life out of half the population until they stopped being human and became -- wait for it -- NPCs. At this point, Muse's author may be happily nodding, pleased that I picked up on the fact that his game is in fact a sly critique of the Victorian era, and hoping that I now realize that his "Prufrock" reference is another clue that we're supposed to recoil from the world he presents; on the other hand, he may be horrified at just how violently I'm reading against the grain here. If it's the latter, I can only imagine how he'll take to the idea of me reconstructing the source code to his game and recompiling it with one little difference: this time around, the lass with whom the good reverend will find himself so taken is Tracy Valencia. (Turn #3: >SUFFER STROKE.) My score: 8.6 (2nd place) From: Brian Blackwell <blackers SP@G netscape.net> Review appeared in SPAG #17 -- May 10, 1999 Christopher Huang's 'Muse - An Autumn Romance' is, as far as I know, the first ever attempt at a Bronte-esque period piece of interactive fiction. It's an ambitious undertaking, but thanks to Huang's superb writing and characterisation, it is, for the most part, a success. The protagonist is the Reverend Stephen Dawson, a single, middle-aged, emotionally repressed English clergyman, who, at the suggestion of his sister Emma, takes a holiday in a secluded French village. In a series of exquisitely written paragraphs, the Reverend immediately falls for the beautiful Fraulein Konstanza von Goethe, who happens to be staying to be staying in the same inn with her father Herr Viktor. A conversation with Viktor and Konstanza reveals the reason for their journey to France, and also a certain coolness between father and daughter. Also staying in the village is an English painter with low self-esteem who eventually becomes involved in the plot. The game is written in the first-person past tense - a risky decision, but in this case it is extremely effective. The emotions 'felt' by the central character would simply not work in the traditional second-person perspective. It also makes the considerable restrictions placed on your actions seem natural and convincing. The quality of writing is excellent, and is consistent with 19th-century style without ever descending into cliches. For example, take the Reverend's first glimpse of Konstanza: From the corner of my eye, I saw her. Like an angel descended from heaven, she stood on the cobbles at the other end of the pier. Her head was partially turned away from me; I caught a flash of a delicate throat and lustrous chestnut-brown hair.... Time stood still, arrested by her presence. I had no desire to move, lest I lose sight of her. For an aching second, her parasol shielded her face from my sight. The characters are well fleshed out with varied and believeable responses to the player's questions. The exchanges with Konstanza in particular are affectionately handled, and the final scene in the 'winning' outcome is a real tear-jerker. I have rarely been so affected by a scene in a work of IF. For me, this was the most satisfying game of the competition. It's great to see 'puzzleless', literary IF becoming more and more popular with authors. Criticisms? A few of the actions necessary for the optimum outcome are rather obscure (fortunately the hints section is fairly comprehensive). This certainly does not detract from the scale of Huang's achievement. A highly enjoyable work. From: Paul O'Brian <obrian SP@G colorado.edu> Review appeared in SPAG #17 -- May 10, 1999 I've been sitting here for 10 minutes trying to find the right words to begin a review of Muse, but I can't seem to come up with anything that speaks as eloquently as the game's own prose. Muse is the most gorgeously written piece of IF in the competition -- I've still got several games left to play, but I would be very surprised if any of them even equaled Muse's marvelous skill with words, let alone surpassed it. The game is like the IF version of a Merchant-Ivory movie: quiet setting, stellar production values, highly character-oriented, and deeply, deeply felt. It's been a long time since I've been as moved by a piece of IF as I was by the "optimal" ending of Muse -- even some of the less satisfying endings are crafted so well that in themselves they can be quite emotional. The game takes place in a French village in 1886, as viewed through the eyes of Rev. Stephen Dawson, a 59-year-old clergyman from Barchester, England. It is not a typical IF setting, and Dawson is hardly the typical IF hero, but Muse is far from a typical game. It is a story, one of the most successful pieces of interactive fiction I've seen for pulling off the *fiction* as much as the interactivity. Its characters feel real, including its main character; it is the story of Rev. Dawson's own struggle for acceptance of himself and his role in life, of his journey past regret and into contentment. Through its masterful writing, excellent coding, and some clever techniques, Muse creates a story of someone else's emotional transformation, made all the more affecting by our direction of that character's actions. One way in which the game accomplishes its goal is to eschew the traditional second person, present tense IF voice, settling instead on a first person past tense narration. A typical exchange looks somewhat like this: >I I had on my person the following items: my pocket New Testament >READ BIBLE I practically knew its contents by heart. >GET TRUNK Oh, but the trunk was heavy! I managed to lift it just high enough for the purpose of moving it around, but I was getting far too old for this sort of thing. At first, I was surprised how little a difference this made to me. The game still felt quite natural, which I think is another testament to its writing. On reflection, however, I think that the changes did make a difference. By choosing a first person voice, Muse sidesteps all of the controversy surrounding assigning emotion to the player character. In fact, the game is *constantly* ascribing emotions to the PC, but it never grates because the first person POV assumes this role quite naturally. Having a game say things like "you practically know its contents by heart" or "you are getting far too old for this sort of thing" would cause much more dissonance for me, especially as the game moved into its deeper emotional registers. The past tense achieves a similar sort of distancing from the player, as well as heightening the "period" effect, not that the game needs it. Muse evokes the Victorian feel extremely well, and the spell is never broken by any piece of writing, any detail of setting, or any development of character. There's only one problem. One part of Muse's realistic, natural approach is that events go on without you if you aren't in the right place at the right time. On my first run through the game, I was off doing text-adventurely things like examining all the objects, trying to talk to various characters about dozens of different subjects (an effect which the game also pulls off remarkably well -- its coding is quite deep in some areas) and exploring the landscape. Even though the game was giving me gentle nudges to check into the inn, I didn't do so, because for one thing I couldn't find it right away, and for another thing I was having too much fun exploring the very rich world of the game. As a result, one of the major plot points happened without me, putting me into a situation where, as far as I can determine, the optimal ending was unreachable. What's worse, I didn't *know* I couldn't reach the best ending; because it was my first time through, I didn't realize I had missed anything I could have participated in anyway. I ended up wandering around, quite frustrated with my inability to cause the story to progress. When I finally looked at the hints, it became clear to me that I had failed to perform an important task, and that as a result the happiest ending had been closed to me. Now, this is of course very realistic -- we miss things all the time that could change our lives significantly, and we never know that we've missed them -- but I don't think it's the best design for a game, even a game so story-oriented as Muse. The loss was affecting in its own way, especially when I replayed it after completing the game with the happiest ending, but I didn't like it that I had "lost" without having any way of knowing I had done so. I don't think it had to be that way -- I can certainly envision how the game might have at least pushed (or strongly nudged) me into a less optimal ending, so that I might realize more quickly that I had missed something, or perhaps the game could even have left the optimal path open even when the plot point had been missed. I would have loved the chance to complete such an incredible story my first time through, without having to resort to hints. Rating: 9.3 FTP FileInform file (.z5) (updated version) FTP FileDirectory with Inform .z5 file and JPEG (competition version) FTP FileWalkthrough (Text)

