Game Reviews R

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

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

The email addresses used are those submitted with the review, so naturally some of them may be out of date.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

Table of Contents

Ralph Rameses Rans The Realm The Recruit Reefer Island The Reliques of Tolti-Aph Rematch Rent-a-Spy Research Dig Return to Ditch Day Return to Pirate's Island 2 Reverberations Ribbons Richard Basehart Adventure Rippled Flesh Risorgimento Represso The Ritual of Purification Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots


From: Christopher E. Forman <ceforman SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #10 -- February 4, 1997 NAME: Ralph AUTHOR: Miron Schmidt EMAIL: s590501 SP@G DATE: October 1996 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Inform Ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF Archive URL: VERSION: Version 1.0 "Ralph" was short (3 puzzles), not too difficult, and fun. I found this one to be very cute, and it just oozes with charm (I smiled at Christopher Robin and Blamant the Teddy, felt a certain sadness at seeing Ralph's unkind owners, and laughed out loud at the fate of poor Benny the Fluff Duck). The writing is good, but sometimes seems geared toward a human's manner of thinking rather than a dog's. The glass sheet puzzle, for instance, seemed slightly out of place in a game about a dog. Further, the descriptions of some objects lend a distinct air of anthropomorphism, rather than a pure dog's-eye view of the world. Would a dog really think of a sheet of glass, or a man's pipe, with the same words as a human? A different approach to vocabulary (perhaps adopting Richard Adams' technique of an animal language as seen in "Watership Down") might have made me feel a bit more like a real dog, but there are still plenty of doggy situations and doggy verbs to investigate. "Ralph" may not be "top dog" this year, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's one of the competition's most fondly remembered entries. (Benny the Fluff Duck, we hardly knew ye.) From: Duncan Stevens <dnrb SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #25 -- June 20, 2001 Latter-day IF has seen quite a few innovative experiments with point of view, so it's worth remembering the game that, as far as I know, started the trend, namely Miron Schmidt's Ralph, a 1996 competition entry. In Ralph, you play a dog, a thoroughly doggy dog at that-and while it's not a revolutionary exercise in PC characterization, it's a charming game that ably tackles the challenges of point-of-view experimentation. Your task is to find a lost bone that you've buried somewhere (belying the notion that dogs can always find bones, or other things, that they've buried). The puzzles are somewhat over the top--they involve a more subtle grasp of human and animal psychology than most dogs have, and they strain the limits of a dog's physique--but they're not bad puzzles, on the whole. On the other hand, the puzzles are probably the least doggy thing about the game, since they don't involve thinking like a dog as such, nor are the limitations of inhabiting a dog's body particularly limiting. (Compare A Bear's Night Out, where being a teddy bear was an obstacle to overcome on several fronts, and A Day for Soft Food, where puzzle solutions reflected housecat thinking in several instances.) They're perfectly good human puzzles, but they don't exactly fit here. What does fit, however, is the Easter eggs, of which there are many. Doggy verbs implemented include BARK, BITE, GROWL, SCRATCH, PEE ON, LICK, SMELL, SLOBBER, WAG--and when the verb is transitive, there are logical responses for most of the objects in the game. Particularly amusing in that respect is Christopher Robin, your family's two-year-old, with whom you can interact in a wide variety of levels; likewise, the cat offers amusement opportunities. Beyond that, the game does capture the single-minded psychology of a pet--you note humans' frustration or anger with you casually, but you really only care about that bone. The setting is less than vividly rendered--this is a suburban yard with basic suburban-yard objects--but you're afforded quite a variety of things to do in that suburban yard. Truth to tell, if Ralph had skipped the puzzles entirely and simply devoted itself entirely to Easter eggs, it would have been-well, a pretty aimless game, but possibly quite a lot of fun. Ralph illustrates nicely the challenge faced by concept games, games where the gimmick is the raison d'etre: while it's one thing to think of a good idea that translates well into the IF medium, as this undoubtedly does, it's another thing to convert it seamlessly into puzzle-based IF. This sort of thing can, of course, work both as concept and as puzzle game, as later attempts have shown, but Ralph doesn't really work on both levels (partly because it's so short). The concept, however, is great, and as implementation of the concept this is quite good, more than enough to make it worth playing. The lesson, perhaps, is that the best games are those that marry up high concept with a high level of interactivity (in the form of good puzzles, perhaps, or something else), and Ralph isn't quite on that level, pioneering as it was. At any rate, if you either like dogs or enjoy laughing at dogs' foibles, Ralph is worth a quick look-see; it's got enough funny lines and knowing references to doghood to make it enjoyable. FTP FileInform file (.z5) (updated version) FTP FileInform file (.z5) (competition version) FTP FileInform source code


