SPAG
Game Reviews P

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

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

The email addresses used are those submitted with the review, so naturally some of them may be out of date.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


Table of Contents

Paint!!! Pantomime Pass the Banana The Windhall Chronicles I: Path To Fortune The Pawn Perdition's Flames Perilous Magic Persistence of Memory Phantom: Caverns of the Killer Phlegm Photograph Photopia Phred Phontious and the Quest for Pizza Pick Up the Phone Booth and Aisle Pick Up the Phone Booth and Dye Piece Of Mind Pirate Adventure The PK Girl Plague Planet The Plague (Redux) Planet Of The Infinite Minds Planetfall The Plant Plundered Hearts Poor Zefron's Almanac The Potter and the Mould Prized Possession Prodly The Puffin Promoted! Provenance Punkirita Quest One: Liquid Purple The Pyramids of Mars Pytho's Mask

Paint!!!

From: Laurence Moore <laurence SP@G turntopage.com> Review appeared in
SPAG #40 -- April 12, 2005 TITLE: Paint!!! AUTHOR: David Whyld EMAIL: me SP@G dwhyld.plus.com DATE: 2004 PARSER: Standard SUPPORTS: Adrift AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/adrift/Paint.taf VERSION: Release 1 Paint was originally intended for a one-room competition but that was aborted due to a lack of entries. In fact, only two games emerged: The Last Hour and Paint. You certainly couldn't find a bigger gap between the two. Initially, I thought that the one room concept would be impossible to work with (as a writer) and surely dull to play (as a player). Where is the fun in only describing events, characters and items in one room? Where is the fun in not being immersed in hundreds of locations? Well, To Hell In A Hamper, another one-room Adrift game, certainly showed the quality that can be produced in a one room adventure. With Paint, I feel there is a healthy second to such a benchmark classic. The premise of the story is typical of David Whyld material. If you're unfamiliar with his prolific work (and by prolific, I really do mean prolific, with 30 titles penned using Adrift) then you'll find the vein of comedy and silliness at its core. Personally, I don't really get comedy in IF. It takes quite a lot to raise a smile or even draw forward a laugh. So, for this game to have the money shot, it's definitely quite special. You are in charge of a crew of dozy painters who have to paint an office. Yep, that's it. Sounds simple, right? Of course not -- this is IF. As with other Whyld outings, we have an array of traditional text adventure puzzles from the sublime to the downright silly. This is tongue-in-cheek stuff and, unlike in some games, it really works here. I think that is because the initial scenario is plausible, credible and easy to imagine. It's madcap nonsense and all the better for it. From the start, and don't even try to pronounce your client's surname, I enjoyed having a nosy around the office, looking out the window and then telling my crew to snap to it with the work. All seemed sane until a meteor crashed through the roof...oh, yes, it's that kind of game. Interacting with your crew is vital in solving this game. They hold items you require and answers that you need. Other characters also pop in, including your client and a rather interesting female secretary. I won't give too much away but you'll encounter the meteor very quickly. From that point on it's one loony encounter after the other. I enjoyed the game. The witch doctor was my favourite encounter en route to completion. This is a tough game, but enjoyable, with enough clues -- some subtle, some less. I came across no bugs or parse errors. A fun outing! 8/10 Recommended. FTP FileADRIFT .taf file

Pantomine

From: Mike Snyder (wyndo SP@G prowler-pro.com) Review appeared in
SPAG #44 -- April 30, 2006 TITLE: Pantomime AUTHOR: Robb Sherwin EMAIL: beaver SP@G zombieworld.com DATE: March 31, 2006 PARSER: Hugo SUPPORTS: Any Hugo Interpreter or GLK Hugo AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: http://mirror.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/springthing/2006/pmime.hex VERSION: Release 1.00 In the early morning minutes of October 1st, 2005, a list of IFComp entries (at the official IFComp website) showed 50 or so potential games. As titles were knocked off the list (probably because the authors never completed and uploaded them), the list dwindled down to 36. For those of us online at the time, it was an interesting thing to watch. Among those original intents, though, was Robb Sherwin's Pantomime. Now released for Spring Thing 2006, it weighs in on the light side (considering the competition's focus on medium- to long-sized games). As an intended IFComp entry, this makes sense. From chatting with Robb at his Hugo forum, I know that it took much effort and some sleepless nights even to finish for the Spring Thing deadline. Even short and perhaps rushed, Pantomime is a solid game with an entertaining story. In Pantomime, you live on Phobos, currently a moon of Mars, but soon to break apart into an orbiting ring of debris. It's the last place anyone would choose to be, even before the crisis. It's a world where cloning is commonplace, robots named after Unix commands are a man's best friend, and being good at chess is cause for embarrassment. This is a vision of the near future. I've only played the beginning of one or two Robb Sherwin games prior to this. That's probably why my reactions bounced between "whoa. did he really say that?" and "wow. what's it going to be *next*?" Somehow, even if he's holding back, it doesn't *feel* that way. Aside from a few typos - probably the result of the hurried effort to meet the deadline - the writing is great. It flows better because it's more casual. It's not just *how* Sherwin writes - it's also *what* he writes: the insults between characters, the one-off jokes, the clever descriptions and bits of back-story. I usually cringe at coarse passages and lowbrow humor in a game, but that's part of what makes Pantomime so interesting. Sherwin seems to write it in a convincing, honest way. Pantomime is what an episode of Futurama might be, if the script came from Cartoon Network's Williams Street crew and it aired on HBO after hours. The little censor that lives inside Robb Sherwin's mind has a freedom not given most other IF authors, save maybe Adam Thornton. I mean, if a wacked-out robot needs to sport a cloned copy of a male porn star's money-maker, Sherwin will work it into the story. And it'll be *funny*. The game *is* meant to be funny. I think. It's sometimes tongue-in-cheek humor. It's *definitely* black humor, where the absurd and the macabre come together. It might be an allegory for some of today's issues, but if so, I didn't really get that. More likely, it's just a strange but fascinating story. The puzzles aren't difficult (generally just a matter of figuring out what action to take to move things along), and inventory is almost non-existent. antomime is very story-driven. The most difficult bit may have been passing the spiked gate, but even that obstacle yields to some creative but simple reasoning (okay, okay - I solved it by blind luck and experimentation, but it made sense afterwards). Even the second-to-last confrontation doesn't require anything more complicated than following instructions and listening to the bad guy's diatribe. This should be particularly appealing to anyone who prefers IF to be more *fiction* than *game*. A few minor bugs remain in the competition release. They range from typos to an odd exit back to Kangaroo's Club - nothing game-killing. This seems to happen more toward the end. What's most likely to work against Pantomime, though, is that it doesn't seem long enough for a Spring Thing game. It also glosses over the additional detail in most places, when it comes to interacting with (even if only to "look at") scenery objects. Knowing Hugo, I think this could be fixed easily, even without real objects. Just add an "extra_scenery" property to each room, with lists of keywords that will cause a different reference message. It means the difference between something "not there" when it really is, and simply being "unimportant". A few plot points left me confused. Who sent me the vial? What was the purpose of the seemingly unnecessary gate code? And how drunk was Sherwin when he came up with the interaction that helps the PC escape the airlock? Other than that, everything is wrapped up tidily at the end, where a couple of fitting plot twists are thrown in. I enjoyed Pantomime, and I recommend it - especially if an update comes after the competition. Without hints, I finished in two and a half hours (plus some re-play of select earlier bits). It's definitely a game that wouldn't have been out of place in the annual IFComp, but even snack-sized by Spring Thing standards, it's a worthy entry. My Spring Thing score: "7" Hugo game file

Pass The Banana

From: Mike Roberts <mjr_ SP@G hotmail.com> Review appeared in
SPAG #19 -- January 14, 2000 TITLE: Pass The Banana AUTHOR: Admiral Jota E-MAIL: jota SP@G tiac.net DATE: 1999 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition99/inform/banana/banana.z5 VERSION: Release 1 This disturbing study of a descent into madness is at once shocking and sublime. Yes, the symbolism is all here: candles in a dark-paneled room, a stage representing the subconscious mind with its flickering and fragile consciousness surrounded by the dark sea of the subconscious; the empty trophy case juxtaposed with the full junk closet, a devastating portrait of lost hope and failed dreams; a flaming skull alluding to nothing so much as Death caught in an inferno of alienation pervading modern civilization and ultimately consuming it; a monkey, a non-human animal so human in form as to mock our very identity as human, symbolic of our animal needs and the animal lurking, always lurking just beneath the surface of our rational facades; a robot, a machine in human form, the ultimate symbol of our dehumanization at the hands of our own cleverness; the plentiful seating, symbolizing man's inhumanity to his fellow man; and, of course, the banana, so strident in its symbolism that it paradoxically becomes subtle, like an angry couple at the supermarket whose loud, pointless bickering we try to pretend not to see. But even such powerful symbolism would be empty without narrative, of which we find more than we can handle. We pass a banana, tentatively at first, experimenting: to the monkey, perhaps, or to the robot? And what about the flaming head? Soon we build confidence, just as the hero in the prototypical mythological framework gains confidence from early tests, and start passing bananas more aggressively. Before we know it we are in a banana-passing frenzy - bananas everywhere, coming, going, faster than we can keep track of, just as we lose track of things in our daily lives: this banana an overdue bill, this one a friend we've lost touch with, this one the wreckage of a marriage. And then it stops, suddenly, and we find to our shock that we have no more bananas - but, in a bitter indictment of western society's glorification of hoarded wealth, this is how we win: just as the Japanese gardener considers her garden complete only when she has removed everything that she can remove, this game is not complete until we have no more bananas. Other games in this year's competition might have more plot, more puzzles, or more elaborate settings, but none have more bananas. Score: 2 (there's nothing to it, but what's there works) FTP FileDirectory with Inform .z5 file and walkthrough

The Path to Fortune

From: Stephen Granade <sgranade SP@G phy.duke.edu> Review appeared in
SPAG #9 -- June 11, 1996 NAME: The Windhall Chronicles I: Path To Fortune PARSER: Inform's usual AUTHOR: Jeff Cassidy and C.E. Forman PLOT: Spacious EMAIL: ceforman SP@G worldnet.att.net ATMOSPHERE: Well done AVAILABILITY: Shareware, IF Archive WRITING: Slightly uneven PUZZLES: From enjoyable to illogical SUPPORTS: Inform Ports CHARACTERS: Static DIFFICULTY: Medium+ Path to Fortune (PTF) is the first in the Windhall Chronicles series. In it, you play Aerin, "a simple blacksmith's apprentice, nothing more." However, by a bizarre bit of reasoning on your village's part, you are chosen to save the village from taxation without representation by finding the treasure horde of Kirizith, a huge dragon. The game begins with most of the world available for exploration, and the world is large and complex. There are many places to explore and many puzzles to attempt, which helps if you are stumped by one particular puzzle. It would have been nice had the game not shown its whole hand at the beginning; additional areas which you can explore only after solving a puzzle hold my interest more than being able to visit (almost) everywhere at the beginning. There were only three areas I couldn't visit without solving a puzzle, and all three involved at most two rooms. After enough tromping about Windhall, I was ready for something new to explore. Of course, "enough" is a relative term--as large as Windhall is, it took a long time before I was familiar with it. The open design of PTF weakened its plot somewhat. At times I felt as if I were slogging through endless puzzles, marking time until I could find the dragon. If you ask Denvil the elf about the fish dinner he wants you to supply, he says something to the effect that it is just one of those sub-plots adventurers are always fulfilling. A lot of the game felt like that--sub-plots I had to finish in order to get to the dragon. More direction towards the end goal was needed. The initial puzzles' difficulty range from fairly easy to slightly more difficult. However, as time went on, I found the puzzles becoming more and more illogical, possibly due to my solving the logical ones early on. The puzzle involving a werewolf and ogre locked in battle struck me as completely unmotivated, even after I was helped by someone who had already finished the game. Too often I had to resort to the brute force approach of trying every object out on every other object; I would have much rather reasoned how to solve the puzzles. The main strengths of the game, its size and number of NPCs, are also its main weaknesses. Due to the size of the game and the number of NPCs, it felt as if none of the NPCs were fully realized. The NPCs reacted to a large number of questions, but all were of the "ask xxx about yyy" category. None of the NPCs had a life of their own. Every day Baezil cursed over his unlit stove; every day Mielon and Idah stayed in their house. There are an ogre and werewolf who are fighting to the death, day in and day out, for as long as you are willing to watch. The NPCs could have been improved by having motivations of their own. I enjoyed playing PTF immensely, the above nitpicks notwithstanding. The game is an excellent addition to the growing pantheon of Inform games, and well worth the time spent. I look forward to seeing the next installment in the series. FTP FileInform File (.z8) FTP FileStepwise solution (Text)

The Pawn

From: Yuzo Takada a.k.a. Dark Fiber <entropy SP@G mpx.com.au> Review appeared in
SPAG #12 -- December 13, 1997 NAME: The Pawn AUTHOR: Magnetic Scrolls DATE: Mid-80's? SUPPORTS: See review of Fish! AVAILABILITY: Commercial (see above) Ahhh, Magnetic Scrolls first illustrated text adventure and, like Infocom's first official game Zork, is just about as famous unless you lived in America in the the late 1980's of course, which is a pity. The story: you have been bushwacked on the way home from shopping at the supermarket and you wake to find yourself in the land of Kerovnia. Things aren't all gold and cheese in the land of Kerovnia though, and you find out why later. The game starts off by not telling you what you are supposed to do, and you only find this out by talking to everyone you meet. The characters you get to meet are a colourful bunch, Jerry Lee Lewis (yes, yes, the one and only), Kronos the Wizard, a horse with no legs, Honest John and a bloody irritable princess. The parser is quite good but has its niggles. Especially in reference to English and some objects. The most noticable bug is the "white" one: you have in your inventory "you are carriny a white" which turns out to be a white light. Kinda dodgy and should have been picked up in bug testing. The puzzles are very crafty and logical. Hands up those of you who got stuck trying to move the boulder! FTP FileSolution (Text) FTP File"A Tale of Kerovnia" novella from packaging (.pdf)