My Angel

From: Duncan Stevens <dnrb SP@G starpower.net> Review appeared in
SPAG #23 -- December 29, 2000 TITLE: My Angel AUTHOR: Jon Ingold E-MAIL: ji207 SP@G cam.ac.uk DATE: 2000 PARSER: Inform standard (mostly) SUPPORTS: Most z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2000/inform/my_angel/my_angel.z5 VERSION: Release 1 The unusual approach to formatting that Jon Ingold's My Angel adopts is the most obvious of its innovations, but in some ways it's the least interesting. What works about this story works whether or not the text is formatted in the conventional way or not. The game calls the innovation NOVEL mode, and it's a nov--er, it's a creative idea: your input is moved up to a status line and most of the program's output occupies the main part of the screen. Parser messages ("there's no such object here" and such) are also on the status line. The paragraphing on the main part of the screen is handled fairly well--most of the breaks are logical--so the output does, in most respects, actually resemble a story written in the first person. It seems, however, that the main effect would be on the appearance of the transcript, rather than on the player's experience: the player is still getting the parser messages, and if they're illogical or indicate bad programming (failing to recognize a seemingly important object or failing to understand a logical action), the effect on the player is still to wrench him or her out of the flow of the story. Put another way, it appears that another well-done game that strives to accommodate all logical approaches would work just as well if given a similar treatment--the point is to minimize those parser messages. (I've certainly never heard anyone complain that having the input lines right there in the middle of the output breaks the feel of the story, but maybe I haven't been listening.) There's also a distraction factor--whenever you do get a parser message and no output appears at the bottom of the main screen, you need to look back up at the status line, which takes some adjustment. (To be fair, the game also gives the option of NORMAL mode, in which the output is standard alternating-input-and-output, so if the looking back and forth drives you nuts, you're not required to put up with it.) I suspect that, eventually, it wouldn't feel any less unnatural than having the input lines and parser messages right in the middle of everything, but it's fairly jarring at first. The point isn't that NOVEL mode is a bad idea--it's clever in its way. I'm just not convinced that it advances the state of the art much, if at all. There's more to My Angel than the formatting, fortunately, and the reason it works as a story has very little to do with the appearance of the transcript. The story flips back and forth between the main thread and some flashback sequences in a reasonably seamless way, and you can actually interact with the characters and objects in the flashback sequences. Technically, of course, that has the potential to make no sense, but the game manages to limit your options to assure that it controls what actually happens in the flashback sequences while still providing more interactivity than a simple cut scene. Moreover, since you only get a few moves in each flashback sequence, and there's more than a few moves' worth of exploration in each one, there's some replay potential here. The one aspect of the story that suffers, however, is that it's easy to get confused about what exactly happened in the flashbacks--the game throws several names and relationships at you and essentially expects you to keep them straight (if you want to understand what really happened at the end). The flashback approach can, in fact, work well in IF, but there's also an inherent disadvantage that static fiction doesn't pose--it's harder to flip back to an earlier moment to check on details that you missed the first time around. Simplicity is key, and the flashbacks in My Angel are complex enough to push the envelope. (Babel, by way of contrast, solves this problem by allowing the player to access the flashbacks repeatedly and at will.) The relationship at the core of the story is also nicely done with an interesting innovation: you and your companion are telepaths, it seems, and THINK ABOUT object lets you know her take on that object and often triggers a series of brief communications about the object or associated ideas. The effect is sometimes akin to having two PCs rather than one, all the more so because the character of the main PC isn't especially well developed--you don't get much of his personality, just his experiences. The PC's thoughts tend to be bound up with his companion's thoughts, in other words, so the