From: Duncan Stevens <dnrb SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #23 -- December 29, 2000 TITLE: Rameses AUTHOR: Stephen Bond E-MAIL: stephenbond SP@G DATE: 2000 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 2 If you'd asked me before this year's competition began to envision a game whose lack of interactivity was among its primary virtues, I'd have had trouble coming up with an example. My imagination is clearly lacking, however, because Stephen Bond's Rameses is just such a game, one that uses the player's inability to interact (in part) to tell its story. It's an interesting concept that's well implemented here. Rameses is a tale of adolescence, which, for those who remember last year's A Moment of Hope, isn't necessarily a good sign; making the trials of adolescence compelling to those of us who are no longer in that stage is not easy. But Rameses manages to find the balance between turning the trials in question into melodrama (by exaggerating them) and making them too trivial to be compelling. Specifically, you're a teenager at a boarding school, enduring your two unpleasant roommates and your own homesickness, or something akin to it--and the roommates aren't monsters, they're just obnoxious. Nor is your character a misunderstood saint--he's flawed in many respects. The protagonist manages to elicit the player's sympathy despite (or perhaps because of) the game's refusal to demand such sympathy. How? Several ways. First, much of Rameses consists of conversation (in a menu format)--and for long stretches of the conversation, your character's head is bursting with things to say (as evidenced by the menu), and yet he never says any of the things. There are always explanations, of course, some of them plausible--nasty insults are withdrawn with something akin to "You'd rather not start a fight right now"--but what emerges is a striking portrait of frustration, of a bottled-up character. It's not, exactly, that he's bottled up by circumstances, by the Awful Consequences Of His Oppressive Life; that would push it into melodrama, and this isn't melodramatic. It's more a picture of a highly inarticulate character whose fear of expressing himself borders on the neurotic, and drawing out that inarticulateness by trying a range of conversational options (from the polite to the highly antisocial), only to have the character reject all of them, is a nicely done depiction of the character. (It's not exactly inarticulateness--what's in your head is often quite well put--it's more a fear of expressing oneself, for which there's no concise term that I know. So I'm calling it inarticulateness.) There's more to the character than unwillingness to talk, though--there's also a healthy dollop of insecurity. A date of sorts is imminent, and your character is terrified and would like nothing more than to get out of it--he simply doesn't feel ready for that particular aspect of adolescence. Most of that particular hangup is captured in a monologue, but the date itself brings it alive as well: you're with two girls, and you're at a loss, for turn after turn, for anything to say to them. The few things you do manage to come up with only highlight the general futility of the exercise. If there's a better way to make an IF player feel frustrated and inarticulate than giving him TALK TO as a conversation option and consistently giving him no menu options, I can't imagine what it would be. In those respects, then, preventing the player from interacting is one of the story's greatest accomplishments. Equally effective for different reasons is the portrayal of the protagonist's relationship with a boyhood friend named Daniel, a relationship left behind in the trip to boarding school. The friendship seems to represent for the protagonist a more secure and less intimidating world. In particular, the protagonist appears to have been able to communicate with Daniel easily, naturally, and the interactions depicted (in the PC's memory) stand in contrast to the rest of his interactions, most of which amount to awkward mumbling. Naturally, however, one of the PC's main frustrations is that he's received a letter from Daniel, and he can't seem to put the words together to respond: God, I tried so often to write that letter. Practically every night I would stare at a page that was blank except for the words "Dear Daniel" at the top. I just couldn't think of anything to say. "Just be yourself," I kept thinking, "And write down whatever comes into your head." But nothing came into my head. A few weeks passed, and I still hadn't written a reply. And then I couldn't think of any excuses for my lateness. The longer it went on, the more ashamed I became about the delay, and the harder it was to write. I must have read and re- read Daniel's letter fifty times, looking for inspiration. I still have that letter. I still haven't replied. The writing, here and elsewhere, is unspectacular but effective--too elegant or too creative turns of phrase would cast the PC's professed inability to express himself in a strange light. One particularly well done passage conveys the PC's sudden mood swing: Quay Everything here is so peaceful, so beautiful - why have I never noticed it before? Raindrops dance on the river bay beneath my feet. Seagulls play in the air above me. Old fishing boats sway gently with the lapping of the water. And the air - I always thought the salt air was foul before, but now it seems so fresh, so clean, so pure! Quay The quay must be the most miserable place in the whole town, especially when the rain is pissing down like it is now. Beneath my feet, the rain-pelted river flows like sludge, which probably has something to do with all the raw effluent that's pumped into it. The smell, needless to say, is truly nauseating. A handful of rusty old boats lie abandoned against the quay wall, and seagulls scream overhead. The first passage might seem saccharine out of context, but it works as a contrast with the PC's generally gloomy outlook, and the second passage likewise works as a return to the status quo. The game is well-written enough that painful moments for the PC aren't painful to read, hardly a given. To add to the feeling of impotence, there's a scene in which two of his three roommates are picking on the third, and the PC (despite the player's urgings, of course) fails to step in, lamely explaining (internally) that "it's no use." Here, there's a variant on the nonconversational theme--your character will speak up, but only to say things that make things even worse (joining in the mockery of the third roommate, in other words)--and after the scene is over the PC addresses the player directly, explaining that the roommate's gratitude would have been too great a burden to bear. The scene brings out the ramifications of the PC's repressed nature--by not saying anything he hurts others as well as himself--and prevents the player from feeling too much sympathy for the PC. Nor does the player feel particularly complicit in the PC's cowardice, since the player can try all he or she wants to help out the hapless third roommate; the game trades complicity for imprisonment in the PC's neuroses. Whether it's a good trade is, of course, a matter of taste. Most of the action, such as it is, in Rameses is internal to the character, and even then very little of it actually constitutes action--in a sense, the player spends most of the game getting to know the PC, and the only significant