Perdition's Flames

From: Joe Barlow <jbarlow SP@G ipass.net> Review appeared in
SPAG #11 -- September 16, 1997 NAME: Perdition's Flames AUTHOR: Michael Roberts DATE: 1993 PARSER: TADS SUPPORTS: TADS ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/tads/flames.zip ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/source/tads/flames_src.zip { This review was previously published in _Intelligent Gamer_, which explains the slightly different format. It is included here with the author's permission. -- MO } A couple of things about this review: please remember that it was written in 1994, before I knew anything about TADS [the Text Adventure Development System], which was used to create the game. I touted a couple of the features in PF as being very unique, such as the ability to dump a transcript of the game to a text file. Of course, that's a standard feature of all TADS games, but I didn't know it at the time. Also, at the time I reviewed it, the game was still commercial. Obviously, the comments about the game's copy-protection and all of the game's "included goodies" don't apply to the freeware version. I am leaving them in the review, however, because the final rating the game received was due in part to its extensive Infocom-like packaging. Even without it, though, this game is well worth a look, especially for FREE! "I'm too young to die...." It has been said that man's greatest journey is the one he makes at death, and with good reason. People have always been fascinated by what lies beyond our "mortal" world, and the book and film market have been quick to capitalize on this interest. Even the computer gaming industry has explored the concept, much to the delight and surprise of many gamers. More than one recent game has allowed players to explore the afterlife, including Sierra's King's Quest 6: Heir Today Gone Tomorrow, which offered would-be adventurers the chance to see the Realm of the Dead, complete with eerie background music and frightening graphics. Now, California-based software publisher High Energy has taken a look at the afterlife (with tongue firmly in-cheek,) and death will never be the same again. Let's face it: any game which opens with the message "*** You have died ***" can't be all bad! Quite the contrary, in fact: Perdition's Flames is a marvelous adventure game, and the best way I've yet found to explore Hell without leaving the comfort of my own home. As the game begins, the player's soul is drifting down a river on a yacht, along with several other newly deceased people. The player is free to wander around the ship, have a few drinks at the bar, chat with the crew, or just enjoy the scenery. This opening sequence is a fantastic way of familiarizing yourself with the "feel" of the game. Wander around and enjoy the atmosphere. Get used to being dead. You'll find out that it's not terribly different from the life you're used to. (Hmmmm. I wonder if that's significant.) After a short while, the ship will arrive at a dock leading to the Hell mainland. Once you leave the ship, you'll find yourself in the merry land of Hell, which is quite a bit different than most of us have been led to believe. If the player wishes, he or she may attend a welcoming seminar, during which various other new arrivals will ask some hilarious "newbie" questions, and receive answers from the Hell Welcoming Committee. From the seminar, the player learns that Hell has decided to update its image. Gone is the "Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter" sign that used to hang atop the main gate. Gone is the eternity of damnation and suffering that every church preacher in the history of the world has shouted and sweated about in his sermons. Now, Hell is just like any other nice place to live, with shopping malls, suburbs, and a Department of Motor Vehicles. (Somehow, we all knew that Hell would have one of these, didn't we?) What if a soul is uncomfortable in Hell? No problem! People are able to freely go back and forth between Heaven and Hell, staying as long as they like in either place. Transportation to and from Heaven is accomplished via an enormous elevator in the middle of town, provided one has a ticket. Just think of it as Sim-Hell... Perdition's Flames (PF) features incredibly detailed descriptions of rooms and objects. Its text-only interface recalls the greatness of Infocom (a software publisher from the late 1970s-late 1980s who wrote many text- only adventure games), without resorting to some of the shortcomings that were typical of even this mighty software giant. For starters, PF is "100% Certified Maze-Free!" For folks like me who still occasionally wake up screaming in the middle of the night because of Zork III's Royal Puzzle, this is a heaven-sent (no pun intended) gift. True questers will also be relieved to learn that it's quite impossible to get yourself in a position from which it's no longer possible to win. This was my only real gripe with Infocom's games: all too often, if you didn't do something trivial way back at the beginning of the game, you were unable to solve a puzzle much later in your quest. (The cheese sandwich puzzle from Hitchhiker's Guide comes to mind.) Hell on Wheels Moving around Hell is easy: the player simply types in which way he or she wants to go: "Go north," for example. More complicated sentences are also allowed: the player may type something along the lines of "Go north. Open the door then take the shiny gold coin." Players can keep track of the items they are carrying with the standard "inventory" command. One of the more unique features PF has that many other games do not is the ability to dump a transcript of the game in progress to a text file. Infocom's classics allowed transcripts to be dumped to a printer, so the tradeoff is a fair one. Even some of Infocom's more obscure commands like VERBOSE (turn on long descrip- tions) are present (and welcome) in PF. All in all, this game is something I wouldn't be surprised to find on a hypothetical Lost Treasures of Infocom Volume 3. Is it hot in here, or is it just me? What makes PF stand out above the countless other text games currently on the market is its wonderful sense of humor. The game makes some truly awful puns, pokes fun at everyone's notion of what Hell is "supposed" to be, and generally keeps you looking forward to coming back to Hell every time you have to leave the computer. If the player should find a pitchfork in a barn, for example, the game mocks: "Now if you only had horns and a tail, you'd own this place!" During your welcoming seminar, the player discovers that it is unwise to try and sue anyone in Hell because the Hell Judicial System is based on the one in the United States, and it will take an eternity (literally) for cases to come to trial. And hearing the woman in front of you answer questions in the Celestial Security Office will make you laugh out loud, in the style of Douglas Adams' Bureaucracy. PF was written using TADS (Text Adventure Development System), a programming tool also published by High Energy. TADS allows users to write games that are of Infocom quality, and, if PF is any indication, they ain't just whistling "Dixie" with this claim. "I may be going to Hell in a bucket, baby... but at least I'm enjoying the ride." - Grateful Dead PF's elaborate packaging is another way in which the folks at High Energy software have summoned the ghosts of Infocom. PF comes with a handsome map, a detailed, well-written manual, a hint book, a reference card, and "The Official Tourist Guide to Hell," an illustrated, side-splitting pamphlet that contains the game's copy-protection, in addition to many amusing items of interest. Let's talk about the quality of the game's prose. Although comparisons with Infocom are unavoidable when reviewing text adventures, the prose of PF is elegant, often funny and immensely enjoyable, equaling (and in some cases, even surpassing) many of Infocom's works. (It easily beats out the Zork trilogy, for instance, and is on par with Deadline or even A Mind Forever Voyaging in terms of the quality, if not intensity, of its writing.) I loved the non-linear nature of the game. Although by neccessity certain puzzles have to be solved before other puzzles can be reached, the game is tremendously flexible. You truly feel like you are PLAYING the game, rather than being sent to Location A to get Object B to take to Location C to exchange it for Object D, etc. (Indeed, this free-style type of play is neccessary, since the game's goal is not revealed to you until quite late in the adventure.) Finally, I enjoyed the difficult *BUT STILL LOGICAL* nature of many of the puzzles. While many Infocom games had brain-twisting challenges, the solutions were occasionally not very logical at all (I'm thinking particularly of the two Douglas Adams games here). There are two great head-scratchers that particularly stand out in Perdition's Flames: the Haunted House/Ring puzzle and the Lion-Headed Statue puzzle. These are two of the best puzzles I have ever seen in ANY interactive-fiction game, in both implementation and originality. Both of these obstacles were *very* difficult to solve, but in the end the solutions made sense, and I felt a sense of accomplishment after conquering them. System requirements for the game are tough to reveal: the review copy INTELLIGENT GAMER received from Michael Roberts (the author of the game) didn't list them, but they seem to be just about as minimal as you could expect. The program uses a swap file to run on machines with small amounts of memory, and a hard drive is recommended. The program ran equally well on my 286/12 and my 486/50. RATING: 9.5 out of 10. Perdition's Flames is an incredibly entertaining game with an original premise, and would be a bargain at twice the price. Fans of text adventure games will not want to miss this one. If, however, you don't think you'll be able to see past its lack of graphics, you should probably look elsewhere. FTP FileTADS .gam file and associated files (.zip) FTP FileTADS Source code (.zip) FTP FileStepwise solution (Text)

Perilous Magic

From: Francesco Bova <fbova SP@G pangea.ca> Review appeared in
SPAG #20 -- March 15, 2000 NAME: Perilous Magic AUTHOR: David Fillmore EMAIL: Noslwop SP@G Hotmail.Com DATE: June, 1999 ???? PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-code (Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/zcode/permagic.z5 3 rooms, 2 characters, 8 tangible objects, and 1 joke; that's all that there is to David Fillmore's 1999 offering Perilous Magic. Perilous Magic is one of a growing number of 'bite-sized' pieces of non-COMP IF that have become quite popular over the last year. 'Bite-sized' IF is interesting in that there's usually one convention that's being pushed or one joke that's being promoted and the games are typically finishable in a few minutes. Often, these smaller games are a nice break away from the bigger pieces out there that can seem more laborious than fun to finish. Perilous Magic takes place in the Zork/Enchanter universe and is entirely built around a historical reference from the accompanying material in the Infocom game Enchanter. The game actually reminded me a bit of the film Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, where the story of Hamlet is told from the confused perspective of the aforementioned bit players. With Perilous Magic, we look at a bit of Zorkian history -- specifically the misuse of a spell resulting in disaster -- through the eyes of the person who caused the disaster. The puzzles are straight forward and the goal easy to attain. The end result is amusing but alas, even for 'bite-sized' IF, the game is a little too sparse with many interesting options left untouched. Most of the problems revolve around not putting enough effort into coding objects. As I'd mentioned previously, there are roughly 8 tangible objects in this game. 2 of these objects are Enchanter-like spell scrolls that are implemented using Graham Nelson's source code for Balances. One of the spells is a stand-alone spell that can't be cast on anything while the other spell can be cast on objects and people with interesting effects. You can imagine my chagrin then, when I started getting the dreaded non-default response, 'The spell fades and fizzles' when I cast the spell on objects that were part of the game's scenery. Considering the scope of Perilous Magic, it left me wondering whether it would really have taken much more energy to implement a few creative results. There were similar problems with the game producing too many default messages for actions that should have had less than ordinary responses. This was especially true in areas where I felt a good snarky comeback would have been easy to come up with. I realize it's tough to come up with good non-default responses for everything, but we're not talking about a game the size of Jigsaw here. We're talking about 8 objects, and 1 NPC. Spells should never fade and fizzle in this universe and towering stacks of paper, precariously positioned on the corner of your desk should not be hardly movable when pushed. I know a few of you readers are probably asking why I'm being so tough on Perilous Magic for its poorly 'padded' objects when it was obviously intended to be nothing more than a small diversion and considering the fact that a lot of smaller games are conceived of, programmed, and released all in the span of an hour or two, and in those cases polish isn't particularly important (take Speed IF for example). Well consider this oddity: If you download the latest version of Perilous Magic, you'll find that you've download version 10 (yes, 10) of the game. How is it a game the size of Perilous Magic has been updated 10 times while larger games like The Mulldoon Legacy and Enemies only need 3 or 4 releases? The point is that after 10 updates of a 3-room game, I expect to see non-defaults for every action I can think of let alone the obvious ones. If I try to squeeze my desk, jump over my co-worker, or kiss my report something interesting had better happen in every instance! Hmmm... that's going a little overboard (well actually more than a little...), but I think you catch my drift. Non-default problems aside, Fillmore seems to have promise as an author because of his good sense of humor. In fact, Perilous Magic's INFO section (much like in his '99 IFCOMP release) is as memorable as the game because of it. Fillmore also seems to grasp the basics of programming Inform well enough and even pulls a few neat tricks straight out of the Inform manual including a little Microsoft Windows sound that goes off when you get points (at least I heard them using Winfrotz). Still, quirky sounds, a good INFO section, and flashy quotes can't disguise the fact that their isn't much flesh on this skeleton and it all left me wondering what might have been had Fillmore focused his attention more on the game and less on the bells and whistles. When you reference your IF heavily to the Zork/Enchanter series there will always be comparisons drawn. The question is then, does Perilous Magic successfully qualify as a new chapter in the wonderful Zork/Enchanter anthology (like perhaps Nate Cull's game Frobozz Magic Support)? Nah, it's more like an extension to an existing footnote, but probably still worth the download if you have five minutes to kill. From: Duncan Stevens <dnrb SP@G starpower.net> Review appeared in SPAG #21 -- June 15, 2000 How great an influence do the games of Infocom still have on today's IF? Hard to say, but there must be some presence there if an offhand remark in one of Infocom's manuals can turn into a game in its own right, as is the case with David Fillmore's Perilous Magic. The joke in question was a reference to a great fire--which, the manual said, was caused by some bureaucrat meaning to cast the ZEMDOR spell ("turn original into triplicate") but slipping up and casting the ZIMBOR spell ("turn one really big city into lots of tiny, little ashes"). It's a cute joke, and as long as you know the source, Perilous Magic is a cute game. There isn't a lot more to it than that: you end up causing the spell switch, and the whole thing's over in 15 moves. It's not flawless--it's possible to render the main puzzle unsolvable by doing things in the wrong order-- but there's not much wrong with it, either. The main appeal of the game is in the humor: there are Infocom references sprinkled here and there, and the wonder-what-happens-if-I-try-this results are suitably amusing. There isn't really enough here to call this a full-blown homage, but it's enough to capture the feel. Perilous Magic is a short but reasonably entertaining effort that suggests that IF authors and players have ridiculously good memories for throwaway jokes in manuals published in 1984. As a game, it's nothing special, but it's not a bad way to spend five minutes. FTP FileInform .z5 file FTP FileInform source code

Persistence of Memory

From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G merle.acns.nwu.edu> Review appeared in
SPAG #17 -- May 10, 1999 NAME: Persistence of Memory AUTHOR: Jason Dyer E-MAIL: jdyer SP@G u.arizona.edu DATE: 1998 PARSER: Hugo SUPPORTS: Hugo interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition98/hugo/memory VERSION: Release 1.0 I can count the amount of works of IF set in wartime--that I know of, at least--on one hand, and I wouldn't even need all of that hand. There have been spy-thrillers that drew on Cold War assumptions, but Once and Future is the only work to be set even partly on a battlefield, other than Persistence of Memory. It's not obvious why; after all, latter-day IF authors appear to be fond of grim, bizarre, chaotic situations, and not many things fit that description better than war. Persistence of Memory is an interesting spin on war IF, though an extremely brief one, as well as yet another in a large collection of one-location games in the 1998 competition. The premise: you're a soldier in a nameless war against a nameless enemy, stuck in a field with one leg on a land mine, with a malfunctioning radio. Unlike some other one-location games, the puzzles are not available at the outset for you to find; rather, they come to you, one by one, and you have a limited time to deal with each one. The experience is consequently rather limiting; the game attempts to make you feel powerless, and it does that quite well, with the exception of one puzzle solution that breaks the "powerless" feel somewhat (though there's a good reason for it). Among the obvious ironies of the game is that the protagonist is forced to depend on the inhabitants of the country he has been happily destroying, but the game doesn't do as much as it might have with that idea. Indeed, it's hard to say what Persistence of Memory is about, other than the superficial plot. If your encounters with the natives are supposed to be cathartic, or cause you to Rethink This Whole War Thing, the text provides only oblique hints to that effect. One message is that failure to communicate causes waste and destruction, a point well made, but is that the point of the story? It's hard to tell. Perhaps it's merely that certain experiences humanize an otherwise faceless enemy--not all that groundbreaking an idea, but then again just about any thoughts on war in the IF medium are new, as noted. Whatever the underlying message, the story works well; the game changes your motivations and thoughts effectively over its course, from "getting off this land mine" to more complex goals not necessarily centered on survival. Or, alternately, one could view your motivations as still focused on personal survival even as you realize the consequences of war upon the villagers, and your internal conflicts are a product of your guilt. Persistence of Memory is susceptible to a wide variety of interpretations; it is to the author's credit that he doesn't fill in many of the blanks. The scene is vividly described: one particularly well-done aspect involves the various physical discomforts you encounter over the course of the day, stuck in your awkward position, developing cramps and soreness and becoming more and more thirsty. (On the other hand, the game doesn't make as much as it might of your psychological discomfort.) The puzzles themselves aren't particularly hard; most of the solutions are fairly obvious. There are no multiple solutions. Indeed, it is almost impossible to deviate at all from the main narrative path and still complete the game, meaning that there is no replayability here. That's not a major drawback, given the nature of the story--the goal is less to challenge the player than to present some ideas--but the small size of the game makes it likely that, just when the player is settling into the character and the setting, the game ends, and there really isn't much incentive to go back and try again. (The message of this game and of Photopia, for me at least: if you want us to care about characters, make us spend significant amounts of time with them.) To the extent this game works, then, it does as thought experiment or as a statement about the nature of war; no one should play it for the puzzles. That's not, of course, a bad thing. But, as with Photopia, it isn't entirely clear that this story _needed_ to be set in the IF medium to be effective; this one has somewhat more claim to interactivity than does Photopia, since there _are_ problems to solve, but it does lay a rather linear path. The one-room aspect reinforces that; more so than in the other '98 one-room entries, the premise is a limitation, a confinement, and you the player do actually feel confined. That sense of limitation pervades the game and constrains the available experience considerably. The Hugo game engine is up to the task, though the task, technically, isn't all that much. The game does handle one action not easily translated into IF-speak quite well, though, accepting a wide variety of syntaxes and synonyms. Moreover, the WAIT command is altered for the occasion: time passes until something of note happens, rather than 1 or 3 or 10 turns. This proves very handy, though the player might find the game unspeakably boring if he or she does not realize that the action comes to the character, rather than the character producing the action. This and other functions are handled quite well; the hint system is minimally necessary but thorough nonetheless. Persistence of Memory does, I think, what it was trying to do: it's a short piece of IF set in wartime that raises complex questions of a soldier's personal responsibility and the needless loss wrought by war. It does all that reasonably well, enough so to merit a 7; it doesn't, unfortunately, work quite as well as a game. From: Paul O'Brian <obrian SP@G colorado.edu> Review appeared in SPAG #17 -- May 10, 1999 NOTE: Because of the nature of Persistence of Memory, it's difficult to talk about it without revealing a key secret. Therefore, be warned that any and all of the following review could be considered a spoiler. Memory is a new twist on the one-room game. The setting is war; could be Korea, could be Vietnam, but it's never really specified, and it doesn't really matter. It's a war in a foreign land, with villages, dense foliage, helicopters, rifles, and land mines. Especially land mines. In the first move of the game, you step on one, and realize that if you remove your weight from it, it will explode. Thus the potential paths which the game appears to have at its outset are reduced to one: wait. This restriction of freedom is a recurring theme in Memory. In incident after incident, the scope of action contracts until it becomes clear that there is only one action which will lead to your survival. Sometimes these actions are rather horrifying, but the game demands them if you wish to finish. I have mixed feelings about this kind of forcible plotting. On the one hand, it makes for an extremely linear game, and it curtails interactivity quite dramatically. This obstruction seems to fly in the face of the conventional wisdom about IF -- it violates one of the Players' Rights in Graham Nelson's Craft of Adventure: "To have reasonable freedom of action." In Nelson's words, "After a while the player begins to feel that the designer has tied him to a chair in order to shout the plot at him." On the other hand, I also think that interactive fiction can be a very good medium for conveying a sense of futility or entrapment. Because IF by its nature seems to require at least to a certain degree freedom of movement and action, and because it also creates a sense of immersion in the story's world, when a piece of IF chooses to violate that perceived requirement the player's sense of identification with the trapped character can be very strong indeed. Something about the frustration of having so few actions available to me which would not result in death made the equation of my situation with the character's feel more intense than it would have were I just reading a story about this character. Because of the game's premise, you don't seek out the puzzles; the puzzles come to you. And each puzzle must be solved if the character is to survive. Luckily, all of the puzzles make sense and have intuitive solutions, though in some of them it's not clear what the deadly moment is until it arrives, and sometimes I found myself resorting to a save-and-restore strategy in order to defeat a puzzle's time limit. I don't think I could have solved the game straight through, because some puzzles had rather unexpected and uncomfortable solutions. This is where I found myself ill at ease with the game's lack of interactivity -- there's a fine line between identifying with a trapped character versus simply feeling trapped into an action because the designer allows you no other choice, even though more options might have been available in reality. It's hard to explain without revealing more spoilers than I already have, but some pieces of the plot felt rather forced, as though only one solution was provided because only that solution would create the game scenario desired by the designer. However, the choices worked in the end, and I found I only needed to look at the hints once, and in retrospect I think I probably could have avoided that had I spent more time on the puzzle that was stumping me. The writing could get a little histrionic at times. Some descriptions tiptoed along the line between what works and what doesn't. For example, the mud around your feet is described as "torpid", a word which usually refers to a sluggish mental state. I suppose the mud's thickness and viscosity could be compared to slow mental processes, but it's a stretch. There weren't too many moments like this -- for the most part the prose did a fine job of conveying the situation, and in fact sometimes was quite good indeed. The description of the hairs rising on the back of your neck as you try to conceal yourself from enemy soldiers was chilling and engrossing. I found no technical errors in the writing, nor in the code. Overall, Memory does a very good job with an unusual choice of subject matter, and when it was over I felt not triumph, but relief. I suspect this is what the game intended. Rating: 8.3 FTP FileHUGO file (.hex) (updated version) FTP FileHUGO file (.hex) (competition version)