player rarely sees either person thinking or acting independently. As a result, most of the game unfolds as if there were one mind in two bodies, and when the two are apart--as they are for roughly the last half of the story--the PC and, consequently, the player feel bereft, incomplete. The telepathic interactions don't only come when invited by THINK ABOUT, of course--they're interjected at all sorts of moments, and the two characters comment back and forth on the other's thoughts. It's a trick that works particularly well in IF, since the player isn't necessarily expecting to find a PC with a persona that's distinct from the player's. The indistinctness is here, but it's on another front. The game aspect isn't a total success, however. Some of the puzzles reflect the story well--your telepathy plays into them in more or less logical ways--but others just feel like puzzles. The game refers to them as "optional," but I'm not sure why--it appears to me that the story won't progress to its ending if the puzzles aren't solved. They're not fiendishly difficult, but they're not blindingly obvious either, and one in particular seems rather improbable (or turns on a object property that's inadequately described). More importantly, they make the flow of the story feel uneven, since large chunks of the story go by independent of your input. For instance, there are several sequences of moves where you're traveling, and while you can interact with the scenery as you go by, you can't stop the movement. This actually works fairly well--it's a good balance between keeping the story moving and letting you poke and prod things--but when you get to the points where the story stops until you solve the puzzle, the story loses some of its pace. Usually, it's not so bad--since the first several puzzles aren't all that hard--but the more difficult puzzles break the mood by bringing everything to a halt. The writing, for its part, is solid, good enough not to get in the way, though it does occasionally lurch into total abstraction at times when the player simply wants to know what's going on. I suppose that fits the telepathy theme--thoughts don't lend themselves to description, and experiences whose most important features are the shared thoughts between you and your companion will inevitably be a little abstract--but it's also frustrating. A sample: The centre of the stone twists around, and it flares with a pulsing light - or does it, maybe I see this only in my head, my eyes seem nothing to do with it. It is talking to me, gibbering, squawking. No - the speech goes beyond me, beyond her, it is talking to the distance, to the air. There is a shriek that tells us "HEAR-SPEAK" and then my eyes cease to function totally and all I am aware of is the black, and Angela there in my mind like an aura. Unbidden, shapes loom up from the blackness; things I have blotted and forgotten pull at me, whispering. This is called synesthesia--using sensory language, but associated with the "wrong" sense--and while it's a good attention-getting device, only the most determined readers will actually manage to feel like they're still in the character's shoes; the rest are relegated to observer status. After a brief flashback, you get this: Then slowly, fades light back in. The clearing still, we inside are - my mind still spins - the clearing. By the stone, as though a fruit dangling from the elm-tree's bent branch, is a darkness. Darkness is made an object. Darkness is present, as a - gap - in what is. A rift, as though the wind itself were riven. Light falls into it and will not return. Angela pictures a passage, passage itself. This is nicely poetic writing, but it comes at an unfortunate point; Something Has Happened, and the player (this player, at least) doesn't want to hear about how the darkness is like a fruit dangling from an elm-tree. The effect is murkiness to no real purpose--at least, no purpose that I could discern, because what's there is very much there; it's not as if the abstract language refers to something that only exists in the abstract. Much of the game avoids this sort of thing--the shared thoughts are usually exchanged in terms of images that the player can grapple with--but there are some unfortunate moments at the end when the game loses some of its grip, so to speak. Still, in a competition well-populated by games with flaws much more significant than insufficiently concrete writing, it's not exactly fair to criticize My Angel too harshly on those terms. It's a well-told story that manages to keep the player involved, mostly, and I gave it an 8. FTP FileInform .z5 file (updated version) FTP FileDirectory with Inform .z5 file and walkthrough (competition version)

