Game Reviews O

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

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

The email addresses used are those submitted with the review, so naturally some of them may be out of date.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

Table of Contents

Odieus' Quest for the Magic Flingshot Of Forms Unknown Off the Trolley OMNIQuest On The Farm Once and Future The One That Got Away 1-2-3... Oo-Topos Order The Orion Agenda

Odieus' Quest for the Magic Flingshot

From: Graeme Cree <72630.304 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #5 -- April 19, 1995 NAME: Odieus' Quest for the Magic Flingshot GAMEPLAY: Problematic (0.8) AUTHOR: Unknown PLOT: Below Average EMAIL: ? ATMOSPHERE: Below Average AVAILABILITY: IF Archive, F WRITING: Below Average PUZZLES: Below Average SUPPORTS: LADS, AGT, Inform CHARACTERS: Poor DIFFICULTY: Easy Odieus has rather an interesting history. It was originally uploaded to the Compuserve Gamer's Forum in 1987 by an unknown author who wrote it using the LADS compiler. That version seems to have disappeared, but the game lives on. About a year later David Malmberg, author of the Adventure Game Toolkit converted it to AGT format as a coding exercise. Recently Teo Kwang Liak converted the game to Inform, also as a coding exercise. In the game, you play Odieus, whose magic Flingshot has been stolen by the evil Blackwing. You are tossed by a giant into the approximate location and must solve a series of puzzles to retrieve it. The game is fairly short and simple, having fewer than 25 locations, and one and only one use for each item (which may explain its apparent value as an exercise). Surprisingly, the older AGT version plays better than the newer Inform one, as the Inform version is a bit buggy. I saw a review of Odieus in another magazine which stated that the author couldn't even finish the Inform version due to a difficulty in cooling down the hot springs, which was accomplished easily in the AGT version. Whenever you try to do it, you get a nonsensical message that says "Alas, it is closed". I fiddled with the game until I found the proper command which was 16-12-1-14-20 2-12-21-5 2-5-1-14 (for those who wish to decipher this spoiler, simply convert the letters to numbers; i.e. 1=A, 2=B, 3=C, and so forth). A few of the puzzles are altered in the Inform version. Your light source, for example, is totally different. A couple of other items are changed, and a useless room is given signifigance. Nevertheless, when I played the Inform version I only got 148 out of 150 points, and haven't yet bothered to go back and track down the other 2. A couple of the puzzles are completely arbitrary. There is no clue at all to as how to open the lock at the end, unless you have figured out the pattern that each item has a single use. In any case, the game is not bad, and makes a nice little diversion. It shouldn't take more than a half hour to solve it. FTP FileInform (.zip) FTP FileAGT files with PC Executable runtime (.zip) FTP FileAGT Source (.zip) FTP FileInform Source (Text) FTP FileSolution (Text)

Of Forms Unknown

From: C.E. Forman <ceforman SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #10 -- February 4, 1997 NAME: Of Forms Unknown AUTHOR: Chris Markwyn EMAIL: MARKWYNC SP@G DATE: October 1996 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Inform Ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF Archive URL: VERSION: Version 1.0 An attempt to continue the "expressive" I-F tradition of "So Far" - that is, an interactive Bergman film that dwells on exploration, shifting between various areas representing human thoughts and feelings, and old-fashioned puzzle-solving, with little or no genuine plot to tie the experiences together. I'm not sure I like this new trend. To give credit, "So Far" is a very imaginative, ground-breaking new style of I-F, but the derivativeness of "Forms" shows (the author himself admits this). I fear that a glut of this type of game will quickly make it tiresome and unpopular, much like having too many "hunt-the-treasures-and-store-them-somewhere" games. The writing is good, but painfully derivative while lacking much of the depth of "So Far." The puzzles in "Forms" are thoroughly motivationless, and they didn't hold my interest as well as Andrew Plotkin's work did. (Even with Plotkin's work, I felt I was forcing myself through a few parts of it. I guess I'm just not crazy about this type of game.) I was able to figure out most of the early puzzles, but the later ones required delving into the built-in hints to find out, for instance, the right place to dig. The final puzzle exhibits inexcusably frustrating parsing, made more difficult by the fact that the hints are in error - you must turn the _device_, not the wheel, but the hints say the wheel. (I played the original uploaded version, not the revised one that appeared a few days after the deadline, so maybe this is fixed.) Enjoyable at first, but tiresome toward the end. FTP FileInform File (.z5) (updated version) FTP FileDirectory With Inform .z5 File

Off the Trolley

From: DJ Hastings <djhastings SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #45 -- October 17, 2006 TITLE: Off The Trolley AUTHOR: Krisztian Kaldi EMAIL: krisztian.kaldi SP@G DATE: October 1, 2005 PARSER: TADS2 SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF Archive URL: VERSION: Release 1 Huh? That was my first comment upon reading the opening text of Off the Trolley,and not coincidentally it was also my final comment after the game was finished. The game gave me an overall goal to accomplish early on, but even after finishing I can't figure out why I would want to accomplish it. (Or, for that matter, why the character I was playing would want to do so.) I considered insanity, but there didn't seem to be any indications that my character was insane. And *I* feel perfectly normal. So I'm guessing that there was some reason the PC wanted to do what he did, and the author just forgot to tell me about it. Basically, you play the part of an old trolley driver on his last day of work, who decides to crash the trolley into one of the buildings along his route. When I first started the game and saw that I got to be a trolley driver, I was expecting it to be pretty dull. But to my surprise, I actually enjoyed operating the trolley. The author gave me a variety of things to do without letting anything get over-complicated. On the whole, the trolley was a nicely designed toy, and I had fun playing with it. The puzzles were all related to operating the trolley, and none of them felt like they were "tacked on". They also had reasonable solutions that stayed pretty close to real life. I like this design, where the author gives me an interesting toy and spends the entire game having me play with it. Of course, this depends on the toy being an interesting one, but since the trolley was, the game worked for me. The PC was also well done. The game really got me to feel like a quiet old trolley driver going through the same scenery I'd seen for decades. I actually think I identified with the PC in this game more than any other in the competition. That was part of what made the conclusion so confusing; I felt like I knew the character (at least a little), and couldn't figure out why on earth he would want to crash his trolley or destroy the building. There were a number of minor problems- a few grammar errors, an awkward phrasing or two, a couple of bad words (which dropped my score for the game by a point), and a couple of very mild "guess-the-verb" and "guess-the-noun" problems. But the only major problem I saw was the lack of motivation for the PC, and all of these problems should be fairly easy to fix. In spite of needing some polish and a few bug fixes, Off the Trolley is a well done game. TADS 2 game file Plain text solution


From: Michael Martin <mcmartin SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #45 -- July 17, 2006 TITLE: OMNIQuest AUTHOR: Chris Barden and Chris Ethridge EMAIL: Unknown DATE: March 26, 2006 PARSER: Inform 6 SUPPORTS: Z-Code interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: VERSION: Release 2 This is a port of a 1988 game written in Commodore BASIC, and it shows most of the characteristics of the old school as a result: no real intro, puzzles that need to be solved because they're there, and a sizable, if inconsistent and sparsely implemented map. This was also a reimplementation, not a direct port, so the parser is full Inform standard. As such, it really needs to be evaluated at two levels at once; as an old game, and as an Inform game. As a game, taken on its own terms, it's not that bad. The map is well-designed, though there's some illogic (most notably a thoroughly modern intrusion into a supposedly ancient cave in an abandoned ruin). Its cruelty rating is "Nasty", and is actually the first game I've seen that operated at that level instead of one of the extremes. Despite this, I actually only ran into a single situation where I wound up actually locking myself out of victory without being able to UNDO my way out of mistakes. Not only is it obvious you've done something irrevocable in OMNIQuest, it's also generally obvious that it was a mistake. One puzzle that I saw has an alternate solution. However, I wouldn't have worked the solution out had I not hit the source code (or looked at the object tree, given that debugging verbs were not disabled in the binary release). As an Inform port, it's sort of interesting in that it is the most deeply implemented sparse game I've seen. That is to say, almost nothing is actually interactive, and the descriptions that actually are implemented are perfunctory at best. Nevertheless, every first-level noun is implemented. It's just that it's implemented as "You see nothing special about the [noun]." Flipping through the source code, I found that each of these props was given its own object, as well, so some effort put into descriptions would put this at the complexity and depth one would usually expect of a competent comp-sized puzzle game. There's also a lot of excitement and circle-of-personal-friends in-jokes in it which I am guessing were ported directly from the 1988 CBM BASIC version. These feel a bit jarring when compared to the rest of the IF-Archive, and would probably do well with being removed. In summary: I rolled my eyes a few times while I was playing it, but I did play it through and enjoyed it. If you can deal with the excesses and the omissions of late-80s hobby games, this is worth playing. A hypothetical Release 3 that removes the excited-high-schooler bits and actually expands the scenery to include descriptions (and possibly some additional interactions) would be recommendable with no reservations whatsoever. FTP FileZcode (.z5) game file FTP FileInform 6 source code