Phantom: Caverns of the Killer

From: Valentine Kopteltsev <uux SP@G mail.ru> Review appeared in
SPAG #43 -- January 7, 2006 NAME: Phantom: caverns of the killer AUTHOR: Brandon Coker EMAIL: grimslade1135 SP@G yahoo.com DATE: 2005 PARSER: Inform AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: http://ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2005/zcode/ phantom/Phantom.z5 An example of an unsuccessful attempt at the genre. You play an archeologist trying to find the burial place of a legendary Egyptian warrior. Most of the game, you just wander around, collecting artifacts for non-obvious purposes. I expected them to become more clear later, but in vain -- said artifacts didn't affect the outcome of the story in any way, only reflecting themselves in the number of points I received. Although the author demonstrated intentions to inject atmosphere into his work, and to sorta build up tension towards the finale, the results turned out to be pretty pathetic. To a no small degree, this was the fault of the writing, and the many spelling mistakes. Phantom failed entirely as a representative of the horror genre, and hardly won any points back even as a puzzlefest. Most of its puzzles could be subdivided into two categories: (fairly generic) mazes (there were three of them), and "choose the right option or die". It seems the author invested a lot of work into making up intricate clues for the second ones, and believed them to be fairly challenging. However, he overlooked the fact they could be solved by brute force (pick option -- die -- undo -- pick another option -- repeat until solved). I don't want to offend anybody, but, speaking in F1 terms, this is the Minardi of our today's race. SNATS (Score Not Affecting The Scoreboard): PLOT: Generic (0.5) ATMOSPHERE: The author did his best to maintain it, but failed (0.5) WRITING: Clumsy and full of spelling mistakes (0.3) GAMEPLAY: Pointless treasure hunt (0.6) BONUSES: None I could think of (0.0) TOTAL: 1.9 CHARACTERS: None PUZZLES: Rather unoriginal (0.2) DIFFICULTY: Nearly trivial (3 out of 10) COMP SCORE: 3 COMMENTS: OK, I encountered a few games (even) worse than Phantom, and thus had to set it off a bit. Besides, the author's intentions clearly were good, his work didn't take too much of my time, and wasn't meant to annoy me -- all that was worth an incentive in the form of an additional point. Wasn't it. Zcode executable (.z5) Walkthrough

Phlegm

From: Christopher E. Forman <ceforman SP@G worldnet.att.net> Review appeared in
SPAG #10 -- February 4, 1997 NAME: Phlegm AUTHOR: Jason Dyer EMAIL: jdyer SP@G u.arizona.edu DATE: October 1996 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Inform Ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition96/phlegm VERSION: Version 1.0 Ever wanted to see "Space Aliens Laughed at My Cardigan" on the Z-machine? Here it is. Enjoy. The scary part is that the author seems to know what he (she? it? none of the above?) is doing -- the writing is for the most part gramatically correct and game is not as buggy as "Cardigan," with the exception of some screwed-up directions and incomplete direction lists, which almost appear to be intentional. It's every bit as incongruous as the great Andre M. Boyle's work, though. One minute you're in Ancient Mayan Ruins, the next at the End of the World. Add a series of blatant, gratuitous rip-offs (the needle in the haystack from "Nord and Bert," the llama food and Restaurant at the End of the Universe from Douglas Adams' works) that don't fit in at all, and some thoroughly motivationless, illogical puzzles -- I'm guessing that NO ONE figured out how to use Leo the lemming to scare away the moose worshippers, right? -- and you've got a great contender for absolute rock-bottom last place. Perhaps "Phlegm" was intended as a satire of the likes of "Cardigan" and "Detective"? If so, it ultimately fails because there is no discernable difference between the parody and the parodied. Good for a number of cheap laughs (particularly Leo), but unlike "Kissing the Buddha's Feet," few of them are genuine. The title itself is also misleading - I found no phlegm anywhere in the game. The author must have forseen all these problems. His/her/its/whatever's name is left off the credits. Wise choice, friend. FTP FileInform file (.z5) (updated version) FTP FileInform file (.z5) (competition version) FTP FileInform source code

Photograph

From: Suzanne Britton <tril SP@G igs.net> Review appeared in
SPAG #31 -- January 3, 2003 TITLE: Photograph AUTHOR: Steve Evans EMAIL: trout SP@G netspace.net.au DATE: September 2002 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2002/zcode/photo/photo.z5 VERSION: Release 1 "Photograph" is a vivid, professionally well-written and competently programmed work. It is story-based and nearly puzzleless, but manages to carry the player through the plot at a comfortable pace, without dissolving into the tedium that sometimes characterizes pure-story IF. There are things to do, problems to solve, and each project serves to drive the plot. Occasionally, though, the prodding feels a little too blatant, as if the player is being bounced from point to point (need to eat, need to sleep, etc.) with bits of story in between. "Photograph" is a rather dark character study, reminding one of "Rameses" from two years ago. It is the story of a man who fixates on a single "wrong turn" in his past, only to find, in the end, that the hollowness within him runs deeper than he knew. What most raises "Photograph" above the ordinary is the rich symbolism with which it embellishes this tale, particularly the use of Egyptian mythology. It skates the thin line between over-blatant and over-obscure, occasionally erring towards the former, but usually just right. One is left with a host of questions and intriguing ideas, especially regarding the parallel between the Akhnaten dream and the fate of the protagonist (a parallel reinforced throughout the story by subtle and not-so-subtle means). Akhnaten stands on the shore, awaiting the boat which will take him to the afterlife. Belatedly, he wonders if it was wise to reject the Egyptian pantheon in favor of Aten. But then he reaches under his robe and finds a cavity where his heart should be. This "doesn't auger well for [his] meeting with Osiris (the weigher of hearts).". Consider the protagonist, who also made a decision that he later regretted, and blamed that decision for the hollowness that grew within him. Yet when he gets a chance to go back and take the other branch of the fork, the epilogue describes a man who dies just as lost, just as empty. Akhnaten worried that his choice of deities might bar him from the afterlife, only to find in himself a deficiency so severe--a hollow heart--as to render the question moot. Perhaps Jack's deficiency is also pre-existing. This is but one of many lines of thought to follow. Another would explore the symbolism of the picture frame. Is it, as the final lines suggest, a shriveled organ, waiting in a jar for the boat of Ra? Was Jack's mistake in fixating on this frame--this single deciding moment in his life--to the exclusion of all else, much as Akhnaten threw away the richness of the Egyptian pantheon in favor of his pet god, Aten? But on the other path, Jack makes the same mistake of fixation: he gets swallowed up in his work. Whichever way you approach it, "Photograph" is irredeemably fatalistic. The protagonist seemed doomed from the beginning, by his own nature, to lose himself. I can't agree with such fatalism; nevertheless, the work is too rich and thought-provoking not to love. FTP FileZcode .z5 file (updated version) FTP FileDirectory with zcode .z5 file (competition version)

Photopia

From: Paul O'Brian <obrian SP@G colorado.edu> Review appeared in
SPAG #17 -- May 10, 1999 NAME: Photopia AUTHOR: Adam Cadre E-MAIL: adamc SP@G duke.edu, grignr SP@G retina.net DATE: 1998 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/zcode/photopia.z5 VERSION: Version B If there was a prize for "competition game most mentioned on the newsgroups before the deadline had passed," Photopia would win hands down. Everyone was quite courteous about it, spoiler warnings and rot13 and all that, but there was a marked impatience to talk about this game, recommend it to other people, make it the test case in any number of arguments. There is a reason behind this impatience: Photopia is an amazing piece of work. It's also very hard to talk about without giving spoilers away, so please forgive me if I'm a little vague in my language. One of the most brilliant aspects of the game is its plotting. It has what Adam Cadre, in an unrelated discussion, called a Priest plot, named for writer Christopher Priest. I don't know if this is a term that Adam just made up, but it's a useful term nonetheless. It refers to a plot which just gives you fragments, seemingly unrelated to each other, which coalesce at (or towards) the end of the story. When the fragments come together, and you figure out how they relate to one another, the result can often be surprising or revelatory. When they came together in Photopia, I found the revelation quite devastating. I won't say too much more about this, except to say that it wasn't until the end of Photopia that I realized what a truly incredible, powerful story it is. It's the kind of thing where when you've played it all the way through once, you can then replay it and all the pieces fall into place, everything interlocking from the beginning in a way you can't understand until the end. I think that this is the game that opens new frontiers of replayability in interactive fiction -- I needed to play through Photopia twice in order to see all the text again, knowing what I knew after the end of the game. Actually, I hesitate to call Photopia a game, but not because it failed to live up to a standard of interactivity. It's just so patently clear that Photopia is not interested in puzzles, or score, or some battle of wits between author and player. Photopia is interested in telling a story, and it succeeds magnificently on this count. Unfortunately this deprives me of the use of the word "game" in describing it -- perhaps I'll just call it a work. In any case, it's a work that anyone who is interested in puzzleless IF should try. At no point was I even close to getting stuck in Photopia, because the obvious action is almost always the right one -- or else there is no right action and fated events occur with heavy inevitability. Oddly enough, this creates a strange contradiction. I was on ifMUD looking for a word to describe the plot of this work (I couldn't think of the phrase "Priest plot") and someone said, jokingly, "linear." But actually, that's true. Despite the fact that it's completely fragmented, and despite the fact that it jumps around in time, space, and perspective, Photopia is a linear composition. There's only one way to go through it, and the player has little or no power to make it deviate from its predestined course. I think the reason that this didn't bother me, that in fact I *liked* it, is precisely because Photopia isn't a game. Because it is a story, the emphasis is taken away from a teleological model, where the player tries to steer for the best outcome. Instead, you're really just along for the ride, and the ride is one not to be missed. Now, this is not to say that Photopia may as well have been a short story rather than interactive fiction. In fact, it takes advantage of the capabilities of the medium in some very inventive and almost unprecedented ways. One of the foremost of these is its use of color -- each section of the game (oops, there's that word again. Make that "the work") is presented in a preset color, and these colors also play a part in the Priest plot. I understood their function by the end of the piece, and once I understood, I knew exactly why they were there and how much they enhanced the storytelling. Unfortunately I found the colored text a little hard to read at times, especially the darker colors on a black background, but I wouldn't go back and play it in blue and white. The colors, like everything else in Photopia, worked beautifully, adding artfully to the overall impact of the story. The work is interactive in other important ways as well. In fact, in many aspects Photopia is a metanarrative about the medium of interactive fiction itself. Again, it wasn't until the end of the story that I understood why it *had* to be told as interactive fiction. And again, to explain the reason would be too much of a spoiler. I have so much more I want to talk about with Photopia, but I can't talk about it until you've played it. Go and play it, and then we'll talk. I promise, you'll understand why everyone has been so impatient. You'll understand why I loved it, and why I think it's one of the best pieces of interactive fiction ever to be submitted to the competition. Rating: 9.9 From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G merle.acns.nwu.edu> Review appeared in SPAG #17 -- May 10, 1999 [Disclaimer: what follows is my own opinion, as always, but it is also distinctly a minority view. For other views on Photopia, the reader is advised to consult Deja News, or alternatively to read Paul O'Brian's review in this issue.] There is no denying that Adam Cadre's Photopia is a well-written, engaging work of fiction. (Well, okay, somebody probably will deny it. But it won't be me.) It tells a powerful story in well-crafted prose heavily seasoned with implicit allusions to other works, notably Russell Banks's "The Sweet Hereafter" (and Atom Egoyan's film thereof), and Carl Sagan's "Contact." (The power of the story, incidentally, derives in part from figuring out its nature and structure, and hence I won't go too much into detail here.) It skillfully uses multiple narrators to tell its tale, and carries themes and images throughout that help give the story life. In short, it's an excellent work of fiction. SPAG reviews works of _interactive_ fiction, however, and the interactivity quotient in Photopia is slight enough that it would arguably work just as well as a short story. Graham Nelson wrote several years ago of linearity in game design, noting that the player comes to feel that "the author has tied him to a chair in order to shout the plot at him," and Photopia suffers in that regard. No one would complain of having the plot shouted at him in a short story; the nature of story-based non-interactive fiction is that the author dictates and the reader absorbs. But the genius of good IF is that the player shapes the development of the story, even if the author has a certain end in mind; choices that the player makes affect the text recited at him in a material way. Admittedly, many games throw in the towel with rudimentary or nonsensical plots that serve as excuses to cobble together puzzles--the victory of the crossword over the narrative, in Graham's terms. Photopia represents the opposite, and less explored, extreme, with no puzzles to speak of--and though there is more to chew on here than past "puzzleless IF" efforts such as "In the End," the result, for me, was just as unsatisfying. It should be noted that the game does not simply ignore idiosyncrasies in the way you play the game; many choices are accounted for. Notably, one choice regarding whether you bring along a certain object or leave it behind is particularly clever and well-written. But the result is that the game achieves precisely the same result-- your "choice" affects the beginning of one paragraph. (The minimal changes in the text highlight the noninteractivity; it's almost as if the author were seeking out ways to keep the player from changing the course of the story. There is an obvious purpose to that in this particular work, but it puts a major crimp in the interactive aspect.) The difference may seem to boil down to quantity rather than quality--the amount of text that the player's decisions affect--but quantity matters: it can mean the difference between the player feeling like he has actually experienced the events described and feeling like he has watched a lot of text scroll by. Adding to this effect is the sheer amount of stuff that often happens between inputs--or, in other words, the amount and type of unforeseeable events that your actions produce; again, it's as if an existing work of fiction were translated to the IF medium. Photopia's invention of plastic geography--the player in some instances may travel in any direction, but the direction chosen will always lead to a certain location--makes the world seem larger than it is, and while it does that very effectively, it once again lessens the player's impact on the story. Another experiment that the author attempts ends up cutting off the player from the story even more, namely the conversation trees: rather than ASK/TELL, the player types TALK TO [character] and is given a short list of topics (1. TELL PRESIDENT CLINTON ABOUT IRAQ, 2. ASK PRESIDENT CLINTON ABOUT IMPEACHMENT, or 0 to say nothing). This is, of course, a matter of taste, but I found the conversation trees the least successful part of Photopia, because they completely destroy what illusion remains of interactivity. In one sequence, your character explains the basics of solar radiation, planetary accretion, gallium production, and other astrophysical phenomena; it is _very_ hard, unless the player has ample background in astronomy, to avoid the feeling that you are watching a conversation unfold, not participating in it. I don't think it's impossible to give the character more knowledge than the player is likely to have, and then have the player act on that knowledge. But that requires more development of the character than Photopia affords: the player's involvement with the character is so brief that there is no time to warm to the part before the character starts rambling about the inverse square law. It is undeniable that the scene plays an important part in the story; it is also arguable that identifying the explainer of astrophysics as "you" heightens the emotional impact. But that scene and others like it give Photopia the sense that the "interactive" element is only a thin veneer over the "fiction" part. It is possible that more extensive conversation trees, encompassing a broader variety of topics relevant to the conversation might help; perhaps future games will answer the question. Having severely limited conversation topics is not essentially different from ASK/TELL with only a few subjects available, admittedly. But most games that implement ASK/TELL do not put words in the player-character's mouth to the extent that Photopia does, and leaving to the player's imagination how he or she would have phrased a question keeps the admittedly clunky interface from breaking mimesis excessively. In other words, the presumed advantage of conversation trees, that they give the character more natural speech (one question in Photopia spawned by TALK TO is ASK ALLEY ABOUT HOW I SOUND LIKE HER DAD, which no parser could handle, rather than something like ASK ALLEY ABOUT DAD), assumes that the player actually imagines the character grunting out curt questions. But it ain't necessarily so; it certainly ain't for me. Finally, though Photopia in many ways does what it does brilliantly, it doesn't do it for very long; one has to be a very, very slow reader to play a game this short from beginning to end longer than 20 or 25 minutes. Of course, the player can replay, but he or she will shortly discover that, as noted, the course of the story alters hardly a whit, no matter what the player does. This is, of course, a personal reaction: I can hardly say categorically that the brevity of Photopia waters down the emotional force when the game clearly had considerable emotional impact on many. (On the other hand, the two other people I have prompted to play it were likewise underwhelmed--and I did not tell them my own thoughts on the game until afterwards.) It is possible that the story's major twist would be more effective if there were more preceding it, more time for the player to get to know the characters. (I also thought the game overplayed its emotional hand a bit--exaggerated a certain character's traits--but that can be, and has been, argued.) Technically, Photopia is outstanding--the abovementioned textual changes, even if brief, are woven in seamlessly to preserve the story. A variety of changes in text color didn't work for me when I tried the colored version on WinFrotz, but clearly the colors worked fine for others. The conversation trees, whatever their merits, work just as they are supposed to; the experiment with plastic geography works brilliantly from a technical standpoint. Many other small things indicate that the game was exhaustively coded, never a bad thing--for example, examining a certain NPC while playing different roles yields a variety of perspectives. There are many other little things that are done well--transitions between scenes are particularly well done; the first sentence of each section of the story recalls the last sentence of the previous one, often in illuminating ways. But Photopia stands or falls on the player's reaction to the story, and my reaction, for whatever reason, was tepid enough that I gave it a 7 in the competition. From: Brian Blackwell <blackers SP@G netscape.net> Review appeared in SPAG #17 -- May 10, 1999 Few works of IF have caused as much of a stir as Adam Cadre's 'Photopia', the winning entry in the 1998 Interactive Fiction Competition. It is certainly vastly different from Cadre's last creation, the raunchy comedy I-0. It is a short, puzzleless, literary work which packs a powerful emotional punch, despite some shortcomings. The primary interest in Photopia is its structure - it makes the fairly simplistic plot seem much more complex than it actually is. The game jumps back and forth through the chronology of the storyline, leaving the player to mentally piece together these 'vignettes'. The different scenes are linked by different colours - red, green, blue, and so on. These transitional passages provide some truly magical moments. The very first scene in the game involves a pair of drunken 'fratboys' (an Americanism, I assume) and a car. Following this scene, we are immediately thrust onto Mars, taking control of 'Wendy Mackaye, first girl on the red planet'. This dramatic juxtaposition is confusing at first, but ultimately makes sense in the scheme of things (I won't spoil it for those who haven't played it yet). The story revolves around Alley, a butter-wouldn't-melt-in-her-mouth sweetie with an extremely precocious grasp of astro-physics. The player, throughout the game, plays the roles of various characters in the story - including her mother, father, a young girl whom she is babysitting, and a smitten teenage boy - but never Alley herself. The wide variety of angles from which we see Alley partially makes up for the fact that she is a relatively one-dimensional character. Beguiling, yes, but perhaps not as believeable as she could be. And the astro-physics? In an conversation with her father, the young Alley - a toddler at this stage - is given an impromptu (and very lengthy) lecture in 'inverse square law' and 'gallium production'. All very impressive, but a little over-the-top. These points, however, still don't dull the sheer emotional impact when you realise how the story ends. And because of the work's ingenious structure, this realisation actually comes around the middle of the game - and of course this will vary from player to player. The clever part about this design is that the game still continues even when it's obvious what the eventual outcome is. Ironically, structure is also the game's main downfall. The player has no real control over the story at all. This is not a problem in itself; in fact, all interactive fiction relies on the 'pick a card' principle - that inevitably the player will choose the author's path, with the number of choices available giving the illusion of 'interactivity'. It's hard to explain why this didn't completely work for me in Photopia, but I could never escape the feeling that I was merely a passenger on the ride. It is not really interactive fiction in the traditional sense, but I must say that this does not alter the effectiveness of Photopia as a *work*. It may seem like I've been terribly harsh on this one, but when a work of IF has been hailed as 'literature' by the rec.arts.int-fiction crowd, it's only fair that it's judged on a similar level. And, at the end of the day, I enjoyed this immensely. It's certainly one of the most groundbreaking works to have appeared in ages, and will generate vigorous debate for some time to come. From: David Ledgard <dledgard SP@G hotmail.com> Review appeared in SPAG #17 -- May 10, 1999 I personally wouldn't have given this game first place. This isn't sour grapes, having entered a game of my own, but due to the fact that the game never really grabbed me. The first scene doesn't have any puzzles at all, although the multi choice conversation thing was clever, the usual way you never know what NPC's are going to understand. The second scene has a simple puzzle of find an item, and bring it back to a location. Although it had a clever thing where by which ever direction you went, the next location was created there, I'm not sure how this was programmed, but I imagine it could be quite complicated. A lot of people probably missed this entirely. The third scene, had restrictions on movement that really got my goat, saying you don't have a compass, so can't use the compass directions. This is where my patience ended, and I gave up, the game being too fiddly to play. The rest might have been really good, but I will never know. The narrative to puzzles ratio seemed very large, i.e. too much text, and too few puzzles. FTP FileInform file (.z5) (updated version) FTP FilePC Executable (.exe) (updated version) FTP FileDirectory with Inform .z5 files and associated text files (competition version) FTP FileSource code for menu conversation system (.inf)