thing that happens, as far as the PC is concerned, comes at the very end. Moreover, there's virtually no deviation possible in the course of the game; replays can provide more information, in the form of conversation (or non-conversation) options that weren't exercised before or people that weren't EXAMINEd, but not a tremendous amount, and the course of the story won't change at all. As mentioned, that usually indicates to me that the story would work better as static fiction--but the tension between player and PC sets up its own kind of interaction that makes this a surprisingly successful game. Rameses is certainly not to everyone's tastes; there are no puzzles, and the experience of playing it is more frustrating than fulfilling. But it's a sufficiently clever experiment that I gave it a 9 in this year's competition. From: Tina Sikorski <tina SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #23 -- December 29, 2000 Walkthrough? No Genre: Slice-of-life +------------------------------------------+ |Overall Rating B |Submitted Vote 7| |Writing B |Plot B | |Puzzles n/a|NPCs B | |Technical C+|Tilt B-| +------------------------+-----------------+ *** Initial Thoughts Puzzleless IF seems to be gaining in popularity at least insofar as the comp goes; CYOA and almost entirely conversational-driven works account for a fairly significant percentage of this year's crop. Alternate view styles (from the traditional 2nd person) are also gaining in popularity, although perhaps not to the same degree. Games with these styles tend to see a fairly wide range of scores, and often some hot debate. This game goes a step further: the protagonist is not only presented with a different viewpoint (first-person) in a puzzleless environment, but sometimes outright refuses to do what the player tells him to. This ended up producing some fairly interesting and diverse commentary amongst other reviewers and players. How well did it work? Well, applying the same standards to it I apply to other games, it rated a solid B from me, so perhaps well. But let's move on to some categorical comments... *** Writing (B) The writing is solid and has a lot of character -- in some places, possibly a wee bit too much character. Still, as in several other offerings this year, the style fit perfectly the mood and environs. It reads, to my mind, something like those TV shows where a character chooses to narrate the goings-on would were they in a written format, a trick that works with the right characters and situations... which this game has. The opening -- perhaps not in retrospect surprising -- reminds me highly of Trainspotting, a movie which I admit to having enjoyed a great deal. I say 'perhaps not surprising' because it has a similar regional feel throughout; not precisely the same, but certainly reminiscent. Much of the description contains interesting little editorials, a definite plus in a game written in first-person. "Here I see a blah" is a temptation that would probably be easy to succumb to in such a case; this game does not suffer from it. Instead, we have this lovely opener: "With horror I realise that I'll have to spend another day in St. Enda's college. A familiar fact I have to face each morning - but four years here have not made it any easier to face. St. Enda's - how I have come to despise this place. A decrepit old red-brick shagpile which has become the focal point of this filthy little town in the arse-end of nowhere. The cheapest boarding school in the country, probably, but also surely the most pompous and inflated. A haven for the worst kind of social climbers, parvenus, thick, ignorant farmers' sons..." And this is not the only room in which this happens. Descriptions are definitely colored throughout with commentary (although not always), and indeed, that's just how a first-person game should be done. *** Plot (B) On the surface, this is just another school game. In reality, it's a meandering through the mind of someone who does not like his life, his surroundings, the people he deals with, and, most especially, himself. It is something many works are not: it's realistic. Teens are like this. Not all teens, sure, and certainly not always to this extreme, but it is likewise certainly not unheard of. I don't end up with much sympathy for the schmoe in the game. He is, as he admits himself, an asshole, and a bit of a whiner to boot. Yet, it feels right for him to be this way. There is a holy-grail aspect to the game as well: The missing friend, Daniel. Was everything better when our protagonist was younger? Or does he just think that anything would be better than now? And, of course, there's a girl -- wouldn't there have to be? The ultimate ending (or, as someone hinted at, endingS) is not much of a resolution, when you come right down to it, but then, isn't that true of everyone's life? Not everyone lives happily ever after. *** Puzzles (n/a) Although I believe there are a few choices one can make that subtly or otherwise alter the game, there are no puzzles to speak of; I chose, therefore, to not rate what did not exist. *** NPCs (B) The conversational style is juvenile, which is not surprising in a game about, well, juveniles. If it were adult, it would be entirely too Dawson's Creek for me (a show I watched precisely once). But it never seems to be juvenile simply for the sake of being juvenile; rather, it is juvenile simply because it is. Are the characters believable? Yes, and no. I -have- seen such stereotypes wandering the landscape, particularly in that stage of life, but they do seem to acquire the level of 'caricature' at times. But perhaps this is simply because they're seen through the eyes of someone who is inclined to emphasize faults as one more away of painting his own life as shitty. Perhaps the only reason I did not end up giving this an even higher rating is simply because your interaction with them is so limited in many ways. *** Technical (C+) I enjoy alternate conversational styles, as I mention elsewhere in my reviews. Aside from that, there is nothing special to speak of. *** Tilt (B-) and Final Thoughts I think this stands on its own merits as a good game -- or at least, a good work of IF, if not a 'game' per se -- but let me revisit the complaint some people had about the refusal of the protagonist to perform certain actions. I do not feel that this is unique. I think this work is just more obvious about it. For instance, in most games there are dozens of actions closed off to the player by what the designer did and did not implement. Some of these are simply shortcuts to saying "that won't work". Some of them are deliberate choices to only implement a single solution to a puzzle (and some are less deliberate). If an author decides to say "this action won't work", how is that terribly different from the -protagonist- saying the same thing? I think it is not. I submit that particularly given the premise of this game, it makes perfect sense for these actions to be closed off not by author fiat but by the protagonist's own inability. If anything, I conclude that this is an additional bit of stylistic brilliance. I will admit to having in my notes the following: -Hah. "I can't believe I said that. Why did you make me say that?" -Well, because everything else I was trying to say you turned down the -chance to say? But that was, in the end, part of the game's appeal. FTP FileInform .z5 file (updated version) FTP FileInform .z5 file (competition version)