My First Stupid Game

From: C.E. Forman <ceforman SP@G worldnet.att.net> Review appeared in
SPAG #10 -- February 4, 1997 NAME: My First Stupid Game AUTHOR: Daniel McPherson EMAIL: MCPHERSOND SP@G mail.vtls.com DATE: October 1996 PARSER: AGT SUPPORTS: DOS runtime, source may be available. AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition96/first VERSION: Version 1.0 A word of advice: Play this game sometime when you really have to pee. As one speaking from experience, I can say that it adds a LOT. That said, it's an absurd little game with simplistic puzzles - locks, darkness, feeding animals, searching things - and a warped sense of humor which I found strangely appealing. Artistic it most certainly is not, nor is it anything more than a smattering of I-F situations with the most bare-bones plot attached. (In what other form of writing would an author even _think_ of hiding a BEAR in a secret room behind someone's Sammy Hagar poster?) It's nice to see that the alt.tv.barney.die.die.die folks are still alive and kicking. Also, I liked the fact that the final puzzle was optional. But... did I really have to tear up the picture of Barney AFTER I did my business all over it? Eww. Here's hoping the author's SECOND stupid game will be a bit less... well, stupid. FTP FileDirectory with AGT Files & PC Executable runtime

Mystery Island

From: Yuzo Takada a.k.a. Dark Fiber <entropy SP@G mpx.com.au> Review appeared in
SPAG #12 -- December 13, 1997 NAME: Mystery Island AUTHOR: Mountain Valley Software EMAIL: ??? DATE: I would guess circa 1985? PARSER: Scott Adams Standard SUPPORTS: C64 and C64 Emulators (many platforms) AVAILABILITY: IF archive URL: ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/c64/ Aaaaah another classic C64 game I remember from my youth. This game, reaaally harks back to the Scott Adams days. Its a treasure hunt, which for a large percentage of IF players means you should hit page down to get to the next review. As with Bastow Manor, this game is by one of two "companies" that produced IF on the C64 using the text textgraphic format for a good result. Graphics in this game are good and if not in some places, above anything you would expect. Unlike Bastow Manor and other Softgold adventures, Mountain Valley Software uses the half screen height, half screen width for pictures. The top right quarter of the screen is used for the room graphic, the top left quarter is used to display your exits, visable items, etc whilst the bottom half is your text input area. Like Bastow Manor, there is not lead-in text or "what do I have to do to complete the game" type introduction. I have completed it so I can give you a rough synopsis. You are the lone occupant of this island you find yourself on and the aim is to collect the ten treasures scattered and hidden throughout the island. This is a treasure hunting game, the puzzles and items you will come across are not logical. The puzzles you do come across are of the push button, say magic word, store magic item variety. It plays a lot easier than Bastow Manor. There is nothing unique or outstanding in this game that comes to mind. What is obvious when you play the game is that it WAS designed. It's evident that the author did not just plonk items willy nilly around the landscape. Some of the items you must retrieve are give-me items and some you must work for. Where the games planning does fall down is that only one treasure you pick up is actually used! The rest of the treasures are just scoring fodder. Sudden death does not lurk around every corner but every second one. There are about 10 or so ways you can die in this game and some of them are only if you really do stupid things, other killing methods are the standard "do something normal and get killed" type things. Fortunatly those types of problems are here in a lesser presence than in Bastow Manor, and if you're good you won't actually die in this game before you finish it. Mystery Island does suffer from the same affliction as Bastow Manor in that you must look at things mutliple times in order not to miss items and clues. The puzzles in the game are very easy to overcome and if you've been taking notes whilst playing, the final "tough" puzzle is not very tough. This game is a lot easier than Bastow Manor, it's also not as bugged (i.e. I completed it without having to make any fixes to the code). The island itself is tiny with only about 15 to 20 locations and a few red herring items. The game is winnable inside 20 minutes depending on your typing speed, once you know what's what in the game, otherwise I'd say it would most likely take an hour or so to complete on your first go. A good beginners game. I will score this game 6/10, some harder puzzles would have pushed the score up to 7. Recommended for the nostalgia freaks and people of limited adventuring knowledge. Hopefully I will have finished Lost City Adventure and Castle of Mydor (which I think is Mountain Valley's version of Bastow Manor) by next issue! FTP FileD64 disk image bundled with 8 other games (.zip)