On The Farm

From: Duncan Stevens <dns361 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #19 -- January 14, 2000 TITLE: On the Farm AUTHOR: Lenny Pitts E-MAIL: ten365bye SP@G DATE: 1999 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 1 (I think) Lenny Pitts's On the Farm isn't the most memorable or innovative entry in the '99 competition, but it's worth checking out anyway: it features two of the best-developed NPCs in recent memory, and the premise, helping those NPCs to get along, is based on a relationship rather than a more tangible objective, a highly unusual notion for IF. While the rest of the game is too uneven to live up to the premise, it's still a likable little game. The aforementioned NPCs are your grandparents, and you (you're a small child) have been sent off to stay with them for a few days, and you find them in the middle of an argument--and your objective becomes smoothing things over. Now, admittedly, the way you end up going about this is a little clumsy; what might have been a complex psychological puzzle ends up more like a locked door that's opened with a certain key. In other words, what appears to be a rather subtle objective eventually becomes less subtle when the game turns out to be a series of object-based puzzles that lead to one final object, not unlike IF that takes no notice of relationships at all. Still, On the Farm deserves some credit for the attempt, even if the result is only moderately successful. It should also be stressed that there's more to the game than the obvious goal--there are some incidental facts that flesh out the story but don't help you get to the end. This approach--separating the backstory from the puzzles that lead to the end of the game--worked well for me (much better than making the puzzles turn on some fact you discover somewhere, which often feels rather artificial), but it also raised a problem, namely that gathering the facts was much more interesting than solving the puzzles. That is, the various details you pick up, and ask your grandparents about, bring the story to life, whereas the other puzzles you solve just feel like puzzles. Of course, if On the Farm had consisted only of information-gathering, it probably would have felt distancing, uninvolving; the player needs some sort of objective. But here the objective was so disconnected from the information-gathering that the two parts to the game felt rather unrelated, and the one was markedly more interesting than the other. Part of the reason the backstory and its development is interesting is that the facts you learn help flesh out the NPCs, your grandparents. These are not at all sentimentalized figures--they both come across as stubborn, cantankerous, and thoroughly set in their ways--but they also feel like real grandparents; they're presented warts and all. Your grandfather spits tobacco juice and leaves his dentures lying around, and your grandmother snipes at him behind his back. They both respond to a variety of ASK/TELL prompts, they react to several other cues, and they have responses for most things they should respond to--which is all that can be expected of good NPCs, really. The realism is not complete--they don't comment on your picking up everything that isn't nailed down, for instance--but it's still a good effort. The implementation of On the Farm is a bit clumsy in a few respects, however. For one thing, it is not initially apparent that the backstory is not useful for the main objective of the game, meaning that there are a few puzzles that ultimately end up being red herrings, somewhat confusingly so. One part of a puzzle involving a rope is just flat-out silly, and another relies on your grandparents being rather stupid. The game also can't seem to decide whether it's keeping score--"score" elicits "There is no score in this game," but you'll be told your score anyway (it'll always be 0, as far as I can tell) if you die along the way. There's a cumbersome hint system (each "topic" has only one hint) that provides only the vaguest of nudges for one rather nonintuitive puzzle (though there's also a walkthrough provided), and one key feature of the landscape is rather misleadingly described, so that it's possible to get the wrong idea about what to do with it. (I.e., it initially seems that you need to repair it, but 'tain't so.) More generally, the whole thing initially feels a little directionless, and it takes a good deal of wandering around before you have any idea about what to do. The setting is likewise a mixed bag. The farm is supposed to be abandoned, nonworking, and there are plenty of nicely done stray details that convey decay and neglect, such as a barn door hanging by a hinge, a rusted-out tractor with a dead battery, a groundhog-eaten garden, and a mildewed haystack. In that respect, it's a vivid setting--it's a specific rather than a generic farm. There are also lots of unexplained details, however (notably a huge ball of twine and a metal hook whose presence and function remain mysterious), and the writing is uneven at best--punctuation errors and unfortunate phrasings. For example, a sign says "Ventilation fan must be running to safely enter pit," making the alert reader wonder what will happen to the fan if it enters the pit while not running. More generally, some pieces of the backstory come across well, but some do not--how have your grandparents been supporting themselves on this nonworking farm?--and it feels like there could have been much more to the story than there is had the game suggested that your objectives include helping the farm start working again. The introduction, moreover, suggests that the game will be telling you what you think or feel--it registers that you find the prospect of hanging around the farm terribly boring--but nothing else in the game mentions what you think about anything. Nevertheless, there's a lot of charm in On the Farm--it's not the character study it initially appears to be, but it's an interesting effort nonetheless, particularly for the vividness of the NPCs and the farm setting. It's not the best game of this year's competition, but I did give it a 6. FTP FileDirectory with TADS .gam file and associated files