From: Duncan Stevens <dnrb SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #22 -- September 15, 2000 TITLE: Rans AUTHOR: Bob Reeves E-MAIL: rreeves SP@G DATE: 1999 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-machine interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 2 The combination of good writing and good programming that IF requires doesn't simply mean that authors need to both be able to put sentences together and write and debug code; an author needs to be able to both tell a good story and design the game so that the story comes across to the player effectively. Rans, by Bob Reeves, illustrates how important both elements are: it's an interesting story that, suitably designed, might have been highly involving, but it's told in such a confusing way that the player has a hard time getting as involved as he or she might. It seems you're an author trying to complete a novel, and as the writing progresses, you're repeatedly transported into the world of the novel for inspiration. That is, when you're in the novel, you act to propel events forward, and you later record the way those events happened. It's an interesting spin on the fantasy-coexists-with reality genre, and the novel itself, while conventional fantasy, is reasonably interesting-there's certainly enough to it that it doesn't feel generic. The problem is that there are so many characters that are never, how shall I say, formally introduced that it's awfully hard to follow what's going on in the novel's world, and readers are likely to end up consulting the hints a lot. Likewise, the game seems to assume that you understand the significance of various events and connections when you don't necessarily; at least, if there was some bit of text earlier on that would have explained them, it's all too possible to miss that bit of text. The problem, in other words, is not that it's a bad story--it's just not developed in a way that introduces the player to it at the proper pace. Exacerbating the confusion is the difficulty of the puzzles, which is extreme. Some of them simply involve major intuitive leaps, one calls for some highly tedious mapping and trial and error (along with more intuitive leaps), and a few are simply guess-the-verb puzzles. True, some of them are difficult simply because they require that you've been following along with the story, hardly a given, but many are just obscure or gratuitously annoying. (The first puzzle in the game--you're drunk, so you need to make coffee to sober yourself up--is particularly irritating and doesn't contribute much to the game.) They're not bad puzzles (with the exception of the guess-the-verb problems)--some of them are clever and use multiple objects in creative ways. There just isn't enough there to clue the player into what's going on. The way that fantasy and reality interact gives rise to another problem, namely that it's never really clear what you're supposed to be doing when you flip back to reality (besides adding to the story), so you're reduced to wandering around until you find whatever it is that will send you back to the novel, to which there's no apparent rhyme or reason. Whereas the plot in the novel segments sort of drives itself--at least, there are obvious challenges to face or problems to solve--the real-life portions just feel aimless, and the course of wandering hither and yon trying to figure out what to do next can be frustrating, to say the least. And yet Rans is still a very good story, assuming that you can find your way through it. The endgame ties together the loose ends in a surprisingly creative way (at least, it was more creative than I was expecting). The unfinished-novel conceit--often, when exploring the fantasy sequences, you're told that you haven't fully fleshed out some element of the book--is a brilliant device; in a sense, you see the story come together as you play the game, and you see what shaped the author's choices. There are some howlingly funny moments as well, this one in particular, when you encounter a lantern: "It's a battery-powered brass lantern. You can't conceive how it wound up in a fantasy story." In short, there are more than enough good ideas here to make a first-rate game-it's just that the game design details aren't all worked out as well as they should be. Were the game design at the same level as the writing and world-building, this would be a first-rate game. Rans is a little too uneven to be a truly successful game, sadly, though it certainly has its moments; if you can overlook the frustrating parts, it might be worth a try. FTP FileInform .z5 file and hints file