Phred Phontious and the Quest for Pizza

From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G merle.acns.nwu.edu> Review appeared in
SPAG #13 -- February 5, 1998 NAME: Phred Phontious and the Quest for Pizza AUTHOR: Michael Zey E-MAIL: zeyguy SP@G aol.com DATE: 1997 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Inform interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition97/inform/pizza/pizza.z5 VERSION: Release 1 PLOT: Cliched but sometimes funny (1.2) ATMOSPHERE: Nope (0.8) WRITING: Not bad, but nothing special (1.1) GAMEPLAY: Uneven (1.0) CHARACTERS: Cardboard (0.8) PUZZLES: Some very clever (1.3) MISC: Problems, but still fun (1.1) OVERALL: 5.2 And sometimes, well, the game just matches the title perfectly. The tone of Phred Phontious is relentlessly silly, so much so that several of the puzzles are quite difficult because they require offbeat thinking rather than simple logic. Though the premise is far from original, and though there are plenty of flaws, there is still plenty to enjoy here -- if you don't mind some dreadful puns. The setting is fantasy, sort of, but more joke-fantasy than Tolkien-fantasy; this is the sort of fantasy that allows for things like photographs and coffee and chainsaws. The plot is typical of fantasy, though, even though it's a joke here -- you have to hunt down the ingredients to a pizza, and deliver it safely. Along the way, you encounter a dragon and a vampire -- along with a gnu and a crazed dentist, of course. The layout is sufficiently unencumbered by sense that all sorts of things can sit side by side, such as a spice mine (why not?), a dragon's lair, a haunted cemetery and a travel agency. Obviously, Phred Phontious is not trying particularly hard to convey the scene or draw you into the world it describes; the player may safely register the given stock situation, figure out the twist, and never bother to try to visualize anything. The result is, while enjoyable for a while, oddly forgettable; I found that I could hardly recall the details of the game just hours after playing it. (The silly place names -- Thikk Forest, Idubeleevinspukes Cemetery, etc. -- don't help.) Implementation-wise, Phred Phontious needs work. One significant object is hidden in a scenery object that barely gets mentioned, another important object is never mentioned at all, an enemy notices your hiding place under one set of circumstances but not another -- though it would be just as easy to spot you -- and another fellow goes on addressing you or preventing you from doing things even after he falls asleep. Other objects act _very_ illogically -- a rope in this game has some unexpected properties, and another object embedded in scenery must be dislodged by an action that I never would have guessed. At another point, you find yourself in a hole and are told that "it looks uncertain whether you'll ever make it out." Is the challenge to find some creative means of getting out? No -- just finding the right syntax. There are other things, illogical bits that didn't slow down gameplay but still left me wondering -- for instance, the character brandishing a key next to a locked cage, except that the key doesn't unlock the cage -- the cage is irrelevant to the game -- but rather a gate far far away. There is a bottleneck right at the start of the game -- you have to discover a hidden closet, but the game gives no hint that it's there. Elsewhere, you have a few turns to search certain scenery and get an object; if you don't find it then, the game closes off. Even amid gameplay problems, though, there are some memorable moments -- and even if the setting is clumsy more often than not, the author does manage to send up fantasy conventions in amusing fashion now and again. Two puzzles hinge on dreadful puns -- I, personally, enjoyed them, but then again I have a weakness for these things, and I don't advise that the author do this in the future. The way you get rid of the dragon is reasonably creative, and the gnu-milk puzzle -- the first part of it -- is clever, even if distasteful. And the endgame is quite rewarding, though made more difficult by the requirement of random scenery searching; I enjoyed the puzzles in the endgame more than any in the game. Though there are coding problems aplenty associated with the puzzles, many of them have excellent ideas; with some more time and attention to programming difficulties, the author might produce a first-rate -- and very challenging -- game. (One puzzle I never figured out: a "last lousy point" that's a clue from a British crossword.) Phred Phontious is large, hardly finishable within two hours unless the player relies heavily on the walkthrough, and the game both encumbers you with a lot of objects and limits your inventory severely. Perhaps the most welcome thing about the endgame was that the goal was clear and the territory to explore limited; there was no question of wandering around looking for the right object only to find that the solution actually turned on a bad pun. Moreover, the endgame is the only area where the room descriptions come alive -- and they do for a very obvious reason then, of course, but it does make things more vivid. And even though it's predictable, the ultimate ending does, somehow, feel satisfying -- no "to be continued" messages or any such thing. This is a game for the puzzle fan, in short, specifically the puzzle fan who likes to see fantasy sent up and doesn't mind some incoherence in the setting. Though the player should save often -- the game closes off without warning -- Phred Phontious is one of the few competition entries that I found enjoyable despite serious flaws, and I gave it a 6 on the competition scale. FTP FileInform file (.z5)

Pick Up The Phone Booth And Aisle

From: Adam Myrow <myrow SP@G eskimo.com> Review appeared in
SPAG #30 -- September 20, 2002 TITLE: Pick Up The Phone Booth And Aisle AUTHORS: David Dyte, Steve Bernard, Dan Shiovitz, et al. EMAIL: Too many to list DATE: June 2001 PARSER: Inform Standard SUPPORTS: Any Zcode interpreter AVAILABILITY: Freeware IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/zcode/PUTPBAA.z5 When several regulars of rec.arts.int-fiction got together and decided to do yet another parody of Pick Up The Phone Booth and Die, they decided to also parody Sam Barlow's Aisle while they were at it. The result is one of the most side-splitting things to ever be uploaded to the IF Archive. Not only do we see the two games mentioned above being ripped to shreds, there are more inside jokes than you can shake a stick at. This has Sins Against Mimesis beaten hands down. Basically, you find yourself in the town square with the phone booth from the original Pick Up The Phone Booth And Die. However, you quickly discover that like Aisle, this is a one-move game. You have exactly one move to do something and then it's over. However, unlike Aisle, it doesn't loop back to the start. You'll have to restart the game by typing restart or undo and try something else. It's too bad that they couldn't have done it like Sam Barlow, but that's the only flaw in what is supposed to be a big joke. Anyhow, every time you make a move, the response is totally off the wall. Nearly all Inform actions are handled, and there are few default responses to be had. Most of the responses bear no relation to each other, so forget trying to make a story out of it. The point is to have fun and I did. However, there is one set of responses involving a particular object that are related and I had fun trying to get them all. For a starter, try >INVENTORY. Here are a few of the responses to illustrate what I mean by inside jokes. I've cut out the restart/restore/quit prompt and the initial description since they never change. >kick booth The booth's eyes widen as you draw your foot back. "Terry, no, please, oh God you can't--" Its cries are cut short as your foot slams into it. With the sound of eggshells cracking, the booth fragments into countless pieces which are quickly lost in the mud. *** You have quit smoking *** >smell You inhale deeply, smelling for the background scent of this particular location. It smells like broth... no, wait, is that tortillas? *** You have been ruined *** >enter booth There are 56 fellow MIT students in there already, but one more and you get the WORLD RECORD. You somehow squeeze between Misty and Muffy, and end up sandwiched beside Mindy. Then the creaking begins. Then the cracking. Then the exploding. Fifty-seven MIT students end up scattered across the town square, many crippled for life, but every single one ends up in the Guinness Book of Records. *** You have been recognized *** So, only if you know something about the history of Infocom, a bit about Losing Your Grip, and have some familiarity with the Inform Designer's Manual will all those responses make sense. There are tons more like that. Be sure to try out your spells from the Enchanter series and of course, the magic words from Adventure. The bottom line is that an IF veteran who is looking for something to kill some time after a bad day should download this and give it a shot. A newcomer to IF might not understand a lot of the jokes, and if you've never played Pick Up The Phone Booth And Die or Aisle, you should play them before to understand why PUTPBAA works the way it does. FTP FileInform .z5 file FTP FileA list of about 210 possible endings

Pick Up The Phone Booth And Dye

From: Stas Starkov <stas_ SP@G mail.rb.ru> Review appeared in
SPAG #30 -- September 20, 2002 NAME: Pick Up the Phone Booth and Dye AUTHOR: Eric Schmidt EMAIL: None given DATE: 2002 PARSER: Inform Standard SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/zcode/boothdye.z5 VERSION: Release 1 This game is a short one-joke game with a single puzzle. (And the joke is not very much in the style of "Pick Up the Phone Booth and Die", which I advise you to play first.) What to say about the game? Well, the game is quite accurately done. That is, it gives sufficient answers to player actions, without visible holes in implementation, or missing descriptions. But the wild psychedelic charm of "Pick Up the Phone Booth and Die" is not there! The only puzzle of the game is not bad, however -- and the game has been written to demonstrate the puzzle, I suppose. Completion time? From several seconds, to several minutes. Resume: If you like short-puzzle-one-idea games -- try "Pick Up the Phone Booth and Dye". It's worth the tiny bit of your time you'll spend on it. FTP FileZcode .z5 file

Piece of Mind

From: Christopher E. Forman <ceforman SP@G worldnet.att.net> Review appeared in
SPAG #10 -- February 4, 1997 NAME: Piece of Mind AUTHOR: Giles Boutel EMAIL: boutel1g SP@G wcc.govt.nz DATE: October 1996 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Inform Ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition96/piece VERSION: Version 1.0 Now here's a real dilemma. First, let me congratulate the author on a number of things: 1) The switching of tense - from first-person past in the introduction, to first-person present in the main framework, to an omnipresent third-person tense for a sub-"plot" - is a very ambitious hack of the Inform grammar. 2) I thought it was quite imaginative the way you divided one "room" into six different "locations." A neat map twist. 3) The "Outer Files" parody. ROTFL! Glad to see a fellow X- Phile writing I-F. The truth is out there. Trust no one. 4) I was delighted to see the words of evil Professor Elvin Atombender of Epyx's "Impossible Mission" pop up. Even ten years after the fact, I can _still_ hear that digitized voice perfectly, and it never fails to give me a nostalgic shiver. That was a GREAT game! (And companies today think crap like "Phantasmagoria" can hold a candle. Hmmph.) Now some (hopefully) constructive criticism: 1) Typos. Particularly in the revised default grammar messages. Lots of missing periods, misspelled words, missing line- feeds, etc. Double-check these the next time around. 2) Try to give your entry a little more plot and consistency. This year we've seen a lot of entries - "Phlegm," "Rippled Flesh," and "Of Forms Unknown" come immediately to mind - where plots have been thrown out completely in exchange for wandering from one situation to the next. These get old after awhile. The drawn-into-a-book subgame is not as polished as the T.S. Eliot scene in "Curses," and most of the rest feels like excerpts from someone's private life that I'd rather not know a lot about. Most of the situations make no sense, even under the guise of drug- induced hallucination. FTP FileInform File (.z5) (updated version) FTP FileInform File (.z5) (competition version)