Once and Future

From: Adam Thornton <adam SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #16 -- November 28, 1998 NAME: Once And Future AUTHOR: G. Kevin Wilson E-MAIL: whizzard SP@G DATE: 1998 PARSER: TADS SUPPORTS: all TADS ports AVAILABILITY: Commercial, published by Cascade Mountain Publishing (sold by mail order only) URL: [Note: As of 4/1/01, OAF was made available as freeware on the IF Archive. --Paul] VERSION: 1.0 (Reviews based on the final BETA version from July 1998) It's here. The most-eagerly awaited IF event of the millenium, I think it's fair to say, has finally arrived. That event, of course, is the advent of Gerry Kevin Wilson's epic tale: Once and Future. By now, everyone knows the outline of the plot, right? Right? Well, you're Frank Leandro, U.S. soldier in Vietnam. And you jump on a grenade to save your buddies. But instead of finding yourself dead, you find yourself on the isle of Avalon, after a little lecture from King Arthur about using the grail to resurrect yourself and "keep something very bad from happening in the real world." And then there you are in Avalon. And there's quite a lot to do before you even can begin to get on with your quest, since you first have to figure out where Merlin might be, and then get yourself over to Faerie somehow. There's the Lady of the Lake, and a little demon-possessed girl-oracle, and a mermaid with a siren song, and birds and snakes (no aeroplanes) and moles and mice. Not to mention figuring out where the rest of the Arthurian legends come into this and dealing with the demons of your own past. And then you start piecing together what it is you're supposed to do. Not that it ultimately comes as much of a surprise. If you had to pick the turning point where America Went Wrong This Century, I'd be amazed if GKW's choice was not among your top three. And unlike Jigsaw, where you have to protect the past at all costs (and might not the world have been a better place in the absence of the First World War?), here you're given an opportunity to put things right. There are all the usual suspects: Merlin, Galahad, Lancelot, Mordred, the Faery Queen. We have the second appearance in a game this year of True Thomas, too. And Arthur is not the only King to be found in the game. All of these--except the last, darkly alluded to but not specified (find him yourself!)--are characters you'd expect to find in a game about Camelot and the Arthurian myth-cycle. And, as you'd expect, they act like you think they ought to. Further, there's a lot of really terrific interaction *between* the NPCs. This is harder than it looks, and I think the reason GKW did it at all is that he'd coded the first bits of it before he ever heard the term "combinatorial explosion." The animosity between Galahad and Merlin is well portrayed and often funny; there are apparently about 600 separately coded NPC responses. But it's not *those* NPCs at all that make the impression. It's the ones that Kevin has made up for his story that really grab my attention. I have a huge crush on Snookums, the brain-damaged mole saved by Jesus. She's a magnificent NPC. She's also a tool for solving puzzles, but she comes across as, well, lovable. The Vietnam buddies that you have to "save" in various ways, too, are well-done. There's a nice subtle "A Christmas Carol" riff hiding in there somewhere, too. The demon you encounter along the way is well-executed: an updated Screwtape, who sounds like a junior partner straight out of a New Jersey law firm rather than a don from the musty libraries of Oxbridge. The NPCs have the most varied topic lists and behaviors I have seen in any game. The only one who comes close to their knowledge is Bob in She's Got A Thing For A Spring, and he doesn't have to follow the player around or interact with other NPCs. However, maybe the best parts of the games aren't the wholly original ones. GKW has taken some very old thematic archetypes and rewoven them into new cloth. The Hunter is not new, exactly, and neither is his Hound; but both of them appear as forceful and terrifying characters. Particularly, the scene at the Crossroad Of Dreams where you're fleeing the Hound is magnificent. Kevin knows what he's doing with the old stories, and for the most part wields them with a practiced hand and delicate touch. The game as a whole is technically very competent. A few unsquashed bugs remain: just tonight I tried a new syntax for filling the buckets in the old lady's house, and got a TADS runtime error (fortunately not fatal), but the prose is well-crafted and free of typos and grammatical errors. This is doubtless due in large part to the game's extensive beta-testing. The prose is uneven, and I, with the betatester's privileged eye, can tell you why: Kevin is a much better writer now than he was in 1993. Those parts of the game's descriptions that come from the early days are not nearly as well-polished or paced as the more recent pieces of prose. As I mentioned, I've been a betatester for OaF. I've been a betatester for a very long time now: I first saw OaF source code in early 1994 when I visited Kevin at Berkeley; I'd been testing it for some months prior to that. I therefore cannot review this game in any sort of an objective sense. I have been playing it for so long that it has become a fixture in my life. I can no longer tell you which puzzles are fair and which aren't. What I can do is to provide a little historical perspective on the game. In short, the question everyone is going to be asking is "was it worth the wait?" In short the answer is "yes" but with a few reservations. And it is those reservations and what they tell us about where IF has gone since GKW began OaF so long ago that make the story interesting. OaF was begun in, I think, the summer or fall of 1993. Possibly somewhat earlier. The earliest cuts might even have been in TADS 1.x, and thus may have predated the 2.0 Great Change. I know Challenge of the Czar, the long-awaited (much longer than OaF, by now--but it's no longer under active development) game from Sean Molley was begun in TADS 1.2. But I digress. In any event, TADS was the only development system for serious IF. If anyone used Inform besides Graham (if Inform even existed) we didn't know about it. We were at what we can now recognize as the end of the Dark Ages: that long period between the death of Infocom and the Renaissance we currently enjoy. AGT is what had been used universally up until the at-that-point quite recent development of TADS; the best AGT games, as we're all aware, fall far short in terms of parser sophistication of even mediocre Infocom (despite what the crowd seems to think). Maybe it's better to think of late 1993 as the High Middle Ages: the first couple Unkuulian games had come out, demonstrating that entertaining and relatively sophisticated adventures were being produced. The dusty tomb of IF had been found, and a few brave souls were sweeping away the cobwebs. IF meant "text adventure" meant "puzzle game." The Horror of Rylvania had just been released, and was one of the first games with much of a moral edge to it. It introduced the player-as-monster theme, and had opened up some of the issues OaF was to confront. And, unfortunately, no one ever played it, because it cost money. And let us not forget, this was long before the release of The Legend Lives, which was the first piece of post-crash IF to deal with religious issues head-on. (Not that the mid-80s commercial treatments were particularly deep and sophisticated). Even such an elementary concept as "mazes suck" had not been finalized (Rylvania, for one, had a gratuitous and annoying maze in it). So, OaF, in tackling heavy-duty moral and ethical issues, was really at the cutting edge of the avant-garde in a field defined by the puzzle game; here was a concept that put an intricate plot under its puzzles; the NPC interaction was far more extensive than anything hitherto seen. Its conceptual scope was humongous; far bigger in terms of locations than anything else since, probably, Time Zone. Let's look at where we are now. The big hits of the year have been Spider and Web, the first game I know of to rely on the Unreliable Narrator as the central feature of the game, Losing Your Grip, a game that happens almost entirely inside the protagonist's own hallucinations and has very little to it besides psychological allegory, and Anchorhead, a Lovecraftian puzzle-solving romp that also manages to be downright scary. Additionally, there has been Firebird, which, like OaF, leaps right into its available pool of myth (although Firebird manages to be a much gentler adventure, perfect for introductory IF), albeit Russian rather than Arthurian. And Big Games? We've seen plenty: Jigsaw comes to mind, although it's not actually all that many locations. Spiritwrak is an enormous game. So is Anchorhead. Not to mention UU0, which is an immense sprawling collection of locations. OaF is big, maybe even huge, but it feels more constrained than, say Spiritwrak. I have not yet drawn up a map for it, but I intend to, to see how big it actually is. Atmosphere? Does anyone else remember how radical Rylvania was in that it stuck to its gothic-horror guns and did not yield to the then near-total temptation to throw cutesy and anachronistic stuff into the game? The random bits of amusing anachronism have a long history in adventure games, of course, dating all the way back to Colossal Cave, but found in most Infocom games as well. OaF has a few goofy moments, but on the whole the atmosphere within each scene is kept remarkably consistent (the Isle of Avalon, having been written first, is the least so). Since the setting and atmosphere change so much between the three major set-pieces of the game (Avalon, Faery, and Stonehenge), it's really a rather impressive feat. And what's happened in the world of IF? The competitions have grown each year since their inception in 1995. And--thanks largely to Kevin--Activision has woken up. GKW *programmed* the first official GUE text adventure released in a decade, for goodness' sake! Laird Malamed honestly wants our opinions on games and what *we* feel Activision should do. Michael Berlyn has started a company to publish, among other things, IF (including, of course, OaF itself). We're routinely turning out games far more technically sophisticated than anything Infocom ever did (for example, the branching tree conversation system implemented in the TextFire hoax); granted, nothing yet has quite come up to the level of _Trinity_, but it's not for lack of technical skill. IF is no longer dead. In fact, it's alive and kicking. It's never again going to be living in that fancy mansion on the hill in Cambridge like it was in 1986, but it's out of the gutter, it's showered off the barf and put on a clean suit, and is once again mentionable in polite company. And much of that is due to GKW's proselytizing. And so, what about OaF? Had it been released in 1994, it would have been an absolutely astounding _tour de force_. It still is an excellent game, and one that makes the player think. But it's no longer all that avant-garde. We've seen games about difficult moral and ethical choices; we've seen games about psychological introspection; we've seen games that self-consciously exploited mythic archetypes for dramatic effect. We've worried about the specified-protagonist versus generic-adventure-game-indeterminate-POV. Heck, we've even seen an ironic deconstruction of the nebulous adventurer in Zork: Grand Inquisitor. After all of these games, parts of OaF seem strangely dated. There are puzzles that are simply too much tedious monkey-manipulation: the Crown of Earth and the flaming braziers come to mind. There, thankfully, are no mazes (there is one place that looks like a maze, but isn't). However, some of the puzzles seem to exist for the sake of having puzzles: fundamentally, the whole underground scene with Snookums exists to get the necklace; now, there's nothing wrong with that, exactly, but Snookums is a wonderful character, and I wish there had been some way to meet her such that it didn't feel like she was a tool of the problem-solving process; I think removing the gratuitous plank puzzle would have helped a lot here. Mordred, too, feels less like a character than like an obstacle; a door with a multi-part key, as it were. In short, OaF suffers from having been conceived at a time when it was assumed that the puzzles were the point of the game. A game that manages to strike a slightly better balance in this department is Stephen Granade's recent Losing Your Grip, which, while having some puzzles that seem like random hoops for the player to jump through, achieves better integration of plot and puzzle. However, OaF's puzzles generally seem to require less authorial mind-reading than Losing Your Grip. This is not to say that OaF's puzzles are all like this. The final showdown with the Hunter is handled with remarkable grace and skill, and is integrated absolutely seamlessly into the narrative. The sequences involving saving the Vietnam buddies are also smooth and thematically appropriate. There are a dizzying array of times and places presented; most are handled with a great deal of skill. There is the Isle of Avalon, the Land Beyond the Faery Ring, the Crossroads of Dreams, a brief future sequence, a couple different snippets of Vietnam, a simulation of Stonehenge so detailed I still haven't completely figured out the geography, and a well-researched final sequence. In short, there's an awful lot of game here, and not something one will get tired of quickly. Overall, it's an immersive game. I must admit that the final sequence--and the love interest--left me scratching my head and wondering what I'd missed. I found the clues that lead up to it, but I remain emotionally unconvinced; Kevin could, I think, have thrown in a bit more background for that. That's the biggest hole in the game. I buy the central quest, and the subquests along the way are convincing, often riveting. The treatment of the ways in which Frank has to go back and "save" his three Vietnam buddies that he saves from death-by-grenade in the opening sequence is a really interesting look at the nature of responsibility, wrapped up in some well-executed puzzles. As might be expected, the themes of forgiveness and forgetfulness run throughout the work. One of the best time-travel sequences I've yet seen--not as difficult or as satisfying as the time-loop in Sorcerer, but really amazing for what it does to your perception of Frank's character when played through by two different viewpoints--is built into the game. In fact, the puzzles associated with this little time-loop are not hard, but they are stunningly effective in drawing a picture of Frank Leandro and what his responsibilities are doing to him, as well as what Frank looks like to the outside world while he's doing this. This game makes you think a lot about the relationship between memory and moral culpability, and manages to do so without being heavy-handed. The theology is slightly worrying and a bit simplistic for my tastes, but effective within the game's context, although given the rest of the game's high-fantastic-mythic-heroic bent the Screwtapish demon seems oddly out of place. All in all, it's a magnificent, enormous piece of work. Is it worth your $25? Absolutely. Is it the apocalyptic culmination of the IF genre we've all been waiting for as a sign that the millenium approacheth? No, probably not. Is it a damn fine story? Yes. One caveat: stick with it. Some of the text describing the Isle of Avalon is pretty clunky; it's four years old and the author's inexperience at that point shows. It gets much, much better. Kevin should be proud. He has written a damn fine game, and brought to a close a story that extends over half a decade. Without his passion for text games, it is safe to say that much of the current Renaissance in IF could not have happened. This is the project that was driving that passion, and I think you will find that the years of effort he has poured into it have paid off handsomely. From: David Dyte <ddyte SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #16 -- November 28, 1998 Frank Leandro gave his life to save his buddies. For this, he was given a second chance - to save them all over again. And save much more besides. In Once and Future, you are Frank Leandro, charged with a quest that takes you from Vietnam to mythic England to the domain of Faerie to any number of other places, too. No-one said Frank's quest would be easy, and it's not exactly easy for the player either. This game is spectacular, very very big, and has two or three puzzles that may just leave you longing for the simplicity of making a Babel fish appear in a hidden hedge maze location using only the verb 'TAKE'. For all that, it's well worth the effort. Kevin Wilson has crafted some remarkable prose here, with each new paragraph a delight to savour. We've come to expect as much, I guess- it's been a long wait for OaF, punctuated by such gems as Lesson of the Tortoise. But the game has justified the time spent. OaF provides for all sorts of alternative actions and solutions a lesser author may have ignored, has NPCs with real depth and personality, and a plot that kept me hanging on right to the very end. Players can look forward to meeting the likes of Merlin and Galahad, solving the already infamous Mountain King puzzle, seeing Stonehenge in a whole new light, playing a friendly game of bones, being sent on quests within quests by multiple monarchs, and doing some very strange things I'd better not spoil. At $29.95 from Cascade Mountain, I urge fans of Interactive Fiction to leap at the chance and buy this historic game- the first commercially available text IF in some years, and one of the finest it's been my pleasure to play. From: Gunther Schmidl <sothoth SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #16 -- November 28, 1998 After years and years of waiting, it's finally here: Once and Future. And what can I say but that it has been worth the wait? The game opens in a small tent in Vietnam, when you as Frank Leandro, a tiny puppet in this immense war, play poker with your friends. But all is soon to change when a hand grenade interrupts your game, and you give your life for your comrades... Then, the story really starts. After receiving the grail, you are stranded in the gigantic land of Avalon with a mission to save the future. The map is really massive, but thanks to the easy layout, I had no problems of orientation after going everywhere once. Primarily, your task is to find the famous holy artifacts of Arthurian legend, but that won't be so easy: it'll be very long before you can have all of them. During that time, you'll be transformed into a mouse and interact with the most instantly likable NPC since Floyd, a mole named Snookums. She is so unbelievably cute it makes you forget she isn't "real," and I was really sorry I had to leave so soon. You will also be visiting Faerieland, the part of the game that has the very best of the writing. When underways, you are suddenly snatched away by the Hunter, a mysterious being that is after your soul, and whom you have to get away from in dream sequences. And