The Realm

From: Carolyn Magruder <carolynmagruder SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #39 -- January 7, 2005 TITLE: The Realm AUTHOR: Michael Sheldon EMAIL: mike SP@G DATE: October 2004 PARSER: TADS2 SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: VERSION: comp release Score: 3 out of 10. The writing in this game varied unreliably between quite good and quite questionable. One of my favorite lines was in the first room: "Sunlight filters in through the small window above your bed, casting an accusatory light on your dirty room." Regrettably, there were two run-on sentences in the introduction immediately before it, and I swiftly discovered that my inventory included "a shoes" and "a boots". As well, most of the rooms were little more than a simple listing of directions -- a pity, considering the brief flashes of brilliance. One of the first objects I encountered was a guide pamphlet that substituted for a HELP command. While the idea was well-meant, it seems to me that anyone who knows enough to open a chest, take out the pamphlet inside, and read the pamphlet would benefit much more from a HELP or ABOUT than from the pamphlet. The puzzles could have been solved on the brute-force technique of "find the object, give the object". Aside from using the brute-force technique, I was at a loss as to how two of the puzzles would have been solved -- despite solving them with the walkthrough, they simply did not make sense to me. One puzzle had a rather elegant alternate solution, but it didn't occur to me to try it. Another of the puzzles was outright disgusting -- I suppose it was meant to be funny, but I just found it gross. I wasn't wild about the setting, I wasn't wild about the puzzles, and most of the writing was dismaying. I only found one bug, but it was an odd one -- I could ask myself questions and always get back the response "I don't know much about that." Those issues aside, though, the ending was very funny. It's almost worth playing the game just to see the ending... but I would rather see a better version of the game, instead -- one where the journey is just as pleasing as the destination. FTP FileDirectory with .gam TADS2 file and walkthrough