Pirate Adventure

From: David Jones <drj SP@G pobox.com> Review appeared in
SPAG #47 -- January 16, 2007 TITLE: Pirate Adventure AUTHOR: Alexis Adams and Scott Adams E-mail: msadams SP@G msadams.com DATE: 1978 Parser: Scott Adams (2 word) Supports: Originally custom format, since reverse engineered and translated to Z-code and others Availability: IF-archive URL: http://mirror.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/zcode/adamsinform.zip I'm playing using the zcode translations of the games found in scott- adams/games/zcode/adamsinform.zip in the IF Archive. Pirate Adventure uses a split-screen style where the top portion of the screen is permanently given over to displaying the location description ("I'm in a Flat in london" [sic]), the available exits, and the visible items. I remember, from way back when, that when I was playing this game on a VIC-20 the split-screen effect was quite convenient; the VIC-20 had a text display of 22x23, and games rarely implemented scrollback (since memory used for scrollback would eat into the memory used to hold the game description, all of which had to be kept in RAM). So it was actually quite nice to have the equivalent of LOOK permanently displayed. These days the split-screen effect is more disturbing; I often use long windows so my focus keeps having to shift from where I'm typing (at the bottom) to the room description (at the top). Many commands (eg GET SNEAKERS) have no response, they simply update the room description. This change is sometimes easy to miss, especially if it happens in one's peripheral vision or during a saccade. Needless to say the writing is extremely economical, but that doesn't really excuse the mistakes that are all too common: its/it's confusion, missing punctuation, and misplaced capital letters. Parsing is two word. LOOK IN SACK and PUT THE TORCH OUT are way too complex. Forget the luxury of having synonyms or helpful hints from the parser. A typical example that crops up early in the game is that there are stairs in the initial location, but neither UP nor DOWN works, GO STAIRS being the required invocation. In the location at the other end of the stairs, DOWN works to return to the first location. Is Adams just being stubborn here? Or is he introducing the player to the required mechanics to solve later parts of the game? I think I'd rather give Adams the benefit of the doubt here and say that requiring players to use GO STAIRS instead of UP is getting them to practice a puzzle in simple and obvious form so that later on less obvious uses for GO X can be introduced without the player thinking it harsh or unfair. The parser abbreviates all words to 3 letters and this somewhat makes up for the lack of now traditional abbreviations such as X (EXA) and I (INV). Despite the parser's simplicity it does implement automatic disambiguation for some objects. CRA is recognised as "Sack of crackers" or "narrow crack" as appropriate, similarly with WIN. When we review an old game like this we are confronted with questions of purpose. Why are we playing an old game? We can play to gain some insight into the history, to see what it was like to play games of that era (although the experience will of course fall short because of the lack of context, just as attempts at, say, medieval cooking do. That doesn't mean such attempts shouldn't be made of course); we can play to see what value such games hold now, as objects of entertainment; finally, we can play to see what value such games hold for the creators of modern works. What lessons can we learn from this game? As a form of entertainment there is really very little to keep the modern player at the keyboard: no lavish descriptions; a fair number spelling mistakes and similar signs of inadequate proofreading; no cunning plots; the puzzles aren't particularly deep. It's worthwhile to compare the implementation of a bag in Pirate Adventure with how it would likely be implemented today. Today it would be implemented as a container. The player would be able to open it, close, take things out, put things in. Adams avoids the complexities inherent in container objects (capacity, inclusion in self, description of contents, reaching beyond when the PC is inside, etc) by simply having OPEN BAG create a new object in the location with the response "Something falls out". Adams has been spared the expense of implementing containers, and the player has been spared the pointless exploration of a containment simulation. In the modern approach, implementing the BAG as a container, OPEN BAG would yield the response "Revealing an X" or similar, and GET X would get the object in question. Adams solution has all the elegance of the modern implementation, but at a fraction of the cost (in terms of programming and debugging). In either case the player types exactly the same sequence of commands, OPEN BAG. GET X. What the player has lost is the ability to PUT X IN BAG (that would require a preposition in the parser), but that doesn't seem like a huge loss given that containers in adventure games are often used to merely delay the player in finding some object (that is, they are a barrier to getting some object from the container rather than something into which the player might usefully stow an object). The lesson here is that simulation for simulation's sake is pointless. If you implement a complex object then its complexity should be motivation by having an interesting purpose in the game. One recent example which fails this test is the implementation of pockets in Eric Eve's competition release of The Elysium Enigma. The effect of the pockets was to hide from the player objects carried by the PC (a false, and I suspect largely unintentional) widening on the player / PC gap). I'm happy to say that Eric Eve has made a new release which fixes this and brings this aspect up to the high quality of the rest of The Elysium Enigma. Structurally the game follows the classic trinity of beginning, middle, and end. The beginning consists of 5 locations in the London flat and lasts until the player discovers how to get to the islands. The middle bit provides most of the game and takes places on an island with rather more than 5 locations (though you will also be revisiting the flat). A final section (on another island) is reached after the solution to a key puzzle on the first island. The anticipation of solving that key puzzle is quite good and solving it yields a genuine sense of achievement which is sadly deflated by the game's very lackluster response: "CONGRATULATIONS !!! But your Adventure is not over yet... " (that's Pirate Adventure being prolix). When Pirate Adventure was first published the three-part structure had yet to become time honoured; Adams did well to note that the theatrical device could be employed here. Sadly the final part of the game is a bit of a let-down. Like many games (modern and old) it feels like the author ran out of time, steam, or implementation space, consequently the final part feels under-implemented, disappointing, and buggy (the one bug I found concerns an object found in the final section). Although old Pirate Adventure avoids a lot of puzzle cliches. Several objects in the game have multiple uses; some change state and are used in different states. One of the NPCs both provides clues and is used directly to solve a later puzzle. One NPC is an obstacle early on in the game, but needs to be exploited to overcome a puzzle later in the game. Although some cliches are avoided lots are included: instant death; no UNDO; some puzzles require, for no obvious reason, repeating certain actions. Some of puzzles seem pretty reasonable, others seem a bit arbitrary and you can easily unwittingly enter unwinnable states. Fortunately the game isn't very large so restarting isn't very unpleasant and often leads to discovering something new. There is an inventory limit (it never forms the crux of a puzzle, it just means more toing and froing) and a torch that can be exhausted. Pirate Adventure packs quite a lot of puzzles into its small space; the sketch of the puzzle-dependency diagram (DM4's "lattice diagram") that I started making reveals a surprisingly complex and interesting structure. The effect is one that I find all too rare in lots of games: there are always several avenues to explore, always a few objects whose purpose you haven't fathomed, and a few strategies that remain to be tried. There are quite a few pleasing moment when you realise that certain objects have multiple uses. On the other hand I know of no puzzle in Pirate Adventure that has an alternate solution (apart from a trivial rephrasing); it's a notable lack in Pirate Adventure. The setting of the game, a tropical island (well, the game doesn't say it's tropical but let's assume it is), is both a strength and a weakness. The text in the game is extremely minimal, yet the setting manages to be quite vivid. Adams achieves this primarily by placing the game in a setting that is familiar to most players: the classic desert island of adventure stories like Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe. Such stories were probably read by (or read to) the player as a child; the island takes on nostalgic and perhaps slightly magical qualities in the player's mind as a result. It takes very few words for the player to be transported to a fantasy island with golden beaches, inviting lagoons, huts made from palm leaves, and a cave system in cliffs of soft rock. Those parts of the game are fine. It's the additions that break the spell. The cave system has a toolshed inside it apparently equipped with about half the necessary materials to build a boat, but the only access to the shed is either via a small crack or past a crocodile infested pit. How did the equipment get in the shed? How does the crocodiles' pit fill with water? Why are the keys to a pirate's chest in [LOCATION WITHHELD]? Historically this was totally acceptable, expected even, but these days many players would find it distasteful. Designers would do well to briefly dip into Pirate Adventure to observe how it manages to create a solid and evocative setting with so few words, and how the puzzles and objects are interlinked with such economy. But that is all. Pirate Adventure has little to commend itself to the modern player, though it was great in its day. Z-code ports of this and other Scott Adams games This and other Scott Adams games for use in the ScottFree interpreter Hugo port of the game featuring a full-sentence parser Walkthroughs for this and other Scott Adams games

The PK Girl

From: Mike Russo <russo SP@G its.caltech.edu> Review appeared in
SPAG #31 -- January 3, 2003 TITLE: The PK Girl AUTHOR: Robert Goodwin EMAIL: sakurafiend SP@G hotmail.com DATE: September 2002 PARSER: ADRIFT SUPPORTS: ADRIFT runtime AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2002/adrift/the_pk_girl/the_pk_girl.taf VERSION: IF Comp release This anime-inspired game takes a story-driven IF and mixes in a dating sim and whole mess of world interactivity. The amount of depth here is impressive; there's something like half a dozen girls you can woo, a bunch of nonessential locations that evolve as the game goes by, and a truly amazing number of objects you can find and play with. The central plot is nothing to write home about -- cute girls with psychic powers stalked by a mysterious conspiracy -- and dating sims in general strike me as somewhere between creepy and pathetic, but where PK Girl really shines is in the incredible amount of stuff you can do. I wound up picking up an ice-cube tray early in the game; later on, I managed to fill it with water, stick it in a freezer, pop out the finished cubes, and started to make a frozen dessert with it. There was no obvious puzzle associated with it, although I'm sure there was a use for it, perhaps in currying favor with one of the girls. That level of interactivity is present throughout the game; you can help a character cook dinner, for example, or help comb another's hair. The sheer wealth of different objects to play and experiment with, some useful to the plot, some not, really makes the game feel more interactive and engaging than much story-driven IF, to say nothing of the average dating sim, which typically relies on simplistic multiple-choice gameplay. I'm not a particular fan of this genre, which hurt its appeal a bit, but for a player with different sensibilities, PK Girl could well be the most enjoyable game in the comp, with enough replayability and depth to have a long lifetime beyond the judging deadline. Rating: 8 FTP FileADRIFT .taf file (updated version) FTP FileDirectory with ADRIFT .taf file (competition version) FTP FileHints

Plague Planet

From: J. J. Farmer <J.J.Farmer-CSSE94 SP@G computer-science.birmingham.ac.uk> Review appeared in
SPAG #6 -- July 26, 1995 NAME: Plague Planet PARSER: Fair AUTHOR: Philip Hawthorne PLOT: Linear EMAIL: ??? ATMOSPHERE: Very Good AVAILABILITY: Shareware (BBC Micro), WRITING: Very Good Commercial (Archimedies) SUPPORTS: BBC Micro, PUZZLES: Excellent Acorn Archimedies CHARACTERS: Rather Shallow DIFFICULTY: Hard Let me start by saying this: Plague Planet is a BIG game. Lots of locations, hundreds of puzzles, thousands of hours of fun for all the family, and at a very reasonable price. Which is rather useful, since you will have to employ somebody to make your food, walk the dog, clean the house, etc., the moment you buy it. Why? Because this game is so addictive you won't be able to tear yourself away from it. The plot is nothing if not unoriginal: you are a peaceful farmer on the agrarian planet of Azura when a spaceship lands in your field. And that's pretty much all you know when you start the game. Like many excellent games, however, you are left to discover the objective for yourself. In fact, you actually create the objective whilst you are trying to do this. I'm not spoiling the plot too much if I tell you: like a prize idiot, you break into the spaceship, releasing the plague virus that was contained within and condemning every man, woman and child (including yourself) on the planet to death. The puzzles in the game are, almost without exception, solvable with nothing more than the objects to hand and a little logical thinking. There are a couple of mazes, but hints to the paths through them are lying around, and there is no need to fall back on the old "drop an object in every location" routine. Many puzzles are a joy to solve. I particularly enjoyed learning to fly the spaceship and satisfying the talking door unhappy with its position in life. And the sheer number of puzzles means that there is a tremendous variety, ranging from variations on traditional ones (a key in a lock on the opposite side of a locked door), to completely original conundrums. There is only one "what on earth is the author thinking of" puzzle; the meaning of the initials "BMUS". Just think of a certain American science fiction serial... As for the other characters in the game - well, there aren't all that many. A few robots, a few animals, a few religious maniacs who will kill you on sight, and one miner with a severe flatulance problem. They don't have a wide variety of things to say, but there are various reasons why you can't spend much time talking to them, anyway. The atmosphere generated by this game is simply wonderful. The descriptions are verbose without being longwinded, and the problems fit into it all perfectly - none are "glued on". You could almost believe you are there, sneaking into a mine on the planet Zanthor, evading a Yillis Gorf on the planet Aquaria, meeting an "old friend" on the planet Arboreta. All in all, this game is simply marvellously addictive and amazingly enjoyable. If you can find a copy, snap it up at once...

The Plague (Redux)

Space Horror I: Prey for Your Enemies

From: Valentine Kopteltsev <uux SP@G mail.ru> Review appeared in
SPAG #43 -- January 7, 2006 NAME: The Plague (Redux) AUTHOR: Laurence Moore EMAIL: adv SP@G turntopage.com DATE: 2005 PARSER: Adrift AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: http://ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2005/adrift/ plague/The Plague - Redux.taf NAME: Space Horror I: Prey for Your Enemies AUTHOR: Jerald M. Cooney EMAIL: jcooney_email SP@G yahoo.com DATE: 2005 PARSER: HTML-based CYOA AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: http://ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2005/windows/ space/space.exe These two games have a lot in common. First of all, both of them represent first episodes of their respective series, implying there's going to be a continuation, and thus stipulating their stories being incomplete. Then, both works don't entrust the arduous task of frightening the player to individualists, employing whole teams of eminently qualified specialists for those purposes -- Plague benefits from the services of old trusty zombies, while Space Horror resorts to the help of no less reliable murderous aliens. Finally, both games represent carefully implemented, solid, and well- polished efforts -- especially Space Horror, which only contained very slight glitches. On the other hand, the author of Space Horror probably has had it somewhat easier, since his work is a CYOA. At this point, it must be said I don' t share the rather widespread in the IF-community bias against that kind of game. Especially if it is done as careful as Space Horror -- with several fully fleshed out plot lines, well-defined characters (although, of course, they aren't too interactive), and great illustrations. The author even managed to squeeze in a couple of puzzles -- quite a feat, considering the game format. The puzzles are logical enough, and fit well into the story. All in all, once you let this game play on its home turf and don't cry for the moon, Mr. Cooney's work leaves nothing to be desired. Plague isn't as strong at presentation and multimedia effects -- it's a text- only adventure, but it possesses its own trump cards, which allow it to stay abreast. The very first of them is the game name -- with all due respect to Mr. Cooney, the title "Space Horror" is one of the leading contenders for the top ten of the Most Generic Names Chart. Besides, Plague has a much more intense beginning that sets the pace and atmosphere for the rest of the game. In fact, the atmosphere and the setting make up about 80 percents of it. They're best described with "bloody chaos". Of course, people could have different opinions on it, depending on their personal preferences -- some players would find it disgusting, others would dismiss it as rather hackneyed -- but as for me, I did like it. The characters... Now, Stacie, our main hero, was well defined from the emotional point of view, so that I found it easy to identify with her. Although the wondrous transformation of a rather inexperienced town girl into a rough zombie slayer came kinda sudden and thus seemed somewhat unrealistic, I guess it was part of the genre... or maybe I'm just underestimating inexperienced town girls (typical case of male chauvinism;). Other characters only have been good enough for a crowd scene -- maybe they'll hit the big time in the next episode(s). Plague is by no means a puzzle-oriented game; the puzzles present are kept rather easy, and their main virtue is not hampering the story too much. They cope with this task pretty well, except for one scavenger hunt requiring careful examination of lots of scenery objects. Fortunately, the walkthrough helped me to get over this unfavourable design choice without any losses. The conclusions. It's true there's nothing groundbreaking about either of these works -- they don't even try to expand the genre boundaries, and probably reproduce every cliche existing within them. However, it's no less true both of them represent solid, competently implemented efforts, and I don't regret any minute spent playing them. I honestly hope the authors won't be put off by the relatively low ranks they got in the Comp, and release the next episodes of their respective works. SNATS (scores before the slash apply to Plague, after the slash to Space Horror): PLOT: Adequate (1.2)/"Truly" branching (1.3) ATMOSPHERE: Makes up most of the game charm (1.5)/Exciting enough (1.2) WRITING: Supports the atmosphere very well (1.3)/Supports the atmosphere very well (1.3) GAMEPLAY: Now that one comes to think of it, it was pretty standard, but when playing, I was too thrilled to notice;) (1.3)/Well... CYOA (1.2) BONUSES: Identifying with the player character (0.9)/Graphics, fake websites and other similar stuff (1.1) TOTAL: 6.2/6.1 CHARACTERS: Rather generic (0.8)/Nice, but not very interactive (1.0) PUZZLES: Not very remarkable, with at least one unfortunate design choice (0.9)/The very fact there are puzzles in a CYOA is a feat on its own (not rated) DIFFICULTY: You should have no troubles completing it (5 out of 10)/ Again, this doesn't apply to a CYOA (not rated) COMP SCORE: 6 COMMENTS: I think no comment is needed. No matter how you slice it, those are good, solid games. The Plague -- Adrift executable The Plague -- walkthrough (MS Word format) Space Horror -- Windows installer