those sequences were the ones that utterly gripped me and didn't let me stop playing for hours at an end. They are so amazingly well-written and stirring they constantly reminded me of "classic" I-F moments like the end of "Losing your Grip" and the unforgotten Floyd Death Scene - only they took longer. Also, all of the puzzles in this scene fit in so seamlessly with the story it seems totally clear what to do at every point. I have since replayed them countless times (and not only because of beta-testing :-). When you finally arrive in Faerieland, you are again presented with a gigantic landscape to explore; don't be afraid, though, most of it is just scenery to show you the wonders of an alien world (succeeding well). Though not very many locations have a use in either Avalon or Faerieland, you're never bored because there is always something to look at. Faerieland is where the main puzzles are, and it also is where the hardest puzzles are. A particular offender is the Mountain King puzzle, which I am still groaning over. But I have to admit it *is* the only puzzle of its size, and it's not that hard when you know the solution ;-) You also get to meet interesting characters, like the Straw Man (the writing there is absolutely great, as are the morals behind the story - you'll know when you get there), the mischievous elvin queen, and lots of other more or less helpful inhabitants of the land. However, as every game has its down sides, so has OaF. But I am only nitpicking - there is hardly anything I didn't like (except for that Mountain King puzzle - but I think Whizzard is going to lynch me if I mention it ONCE more). I found some of Merlin's remarks to be a little too "modern" - I wouldn't expect "cool" sentences and the like from an age-old wizard - but maybe that's just me. The endgame is gripping, and highly replayable - I found three different endings at first, then replayed to get the optimum ending. It is *very* rewarding, to say the least. There are also dark endings, which I liked even better, but that *is* just my twisted soul. The best rank you can reach is "Knight of the Round Table", but you'll have to do a lot of optional stuff to reach it. Note that most of that optional stuff came to me just because I thought it would be appropriate at that moment - and I was amazed that the game (or rather, it's author) had expected that. Now *I* felt like the puppet on the string of a master storyteller :-) Note that the transcript of the whole game is 128 print pages in Times New Roman, font size 10. Wow. Hats off to Whizzard! All hail the King! :-) From: Leon Lin Review appeared in SPAG #16 -- November 28, 1998 Prose The prose is well written, and very atmospheric. Most of the game takes place in a natural setting of some sort, either real or fantastic, and the descriptions of the various forests, caves, and such are beautifully done. The dialogue was quite good, if somewhat melodramatic at times (like when Merlin cries out to God). (See section on NPCs for more.) Difficulty OaF appears to be of average difficulty. Most puzzles are easily solvable with a careful reading of the text and some common sense. As far as I could tell, you can't put the game into an unsolvable state, unless you're going to die very soon, in which case you might as well restore. The game does go to some lengths to prevent you from straying too far off the mark. For example, in the endgame, the game prevents you from wandering all over town by reminding you where the crucial event is supposed to take place. This keeps the player from getting stuck much of the time (as well as lets the author off the hook from putting in any more locations than there already are!) It is possible to die in OaF, but the deaths are for the most part avoidable with some foresight. (Of course, there's that one trick near the end, but thoughtful players will see it coming.) Technical Coding: There were a few bugs in the version I played, but they were minor and overall the game was pretty clean. The author covers a lot of the possible actions by the player, though many of the actions are disallowed on the grounds that the hero, Frank, wouldn't do them. One of the most impressive sequences in the game is the final fight, in which many different things can happen depending on what equipment you've got on. I replayed this sequence many times trying different things. In general, the game encourages experimentation like this, even if it gets you killed. Some of the other impressive technical coding feats in OaF are the transformation of yourself into a mouse, the diamond puzzle, and the interaction between Merlin, Lancelot, and Galahad. There is also a particularly fun Easter egg involving the magic sword, though I have no idea how you'd figure it out without being told. Writing: I didn't catch any grammar or spelling mistakes. Pretty solid. Plot Though it's easy to boil the whole plot down into one sentence -- "Soldier goes on quest to prevent a disastrous event" -- a lot happens between the surprising and shocking beginning to the final confrontation. I didn't catch everything the first time through, and there's some symbolism and foreshadowing that doesn't become apparent until the end. (The relation between you and some of the characters in the game don't become apparent until the final scene of the game.) The plot is somewhat non-linear, with certain major sections of the game blocked off until certain puzzles are solved. The endgame is very linear, though that's appropriate considering the time-dependent situation you find yourself in at the end. Other than the hectic end, the game's pace is easy-going, even in a few places you might expect a greater sense of urgency (like escaping from the demon's chamber). NPCs The NPCs are well done, although most of them have simple purposes and actions. Where they mainly shine is in dialogue, both speaking with you and other NPCs. Merlin is easily the best of the lot, responding to many actions and queries by the player as well as interacting with Lancelot and Galahad. He's full of wit and cynicism, and does many humorous things, like getting chased up a tree by a unicorn and breaking the thunderbolt, which make him seem more human and falliable. His only real fault (and perhaps this is nit-picking) is that some of the technobabble he spouts (like when he opens the time portal) doesn't quite sound right. The two knights are also well done, with definite personality. They don't quite act as expected, with Lancelot acting cowardly in a certain context and Galahad acting snooty and uprighteous, but that adds depth to their characters. The only NPC I felt a little disappointed with was Nina, who popped up once near the start of the game (when you get Excalibur) and suddenly becomes all-important during the final confrontation. Puzzles The puzzles appeared to be divided into two groups: puzzles that advanced the plot and puzzles that were obstacles to advancing the plot. To wit: the player, in solving most of the puzzles, advances the story and learns more about the game's world. Such puzzles include saving Rob from prison and helping to kill the dragon. While solving these puzzles I didn't feel like I was completing a crossword so much as I was participating in the story. Some of the other puzzles are "7th Guest" style puzzles designed to stymie the player and themselves don't add much to the story. The diamond and the Mountain King puzzles are examples. They were challenging and intellectually stimulating, but I got the feeling that most any other kind of puzzle (like a sliding tile puzzle, or a game of Minesweeper, and so forth) could have been substituted in their place. Overall, I felt the game's emphasis was more on the story than the puzzles, but the puzzles were important enough to keep the player involved. Games which emphasize puzzles tend to have flimsy plots wrapped around them, but games which emphasize story over puzzles play like movies in which the gamer has to press buttons in order to advance. I think OaF strikes a good balance. Overall OaF isn't a game you swallow all in one go. It's complex and long. The sheer amount of text may be intimidating to some, and the plot a bit confusing at first, but there's a fascinating story which is worth replaying the game to read. From: M. Sean Molley <mollems SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #16 -- November 28, 1998 DISCLAIMER: I have been a beta tester for Once and Future for the last several years, and have watched it grow and evolve through many versions. Those who feel that I am therefore too biased to objectively review it should take note of this fact. TOTAL SCORE: 8.0 (Note: I don't believe in score inflation -- 8.6 is my highest score ever) ATMOSPHERE: 1.7 (Richly detailed, a huge game world, beautiful descriptions) GAMEPLAY: 1.0 (Solid, although several puzzles are non-intuitive or annoying) WRITING: 1.9 (Excellent attention to detail, vivid and powerful prose) PLOT: 1.6 (The "main idea" is brilliant and the subplots are rich) WILDCARD: 1.8 (A labor of love, a compelling story, and a truly epic game) CHARACTERS: 2.0 (The NPC's are the best part of the entire game) PUZZLES: 1.0 (With one or two notable exceptions, the puzzles are only average) When writing about Once and Future, one of the most notorious titles in the history of modern interactive fiction, I hardly know where to begin. This is the game that has tantalized denizens of the Usenet newsgroups devoted to IF for years. Whizzard (Gerry Kevin Wilson, the game's author) has become one of the best-known and most prolific contributors to the IF scene over the last five years. He's contributed numerous short games and stories, founded SPAG and the Interactive Fiction Competition, and offered dozens of articles on game design and other issues over the years. Running in the background of all these contributions has been a consistent promise: "just wait until Avalon comes out!" Well, OaF is finally coming out, contrary to the expectations of many who have seen lesser titles fall by the wayside as their creators moved on to bigger, better, and more lucrative things. Just to save you the suspense of wading through the rest of this review, I'll go ahead and say it now: It's been a long wait, but the wait has been justified. OaF is an excellent game. Kevin has found a publisher, Cascade Mountain (founded by longtime IF stalwart Michael Berlyn, himself a contributor to many great Infocom titles), and OaF will be available by the time you read this. This review was written based on the final beta version, which I am assured is almost entirely identical to the final commercial version with the exception of a few bug fixes and corrections to the text. For those who haven't been following the game over the years, I'll briefly describe the scenario. You portray Frank Leandro, a private in the Vietnam War. Near the beginning of the game, Frank sacrifices his life to save the lives of his best friends, thus launching himself into an adventure that will span time and space, cross the boundary between the "real" world and the world of Faerie, and have a profound effect upon the past and future of all humanity as Frank struggles to right ancient wrongs along his way to rewriting history and redeeming his own soul. If that sounds like a bit much to do before breakfast, let me warn you: OaF is both long -- it takes me about four hours to play from start to finish using an optimized walkthrough -- and incredibly deep. You can expect to invest many hours in this one. All of the great figures from Arthurian legend are here: King Arthur, Merlin, Lancelot, Galahad, Morgan le Fay, Mordred, the Lady of the Lake, and many others have critical roles to play. Each of these characters is richly detailed, with very real personalities that come out through their innumerable pages of dialogue. The characters are "aware" of one another, and when you are in a room with more than one NPC, they have more conversations amongst themselves than they do with Frank. Many of these conversations have absolutely nothing to do with the story, but are present only to add depth and feeling to the characters themselves. Some of the exchanges between Merlin, Launcelot, and Galahad are truly hilarious, while others are deeply touching. The amount of detail in these NPC's is nearly unprecedented in IF. OaF, more than any game I've seen, is "about" its characters. All NPC's are also highly interactive; in addition to talking with one another, they will also work with (or against) Frank in a staggering variety of ways. Because of the non-linear nature of the game's structure and the sheer number of possible combinations of NPC's and puzzles that can be happening at the same time, it is quite possible for two players to go through the game in entirely different ways. The isle of Avalon itself is quite detailed, with many different areas to explore. The structure is mostly non-linear, with only a few puzzles dependent on the completion of earlier actions. Frank must search out and acquire a number of legendary artifacts, including Excalibur and its sheath. With Merlin as companion and guide, Frank will explore fantastic vistas while confronting many dangerous adversaries that will test his mettle. Indeed, Avalon is the strongest area of the game, with every piece of the puzzle fitting together nicely and a series of interesting and entertaining challenges to be overcome. The writing is fluid and rich -- the game reads like a book in many places. Key plot points are amply described with powerful and evocative text that is as good as anything which has ever appeared in an IF game. Actually, when playing OaF I am most reminded of David Baggett's game "The Legend Lives", which also featured a number of scenes where pages and pages of text spilled across the screen. My personal bias is that these kinds of "cut-scenes" add a lot to the story and are well worth the investment; other players might not find them as enjoyable. You will do a tremendous amount of reading before you finish the game. However, Kevin's writing is good enough that I think you'll find it a pleasure. In many cases the game will cause you to laugh out loud; in others, you'll flinch from the power of the imagery created. The game does not shy away from controversial subjects or language; parents of young children might want to be aware that the game does contain some profanity and other disturbing images. However, there is nothing that I would consider "gratuitous" in the sense that it isn't called for by the story. Although the Isle of Avalon is a major focus of the game's action, there is a second major area within the game, reached through a mushroom ring within Avalon itself: the land of Faerie. Faerie contains its own plots -- many of them only tangentially related to the "main" plot of the game -- and has a huge amount of geography to explore. One of the nicer aspects of the game is that Faerie and the Isle of Avalon, while both being large and complex areas in their own right, are basically not interdependent. With only one or two exceptions, puzzles in one part of the game don't require items from the other, and the parts themselves can be completed in either order. Indeed, it's possible to travel back and forth between Faerie and Avalon, working on puzzles in both realms in basically any order you see fit. The whole effect is well done and keeps the player from feeling constrained to a narrow path through the story. Faerie is very different from Avalon, and from the "real" world, just as you would expect. Descriptions of objects and rooms are whimsical, even nonsensical, but with their own internal logic that can be figured out by the clever player. Faerie contains several of the game's best puzzles, which are very challenging to solve but ultimately rewarding once they have been overcome. The room descriptions are beautiful to read: Kevin is a great writer, and has spent considerable time and care crafting the descriptions to convey the sense of utter unreality that is Faerie. Both this area and the main Isle of Avalon are huge, with many rooms to explore. One potential knock against the game, indeed, is that there are so many rooms that travelling from place to place sometimes becomes tedious. The Fairy Queen's castle, for example, is in the absolute remotest corner of Faerie. As Frank must travel there on a number of occasions, moving back and forth over and over again becomes repetitive and annoying. Locating the Queen's castle in the center of Faerie, with the various regions radiating outward from it like spokes around a wheel, would have saved some wear and tear on Frank's poor feet without detracting from the game. Indeed, here I must raise a few important quibbles with OaF. The plot and story are very well done, and the various sub-plots and twists within the game are excellent. As a book, this would probably have been a notable work in its own right. As a game, it suffers a bit in the execution. (Hence the low mark for gameplay as opposed to the other areas of the score). There are many places where the player simply has to wait in a location while the story unfolds; repeatedly typing "Z" is basically equivalent to turning the pages of a novel, while breaking the suspension of disbelief needed to keep the player locked into the game world. In a similar fashion, the vast amount of traipsing about the world that is required as Frank shuttles back and forth becomes irritating (although Kevin's room descriptions are some of the best I've ever seen, they're no better the 20th time than they were the first). This is not to say that the game as a whole is non-interactive; by and large the player is shaping the plot rather than watching it unfold around him. Nevertheless, there are a few places where the pacing could have been tweaked a bit. The puzzles are also a mixed bag, ranging from the sublime to the unpleasant, with the majority falling on the "difficult" side of the challenge scale. The game is difficult, but the puzzles are mostly fair. A few of them are awkwardly done, however, and the potential for "guess the verb" exists in one or two places. There is one puzzle in Faerie which appears to serve absolutely no purpose whatsoever, other than to give the player a simple blob of wax which is needed back in Avalon (this is also the game's only example of a connection between the two realms). The puzzle involves pushing on lighted buttons to cause a particular pattern to appear; much like the sliding tiles puzzle in "Curses", it doesn't work very well in the text medium, and serves no useful purpose other than to annoy the player and slow the game down. This puzzle could have been removed, and the blob of wax put someplace within Avalon itself, without hurting the plot in any way, and doing so would make life a lot easier for the player. Hopefully this will be addressed in a future version of the game. On the other hand, several of the puzzles and areas are nearly flawless; the "mole area" near the beginning of the game and the "reverse rowboat" in Faerie are very memorable indeed. The game's plot is impressively deep, with a number of sub-plots that are extremely compelling. Frank must redeem his own soul and the souls of others along the way