The Recruit

From: Virginia Gretton <VGretton SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #35 -- December 31, 2003 TITLE: The Recruit AUTHOR: Mike Sousa with J.D. Berry, Jon Ingold, and Robb Sherwin EMAIL: mjsousa SP@G DATE: October 2003 PARSER: TADS2 SUPPORTS: TADS2 interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: VERSION: Release 1 (competition version) Now here is a game I could get to grips with. Playing immediately after my thoroughly vexing and bewildering experience with Slouching Towards Bedlam (I apologise to Star and Daniel for my ignorance but I didn't discover the story, didn't get the machines to work and was flummoxed by the weird text on certain screens), I spent some of the two hours thinking about the kind of IF player I must be. I finished the game in the allotted time but only because I took a managerial decision to deduct the personality assessment time and restart the clock (shush, don't tell anyone). The opening screen invites you to choose your gender and reminded me of menu-driven role playing games. Don't be put off -- the reason for gender choice is innocent fun and non-MUD in character. I found the game concept fresh but I may just have been in a logic-starved state. Puzzles are the entire point of the piece and a reasonable explanation is given for your presence in this world. The first scene is relatively gentle and (filled with confidence) I launched myself into the second sector. There I spent over 40 minutes in a state of refusing to be beaten. There are only so many things that can be touched or otherwise manipulated; how hard could it be? Later scenes of the game felt very American to this English girl but that is a comment, not a gripe. The purple room was so elegant in its complex simplicity that I found myself applauding mentally. I was slightly disappointed to discover a previously undeclared collaboration of authors. I hadn't noticed changes in writing style, so the final product must have been well edited. The concept is clever and the implementation rewards player effort, but still I felt let down. Surely all that brainpower (the names were of the famous variety) should have produced more game for my money. Is that is a backhanded compliment? I didn't want the game to end so I felt the collaboration could have produced more puzzles and extended the playing pleasure. The description of The Recruit's evolution (accessed at the end of the game) is entertaining in itself. FTP FileTADS2 .gam file

Reefer Island

From: Eric Woods <ewoods SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #40 -- April 12, 2005 [NOTE: This review contains a spoiler, but what it spoils is an action that makes the game unwinnable without warning. I've left it in, but if you're strictly anti-spoiler, you should probably skip the second paragraph. --Paul] TITLE: Reefer Island AUTHOR: Steve Barrera EMAIL: stevebarrera SP@G DATE: April 21, 2004 PARSER: TADS 2 SUPPORTS: TADS Interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: VERSION: 1 I downloaded Reefer Island on a whim. I prefer to play TADS games, and by the title I thought this one might be a short, pleasant and maybe funny, diversion for a little while. I was initially surprised to find out how involved and elaborate a game it turned out to be. Honestly, from the title I hadn't expected much. This game would have been a very good and fun game (probably a *** from Baf's rating), but it only turned out to be an exercise in frustration, wondering what to do next and finally quitting with a sense of time being wasted. After a short while I could only progress via email assistance from the author. He tells me he is planning to rework the game and design it so as to be more friendly to the player. I hope he does this because this effort is not without its merits. Reefer Island is a large, sprawling island that you'll have to traverse numerous times in order to complete the goal. The goal is, of course, to find pot, a lighter, and something to smoke it with. This is made clear to you at the beginning of the adventure, when the ship that you and your comrades are on is shipwrecked and you get separated from everyone in a small lifeboat. You find yourself washing up on shore with nothing but a watch (which occasionally tells you how many hours it's been since your last bong hit) and an empty bag of Cheetos. Fair enough. The island is a very colorful place with a few characters with which to interact and numerous locations through the town, jungle, and dunes to explore. Unfortunately, it is quite simple to put the game in an unwinnable state very early without realizing it. I hope this next statement won't be considered too much of a spoiler, but when you get pot from a native, which is what I logically assumed I was supposed to do, you put the game in an incompletable state without knowing that you've done so. But don't worry about that. To initially interact with this guy you need to give him a lighter which you can find easily enough with some exploring. Give it to him and you put the game out of reach even before you ruin it by buying pot from him. He gives you the lighter back, will sell you a bag of dope for two shells (their currency) which you can find just lying around on the beach, and everything seems great, huh? But you can't give him the lighter since once he uses it there isn't enough fluid in it any longer to complete a task for which you'll need it later in the game. I had dope, and a lighter and thought I was well on my way to winning a fairly easy game. How was I to know? Other than the above-listed problems I found the puzzles to range from the easy and logical to the strange and unintuitive, especially the ones concerning a dais and a camera at the Mayor's house. Too much mind reading for me with these. I consider myself a pretty good puzzle solver but I wouldn't have come across the solutions to those in a hundred years. There is some good humor in this game and technically it is fairly sound. I did run across a bug that seemed to make the game unwinnable but I couldn't duplicate it afterwards, and the author tells me that it shouldn't have happened, so take that for what you will. The descriptions are good, colorful, and thorough, but I felt the fantasy and supernatural aspects of the game seemed a little forced and awkward. All the items were implemented well, though there was one location where I couldn't stand on something even though I needed to get on it. It seemed that the game would play very smoothly if only whoever was playing it could read the author's mind at several points through the journey. I haven't noticed a walkthrough for this game yet but, if you can find one, it's worth a play. If the frustrations could be removed it would be very enjoyable for those of us that like some puzzles in our games. I hope the author will consider making it more intuitive and follow a more logical progression of events in a revision. FTP FileTADS2 .gam file FTP FileMap