Planet Of The Infinite Minds

From: Matthew Clemson <matthew.clemson SP@G keble.ox.ac.uk> Review appeared in
SPAG #23 -- December 29, 2000 TITLE: Planet Of The Infinite Minds AUTHOR: Alfredo Garcia E-MAIL: Five-0 SP@G oceanfree.net DATE: 2000 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2000/tads/planmind/planmind.gam VERSION: 1 Er. Um. It's... odd, there's no denying that. It's generally bug-and-typo free, but it's resoundingly... odd. It's what I'd imagine a Rybread Celsius game to be like if it was done, well, right. Some great puzzles, although there's rather a lot of guess-the-author's-mind - I had to use hints several times - we're back to the oddness again; indeed, parts of it kept reminding me of Nord and Bert. Indeed, like N&B, it's at times laugh-out-loud funny - the problems relating to the end of the universe spring to mind. Some puzzles, OTOH, are really ingenious, although they are, again, sometimes let down by the guess-the-author's-thoughts aspects; I particularly (gasp) *enjoyed the maze*; it was a different approach to any I'd known, and worked well. Mind you, most people would argue that it's not a maze :-). There was one puzzle towards the end which was a little out-of-sorts, though; and the author admits it in the walkthrough. All-in-all, I didn't dock a point for it, since I enjoyed the rest of the game so much; other people might be tempted to, and I'd understand it if they did. In retrospect, looking at the walkthrough, it's at least nice that they allowed a cleaner verb than the one I actually used, which probably says more about my mind than that of the author :-) It's a little too enthusiastic with 'last lousy points', but they do seem at least vaguely logical; OTOH, the entire response to Xyzzy is a whole new and intelligent approach that I've not encountered before. I didn't enjoy the game from the challenge and puzzle aspect - but from the entertainment aspect, I was enthralled. Rating: 7 From: Tina Sikorski <tina SP@G eniac.stanford.edu> Review appeared in SPAG #23 -- December 29, 2000 Walkthrough? Yes Genre: Speculative Fiction +------------------------------------------+ |Overall Rating A-|Submitted Vote 9| |Writing A |Plot B+| |Puzzles B |NPCs B | |Technical B |Tilt A-| +------------------------+-----------------+ *** Initial Thoughts I'm definitely not the only person who liked this game, but I may be the only person who did not find the library puzzle baffling.... *** Writing (A) The thing is, the writing was really funny. It wasn't actually as perfectly technically executed as my letter grade might imply; there were awkward turns of phrase here and there and the occasional misuse of punctuation. But it was very, very funny. One of my favorite bits (quite far into the game): "All at once you enter the chimney with a sound that can only be described as a Floop. All around is darkness. Then, with a Binco-diddy-diddy you career downwards through metal ledges and wire meshes. There is a resonating Ting as your body crashes against a curve in the pipe. You slide downward at this angle towards light. The light becomes brighter and brighter until it finally engulfs you, as you shoot out of a large fireplace and into a tasteful room." The subtitle of this game is "an interactive farce", and the author is not kidding. It doesn't take itself seriously. It doesn't take you seriously. It certainly doesn't take the protagonist or the NPCs seriously. Funny. *** Plot (B+) It's surreal, but it's cohesive... and that's a neat trick. Sort of a cross between 1950s sf, a physics major's worst nightmares (I'm betting the author is or was a physics major), and a comedy (well, it DID say 'farce'), the basic plot is... nearly incomprehensible, yet, strangely appealing, much like the sideshow freaks at a circus. Watching it unfold is somewhat akin to watching that guy in the sideshow who does terrible things to his own body: you wince, but you watch anyhow because it's fascinating, and you wonder how it's done. Whether or not the ultimate conclusion makes any sense isn't the point. The point is, it's fun to watch the progress. *** Puzzles (B) Some people found the puzzles baffling, inaccessible, incomprehensible on several levels. I used the walkthrough a lot myself. But they do make sense, and they contain an element of originality... ...and this game has, hands down, my favorite puzzle of the comp. It may not actually have been terribly original, but I don't recall having seen a puzzle quite like it before. Without giving away too much, there is a point at which you have a certain set of objects, and you must manipulate your environment such to match those objects. I found one of the things necessary to do this nearly impossible to figure out, but the rest was definitely a fun exercise. There was a puzzle at the end I found mildly objectionable, but it was obnoxious in a way some people might find funny. It involved a toilet. *** NPCs (B) You don't actually have a lot of control over your interaction with the NPCs, but for some reason this did not bother me. I actually found the characters (or, perhaps, caricatures) rather interesting, particularly one repeating encounter... poor man. I think most important is that they provided color that went well with the rest of the game. *** Technical (B) The aforementioned favorite puzzle, something I thought was a pretty good coding trick, was worth an extra point or two in technical score. I found no noticeable bugs. *** Tilt (A-) and Final Thoughts It's possible I enjoyed this game as much as I did because I used to make a career out of baiting my physics-major ex-boyfriend. (I used to tell him that physicists were just guessing anyhow, for instance.) Or maybe it's just that I have a soft place in my heart for 1950s bad science movies. But I think even without those biases, I would probably have found the game very amusing. Given the existence of the walkthrough for people stuck on the admittedly not always straightforward puzzles, I think I would recommend this to nearly everyone with a sense of humor. FTP FileDirectory with TADS .gam file and walkthrough (competition version)

Planetfall

From: Graeme Cree <72630.304 SP@G compuserve.com> Review appeared in
SPAG #4 -- March 2, 1995 NAME: Planetfall GAMEPLAY: Infocom Standard AUTHOR: Steve Eric Meretzky PLOT: Excellent EMAIL: ? ATMOSPHERE: Excellent AVAILABILITY: LTOI 1, Zork Anth. WRITING: Excellent PUZZLES: <blank> SUPPORTS: Infocom Ports CHARACTERS: Excellent DIFFICULTY: <blank> In Planetfall, you start as a deck scrubber on a starship in the far future. When your ship is destroyed, your escape pod deposits you in a deserted high-tech building complex on an alien world. With the help of your faithful robot companion B-19-7 (aka Floyd), you must discover what happened to the people, and correct various problems before your time runs out. Planetfall was the first Infocom game I played, and still my favourite. Often billed as a science-fiction comedy, it really is not. There are many amusing sidelights and funny responses from the author to your failed actions, (one of my favourites is when you are looking at the planet's computer datafiles, and come across an Infocom catalog. When you read the description for Zork, Floyd looking over your shoulder tells you that he played that game and solved all the puzzles...except for how to get into that little white house) but it is not at all a straight comedy in the same sense that Leather Goddesses of Phobos, or The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy would be. It merely feels like one because the game is constantly charming you in one way or another. Floyd, generally remembered as Infocom's best NPC is useful for only three things in the game, but provides you with a constant stream of amusing banter, from relating tales of the time he helped someone find a lost paper clip, to passing along the latest hot gossip about Dr. Fizpick. Oftentimes text games fall into the syndrome of providing one and only one use for each item in the game, so that if you have found a use for an item you can throw it away, confident that it will not be called for again. Not so in Planetfall (and Meretzky games in general). Several items have more than one use, while others have no use at all. Planetfall's original edition contained Infocom's usual batch of interesting freebies (I still keep the Stellar Patrol ID card in my wallet mixed in with the credit cards). However, it was also one of the games selected to be redone as a Solid Gold edition with onscreen hints. Get both editions if possible. The IBM version of Lost Treasures of Infocom 1 contained an original version of the program. The Macintosh version of LTOI 1 contains the Solid Gold Edition. PC users who have Macintosh-using friends can of course try to get a copy of the datafile from the LTOI1-Mac version, and run it off an IBM interpreter. Planetfall was one of the games selected for novelization when Avon Books put out a series of Infocom Books several years ago. The novel version of Planetfall is really a sequel to Planetfall (and Stationfall). This book (not written by Meretzky) was much closer to the Battletech universe than Planetfall's, and was loaded with tiresome, sophomoric, un-clever humour. I read most of the other Avon Infocom books in a day or so each, but Planetfall took almost a month to force myself through. On the brighter side though, another Planetfall sequel is the next game that Activision plans to release under the Infocom label. The game, to be called "Planetfall 2: The Search for Floyd", is scheduled for release late in 1995. As a prelude to this, they included the original (non-Solid Gold) Planetfall game in their recently released Zork Anthology. Still, Planetfall remains not only my favourite text game, but my favourite adventure game. [Well, we've all got our fingers crossed hoping that Activision doesn't fumble this game as badly as they did Return to Zork. But I'm giving public notice, if Floyd looks like either R2D2 or a garbage can, the fur will fly. --GKW] From: Alex Freeman <freemanry SP@G aol.com> Review appeared in SPAG #30 -- September 20, 2002 Planetfall is one of the greatest adventure games I have ever played! All the puzzles are logical and have, more or less, the correct balance of difficulty. It's amazing how the puzzles can be solved once you just step back and think about them a bit. However, I think a little background is in order before I move on. You start off as an Ensign Seventh Class, and the scourge of your existence is Ensign First Class Blather, who acts like a drill sergeant. However, as fate would have it, some terrible disaster happens to the station whose floor you are being made to scrub, and you (should) take advantage of this opportunity by going into an escape pod. It takes you to a deserted planet, and you have to figure just what the heck you're supposed to do there. Along the way, you end up meeting the robot Floyd, whom every Planetfall player seems to like. This brings me to the characters. For interactive fiction, the characters are very well developed, since IF NPCs have the tendency to have little or no personality at all. Because of this, I feel that Planetfall's NPCs are big achievements, even though they wouldn't be considered well developed characters for non-interactive fiction since they are basically flat stereotypes. Floyd is basically like a cheery little child whom every player seems to find charming. I have to love it when he says how he was able to solve all the puzzles in Zork except how to get into the white house. Blather acts like a stereotypical drill sergeant, and most of his personality is revealed through your dreams since you must sleep during the game. I have to love that one dream sequence in which you refuse to scrub the scenery and throw your brush at him, only to have him go after "the valuable company property". ^_^ Also, the atmosphere is pretty good. It has humorous touches amongst an interesting planet. It has a machine shop, some offices, some mess halls, and also a library. The writing is pretty good too. It gives fine descriptions of the rooms and is some of the funniest writing I've seen this side of the Space Quest series (which is remarkably similar in many ways). As for the parser, it's a typical Infocom parser, so it's quite good. Overall, Planetfall is easily one of the best adventure games I've ever played because of the balanced and logical puzzles throughout the game, the humorous writing, and the amusing characters. My only complaint about the game is that the laser wasn't described well enough, making two puzzles difficult. I thought that the laser was supposed to be like one of those laser pointers, but it's actually more like a laser gun. However, Planetfall is definitely one game you should check out! FTP FileSolution (Text)

The Plant

From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G merle.acns.nwu.edu> Review appeared in
SPAG #17 -- May 10, 1999 NAME: The Plant AUTHOR: Michael J. Roberts E-MAIL: mjr SP@G hotmail.com DATE: 1998 PARSER: TADS SUPPORTS: HTML-TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition98/tads/plant/plant.gam VERSION: Competition Edition You're a witness to a hijacking. You're seeking a McGuffin in the form of a strange silver crate. You're investigating cover-ups in your company. You're breaking into a strange plant. You're just generally trying to create mayhem. You're unveiling a government cover-up. All these things go on in Mike Roberts's The Plant, an entertaining caper better enjoyed for its sheer daffiness than as a coherent story. The initial premise is that your boss's car breaks down and you want to get help, but it's a thin veil, since you promptly witness soldiers hijacking a convoy of trucks and evidently forget all about trying to get your car started again, since you decide you want a piece of whatever action the soldiers are after. Weird coincidences drive much of the plot from there on: you defeat a security device to get into this supposedly ultra-secret plant by using stuff lying around, which seemed a tad absurd. The puzzle you solve to get into the underground laboratory area is clever but relies on everyone in the complex being either blind or thoroughly stupid; other puzzles function on similar assumptions. As such, the tone varies somewhat; what might have been a sinister feel, created by the opening section, is subverted by the story's failure to develop any real sense of menace. The Plant works better viewed as a series of obstacles to overcome than as a real story, since the story is not always engaging. The author consciously decided to make it impossible to lose or otherwise make the game unwinnable, a design choice that works well in some contexts but not in this one. The story, after all, to the extent I could make sense of it, involves some danger; breaking into heavily guarded top-secret complexes usually entails negative consequences if caught. But there are several points where harm should be imminent, logically, and knowing that the danger will just keep getting closer but never arrive, Zeno's-paradox style, destroys the illusion of the story and takes away the tension. This is particularly true at one point late in the game, when guards see you through a window, carrying out nefarious acts, and pound on the window. There is, of course, a door right next to the window, but you can examine everything in the room, take a nap, make faces at the guards, etc., and they will never, as far as I know, walk through the door. What might be an exciting moment is fairly ho-hum. Now, admittedly, with an IF engine that supports UNDO as well as SAVE/RESTORE, any "death" is but a passing setback--but avoiding death does affect a player's emotional experience, and knowing that there was no death to avoid reduces whatever emotional effect there is. What might be a good choice in another sort of game does not, in short, serve this one well. Nevertheless, there is much to enjoy here. The puzzles rival those of Enlightenment as the best in this year's competition: they are challenging but fair, with the exception of the one where an object is discoverable only with the command READ AUTHOR'S MIND. There are also enough of them for the player to feel like he or she has accomplished something, but few enough that the game is finishable within two hours. Several of them involve more than one object, or require manipulating the environment in creative ways, though a few rely on a few rely on random scenery-searching. The ones that involve opening passages or passing obstacles provide short cuts once the initial puzzle is solved, a great time-saver. The author also fairly consistently rewards the player for solving a puzzle by supplying more story, usually via cut-scenes of sorts--the player witnesses something going on. Some of the cut-scenes actually are cut-scenes--the text all goes by at once--and some aren't, and the logic of the distinction was not obvious to me. (The ones that force the player to keep typing Z don't actually give any potential for difference in how the player experiences the scene--at least, not obviously so.) The nature of the puzzles solved does make the player feel like he or she is coming closer to the goal, and getting glimpses of the McGuffin when obstacles are cleared reinforces that feeling to great effect. Your boss, along for the ride, is directly relevant only occasionally, though it seems like he might provide information about a few things if asked; still, he's a vaguely comic figure that helps lighten the feel of the story (another reason why the tone is a bit inconsistent). The Plant feels well-crafted as a whole; bugs are few, the writing is outstanding, and objects, even complex ones, largely do what they're supposed to do. That feeling of polish helps overcome the flaws in the story--or, more accurately, the flaws in the story don't detract much from its enjoyment because the game is so playable as a whole. The best puzzle in the game leads directly to its most ridiculous moment, but as long as the player can suspend disbelief, it doesn't really matter--because there's no question whether the moment works as the author intends it to. The Plant illustrates how a skillful IF author can spin an entertaining yarn even with a contrived or silly plot, as long as he or she attends to the details that matter to the player; this one works well enough that I gave it an 8. From: Paul O'Brian <obrian SP@G colorado.edu> Review appeared in SPAG #17 -- May 10, 1999 You know, by the time I get finished writing these reviews, I'm pretty tired. It takes a lot of energy to put out twenty or thirty thousand words about competition entries, and even though my reviews are shorter than last year's, and there are fewer games involved, they were also written in a much more compressed judging period, so my exhaustion level is about the same. However, every year I've been reviewing the competition games I've gotten a little reward in the final game of the batch. In 1996, I was playing the games in order of filename, so the last game I played was Tapestry, an excellent piece of work by Dan Ravipinto which ended up taking second in the competition as a whole. Last year I let Lucian Smith's Comp97 order my choices randomly, and ironically the last game on the list ended up being Smith's own The Edifice. And true to form, that was another excellent game to finish on, and it ended up winning all the marbles in the 1997 comp. So it was with both trepidation and eagerness that I broached the final game of this year's batch, The Plant. When I saw it was by Michael J. Roberts, the legendary implementor of both TADS and HTML-TADS, my anticipation was increased even further. I've never played one of Roberts' games, having been an Inform initiate when I started programming, and having entered the IF scene just shortly before Roberts' departure. And after this buildup, I'm pleased to say that the Plant completely lives up to my mini-tradition of grand finales. It was a great game to end the competition with -- the reward I was hoping for, so that this review wouldn't be too hard to write. Probably the thing I liked the most about The Plant was its puzzles. I know there were several other games this year that were focused on puzzles, and some of the puzzles in those games were excellent. However, I liked The Plant's puzzles better precisely *because* the game wasn't focused on puzzles. Instead, its puzzles were very well integrated into its story, so solving the puzzles really propelled the narrative. It's much more interesting to solve a puzzle when it opens the door to the next piece of the story, rather than being just one of a roomful of puzzles that you have to solve to escape that room. The Plant was probably the only game in this year's competition to give me a feeling similar to what I have when I play Infocom games. I love that feeling of uncovering an exciting story by cleverly putting pieces together, using items in unexpected ways, or doing the right thing at just the right time. And the game's story is definitely an exciting one. It begins as you are stranded on an abandoned side-road with your boss, marooned by his unreliable car. It's up to you to find a phone or a service station and get moving again, but when you go looking you may find more than you bargained for. I won't give too much away about the secrets that are eventually revealed, but the game definitely packs plenty of surprises. The pacing is excellent -- I only felt completely stuck once. I turned to the walkthrough to solve the problem, just because I wanted to finish as much of the game as I could in the two-hour time limit, but if you're playing The Plant for the first time, let me urge you *not* to check the walkthrough unless you're completely stuck. All the puzzles are completely logical, none of them require reading the designer's mind, and many of them are quite satisfying to solve, requiring several steps or clever combinations of objects, or both. Now, the story itself does have some flaws. There are some parts that felt quite implausible to me, and from time to time the fact that your boss follows you around in your travels doing the same two or three things all the time starts to feel a little artificial. In addition, there are one or two minor spelling errors in the game. Outside of this, the plotting and writing are quite good. The Plant's prose often conveyed a very vivid sense of the visual. I drive by a plant like this about twice a month, and the game's descriptions of it, how its completely industrial and utilitarian networks of pipes and lights can seem almost like an abstract fairyland when glimpsed from afar, are right on the mark. I could really visualize most of the places in the game, and the mental pictures the game's text creates are quite dramatic and compelling. In addition, the game uses a few small touches here and there which utilize the power of HTML TADS. No pictures or sound, but a few well-placed hyperlinks in the help text and one or two spots with specially formatted text really make the game look sharp, and add to the very visual quality of the prose. If you sometimes start to feel a little impatient with all the growing that the medium of interactive fiction is doing, and long for a good old-fashioned Infocom-style thrill ride, check out The Plant. I think it may be just what you're looking for. Rating: 9.0 FTP FileTADS .gam file & associated files (.zip) (updated version) FTP FileDirectory with TADS .gam file and walkthrough FTP FileTADS source code (.zip)