to completing his quest. He will revisit Vietnam, do battle with the Master of the Hunt, save his own life in a "Sorcerer"-esque episode, escape from the clutches of an evil witch, and do battle with dragons, demons, and other assorted evildoers. He will be assisted by Merlin, Sir Launcelot, and Sir Galahad, as well as a number of other interesting characters, including a clever mole and a curious cat. In the end it is the player who benefits, as these "side quests" are immensely entertaining and serve to illustrate the richness and depth of Frank's character. OaF is one of the few IF games to really develop the player's character: Frank is very real, and his own comments are sprinkled liberally throughout the game. Some players will find this off-putting, but I found it quite easy to empathize with Frank and get into the role of the main character. He is very believable and a noble character. Once Frank has secured the magical artifacts, purified the Holy Grail, and obtained the assistance of the Queen of Faerie, he and Merlin will embark upon the true quest: preventing a terrible catastrophe in Earth's past which threatens the future of Earth and Faerie both. I won't go into the details, since that would spoil a major part of the game, but suffice it to say that the quest is very appropriate to the overall plot of the game -- indeed, the concept is brilliant -- and many of the diverse threads which the player has unraveled in Avalon and Faerie will be tied up in the end. (A number of other issues are left unresolved by the game's ending; deliberately, it turns out, from reading the author's notes.) The game moves pretty quickly once Frank learns his final quest; you'll rush through the last few stages pretty quickly, as the puzzles aren't too difficult (with the exception of the very last puzzle, which is pretty non-intuitive and hurts the flow of the narrative) and the pace increases, with the final scene played out under a tight time limit as the story builds to the ultimate confrontation between Frank and the forces of evil. Upon completing OaF, I am left to answer the final question: does it live up to the hype? The answer is, "of course not." OaF is perhaps the most-anticipated game of the modern IF era, if for no other reason than Kevin has been building it up and promising to release it for years and years now. Given that kind of buildup, there's no way the game would be able to be all things to all people. And it does suffer from some shortcomings; Kevin is telling a truly epic story here, and it's hard to format such a story to fit the particular requirements of IF. But the player who sticks with it and looks past the game's mechanical flaws will find that OaF is a highly polished jewel of a story, the rare game that tackles deep issues and confronts them head-on. There are so many messages and allegorical themes in the game that it would be impossible to list them all; and I won't even try, because half the fun is discovering them for yourself. OaF is a very literary game; it is a rich and complex tapestry. A few of the threads haven't been tied off quite right, but there are no "crash" bugs and nothing which should prevent a reasonably intelligent and experienced IF'fer from completing the game without needing to resort to a walkthrough. In summary, I would call it a "must-read" as well as a "must-play." OaF reaches for the brass ring by trying to combine such an epic story with a puzzle-based game mechanic; when compromises had to be made, they were made to preserve the story and at the expense of gameplay. It is unfortunate that any compromises had to be made at all, but the whole is definitely greater than the sum of the parts. OaF does not disappoint -- I say again, it was worth the wait. I would place OaF on the same list as "The Legend Lives," Brian Moriarty's "Loom", and Steve Meretzky's "A Mind Forever Voyaging." All of these games share a common trait: they are experienced, rather than played. For me, the experience of OaF has been a wonderful one. I hope that yours will be, too. From: Magnus Olsson <zebulon SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #16 -- November 28, 1998 At last, it's here. For years we waited eagerly for it. Some of use gave up hope of ever seeing it; others probably didn't even know it was for real, but thought it was just a metaphor for something unattainable; "When Avalon is released" became a synonym for "When pigs will fly". And then, suddenly, here it is. Of course, it's not called "Avalon", but "Once and Future", but it's here; the most anticipated IF release ever. Maybe pigs do fly, after all. So does it live up to the expectations? Yes and no: some people have expressed great disappointment that it didn't live up to their expectations, but I wasn't among them. I think it's fair to say, however, that "OaF" has been the subject of so much discussion and - to be blunt - hype (it is, after all, a commercial release), that it can't possibly live up to all expectations. So, in the following I'll try not to compare it too much with what's been said about it before its release. Before starting on the review, let me state that I was not one of the playtesters. I had never seen the game before the review copy arrived, so this review is based on fresh impressions. I have a confession to make, however: I haven't finished the game yet. I ran up against what turned out to be a fatal bug (an NPC who was supposed to provide some essential information, but didn't), and decided to put the game aside for a while, waiting for my "real" copy to arrive (my review copy was a pre-release version), so I had more to look forward to than just the pretty packaging. This happened rather near the end - I've completed most of the game, but I can't comment on the way the plot is finally resolved. I mentioned a fatal bug, so let's deal with a less pleasant aspect of the game first, so we get that out of the way. I can't help feeling that "OaF" could have done with some more beta testing. Fortunately, I found just one killer bug, but I did run into quite a lot of parser problems, mainly missing vocabulary. Let me stress that (apart from the NPC bug) I didn't have any real problems with this - I encountered no guess-the-verb "puzzles", for example, just some missing synonyms - but still a bit irritating. There's been talk on about an upcoming patch from the publisher - let's hope it fixes these problems once and for all. OK, so it's somewhat buggy and it may not live up to everybody's expectations. What's it _like_? The main plot outline should be well known by now: you play a soldier who's killed in Vietnam, but brought back to life by King Arthur, and sent on a quest. But this doesn't really say very much about the game, does it? So let me start by characterizing "OaF": First and foremost, it's a classic adventure game in the Infocom tradition. In many aspects, it goes beyond - sometimes rather far beyond - Infocom's achievements, but it's a matter of evolutionary, not revolutionary, progress. I think that this is much a matter of timing: some aspects of "OaF" *would* have been revolutionary if it had been published according to the original schedule, four years ago. It's just that tremendous developments have taken place in the IF scene during those four years, and others have explored this new territory first. I wrote that "OaF" is first and foremost a game. This doesn't mean that it isn't a story, or that the story is just an excuse to string puzzles together, far from it. But unlike many modern works of IF (like, for example, this year's competition winner "Photopia"), it's not an interactive story that uses puzzles just as a way of forcing the audience to participate; it's a computer game that tells a story (or, rather, many stories). Puzzles are prominent, but subordinate to the story: with few exceptions they don't feel extraneous to the plot, and almost all of them don't obscure the underlying themes but serve to enhance them and advance the plot. I suppose that this means that you'll probably be disappointed if you don't like puzzle games, but are looking forward to a "pure" interactive story. But, as I wrote, the puzzles don't obscure the plot, and there's plenty of literary value in "OaF". "OaF" isn't "just a game"; it's a work of art in the form of a game. On the other hand, if you don't care much for the story aspects, and approach "OaF" as a pure game, you'll probably *not* be disappointed. You'll miss a lot if you ignore the story aspects, though. Puzzles are a prominent part of "OaF", and there are quite a lot of them; enough, it seems, for several medium-to-large-sized adventures - "OaF" is a large game. Most of the puzzles aren't too difficult; they're quite logical, with satisfying solutions, Infocom-style. The comparison to Infocom is meant as praise: in fact, I've seen few recent adventures with so many enjoyable puzzles. There are almost none of the "guess what the author was thinking" puzzles that are common in amateur IF. Some of the puzzles are a bit mechanical, perhaps, and some of them feel rather dated in a similar way that mazes feel dated nowadays - one of the signs that "OaF" has been under development for a long time and that our taste in IF has evolved during that time. Unfortunately, none of the puzzles are of the really brilliant variety, the one where the solution feels like a revelation, but on the other hand there are no real bottlenecks that block your progress totally, killing the plot in the process. On the whole, I think the balance between puzzles and plot is satisfying. I mentioned that "OaF" is a large game. In fact, it's very large. The funny thing is that for most of the time I was playing, it didn't feel very large; but several times, when I felt that I had explored everything and the game was stagnating, new vistas opened up, whole new worlds as large as the previously explored parts of the game. This is a rather rare experience - my experience is that most games (new or old - this is true for many, if far from all Infocom games as well) are either rather small, or partitioned into segments that are small games unto themselves, and quite separate from each other. On the other hand, "OaF" never felt so large and open-ended that I was overwhelmed by the task of exploration. "OaF" manages to strike a balance here, with just enough territory to explore that the game world feels large, but not like a huge desolation, and the device of rewarding puzzle solving with new lands to explore is used effectively. The map is mostly connected in a way that allows you to travel freely between the various segments of the game; there are no watertight partitions. Or almost none - because the story takes place on several planes at the same time (or, rather, different times), and at some junctures you're transported to different worlds to face different challenges in a different subplot. Which leads us on to the literary aspects of "OaF". Let's start with genre. "OaF" can, of course, be characterized as fantasy, but it's not the usual, stereotypic RPG-inspired fantasy of most adventure games, but mythical fantasy - Arthurian myth, of course. There's a lot of the fairy-tale elements present in many Arthurian tales - talking animals and such - but, despite this, "OaF" is not the kind of watered-down, trivialized Arthur-as-storybook- character world of "The Sword in the Stone", or Infocom's "Arthur". Like all true myths it addresses the big, existential questions; fortunately, it's not all about cute talking animals or heroic save-the-world quests. "OaF" is neither a children's story nor an action movie. Unfortunately, this isn't very apparent in the first part of the game (after the Vietnam introduction), where you have to explore the isle of Avalon and complete a number of sub-quests before you can begin to figure out what your real quest is about; this part of the game is actually quite conventional, almost shallow, with no strong sense of purpose or direction. This is a pity, because if the player is unlucky (the game is rather non-linear, so it's possible to see different sub-plots in quite different order) he or she will spend rather a lot of time before getting really involved in more than rather standard adventure-questing. There are a couple of quite touching stories-within-the story here (such as the one about the mole), but they involv you more as a spectator than as a participant. But things get better, plotwise. Once the player is involved in the main plot, he (I'll be using the male gender since I'm referring more to the player character, Frank Leandro, than to the actual player/audience controlling him) has to face not only his quest, but demons from his past, his present and his future - this sends him back to Vietnam in some very powerful sequences - as well as archetypal forces such as the mysterious Hunter. Finally, he'll have to deal with one of the pivotal moments in history; alas, I can't comment on that, since I haven't reached the actual endgame yet. The choice of pivotal moment in history seemed rather strange, almost silly, to me at first. Perhaps it's because I'm not American, and "OaF" is in a sense a very American game (though, fortunately, no knowledge of baseball is required). I can think of a reason for the odd juxtaposition of Arthur, Vietnam, and this historical event, though: Arthur is perhaps the most powerful of Anglo-American myths, and the two other elements, while historical, seem to have become almost archetypical in American culture. (No, Elvis is not involved). There is thought behind the choice of quest, even though it may seem unlikely when you first hear it. As mentioned before, the game is quite non-linear; most of the time, you have a choice of things to do and several puzzles to attack. This means that the plot can't drive events in the way it does in more "literary" IF; rather, the plot - and subplots - form a sort of substratum that motivates your actions and comes back to haunt you from time to time. The drawback to this is that at times there's no strong sense of purpose; you can spend quite a lot of time wandering around and solving puzzles just because they're there, just like in Zork. Unlike in Zork, however, there is a sense of unity; I'm not sure how all the threads are tied together at the end, or if they are - sometimes the plot structure gets a bit out of hand, it seems (I'm not sure that it will ever be resolved exactly what's going on between Frank and the Hunter, for example), but I'll have to pass on this for now. On the other hand, some of the subplots (most notably the Vietnam ones) are quite linear; you're a "prisoner in someone else's story", to quote Espen Aarseth. But these parts of the game are rather short. I did notice some minor problems caused by the non-linearity: some descriptions and plot events seem a bit suboptimal when encountered in the wrong order, but I didn't encounter any real killers. Of course, I can't help thinking that it may be possible to break the game by doing things in the wrong order, but I didn't actually manage to do so, and the author seems to have covered most possibilities. If you look at what the player is actually doing during most of the game in terms of plot, much of the time is spent on sub-quests and in subplots that don't seem to relate directly to the main plot. This can, of course, be criticized; but I think it's actually in character (I'm no expert on the Arthurian mythos - Arthur is not really a central part of my cultural heritage at all - so I may be totally off base here): much of the Arthurian mythos consists of stories about Arthur's knights being diverted from the quest for the grail by seemingly unrelated adventures, which turn out not to be so unrelated in the end. And the subplots in "OaF" all seem to touch on issues that either have directly to do with Frank's personal development, or with the underlying themes and conflicts. In this context, I'd like to point out that "OaF" is one of the few works of IF I've seen that deal with religious issues (though it doesn't really hit you across the face with them). The writing varies from competent to excellent to rather over the top - you can tell that "OaF" was written over a long period of time, and Kevin obviously matured as a writer during that time. Some parts, especially the room descriptions in the early parts of the game, are rather terse (but still expressive), Infocom-like, while others are more verbose and some passages are a bit on the purple side. In some places the author seems to be overreaching a bit, but those are the exceptions. The writing doesn't quite compare to the beautifully poetic "So Far", the haunting dream-like moods of "Losing your Grip", or the polished pefection of "Photopia", but it's quite competent. The author gets his message across, usually very effectively, and there are some very powerful scenes; some scenes and NPC's remained in my memory for quite some time after I stopped playing. Finally, some words about NPCs. One area where "OaF" has been a bit hyped is the quality, number and depth of its NPCs. When it comes to the sheer number of NPCs, this is no exaggeration: there are lots of them. However, the NPCs are rather uneven. Some NPCs are quite sophisticated: they'll follow you around, talk to you, have answers for most questions and spontaneously comment on things you're doing. Some NPCs interact with each other, commenting each other's lines (typically, you do something, an NPC answers, and another NPC comments that). This is all very solidly implemented, but there's nothing really revolutionary going on; no AI techniques, no new conversation strategies or so on, just ordinary TADS actors. But so much effort has gone into providing them with a personality and with things to do and say that they take on a depth few IF NPCs can exhibit. On the other hand, many NPCs are much less interesting than that. One NPC is just a variation on the "lock and key" puzzle, and others play very minor parts: they do a few things, and then exit. What is worse is the unfortunate fact that one of the first NPCs you encounter is quite an important figure in the Arthurian mythos, yet he basically just stands around, has rather limited conversational abilities, and doesn't seem very lifelike at all. You don't encounter the "good" NPCs until quite a bit later. But all in all, the most memorable parts of this game are the NPC: Snookums, Merlin, True Thomas, The Hunter, The Demon, Frank's alter egos. To summarize, "Once and Future" may not be the Great American Interactive Novel. It may not be a revolutionary feat of innovation or a literary masterpiece. But it is a very enjoyable, solidly implemented (despite the bugs - remember that this is a one-person project) game, with an engaging plotline (once you get into it) and some very memorable characters. And what makes "OaF" exceptional is the sheer size of its world, and that's not empty space, but interrelated, interacting objects, locations and characters, all unified by a compelling story. $29.95 will buy you a lot of exploration, puzzle solving, NPC interaction - more than enough for four or five normal-sized games - but, above all, immersion in a detailed world and participation in a deeply engaging story.