The Reliques of Tolti-Aph

From: Dark Star <darkstar SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #47 -- January 16, 2007 Title: The Reliques of Tolti-Aph Author: Graham Nelson Email: Date: March 2, 2006 Parser: Inform 7 Supports: Z-code interpreters Availability: Freeware; Author's Website URL: Version: 1 The Reliques of Tolti-Aph is the latest game by Graham Nelson, written to showcase some of the new features of Inform 7. It is not traditional IF, rather an RPG with IF elements. It implements a modified D&D engine referred to as Woodpulp & Wyverns (W&W). The implementation of the engine is impressive, but the gameplay itself falls a little short: it fails to adhere to its own conventions and several of the puzzles have unconventional solutions. (Thank goodness for David Welbourn's walkthrough!) It's not balanced, it's not fair, and it can be very frustrating for the player. Play at your own risk! The first thing that the game needs is a manual, and ideally a tutorial as well, covering concepts such as scroll creation, spells and how to create a sanctuary where you can go to retreat and rest. Understanding the game is more than learning about combat, and I suspect many players will end up resorting to the walkthrough in order to get the hang of it. One good feature is the ability to retreat (i.e. run away) during a fight. If you get away, you can go back to your sanctuary, meditate (heal), and save. This is just as well, as meditating and saving can only be done in a sanctuary, and UNDO has been completely disabled. While not allowing UNDO makes sense, I do not think it's a good idea to disable save, except perhaps during combat. Some other RPGs do this, but it usually doesn't work, and I've seen it corrected later by a patch. My biggest complaint is that your strength does not increase as your level increases. This goes against one of the most basic rules of the RPG, and makes some of the creatures almost impossible to kill. The wyvern, for example, can kill you in one shot, no matter what level you are on. There is a spell to get past it, but this is a RPG and you earn experience by killing creatures and casting spells. In a hard boss fight like this, you should earn more experience from killing the beast than casting a simple spell. Overall, the game feels unbalanced: you face sudden death far too often. Either the monsters need less bite or the player's defensive bonus needs to be brought up, or both. In a good RPG, you win most fights and only have to work harder on a small number of boss fights. Then there's the random maze. That's bad enough, but the strength problem makes every fight feel like a boss fight. Also, with spells needing components to be able to cast them, it becomes impossible to fight the monsters using your spells. If you try, you face a real inventory management problem as you're always running around looking for scraps of metal so you can fire off your magic missiles. This is a bit much, and I had to give up at this point. I think it would be better to remove the component feature from the engine altogether; the mana cost is enough of a penalty. Another problem with the game is that many of the puzzles are under-clued, and don't follow any sort of pattern. For example, early on I had to write on a blank parchment with a metal feather to create a scroll. "Ah," I thought, "this is how you make a scroll." I never did it again. Later on, I had to look up a saying in the diary and write it on a pyramid. Why couldn't a monster have been protecting a blank parchment? Then it would have been obvious that I should write on the parchment to create the scroll I needed. Having established a convention, the game should carry it through. In addition, when you learn a new spell this way, the game doesn't even tell you that you've learned it: you have to look it up in your spell book. The player should know when they've done something right. The game has an awkward dual personality, trying to combine conventional IF puzzles with the RPG elements, and doesn't quite pull it off. There are some great puzzles here, but some of them are so hard that they disrupt the flow. As an RPG, I feel it should have been more action-oriented, with IF puzzles that don't act as roadblocks. A pet peeve of mine is that the game is not always clear about which exits are available. This was particularly noticeable in the maze, where there are no room descriptions for the tunnels, and some of the room names (e.g. NORTH-EAST BEND) are misleading. More than once I had to resort to trying random directions. Technically, the game is very polished, and the only bug I found happened upon death when trying to cast a spell. Once, when I tried to make a sanctuary the sand coming out of the door killed me, and the game responded with: Would you like to RESTART, RESTORE a saved game or QUIT? >restore That enchantment cannot be cast at anything. The game would not let me restore, and I had to restart before I could restore my saved game. Overall, I think the idea of an IF RPG offers some great possibilities. Some things need to be changed within the engine, and a few things need to be worked out within the game itself, but this could definitely become a solid game engine for others to build on. Blorbed Z-code game file PDF feelies and documentation Inform 7 source code (HTML format)