Plundered Hearts

From: Graeme Cree <72630.304 SP@G compuserve.com> Review appeared in
SPAG #4 -- March 2, 1995 NAME: Plundered Hearts PARSER: Infocom AUTHOR: Amy Briggs PLOT: Good EMAIL: ? ATMOSPHERE: Very Good AVAILABILITY: LTOI-2 WRITING: Good PUZZLES: Not bad SUPPORTS: Infocom Ports CHARACTERS: Not bad DIFFICULTY: On the Easy Side Plundered Hearts is a romance novel set in the 1600's. You must rescue your father from the clutches of an evil island governor with the aid of a pirate captain who lights your fire. Plundered Hearts takes a rather standard plotline and uses it to very good effect. The writing feels very much like a Harlequin novel, with enough amusing puzzles and clever responses to keep me, a non-romance-novel-reader interested to the end. The puzzles are a little easier than the standard Infocom fare, but generally interesting ones that can be reasoned or inferred. There are few "guess what the author is thinking puzzles". The game's strongest point though is in its characterization. Not in the other characters; Crulley, Jamison, Lafonde and the others are rather standard, thus my character rating of 1.2. Rather, this game characterizes you, the player, more than any other of Infocom's offerings. In most Infocom games, who YOU are is either unimportant or doesn't affect the plot much. In Zork, you're just some anonymous guy who was walking by the white house. You have no particular personality, or history before this point. Planetfall makes an effort to paint your character with the enclosed diary, but it is all chrome. None of it really affects the story once you're in it. As a result, I always sort of imagined myself as the main character. To some extent this was Infocom's intention; much of their early advertising talked about imagining yourself waking up inside a story. Plundered Hearts, more than any other game gave me the feeling of really being inside someone ELSE'S head. Throughout the game, who you are plays an important part. Disguising your identity and altering your appearance is important in several places to elicit a desired reaction from other characters (not to mention avoiding some undesired reactions). As a result, the game scores very well in "intangibles", thus my high Wildcard rating. Plundered Hearts is one of Infocom's more underrated games. A very good blend of puzzle solving and story. FTP FileSolution (Text)

Poor Zefron's Almanac

From: Paul O'Brian <obrian SP@G colorado.edu> Review appeared in
SPAG #13 -- February 5, 1998 NAME: Poor Zefron's Almanac AUTHORS: Carl Klutzke E-MAIL: cklutzke SP@G iquest.net DATE: 1997 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition97/tads/almanac/almanac.gam VERSION: Version 1.0 (1997 competition release) Right about the time that Poor Zefron's Almanac (hereafter called PZA) starts feeling like another humdrum sword-and-sorcery game, it executes a nice surprising twist. To say too much more would be to give the game away, but the fact that the author bills PZA as "an interactive cross-genre romp" is a clue toward its direction. This twist made the game refreshing and fun again, especially after the frustration it caused me when I began playing it. More on that later. PZA does several things very well, one of which is its eponymous book, a tome owned by your wizardly master Zefron and left behind after his mysterious disappearance. This almanac contains a feature unique to all the CONSULTable items in IFdom (as far as I know): it can be BROWSEd. Browsing the almanac brings forth a random entry from within its pages; not only is it great fun to read these random entries, it also gives a sense of how thoroughly the almanac has been implemented. This device would be most welcome in other IF... how I'd love to browse the Encyclopedia Frobozzica or the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy! Just having the book at hand lent a sense of scope and excitement to PZA. Unfortunately, my first 45 minutes or so of playing this game were extremely frustrating. PZA suffers from a couple of serious design flaws, the gravest of which is its repeated violation of the Fifth Right (from Graham Nelson's "Player's Bill of Rights"): not to have the game closed off without warning. Because of a fairly flexible (but extremely temporary) magic spell that becomes available at the very beginning of the game, I found myself repeatedly stranded, unable to proceed and forced to RESTART. This happened again later on in the game -- I committed a perfectly logical action and found out hundreds of turns later that this action had closed off the endgame. This is a frustrating experience, and one that could easily have been avoided with a few minor changes to the game's structure, changes which would not have had any discernible effect on puzzles or plot. In addition, there are a few areas in which the player character can be killed without warning, always an unwelcome design choice. PZA is (as far as I know) Carl Klutzke's first game, so chalk these flaws up to education. I look forward to playing another Klutzke game as well-implemented as PZA, but designed more thoughtfully. One nice element of PZA was its facility with IF homage. The game's "cluple" spell not only had a name that sounded straight out of Enchanter, it was virtually identical to that series' "snavig" spell. The almanac itself (as well as a number of other features) was a skillful allusion to the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Finally, the XYZZY command response is one of the more clever I've seen in a while. Clearly PZA's author is a devotee of the old games, and his devotion shows in his work. I am hopeful that his next piece of IF will live up to his worthy aspirations. Prose: The prose in PZA is generally very good. Rooms, objects, and random events are described concisely but with attention to detail. Some of the locations are rather sparsely treated (for example, the town consists of one location), but such skimping is always done in service of the plot, and more detail would serve to distract rather than to enrich. Plot: This is definitely the strongest point of PZA. The game starts out with an engaging hook, and after the twist I was definitely enjoying the direction of the story quite a bit. In addition, the author has manipulated the scoring system in such a way as to give the feeling of multiple endings. Granted, many of those endings amount to one version or another of "*** You have died ***", but not all of them. There are more and less successful solutions to the story, and they are integrated so naturally into the endgame text that they almost escape notice. One of the nicest implementations of multiple endings in the competition. Puzzles: Here there were problems. What happens to PZA is that its individual problems are well-considered, and their solutions are perfectly logical. However, when the actions that comprise those solutions are attempted in other areas of the game, they all too often drive the narrative into a blind alley from which there is no escape. It's one of the hardest balancing acts in interactive fiction: how to have sensible puzzles logically integrated into the game, without making the narrative too linear, which in their elements create no dead ends for the player. PZA doesn't pull it off. Technical: writing -- I found no technical errors in the writing. coding -- Once I played PZA on WinTADS, I had no problems with it. I started out trying to use it on my old DOS version of TR, and before I could even get one command out it was giving me TADS "Out of Memory" errors. Whether this is a bug in the program of the interpreter, I don't know enough about TADS to say. FTP FileTADS file (.gam) FTP FileTADS source code (.zip)

The Potter and the Mould

From: Mike Snyder (wyndo SP@G prowler-pro.com) Review appeared in
SPAG #44 -- April 30, 2006 TITLE: The Potter and the Mould AUTHOR: Robert Street EMAIL: adrift.reviews SP@G gmail.com DATE: March 31, 2006 PARSER: Adrift SUPPORTS: Adrift Runner and GLK Adrift AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: http://mirror.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/springthing/2006/mould.zip VERSION: Release 1 The superhero genre isn't my favorite. I've never been a big fan of larger- than-life, hard-to-believe super powers. Sure, I enjoy the comic-based movie from time to time - Superman with his flying, strength, and x-ray vision; Spiderman with his spider-sense and web-slinging; Batman with his. super wealth; X-Men, of course. I've been known to read a superhero comic, although not recently. I've played superhero IF once or twice. In essence, I'm not the ideal fan for The Potter and the Mould. This is a story for superhero fans, and it comes complete with all the trappings. Origin story? Check. Mutant-like powers? Definitely. An imperfect, self-doubting protagonist? Uh huh. The mentor/student relationship? You bet. An evil but misunderstood villain? Sure. Motivation by revenge? Of course. It's everything you'd expect from a superhero story. What I like best about The Potter and the Mould is that it keeps moving. It will appeal most to superhero fans, but it's a frenetic and fast-paced adventure that kept me enthralled for the four hours it took to complete. It *feels* more difficult than it really is, which is a credit to the author's talent. The puzzles aren't hard enough to impede the action, yet they leave a sense of accomplishment in their wake. My longest sticking point involved a machine-room and a clay dog. After solving it - which was easier than I tried to make it - I realized that the puzzles were simple and understated. They work to keep the story moving, not to work against it, and that's probably the best kind. In most cases, Robert avoids text-dumps by way of action prompting. This typically comes as a nudge from an NPC, beginning with the rescue scene at the beginning, through Waterfall's revelations in the mall, to the hurried trip to the Potter's inner sanctuary. It works very well, and keeps things interactive. The story has some surprises and twists. It strays from the predictable formula particularly near the end. Even though I appreciate the change-up, the victory felt less than satisfying. It was like facing down Dr. Evil, and getting a back -stabbing Mini-Me instead. What follows is an exciting bit, but not what I expected. The writing in this, Robert Street's latest game, left me puzzled. Even though I've commented about this in prior reviews, it seemed more noticeable here; equally hard to pin down, but more prevalent. It could just be his style, but I'm not convinced that's it. Too many sentences (even some in close proximity) ended awkwardly with the word "though". There was a glaring lack of contractions throughout the text - not always, but in certain passages - making it more awkward. This alone isn't a sticking point, but coupled with some awkward phrasings in general, it just didn't always read *right*. Take the following - just one random example from hundreds of lines of text: "The shops in this corner seem to be trying to outdo each other with silly displays." The words "seem to be trying to" are the awkward bit. I might write this as: "The shops in this corner strive to outdo each other with silly displays." These kinds of things weave themselves throughout the text. The removed bit was clunky and passive. The replacement flows better, and it's more active. I usually qualify these kinds of comments with a reminder that I'm no expert. I have to look two or three times to figure out just what it is about a sentence that bothers me. Even in the example above, I might change "each other" to "one another". At times, the text in The Potter and the Mould felt like a first draft, as though it had been written once and then left alone. At other times, the text felt too heavily edited, as if the smooth flow and original expression had been lost under the weight of so much revision. Which the case may be, I don't know. Like I said, it might just be the author's unique style. Robert didn't skimp on details. Even though this is an ever-moving game, the extra effort shows in the responses, from looking around to trying various other actions. This isn't always the case in story-heavy works, where the only important thing is doing exactly what advances the plot. I liked that The Potter and the Mould stood up to some prodding. The hero's premise, now that I've come to it, is that he can "mould" his shape into various things. Robert implemented this in a logical, user-friendly way. Mould options are task-specific and presented in a list. This maintains the illusion that you're really able to morph into anything, where free-form input (John Evans's games come to mind) makes this very difficult. It also gives the PC some say-so as to how the player proceeds. In other words, the PC dreams up these forms so the player doesn't have to. More than that, it eliminates the "I tried to become a diamond-tipped drill, but it didn't work" complaints, at the expense of limiting the player's options. Occasionally, this let me figure out a puzzle where I wouldn't otherwise have had all the facts, but all in all, it was a good design. Next comes the obligatory Adrift discussion - but I'll keep it short. I'm a fan of Adrift's auto-mapping, even if I found some necessary exits unmarked on it. It can be a crutch sometimes, and I probably shouldn't have tried to rely on the map as much. I'm not a fan, however, of Adrift's pick-apart parsing. I call it that, because I don't know if it has a real name. This is most problematic when commenting a transcript. If you type something that has the word "undo" anywhere in it, Adrift believes you intend to undo your last move. If you comment about "he" or "she", Adrift starts matching pronouns, leading to some interesting responses. Knowing nothing about its inner workings, I still get the impression that grammar isn't built the way it is in Hugo and other IF languages. Adrift makes plenty of assumptions, and it doesn't conform to any grammar rules. If it finds what appears to be a verb, and what appears to be a noun referencing a known object, it reacts. At times, such as when it reacts on an NPC you haven't encountered yet, it can even be a little spoilery. Even though I'm not a superhero fan, I enjoyed The Potter and the Mould. It was trippy, but it was fun. It's a solid game, and a credit to the author's experience. My Spring Thing score: "8" Zip file containing ADRIFT game file and walkthrough

Prized Possession

From: Emily Short <emshort SP@G mindspring.com> Review appeared in
SPAG #27 -- January 4, 2002 TITLE: Prized Possession AUTHOR: Kathleen M. Fischer E-MAIL: mfischer5 SP@G aol.com DATE: October 2001 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2001/inform/possess/Alys.z5 VERSION: Release 1 Given that I've liked Kathleen's other two major releases, I looked forward to this one with some eagerness, expecting another lighthearted and proficient period romance. Well, this could be considered a period romance, set as it is around a medieval woman faced with danger, death, disinheritance -- and the possibility of marriage. Lighthearted -- no. I found it fairly gloomy, actually. Which would not in itself be enough to doom the game, but it did drain some of the entertainment value out of the romance, which was rather vaguely sketched. Kathleen has since said that she did not intend Prized Possession to be a romance per se at all; so I am left to wonder why I considered it a failed one, rather than a successful something-else. Perhaps it's audience expectation, but I'd like to hope that I'm clever enough not to have put Kathleen into a specific niche on the basis of two games. I think the answer is that I found the primary NPC to be one of the driving influences of the plot; that most of the other characters were around for so little time that it was difficult to formulate a sense of my relationship to them. Where I did formulate such a sense, it was a sense that conformed to the stereotypical characterizations of the romance genre: there is, for instance, a character who fits the type of the Sinister and Ill-Meaning Guardian. All the game's clues seemed to push me towards the conclusion that that's what he was; I simply accepted that and went on. The other problem, from my point of view, is that it's possible to die or get a very unhappy ending in this game, not once, but over and over, on almost every turn, by picking the wrong one of two apparently equivalent options or by failing to do something nonobvious in the nick of time. I made a valiant effort, but went to the walkthrough and stayed there after the second scene or so. I never did feel as though I had a clear handle on what was going on, exactly: who everyone was, what they intended towards me, what I was trying to accomplish, or even exactly where I was. The height of my confusion came when I read some line about the curve of the heroine's belly, and presumed, from this clue, that she was in fact already pregnant, through some mischance, and that this was the reason for her apparent disgrace and travails on the road. I eventually decided that I'd misread or misinterpreted that, but it is evidence, I think, of how little the game gives the player to work with. The only aspect of the plot that I felt I really understood was the shadowy, vague beginnings of a romance with the main NPC. Doubtless this also affected my idea of what sort of game it was. Leaving aside all of those considerations, I think the game's choppiness tells against it in another way. I felt that I had no luxury to explore, to enjoy the things that one enjoys in IF. I agree that it would've been a dead bore to experience in full however many days we were on the road, or whatever, but possibly some happier medium could have been found than the rapid chapter jumps, which in places occur every couple of moves. It would be wrong to say that this game was not interactive enough: compared to something like Rameses, it's full of choices. The only problem is that most of those choices lead to disaster. I felt impelled to keep going, because I knew that my PC was in dreadful peril; there was no time to waste, not even on reading the game text more carefully. And then came panic and then disaster, or at least a long lifetime in the local nunnery. Summary: Railroady is not quite the word I want; the experience was more reminiscent of a rickety rollercoaster that started and slowed again unpredictably, and sometimes flung me out of the car entirely. (Litigation ensues.) Nonetheless, it still has the technical cohesion and decent writing one expects from a proven author, and if I was disappointed, it was relative to some high expectations. FTP FileDirectory with .z5 Zcode file and walkthrough

Promoted!

From: C.E. Forman <ceforman SP@G worldnet.att.net> Review appeared in
SPAG #10 -- February 4, 1997 NAME: Promoted! AUTHOR: Mike DeSanto EMAIL: desantom SP@G io.com DATE: October 1996 PARSER: Homebrew SUPPORTS: OS/2 only. AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition96/promoted VERSION: Version 1.0 The biggest drawback to this entry is its interpreter, which runs only under OS/2. I sincerely hope that this isn't detrimental to its vote count, because it's a lot of fun, and deserves more attention than the (relatively) small OS/2 crowd can give it. Essentially, "Promoted!" is a zany satire of life in the corporate world, with a well-established mythos and lots of in-jokes that non- office players probably won't get much out of. The biggest plus is that the setting is not just a bunch of inside jokes based solely on DeSanto's place of employment. Anyone who's worked in a maze of twisty little cubicles (all alike) will be able to relate to the situations presented here. DeSanto's take on corporate culture is amusing and well thought out, and he has a good grasp of what REALLY goes on in an office, though it's not quite up to the level of Scott Adams (and when I say Scott Adams here, I am of course referring to the "Dilbert" Scott Adams, not the SCOTT ADAMS Scott Adams). On the other hand, some of the puzzles could be improved. There's lots of death without warning, a bit too much in a game without "UNDO," and some very text-adventurish situations. The colored tape puzzle, for example, felt exactly like something that didn't quite make it into a "Zork" game. The disguise puzzles, on the other hand, are neat, and quiz the player on the details of the world DeSanto has built. I also encountered some difficulty with Rexx-Adventure itself. It's a neat engine, a snap to grasp, but a bit buggy. Before I'd finished "Promoted!", I'd crashed the engine multiple times, receiving VX-REXX errors when I clicked among the lists a bit too fast, or when I tried to exceed my inventory's capacity. Future bug fixes should eliminate this. One advantage to the interface is the fact that its obviation of guess-the-verb paves the way for some obscure puzzles that wouldn't be acceptable with typed commands (i.e. "STRIP WIRES"). Here's hoping Rexx-Adventure sees ports to more systems. FTP FileDirectory With Rexx-Adventure Files FTP FileInform port (.z5)