The One That Got Away

From: Magnus Olsson <mol SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #7 -- October 14, 1995 Name: The One That Got Away Parser: TADS Author: anonymous Plot: Linear, simple Email: Atmosphere: Superb Availability: F, IF Archive Writing: Outstanding Puzzles: Rather simple Supports: TADS ports Characters: Very good Difficulty: Below average Among the joys of fishing, perhaps the greatest is telling about it afterwards; stories not just about the fish you caught, but above all about the ones that got away. This game is about the grandfather of all the fish that ever got away - the Old One, a fish of mythical proportions, reputed to be centuries old, showing itself only once every thirty years. By some strange chance, one of its appearances happens to coincide with your fishing holiday. Of course you can't resist the challenge of succeeding where everybody else has failed, and bagging the Old One... This game tells the story of your encounter with the Old One. The emphasis is on the word "tells," since this game is more a piece of interactive literature than a traditional game. There certainly are puzzles, but the important thing is the story, not the puzzle solving. As a reading experience, "The One That Got Away" is very enjoyable indeed. The writing is perhaps the best I've ever seen in an adventure game; not as poetic or beautiful as in "The Sound Of One Hand Clapping," but perfect for telling this kind of story. There's rather a lot of it, too: the introduction alone takes up more than two screen pages. The author manages to create just the right setting and atmosphere for his (her?) story, and the only real NPC, old Bob in the bait shop, is nicely characterized and has a lot to tell if you ask him. This emphasis on writing doesn't mean that the gameplay aspects are neglected. On the contrary, the game flows nicely and the author seems to have thought of almost everything, providing appropriate - and often very funny - responses to most of the weird things an adventurer might try doing. The puzzle involving the actual fishing is perhaps a bit awkward, but implementing fishing at the level of detail it's done in this game is not a simple feat. To help you get an idea of what you're supposed to do there's a very humorous and detailed transcript of another fishing adventure available online. If you get totally stuck, the author has included a walkthrough in the distribution - not that it should be needed, since the game is quite simple. So far for the good sides of this game, and they are good indeed. What's not so good is what happens once you're ready for some action. After the monumental introduction and a lot of build-up during your conversations with Bob and your attempts to get the right bait, you're ready for a monumental struggle, but instead you're presented with quite an anticlimax. After finishing the game, one can't help but to get a feeling of "Was this all?" Still, despite the anticlimax, its literary quality makes this game a truly memorable one, one worth playing and replaying several times, just as one returns to a favourite novel. From Gareth Rees <gdr11 SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #8 -- February 5, 1996 NAME: The One that Got Away PARSER: TADS's usual AUTHOR: Leon Lin PLOT: Linear, very short EMAIL: unknown ATMOSPHERE: Excellent AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF Archive WRITING: Superb, funny PUZZLES: Not so good SUPPORTS: TADS ports CHARACTERS: Excellent DIFFICULTY: Easy My favourite entry in the competition. The puzzles aren't up to much, but who cares? The writing is superb, atmospheric, and very funny. I usually find myself impatient with long sequences of text in adventure games, but even though "The One that Got Away" was brimful with text, I enjoyed it immensely. I must have spent ten times as long thinking of things to say to Bob as I did trying to catch any fish. I suppose I have a soft spot for this kind of mock American pioneer folklore. I laughed out loud at some of the more purple passages, especially the example game sequence in the pamphlet, which is an accurate pastiche of the Infocom style of sample transcripts and at the same time a hilarious take on "Moby Dick": "Curse you, Doby the Mackrel, curse you!" Pete exclaims, shaking his fist at the sea. "From Hell's heart I stab at thee." I have a nitpick about an inconsistency in the text: if you type ""kiss bob", then Bob replies, "I've been lonely since the missus died," but according to his other speeches, he has been mourning his first love Nellie all his life and has never married: "I always thought Nellie might come back, and I've waited, just minding this store, but I guess it'll never be." However, I think it's a good sign when characters have enough background that I can worry about consistency like this. No other game in the competition had anything like this level of backstory. Carl Muckenhoupt <baf SP@G> wrote the following in the newsgroup I'd put ["The One that Got Away"] the category of "could have been written in AGT with no appreciable decline in quality" [...] I like detail. I like background objects that are fully fleshed-out. I like doodads with lots of parts that can be poked at individually. I like characters that do more that just stand there, waiting to respond to your actions. These are all things that AGT handles clumsily, if at all. Neither "Toonesia" nor "The One" gave us much beyond Rooms containing Objects. I think this criticism is unfair. The complexity of implementation of a game should be just as complex as required by the story and characterisation, and no more. Just because it is possible to write a sliding-block puzzle in Inform or TADS, doesn't mean that every game should have some similar piece of complex machinery. Similarly, just because computers are large enough to store hundreds of thousands of words of prose, doesn't mean that every game should have pages and pages of irrelevant descriptive text (which is very hard to write vividly). It's kinder on the player to just say "that's not important" than to produce a dull description that nonetheless has to be read carefully for clues. When I play "Adventure" today, I don't think, "This game would have been much improved if the lamp had a wick that had to be cut and adjusted every 100 turns, or if the nasty little dwarves had Eliza-style natural language parsers so that `dwarf, why do you throw knives at me' would produce the response `Is the fact that I throw knives at you the reason why you are unhappy?'". If a story can be told well using only objects and rooms, then why not tell it that way? "The One that Got Away" was a very effective piece of fiction because it was concerned with people and their feelings and motivations, rather than mechanical puzzles. I agree that it doesn't expand the boundaries of what is possible with interactive fiction, but other entries in the competition (notably "Undertow") demonstrated that it's extremely difficult to expand these boundaries without losing a lot of valuable qualities that "The One that Got Away" had. To put it another way, a genre has boundaries to explore *because* there's a solid core of technically routine but artistically successful work to react against. I hope that Lin writes more interactive fiction, and that he continues to orient his work towards strong characters. Other peoples' comments in the newsgroup suggest that he should work on the structure of the game -- "The One" was too easy to finish without ever having to quiz Bob about the history behind the game; instead, the puzzles should have been an inducement to explore the background -- and on the quality and number of the puzzles. FTP FileTADS .gam file (updated version) FTP FileTADS .gam file and walkthrough (competition version)


