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The email addresses used are those submitted with the review, so naturally some of them may be out of date.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.
Go to the previous page of reviews (P)
Table of ContentsQuarterstaff
QuarterstaffFrom: Christopher E. Forman <ceforman SP@G worldnet.att.net> Review appeared in SPAG #9 -- June 11, 1996 NAME: Quarterstaff GAMEPLAY: Combination Parser/GUI AUTHOR: Infocom & Westwood PLOT: Fairly straightforward EMAIL: ATMOSPHERE: Perhaps a bit lacking AVAILABILITY: Commercial (quite rare) WRITING: Not bad PUZZLES: Not many, in the true sense REQUIRES: Mac or Mac emulator CHARACTERS: Pseudo-intelligent DIFFICULTY: Below average For centuries, the various Druid sects have been responsible for preserving peace and prosperity among the four kingdoms of Rhea. But when the Tree Druids, the most powerful sect of all, mysteriously vanish, disaster threatens the world. A party of three great warriors was sent to investigate the disappearance, but was never heard from again. So a new party has been selected as the last hope to rescue the Tree Druids and restore their Majik. (Just in case anyone cares, this is #3 on the list of different Infocom spellings of the word -- there was the traditional "magic" in the Zork and Enchanter Trilogies, the archaic "magick" in Wishbringer and Beyond Zork, and now "majik." But I digress...) "Quarterstaff: The Tomb of Setmoth" is famous for a lot of reasons. First, it was one of the company's very last releases (if not _the_ last) under MediaGenic. Second, unless you count the breakdown of "Dungeon" into the Zork Trilogy (which I don't), it's the only Infocom adaption of an already-existing game -- "Quarterstaff" is based on a little-known earlier FRPG of the same title by Westwood Associates, who also collaborated with Infocom on "Circuit's Edge," "Mines of Titan," and the two "BattleTech" games. Third, it's notorious for being incredibly difficult to find, as only the Macintosh version was ever released. (And, contrary to popular belief, there is _no_ finished-yet-unreleased PC version lurking about the ruins of Infocom. David Lebling has denied this rumor several times.) As a result, "Quarterstaff" is something of an Infocom Holy Grail, sought by devoted collectors everywhere. As an obscure collector's item, it's one of the best there is. But how is it as a _game_? It took me quite awhile to really be able to learn that for myself, as the game obviously requires a Macintosh to play. I'd tried "Executor," a Mac emulator (available from vorlon.mit.edu), but couldn't get it (the emulator) to load properly on my machine, and finally had to resort to playing "Quarterstaff" down in the campus Mac lab. Not being overly familiar with Macs (I'd never used one in my life), I had to grab the basics of the Mac operating system as well. Also, the game has problems loading if you're not running the right system. If you don't have System 6.0 and Finder 6.1, you'll need to boot the game with the System Disk supplied in the game package. Just trying to play "Quarterstaff" was an adventure in itself! But I'm happy to report that, although it's nowhere near the level reached by Infocom at their height, "Quarterstaff" manages to be a moderately entertaining game with a nifty combination of windows and parser for a play system. It reminded me of nothing so much as Virgin's Magnetic Scrolls interface, with perhaps a bit of the old C64 game "Rogue" mixed in. There are windows and menus for text, inventory, objects in the vicinity, optional graphics, maps, and an extensive on-line help and hint system. And what of the Infocom parser? Yes, it's still present, and more or less up to their regular standards, aside from a few annoying twists -- non-cardinal directions such as northeast and southwest aren't used, the "UNDO" command is absent, and some of the basic I-F commands have been altered slightly ("WAIT" is replaced by "PASS" or "GUARD," and "REPEAT" is used instead of "AGAIN"), with few abbreviations allowed. Let this serve as a lesson: NEVER stray too far from the firmly established text adventure conventions; you'll only confuse and annoy players accustomed to time-honored I-F tradition. At heart, though, "Quarterstaff" is an RPG, not pure I-F. And in traditional RPG style, the game puts you in control of not a lone quester, but a party of adventurers, necessitating a slightly different method of play. Members of the party are classified as either leaders or followers, and behave accordingly -- with a directional move, the followers follow their leader. In other situations, the followers can take their own non-directional actions, and the "Quarterstaff" player types one command