Provenance

From: Jim Aikin <midiguru23 SP@G sbcglobal.net> Review appeared in
SPAG #46 -- October 17, 2006 TITLE: Provenance AUTHOR: Corey W. Arnett EMAIL: coreywarnett SP@G hotmail.com DATE: July 4, 2006 PARSER: Adrift Generator 4.00 AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: http://www3.telus.net/coreyarnett VERSION: 1.12.16 (10 Feb. 2006) I take it as axiomatic that interactive fiction is an entirely new art form. It bears, perhaps, the same relation to conventional fiction that film bears to theatre. Or possibly that's too grandiose a comparison. One difficulty we face in nurturing this new medium is that, because the community of enthusiasts is tiny and the forums through which new works can be discussed are few and unknown to the public at large, every new work that's released gets tossed into the common pool with all of the existing works, to sink or swim as best it can. The lack of stratification or hierarchy in the marketplace (using the term in a broad sense) puts a burden on novice authors. Where is the interested novice to get feedback and tutelage from more experienced authors, without being discouraged by scathing criticism? How are we to be fair and helpful when discussing the weaknesses of what can only be called student works? I started thinking about this after I spent a couple of hours wandering around in Provenance. Cory Arnett's first game is precisely a student work. The author shows promise, and I hope he'll work hard to hone his skills and release a more polished, thoughtful game, or several of them. Provenance itself, however, is unlikely to attract many players, or hold their attention for very long. The strength of the game lies in the touches of creepy, ominous atmosphere and in the grandeur of the scenery at certain locations. Its shortcomings are just as easily listed: The model world is thin, the story is incoherent, and the code is buggy. As the story opens you're in your carriage, riding through a forest. Night is falling and winter closing in. Shortly you reach a Victorian manor house, and a sinister-looking trail of blood droplets on the front walk leads you up to the door. As you explore the house and grounds, various momentary incidents hint that All Is Not Well. In the end, sad to say, these glimpses turn out to be a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. The effect of the brooding atmosphere is undercut by bits of florid over-writing. Consider this, from the intro: "The sun has breached the horizon and its fervent intensity warms the land.... Only the sound of your horse's hooves break up the monotonous silence that permeates through the solitude." Note the grammatical error: "sound" is singular, so the verb should be "breaks up." Also, in this passage the sun is rising. A few sentences later, it's setting. The game fails to follow through consistently with the gloomy spell cast by winter: When you enter the garden of the manor house, you'll find roses and wisteria in bloom, as well as ripe tomatoes and strawberries. Curiously, you can pick eight varieties of vegetable in the garden (counting strawberries as a vegetable), but they have nothing to do with solving the game. The player character's goal is not initially clear, but the game turns out to be a treasure hunt. Most players will probably find, before long, a handy list of the things we're supposed to collect. Finding the key that will get you into the house is more challenging, however. I feel this puzzle is borderline unfair, because it requires that you examine scenery objects three deep. Without giving spoilers, you have to 'x abc', then when you notice a mention of def in the description of abc, 'x def', and finally 'x ghi' based on an object mentioned in the description of def. This is borderline unfair because many of the scenery objects mentioned in the room descriptions can't be examined at all. By the time the location of the key is reached, the average player may have wearied of examining things and gotten lazy. But if you're not lazy -- if you meticulously examine everything in sight, as you need to in order to get on -- you'll most likely get annoyed by how thin the model world is. I certainly did. Once you're inside the house, the scenery is a bit more varied. I found one way to get killed (without notice), and there's one extremely boring character I could attempt to talk to. This character wanders from room to room under the control of a random number generator, but does not respond in any way when you ask him questions to which he might be supposed to know the answers. I did find two topics he'd give brief, uninformative replies to. The author's enthusiasm for Victorian furniture quickly begins to seem obsessive. Various pieces are described in ways that include their precise measurements and the methods used to produce those beautiful wood finishes. Consider, for example, this description of the bathtub: "An amazing display of Victorian decorating taken to the ultimate limit, the cast iron bath tub has been painted a sea foam green on the outside with a scene of four sea fairies riding sailfish on large rolling waves. The inside of the tub has been painted white. Four gold plated claw feet support the tub." You can't sit in the tub, and you can't examine the sea fairies, the sailfish, or the claw feet. Ah, well -- it's certainly pretty. The writing of room descriptions appears to have been done at different times, or at least with insufficient thought as to how various descriptions relate to one another. In the upstairs hall we're told that the master bedroom, to the south, "dominates most of the upstairs." But when we enter the master bedroom we're told this: "Although called the master bedroom this room is no larger than the other small bedrooms. It is cramped, yet cozy." So much for dominating the upstairs. In a similar gaffe, a character (who never appears onstage and has nothing to do with the process of winning the game) is referred to in one document as Jacob, and in a different document as Jonathan. There are numerous minor bugs in the printouts. At one spot a sentence breaks off in the middle. At another a room exit is not mentioned in the "can't go" message, which usually lists all of the available exits. At a third spot, the NPC (okay, he's the butler) entered and said something that seemed urgent, but when I tried to ask him about it, the game reported, "The butler is not here." Things that don't exist if you try to examine them can occasionally be used, for example by putting other things inside them. The most significant bugs seem to be caused by the author's assumption that the player would perform certain actions in a given order. For instance, there's a locked box, to which you'll sooner or later find the key, in a certain location. When I unlocked it while going through the game on my own, it was empty. Or at least, no contents appeared; the verb 'search' is not implemented, so I couldn't search the box, only examine it. When I reached the same box using the walkthrough, I had just performed an action that caused a brief cut-scene -- and NOW the box had some objects in it. Even the walkthrough is buggy. The first time a certain map is mentioned is when you're told to drop it. Apparently the butler is supposed to give it to you ... but there's a bug in the software that somehow prevented him from doing so. And without the map, you can't win the game. The dramatic setup for the treasure hunt is contained in a Last Will & Testament, which you'll probably find before too long. This document contradicts itself with respect to the structure of the family that lives (or lived) in the house, and it contains, as far as I could see, no information that you actually need in order to win the game, until you reach the final codicil. All that legal boilerplate is numbingly irrelevant. Later there's a long and fairly sensible description of alchemy -- but again, it seems to be irrelevant to winning the game. At a couple of spots, the author seems to have been unable to figure out how to move the player back to the house from a remote location, so he simply puts the player character to sleep and has him or her wake up again in the master bedroom. No explanation of these transitions is ever offered. The final phase of the game involves negotiating a very large maze. Fortunately, the automatic map generator in Adrift makes short work of what would otherwise be an extremely tedious process. When you reach the center of the maze and perform the actions you've been instructed (in a certain document) to perform, the final result is simply, "You win!!!" That's it -- no marching band, no sun bursting through the clouds, no hearty congratulatory handshake from the Vice President of Adventure Gaming Virtuosity. It's a letdown, but rather in keeping with the game as a whole, I'd have to say. Arnett is capable of moments of startling vision, and he clearly wants to engage readers by using evocative materials. (Those drops of blood are far from the only glimpses of savagery in Provenance.) In his next game I hope he'll trim the number of rooms in half, implement more verbs and scenery, invent more puzzles that aren't simply keys and locked doors, integrate the story elements a lot more firmly into the game scenario, give us a few NPCs with meat on their bones, and arm-twist a few beta-testers to put the screws to his code. That's all it would take, really. Zip containing ADRIFT game file, feelies, and solution

Punkirita Quest One: Liquid

From: John Wood <john SP@G elvw.demon.co.uk> Review appeared in
SPAG #10 -- February 4, 1997 NAME: Punkirita Quest One: Liquid AUTHOR: Rybread Celsius EMAIL: rybread SP@G cshore.com DATE: October 1996 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Inform Ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition96/liquid VERSION: Version 1.0 Well, this one's got it all...unfortunately. Spelling and grammatical errors in almost every sentence. Random instant death. Lots of locations where there's nothing to do, and scenery not recognised by the parser. Exactly one object you can manipulate. On the plus side, the first puzzle's actually quite good if you cut away the misleading responses - I like the idea of dealing with a situation when you (apparently) have nothing that can help you. This, however, is not enough to rescue the game. From: C.E. Forman <ceforman SP@G worldnet.att.net> Review appeared in SPAG #10 -- February 4, 1997 Hooboy. I tried to like this one (I really did!), but even after finishing it I felt I had virtually no grasp of the world the author was attempting to create. It's fantasy, of course, but aside from the introduction, there is virtually no text to help players learn more about the world around them. Most rooms are empty and useless, and many of them have obscure pop-culture jokes that appear hopelessly out of place. The major puzzles are quite illogical, and there's really no way of figuring them out without the walkthrough, as there are no characters to talk to or ancient tomes to consult. The writing is unfortunately quite atrocious, with every kind of spelling, grammar, punctuation, and capitalization error imaginable, which makes it a chore to read. The author seems reluctant to add new verbs to the grammar: Help screens, footnotes, and some attempts at background information are stored in a separate text file. (Then again, I did the same thing with MST3K1 last year, so I guess I'm not fit to cast the first stone here.) Perhaps this game might have turned out better in a longer format. It seems the author had a lot more to put into this game, but was daunted by the two-hour limit. I hope he's not overly discouraged by my criticism here. Hopefully the next release will feature better world- building and the use of a spell-checker. FTP FileDirectory With Inform .z5 File and walkthrough

Purple

From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G merle.acns.nwu.edu> Review appeared in
SPAG #17 -- May 10, 1999 NAME: Purple AUTHOR: Stefan Blixt E-MAIL: flash SP@G df.lth.se DATE: 1998 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition98/inform/purple VERSION: Release 1 Not many works of IF are spellbinding or even compelling from beginning to end; a game with a few memorable moments or some good puzzles may be remembered fondly and replayed often, even if the rest of the game is undistinguished. A notable example, to my mind, is Sorcerer, the bulk of which is rather ho-hum but which features two brilliant puzzles that most consider among Infocom's best ever. This is not to suggest that Purple, Stefan Blixt's entry in the 1998 competition, is in Sorcerer's league; it's not. But as with that game and others, an otherwise undistinguished entry is redeemed by a few compelling moments and some intriguing ideas. Nuclear holocaust is imminent, but your brother Karl is planning to evade the blast and start over in the postapocalyptic world. To reveal precisely what you do would, I think, spoil the best moments of Purple: at its best, it has some of the austerity of well-imagined post-holocaust science fiction, such as Walter Miller's Canticle for Leibowitz; the way that remnants from the "before" turn up in the "after" is sometimes rather chilling. Purple is, to be sure, not even as well written as most average sci-fi, and certain moments go underdescribed--but the spareness of the prose serves the author well in spots. Descriptions are concise enough that they convey what happens and let the player mentally fill in the details. There is one moment at a turning point in the story that gave me a real chill--the author handles a certain transition particularly well--and I was disposed to like the game from that point on, I think. There are other things that are done well: a certain hidden object is nicely clued, and the behavior of a certain NPC is well described. Disturbing details are scattered here and there, rather than filling every room description, suggesting a measure of restraint. As indicated, however, the general quality of Purple is uneven at best. The writing hits several potholes, particularly in certain events toward the end of the game, where it becomes difficult to tell exactly what's going on. There are plenty of typos and spelling problems, and a few places where the brevity of the descriptions becomes confusing. Technical problems abound as well: there are a few crashes, a major disambiguation problem, and one character who consistently asks you for something no matter how often you give it to him. More generally, several plot angles go unresolved--it would be nice to see Purple extended or followed up to make some more sense of the story. As it is, it's a little like a trailer: lots of intriguing things happen, but it would be worth knowing more about them. There are other problems. After a certain point, Purple's pacing suffers: there aren't any time limits or even anything encouraging haste for most of the game, which is a shame because a sense of urgency might have made the plot more compelling. There are some points where wander-around-and-explore is a good mood to set, but after a while the exploratory feel needs to stop. Karl simply doesn't have enough to say--he has a few interesting responses, but too many things elicit no response, and his stable of comments is annoyingly small. (His one major task receives so little description that the effect is almost comic.) More generally, it's hard to escape the feeling that the author needed another month to fill in the details of Purple and clean up the bugs: if you deviate too much from the author's storyline, the seams start to show. (Particularly toward the end, if you do things out of sequence.) Given that the game provides minimal direction about what to do when, the effect can be a bit confusing. The author provides plenty of interesting details in his world, but never manages to make it seem coherent. But Purple, I think, is greater than the sum of its parts, and the few compelling moments made up for the many bugs and slip-ups. If lack of polish bothers you, avoid this one; if you're so used to rough edges that you've learned to look past them, and you haven't tried Purple, you might appreciate the pieces of an interesting story that occasionally appear amid the bugs. Though far from a resounding success, Purple is a nice effort with some effective moments (and a huge improvement over the author's Pintown from the previous year), and I gave it a 7 in the competition. FTP FileDirectory with Inform .z5 file and text files

The Pyramids of Mars

From:
Cedric Knight <ADDRESS REMOVED> Review appeared in SPAG #24 -- March 24, 2001 TITLE: The Pyramids of Mars AUTHOR: Patrick Wigfull EMAIL: ? DATE: 1994 PARSER: AGT, sub-Inform SUPPORTS/PLATFORM: AGT interpreters, comes with AGT runtime AVAILABILITY: Freeware?, IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/agt/mars.zip Being a fan of the BBC TV show, "Doctor Who", I was pleased to see this in the archives. The game pays tribute to the show by adapting one popular story from 1976 when the central character was played by Tom Baker. This had a typical plot in that an ancient Egyptian god is discovered to be a powerful alien intent on laying waste to whole galaxies, yet the action centres around a quiet country house in 1911, reminiscent of the H.P. Lovecraft influence common in IF. This particular story might seem a good candidate for adaptation due to the technical puzzles that are solved, but in fact "do something terribly clever" isnít handled well by most parsers. Therefore Wigfull has had to eliminate many of the obstacles of the TV series and replaced them with some plausible alternatives that will work in an adventure game while being in keeping with the original plot. So thereís still plenty of challenge for people with reasonably clear memories of the version released on video, although for people with no previous knowledge there will be challenge in the substantive problems as well as the minutiae. "Mars" is a faithful homage, which only Who obsessives would think of picking holes in. It is unfortunate that some of the new puzzles are very particular in their solution, e.g. "put gelignite on equipment" is legal, but not useful. There are also several ways you can get yourself into an unwinnable situation and have to restart. Most players can cope with this, although when you have explored the environment once, you have to wait for about 50 turns before events unfold enough for you to really start the action. The AGT interpreter for the PC that comes with this package gives a divide-by-zero error probably due to higher processor speeds, but the DA1 file runs reasonably well in AgiliTy except for a few considerations. In particular the hint/help system doesnít work, neither do the cursor and function keys as described in the documentation, and opening the front door (an unnecessary action in any case) generates an infinite loop error. IF has of course moved on considerably since this game was written. One NPC here is very static, and may provide you with some useful information, while the others are of the variety that may flit by for a brief dramatic scene, although they get bumped off very early anyway. The Scarman brothers could be developed much more, instead Laurence unaccountably "sniffs the teapot" or "checks his fly". Most notable by her absence is Sarah, the Doctor's companion in the TV story. Itís often said of the TV companions that they were mostly there to ask stupid questions so the Doctor could explain the plot to the viewer, and Sarah was surplus to requirements here, but it was a shame the author did not take the opportunity to develop the characterís role for its own sake. PLOT: Momentous (1.4) ATMOSPHERE: Good in parts (1.2) WRITING: A few typos (1.0) GAMEPLAY: AGT (0.8) ADAPTATION: Difficult source (1.2) OVERALL: 5.6 CHARACTERS: Single-purpose (1.1) PUZZLES: Sometimes illogical 1.0 DIFFICULTY: Medium FTP FileAGT game files (.zip) FTP FileSolution

Pytho's Mask

From: Thomas Smith <heptagon SP@G swirve.com> Review appeared in
SPAG #28 --March 20, 2002 TITLE: Pytho's Mask AUTHOR: Emily Short E-MAIL: emshort SP@G mindspring.com DATE: 2001 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GMD) URL: ftp://ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/zcode/pytho.z8 VERSION: Release 2 I want to marry Galatea. This is something that should be got out in the open, to avoid any later confusion. Galatea is stimulating, engaging, fun, not to mention one of the greatest -- probably the single greatest -- technical achievements in IF. And I want to marry her. Sadly, there is nobody in Pytho's Mask who I want to marry. This is probably a good thing. On the other hand, I do want to buy the palace and live in it. These strange desires should probably be a cause for concern and -- eventually -- expensive therapy; however, they do serve to point one thing out: the tremendous talent of Emily Short. There are other things that could point this out, of course. Things like the bravura opening: a few lines of cryptic dialogue are followed by an immediate scene-change, at which point you are engaged in conversation. This is impressive. Not necessarily because of the technical difficulty -- anyone can script an NPC to say a line -- but because of the sheer cheek of it: how many IF authors are there who even encourage you to converse with their NPCs, let alone draw your attention to them? Of course, this is done not out of cheek, but rather because this author -- almost uniquely in IF -- can get away with it; Emily Short's NPCs are far ahead of anyone else's, both technically and in terms of character. In fact, that could be said to be the only problem with Pytho's Mask: the technical aspects of this game represent such a leap ahead that the other parts of the game seem occasionally to struggle to keep up. The idea of combining ask/tell and menu-based conversation systems so as to keep the fluidity of the first but the sense of the second was utterly brilliant -- but there are many places where either so much has been implemented that it is possible to simply get lost in conversation, or others where the crucial topic is mysteriously lacking. Is it unfair to judge Pytho's Mask like this? By any other author's standards, the conversations in it are a hell of an achievement -- it's just that this isn't any other author, this is the author responsible for Galatea, and indeed the author responsible for this system. Not only that, but everything else about the game is superb. What seems like a slightly bizarre fantasy story rapidly settles into a whodunnit -- or rather, whos-going-to-do-it -- with added love interest, both of which are beautifully written and paced. The writing is good; the implementation is deep (although with some gaps). The game is shortish, but that isn't in itself a problem -- there's plenty packed in. Generally, then, this is not quite a perfect game, but it's getting pretty close. FTP FileBlorb (.blb) file with Glulx version FTP FileOriginal Inform version packaged with other SmoochieComp games FTP FileInform .z8 file of Version 3
Go to the previous page of reviews (O)

Go to the next page of reviews (Q)