From: Tina Sikorski <tina SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #23 -- December 29, 2000 TITLE: 1-2-3... AUTHOR: Chris Mudd E-MAIL: muddchris SP@G DATE: 2000 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 1 Walkthrough? Yes Genre: Psychological Drama +------------------------------------------+ |Overall Rating C |Submitted Vote 6| |Writing C |Plot C+| |Puzzles D+|NPCs D+| |Technical C |Tilt B-| +------------------------+-----------------+ *** Initial Thoughts Okay, I know that some people thought this was terrible, that some were completely turned off by the very idea, that there were definitely problems (yes, even I agree) with implementation, and that it may qualify as the most controversial entry in the comp. But damn it, I liked the idea, and I gave it a 6 because despite the flaws I want to encourage people to continue to work in this genre. *** Writing (C) Yes, there were some really bad spots in the writing. I will agree fully with anyone who says that. In particular, the conversational style was really irritating (but that's really more a technical flaw). But the game did do a good job on several occasions of evoking the inner mind of the psychopath, and that's something that I enjoyed. One of my favorite bits is early on: >l at me What you see disturbs you, but there is nothing -- absolutely nothing -- you can do about it. Something has clicked within you. Your time is now. With two short lines, the game lets you know that something very odd is going on, and that the person you are playing feels helpless to stop it. It, along with the first room description in the game, though both very short, give you chilling atmosphere, a hint to plot, and a bit of mystery and intrigue all at once. -That- is part of why I rated the game more highly than many other reviewers did, and why I thought it showed such potential. Alas, I will be the first to admit that some of this potential went to waste, but I do think the game showed promise. If only the conversational style had lived up to these initial descriptions, I would have rated it far more highly in this category at least. I would like to encourage the author, however, to continue developing and honing that skill, learning to apply it to other portions of the writing. I think that with some practice, some damn fine games could result. *** Plot (C+) Understand that this score is predicated more on what I felt the author was -trying- to do than on the actual execution. Had it been executed properly... well, I suspect had it been executed properly, fewer people would have been quite so down on the game. After all, movies like _Seven_ and _Silence of the Lambs_ and _Kiss the Girls_ are -very- popular. More than that, I would have probably been in love with the game; serial killer stories, particularly ones that attempt to delve into the mind of the killer, fascinate me. The two biggest plot-related flaws were both predicated on timing: the actual flow of the game (chock full of nose-leading) and the conversational style, the latter of which I will expand on under NPCs. No doubt about it, the execution of the pieces of the story left something to be desired. While I truly enjoyed the perspective shifts, the method of revealing the storyline was haphazard, seemed unconnected to the player actions to a great degree, and was, in a word, 'choppy'. I found myself unable to determine 'what to do next' until I realized that basically the answer was 'talk to people and wait for scene changes'. This works for some games, and it probably even could have worked for this one, but the attempt to drive the player this way really -did- feel like an attempt to 'drive' the player. I would hesitate to do more than speculate, but I wonder if perhaps the author has written static fiction and was trying to convert it to an IF format; it has that feel to it. In summary: Good idea that I'd like to see better developed. *** Puzzles (D+) Really, there weren't any to speak of, except for conversational choice puzzles. I found to be 'take woman' fairly obvious given the inner monologue before then, and of course, every veteran IF player knows to always check the fridge. That's about it... *** NPCs (D+) The conversational style was, in a word, painful. We are not talking about "I dropped a brick on my toe" painful or even "I just gave birth to a 10 lb child" painful (unless you are a male, in which case we may be). We are talking about "I just had every inch of my skin scoured by sandpaper" painful. So, as you can see, I did in fact have a bad opinion of a portion of this game. So, by now, almost everyone who has played this game or read a review has commented on "Don't you want to ask me about her breasts?" Therefore, I see no need to revisit that line. What I -would- like to focus on is the following exchange, which I think fully illustrates my problem (and most other folks') with the conversation system: > ask him about woman He smiles an empathetic smile. "Don't you want to ask me about the victim, Riessa?" he asks. Yes. that's why I said 'woman'. She was a woman. Yes? Synonyms are very, very much your friend. They are quite useful. I will grant that the higher the synonym count, the higher the chance of a disambiguation problem, but in this case I don't believe it applies -- or even if it does, I think it could have been handled far more gracefully than it was. Forcing the player to word questions a very, very precise way (such as the worst example, "ASK HIM ABOUT WHEN HE THINKS THE MURDERER WILL STRIKE AGAIN") with very little in the way of a good feedback system (hint: telling me precisely how to phrase it really isn't a good feedback system, honest) is a very, very annoying choice, and should be discarded and replaced with something else, even if that 'something else' is a menu of questions, something that would not be my -first- choice for this particular type of game but which would have been a serious improvement under the circumstances. Since the game is driven by completing conversations, this presents even more of a problem than it looks like on the first glance; you simply can't go somewhere else and do something (that choice isn't available) and then come back when you have a new idea. I suspect this lay at the heart of many folks' frustration with this entry. *** Technical (C) I found no bugs; the only real flaw was conversation-style related. Character and location switching is not a terribly impressive trick but it at least took a bit of forethought. *** Tilt (B-) and Final Thoughts As I mentioned above, I really do enjoy serial killer stories, and really think that this game has potential. With some reworking of the conversational style, a bit more depth to the world and the people, and perhaps a slightly longer path to the solution, I think it could have been a solid game. Perhaps not to everyone's taste, but then, what is? FTP FileDirectory with Inform .z5 file and walkthrough (competition version)


From: Christopher E. Forman <ceforman SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #9 -- June 11, 1996 NAME: Oo-Topos GAMEPLAY: 1 or 2-word commands AUTHOR: Michael Berlyn PLOT: Strictly rudimentary EMAIL: ??? ATMOSPHERE: A few nice touches AVAILABILITY: Commercial (Sentient Software) WRITING: Minimalist PUZZLES: Not overly difficult SUPPORTS: C64, Apple II, IBM CHARACTERS: Lifeless obstacles DIFFICULTY: Medium [This review is based on the Apple II version of the game.] "Oo-Topos" is an oldie but a goodie. It was written billions and billions of years ago (to be exact, 1981), during the dawn of the home computing era. It was also the very first game written by Michael Berlyn, before he went on to write "Cutthroats," "Infidel," and "Suspended" at Infocom. (Incidentally, to add to the recent "Where Are They Now?" article in April's "Computer Game Review," Berlyn also worked at Accolade for some time, where he did the "King's Quest"-like "Altered Destiny" a few years back, and was also part of a team which created Sega and Super Nintendo games -- he worked on the original "Bubsy," for instance.) The plot is very straightforward as sci-fi stories go: You were transporting a shipload of scientific equipment and a serum to cure an Earth- bound plague, when aliens caught your ship in their tractor beam and grounded it on their homeworld of Oo-Topos. You begin the game in a cell, having forced the door open, and must escape the prison, collect the scattered cargo, and locate the necessary parts to put your ship back together. You interact via a two-word parser superimposed on a minimal interface -- there's no prompt, just a cursor, and the text spans 40 columns, all in caps. Still, it looks more like the Infocom format than the Scott Adams adventures -- "Oo-Topos" has full (albeit rather sparse) room descriptions as opposed to a simple room name and a list of objects, which makes it feel less mechanical. Even so, there's not much of a command set. There are no synonyms, it's impossible to examine room scenery, and you can't even examine objects unless you're carrying them. (There are a few exceptions to the last one.) According to the sleeved package the game comes in (mine has a $32.95 price tag still attached -- wow!), Berlyn spent a year and a half writing and programming the game. The writing is passable for such an early effort, but it's very prosaic, nowhere near the level of Berlyn's books. (He's had four science-fiction novels published: "The Integrated Man," "Crystal Phoenix," "Blight," and "The Eternal Enemy.") Players get little sense of wonder as they wander the corridors of the alien prison, as the text suffers from the sparse minimalism of early adventures. The aliens themselves are particularly lifeless, serving only as obstacles to impede the player's progress. The puzzles, though no doubt original at the time, are pretty simple by today's standards. A 2-word parser doesn't allow for something as complex as, say, the Enigma machine in "Jigsaw." Don't forget that the game had to fit on a 180K single-sided floppy as well. Much of the game is derivative of the original Crowther and Woods Adventure (when you die, you're resurrected, but your possessions are lost, etc.). A few bits of text pay humble tribute to Adventure (such as eating the food -- you're told that it's "pretty tasty food"). Most puzzles embody the characteristic cause-and-effect logic -- setting up conditions so a solution can occur -- but there's no veil of atmosphere or plot to conceal the fact that these are simple logic puzzles. Sprinkled throughout the game are a number of drop-an-object mazes. These are hard, no two ways about it. You'll have to make maps if you expect to get through them. Maze-haters will likely become fed up very quickly. But, considering that the game's date places it in the company of "Adventure" and the "Zork" Trilogy, I'm willing to let that slide. Despite these criticisms (which can largely be excused because the game is so old), I had a lot of fun with "Oo-Topos," and have scored it accordingly, breaking several rules of the SPAG rating system in an effort to keep it from being slighted. If you can appreciate the adventure game at its most primitive level, you'll enjoy "Oo-Topos." I felt a little thrill in watching the red disk-access LED on my Apple II light up, as I waited for the next location to be loaded into memory. "Oo-Topos" is a piece of I-F history, a nostalgic trip down memory lane, a perfectly preserved relic from an age of computer gaming whose mystical aura can only be recaptured by those of us who were there to watch the computer adventure grow up. FTP FileAppleII (.zip) FTP FileSolution (text)