for each member. Special commands include the aforementioned "PASS"; "MIMIC,", to imitate the leader; and "SPLIT" and "JOIN" to disband from the party and regroup, respectively. The need to enter separate commands for every member of the party inevitably leads to a considerably longer play session. Unlike most RPGs, this game does not classify characters as fighters, thieves, magic users, etc. Rather, all characters are able to use the entire spectrum of skills to some extent, and their proficiencies continuously increase or decrease according to the frequency with which the character practices them. Other aspects of FRP are incorporated rather realistically. Takeable items have such properties as size, shape, and weight, and NPCs wander about of their own accord (some will join your party). It's necessary to "WIELD" weapons before using them (a la "Beyond Zork"), and characters must also provide themselves with food, water, and sleep (interestingly, lack of sleep will actually cause a character to take damage points). The writing is about par for Infocom, good but not outstanding, although Amy Briggs ("Plundered Hearts") is credited with producing some of the text. As for puzzles, well...there just aren't very many in the true I-F sense. Your progress depends largely on discovering hidden objects and keys, unlocking doors, replenishing light sources, and opening secret passages. In most cases a little careful observation is all that's needed. Although the layout is fairly vast, there just isn't much variety, as the game is primarily combat-oriented ("ATTACK," "THROW," and "SHOOT" are used ad nauseum...though the "SMILE" command is kind of cute). IMO, the most significant "real" puzzle is that of deciphering a set of magic words using a parchment and wooden coin included in the game package. (Apparently quite a few players were stumped by this -- Infocom actually gave away the entire solution in the very last issue of "The Status Line." Refer to the notes at the end of this review for details on how to do it.) There is also one critical bug -- the game crashes your entire system if anything with nested objects (containers and NPCs holding items) is set on fire. This causes problems in two areas in particular -- the Charred Room and the second dungeon level (again, see below for info on avoiding the crashes). On the plus side, there are no "fatal mistakes" for players to make. You can't screw up the game completely unless your entire party is killed off. How well does all this work when put together? Sadly, only so-so. "Quarterstaff" is really neat at the outset, but sooner or later the novelty wears off and it becomes rather tiresome to play through toward the end (as did Infocom's other RPG offerings, "BattleTech" and "Mines of Titan"). Once you've played through, it's doubtful you'll feel much like experiencing it again. "Quarterstaff" simply doesn't have the same play value as the all-text games. But then, that's not the reason most Infocom fans want a copy. (SPOILER ALERT!) Now, about that coin and parchment: The poem on the top of the map is just a cryptic way of explaining what you're supposed to do. Basically, you use the coin, the compass rose on the parchment, and the identify wand (it's pictured on the parchment above the poem) to decipher and use four magic words, one corresponding to each of the messages on the bottom of the parchment. Each message is used to form the word that can be spoken to identify unnamed keys, wands, scrolls, and potions (provided the character who uses the word is actually holding the identify wand in his hands). Make sense so far? Each message on the bottom of the parchment reveals four things: 1) The correct placement of the coin. 2) The starting point for determining the word. 3) The number of steps (letters in the word). 4) The direction in which to decipher. What you want to do is put the coin on the compass, making sure the coin's arrow points in the direction specified by the message. Then, beginning at the starting point, move the number of "steps" in the direction the message says, around the circumference of the coin and parchment, writing down one letter for each step. Letters alternate between the coin and the parchment, and can start on either. As an example, the magic word for keys is "GURZ," and the word for potions is "NESOE." The last two are left as an exercise for the player. As for the crashes... In the Charred Room, all you need to do is unlock the bronze seal. Once you've found the key, disband a single member (preferably one with a high resistance to heat) and send him back to unlock it. For the dungeon, the problem area is the region labeled A1-A5, etc. Stay on the D's and the 5's, and you'll be safe from the mines.