Mystery Science Theater 3000 Presents "A Fable"

From: ōyvind Thorsby <jthorsby SP@G c2i.net> Review appeared in
SPAG #30 -- September 20, 2002 TITLE: Mystery Science Theatre 3000, Adventure 102, Reel 1 Also known as: Mystery Science Theatre 3000 Presents "A Fable" Possibly also known as: A Fable: An Interactive MiSTing AUTHORS: Graeme Cree Ported to Z-Machine by Stuart Moore Based on the game A Fable, by Stan Heller EMAIL: Unknown DATE: July 2000 PARSER: AGT/Inform SUPPORTS: AGT/Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF-archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/agt/mst3k2.zip (AGT) ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/zcode/mst3k2.z5 (Inform) VERSION: Release 5 [Note: This review is based on the Inform version.] Some things you should know: Mystery Science Theatre 3000 is a TV show where a man and two robots watch actual bad movies and make fun of them. It is approximately the sixth best TV show ever. C. E. Forman stole the show's concept and characters and used it to make fun of the game Detective. The result was my all-time favourite computer game, Detective: An Interactive MiSTing. Now the concept is re-stolen, this time to make fun of A Fable. A Fable is a game about a man walking around in surreal places. It has already been reviewed for SPAG. It was described as "utter drivel", which seems fitting. The concept of MiSTing has also already been discussed in SPAG, in several reviews of Detective: An Interactive MiSTing. So all that is left for me is to say something about the quality of this game. It is not as good as Detective: An Interactive MiSTing, partly because A Fable has fewer bugs to make fun of. Partly also, I think, because it is harder to make fun of surrealism. A Fable is also a bit more difficult than Detective, so after I had explored most of the game, I spent a short but boring time, with a terrible absence of robot jokes, completing it. I still thought it was pretty funny though. I laughed out loud a few times. FTP FileAGT version FTP FileSound package for AGT version FTP FileInform version FTP FileSource code for Inform port

MythTale

From: Edward Lacey <edwardalacey SP@G hotmail.com> Review appeared in
SPAG #31 -- January 3, 2003 TITLE: MythTale AUTHOR: Temari Seikaiha EMAIL: temari_se SP@G yahoo.co.uk DATE: September 2002 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2002/zcode/mythtale/MythTale.z5 VERSION: Release 1 Any game based on the mythology of Ancient Greece would have to capture some of their grandeur in its writing if it is to succeed, and MythTale does not disappoint in this regard. In fact, by setting the body of the game in the house of a modern day myth-enthusiast, with various mythological vignettes triggered as he uncovers a set of items, the author goes one stage further and contrasts the world of mythology, where you battle giants and bring the dead, with life with the real world, where the worst monster to face is the spider in the garden shed. The difference in the nature of the events described is brilliantly reflected by a distinct shift in the style of the writing (be sure to try X ME in both the real world and the myths), and within this context passages that might seem slightly dull or overblown are entirely justified. I don't think there's a Muse for interactive fiction, but this is one of the competition entrants that shows we can do quite well enough without one. Unfortunately, how precisely the mythological vignettes relate to the main part of the game is not at all clear. It is suggested at the start of the game that they represent the protagonist's daydreams (and the response to CONSULT MYTHS ABOUT ME lends support to this), but it is possible to die in them and bring the game to an end. The endgame, in which the player is confronted with a decision about what to do with a particular object, seems rather detached from what precedes it; the object and the opportunities it brings could represent the fruits of the modern character's labours, and may call to mind an object acquired in the brief introduction, but I was left wondering how the character I'd been playing through most of the game got on after I left him, and the lack of an explanation of how the items he'd been searching for had ended up where they were was disappointing. Some other small criticisms can be made. There are a few guess-the-syntax moments, one puzzle involves a device that I can't believe any sane person could have designed (though most of the other puzzles are logical) and one object was incorrectly classified as plural, which caused confusion when I attempted to refer to it as 'it' and received a message about a different object. None of this prevents MythTale from being well worth playing, but it isn't going to last as long as the myths it refers to. My Rating: 6 FTP FileDirectory with zcode .z5 file and walkthrough
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