From: Carolyn Magruder <carolynmagruder SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #39 -- January 7, 2005 TITLE: Order AUTHOR: John Evans EMAIL: jevans SP@G DATE: October 2004 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: VERSION: Release 0 (comp release) Score: 4 out of 10. The premise of "Order" is an interesting one. You are a spirit summoned from another place to help a group of wizards, properly armed with the power of creation. The introduction is strong, and the two NPCs are well-written and responsive when questioned. Most of the game is well-written, in fact, or I would have scored it significantly lower. I only wish the substance of the game stood up to the apparent skill in its writing. I found the game's puzzles to have three serious flaws, which I will attempt to address without spoiling anyone's enjoyment too severely by giving anything away. The first flaw: this game turned out to be an almost Diablo-esque killfest. Don't get me wrong; I enjoy Diablo rather a bit. Killing random monsters isn't generally what I'm looking for in interactive fiction, however, and, if killing them is required, I would like it to be a bit more complex than this. Not necessarily more difficult, but... more meaningful. I killed a monster, yay... so what? The second flaw: the one puzzle that is particularly complex relies upon scenery objects that, as far as I can tell, do not show up in the room description. I read the hint, and then I read the room description, and I looked around as much as I could. Without the hint's information, I could not find any way of determining that these rather significant objects even existed, and they would both have been rather difficult to miss if I were actually standing in that location in real life. The third flaw was an issue of mimesis. I eventually understood the real idea behind the PC from the context of the introduction, death, and success messaging, but I would *never* have tried some of the creation suggestions in the hint menu because they seemed so inappropriate to the game world. Instead of being further drawn into the game world, this knocked me for a spin. (One of the more appropriate suggestions in the hint list didn't actually work when I tried it, too. Phooey.) This game is also running under a time limit, and it didn't seem fair not to explicitly warn the player about the time limit in the beginning. I wanted to hang out and chat with the NPCs, after all, as the NPCs were the greatest strength of the game and far more interesting than the puzzles. I suppose it made sense for bad things to happen if I just stuck around chatting with NPCs, but perhaps the NPCs could have told me to hurry up or something? On a final note of disappointment, I had to play through the game twice to understand the ending. The name of one major NPC is sometimes given as the first and sometimes as the last, and failing to link the two confused me utterly. From: Valentine Kopteltsev <uux SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #39 -- January 7, 2005 Right off the bat, I'd like to apologize to Mr. Evans for this review sounding somewhat didactic -- it really isn't meant to. I'm quite aware that a) I lack the necessary achievements in IF authoring to teach others how to write games, and b) even if I had such accomplishments, playing IF coach without being asked to would be rather importunate on my part. What follows is by no means a lecture -- just my personal thoughts; I honestly hope I managed to express them in such a way nobody's feelings are hurt. However, if I didn't, please be lenient to me -- it's not my bad intentions, it's just my clumsy pen. Mr. Evans is a regular participant in the IF-Comp since 2000, and the more games by him I played, the stronger grew my impression that a redundancy of inspiration might sometimes be as much a problem as its scarcity. I mean, with such a vast amount of creativity longing to break free, it's really difficult not to give in to the temptation of expanding a work that's supposed to be a modest two-hour piece into something monumental. Once the author gives in, however, (s)he automatically finds him/herself facing a number of serious challenges, with his/her chances of doing well in the Comp dropping dramatically. For one thing, it's very likely most players won't be able to complete such a long game, and thus will rate it lower than it deserves. For the other, a large work generally requires a lot more efforts to maintain its consistency, to neatly resolve its story without any loose ends, and to sufficiently beta-test it than a small one, so that the author takes the risk of not getting these tasks done properly before the deadline for the Competition. Which (I mean, not getting the aforementioned tasks done), in its turn, will impair the game's overall quality. Well, I had the feeling that all Mr. Evans' entries in the previous IF-Comps fell victim to the problems described above. In 2000, there was Castle Amnos, conceived as an epic, yet not completed by the author and not completable by the player. A year after, Elements followed, which had a promising (and very stylish) beginning, but unfortunately became unbelievably obscure in respect to both puzzles and plot later on. Competition 2002 introduced Hell: A Comedy of Errors, a work possessing some really quirky and elegant features; however, it was hardly enjoyable as a game. Finally, the previous year brought up Domicile, a wild pile-up of essentially unrelated fantasy worlds that I hadn't got the guts to finish in spite of playing from the hints. This year, however, fetched positive changes. It seems that with Order, Mr. Evans has finally managed to restrain his own creative power, and to produce a game of an appropriate size for the Competition, which is quite playable (and winnable!) without a walkthrough. But the best news is, although the obscurity had to go (being replaced by sense of proportion), the nifty ideas stayed! Actually, there is one nifty idea behind this game, which, however, seems more than enough. You play a spirit who has been summoned by a bunch of wizards to protect their realm. Instead of giving you weapons, they endowed you with the power of creating various objects. In fact, the whole story spins around this special ability of the player character, and it must be said that this aspect of the game is implemented with great care. All puzzles have to be solved by creating appropriate objects; even better, most puzzles have got multiple solutions (where "multiple" often means not just "more than one" but "more than two" or even "more than three"). There are quite a number of various objects you can create (including several obscure ones, but since they're not required for winning, that's no problem at all). Of course, my morbid imagination also provided for lots of things that couldn't be created, but this is the case where I perfectly understand one can't have everything: even my aforementioned morbid imagination isn't enough to envision the size a game allowing the creation of ANY object existing in the world would have! If anything, I'd rather say there were too many objects I could create. What I mean is the following: Order has a fantasy setting -- and yet, I found that I was able (and at one point, it even was necessary for winning) to create things like rolls of duct tape and fire extinguishers. That'd be perfectly fine for, say, an Unnkulian game, but Order acted deadly serious for the most part, so that such objects just didn't fit into the scene. There was, however, a much more serious problem: it appears that the author was so thrilled by implementing the main gimmick he more or less neglected most other crucial game aspects. This neglect showed through, for instance, in the way most standard responses remained unchanged, no matter how inappropriate they were (in particular, the "X ME" default "As good-looking as ever" didn't seem like a suitable description for a spirit). Also, the setting was lacking (there are barely any scenery objects implemented; besides, the first four rooms I visited in the game had descriptions starting with "A small, bare room", "This is a long, low room", "This is a very large room", and "This is the west end of the large main hall"). But its most noticeable manifestation certainly was the characters. To make my point clear, I'd like to cite a short fragment of the game transcript, with text in square brackets representing my immediate reactions during playing. >N South Main Hall This is a long, low room. Fitted stone makes up the floor, walls and ceiling. The room widens to the north, and south of you is a doorway. Gray light filters in through windows to the north. A man stands near you, of late middle age; balding, with a long grayish beard. He wears a shapeless gray robe, and looks at you with distracted bright eyes. "I'm pleased you made it out of our test," he says. "Well, I had no doubt, of course. My name is Sevryd." He sighs. "Please, will you help us?" The elderly Sevryd stands here, immersed in arcane manipulations. >YES That was a rhetorical question. [Ehm... The guy probably wants to be addressed directly.] >SEVRYD, YES Sevryd has better things to do. [???] Still, ol' chap Sevryd is the most versatile character in the game: at least, you can ask him about a number of topics (although the scope of his knowledge leaves much to be desired). Others are even less inclined to communication; presumably they "can't leave their tasks to assist you", even after you master these tasks for them. A fellow who can't be killed because "he's a little busy right now" tops off this mob of dummies. Uhm, again, I'm not saying I didn't enjoy Order at all. It's still a decent game, despite all its faults. However, some more attention to "minor" aspects could make it A LOT better, and possibly turn it into a gem. Well, there's still hope for Mr. Evans' entry in the next IF-Comp. The SNATS (Score Not Affecting The Scoreboard): PLOT: Fairly generic, but not without an interesting twist (1.1) ATMOSPHERE: One of the "minor" aspects that didn't get sufficient attention (0.8) WRITING: Certainly not the strongest part of the game (0.9) GAMEPLAY: Relaxed puzzle-solving (1.2) BONUSES: The very idea of object creation plus cleverly implemented multiple solutions (1.6) TOTAL: 5.6 CHARACTERS: I know, "a mob of dummies" doesn't sound too nice, but it's the truth (0.6) PUZZLES: Smartly built around the PC's special ability (1.3) DIFFICULTY: Easy enough, although solving it is fun (5 out of 10) From: Dan Shiovitz <dans SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #39 -- January 7, 2005 Ah, John Evans. He exploded onto the IF scene with Castle Amnos, described by many as "an interesting fantasy game premise, but with some nasty bugs -- perhaps you should get some beta-testing." This was quickly followed with Elements and Hell: A Comedy of Errors, two games with interesting fantasy premises but in need of beta-testing and a fuller implementation. Last year he made a stunning break from tradition with Domicile, a game in need of beta-testing, though with an interesting fantasy premise, and finally, this year Evans presents Order, showing he has truly mastered the genre of games with interesting premises but that are, nevertheless, sadly in need of beta-testing. This one does have hints and is finishable, at least, even if major objects are lacking nouns mentioned in the room description. Anyway, Evans can't take a hint, so I guess the thing for me to do is give his games lower and lower scores each year from now on until I give up on them entirely. If you aren't feeling this jaded you may enjoy bits of Order. Then again, you may not. FTP FileDirectory with .z5 Zcode file and .png feelie

The Orion Agenda

From: Adam Myrow <amyrow SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #39 -- January 7, 2005 TITLE: The Orion Agenda AUTHOR: Ryan Weisenberger EMAIL: ryanwif SP@G DATE: September 2004 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF-archive freeware URL: VERSION: Release 9 (comp version) This was one of several games in this year's competition involving space travel of some kind. It was also the most well-polished game I've ever encountered from a first-time author. Sure, it isn't perfect, but it's far better than many competition entries from first-time authors. The story is told in an unusual way. It starts out in the present, with you, the PC, waking up in a hole. Then, it flashes back to the past to explain how you got there. The majority of the game is in this flashback, and the end of the flashback marks the start of the endgame. I've run across this technique in books a few times, and I've always thought it was a great way of getting the reader's curiosity. Last year, Atomic Heart tried something similar, but because of the many problems in the game, it didn't work for a lot of players. In this game, the technique works quite well in my opinion. As for what the story is, you have recently been promoted to Captain. Your first mission is to accompany your partner down to the planet Orion on an investigation. For some reason, communications with the monitoring station on the planet have been lost. Your job is to find out why. Of course, there is one important rule. This rule is that you must not under any circumstances contaminate the alien culture. This is the rule that Star Trek calls the Prime Directive, and apparently, this similarity bothered some people. It didn't bother me at all. Of course, your mission won't turn out to be as easy as you thought it would be. Otherwise, there wouldn't be much of a story. You must learn about the people of this alien world, and there are lots of puzzles to solve. The game does a fairly good job of blending story and puzzles. While some thought the story was a bit too predictable, I liked it because it's classic science fiction. Finding out what was going on and doing something about it was very rewarding indeed. There are several neat features in this game. First, it's one of those rare games where your actions have a long-term effect. To say much more would be a spoiler, but suffice it to say, how you treat other people is more important than it usually is in most IF. Another thing that sets this game apart from most others is the fact that it is written entirely in first-person. While this isn't a new idea, there isn't one single place that I could find where this first-person point of view is broken. Again, reactions to this were mixed among the judges. I don't have a problem with first-person, as long as it is done well, and for that, The Orion Agenda can't be faulted. Lastly, this game avoids many mistakes often made by novice authors. For example, the first time a room is entered, the PC may remark on it, and those remarks won't get repeated. Sometimes, room descriptions will change, and those changes will be entirely appropriate. The only things I found wrong with the game were a few grammar errors and clunky parsing. However, it's clear the game has been tested, and it will handle a lot of player input that many games won't. It was a strong first offering, and I hope to see more from this author. FTP File.z5 Zcode file (updated version) FTP File.z5 Zcode file (competition version)
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