From: Duncan Stevens <dnrb SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #22 -- September 15, 2000 TITLE: Rematch AUTHOR: Andrew Pontious E-MAIL: [removed at author's request. See game for email address.] DATE: 2000 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 1.0.4 Attention, attention, seasoned IFers, we have a new genre on our hands. Sam Barlow's Aisle was taken as an only-works-once experiment when it first appeared (at least, by me), but now we have a second entry in that category that expands considerably on what Aisle did. The category, of course, is one-move games, games whose exploration consists of figuring out the many and varied things you can do with your one move, rather than building on your explorations through a series of moves. You might think that would be limiting, since generally it wouldn't allow for multi-step tasks, but Andrew Pontious's technical wizardry in Rematch overcomes those limitations, and the result is memorable indeed. The primary difference between Aisle and Rematch is that, while the former was purely about exploration of the main character, the latter is really a puzzle: something happens after your move, and it will happen again and again unless you manage to avert it. What you do is not at all simple, and you're likely to spend several hundred moves figuring out how to do it--but it's a rewarding several hundred moves, and well worth the time. Part of the reason it's difficult is that there are several things to set it in motion, as it were, and figuring out what and where they are and how they interact takes some exploring (one move at a time, of course). As such, in one sense, it's the ultimate learn-by-screwing-up game--like Aisle, of course, since in Aisle you drew on the knowledge you accumulated to explore your character further, but here the game depends much more on your ability to draw on past lives. The puzzle you solve is complicated, and as such the action that you perform to solve it is fairly complicated as well, and the author has accordingly hacked the TADS parser somewhat to accommodate more complex input lines than most IF can handle: by my count, the Rematch parser can handle five nouns in some syntaxes, whereas the Infocom parser (on which neither Inform nor TADS nor any other freely available authorship system--had improved, to my knowledge--at least, not in terms of complexity--until now) could generally only handle three (HIT THE DOG ON THE HEAD WITH THE HAMMER). The expanded parser isn't perfect, but it's generally good enough; the real challenge, for the experienced player, is realizing that the parser has abilities beyond the usual. Once that hurdle is overcome, however, it's a marvelously liberating feeling to enter highly complex commands and see them executed more or less faithfully (in much the same way, I suspect, as the first players of Zork felt when they realized that they were no longer living in a world of two-word parsers). It's an impressive technical feat, in short, and while such complicated inputs might not be necessary in most games--since games that last longer than one move generally allow the player to accomplish quite intricate things by spreading them over multiple inputs--a perfected parser of this scope might well push the IF experience ever closer to mimesis, always a worthy goal. Larger possibilities aside, that technical breakthrough greatly enhances the experience of playing Rematch; indeed, the one-move game as puzzle wouldn't work nearly as well without it. (At least, it would have to be a whole lot simpler.) The puzzle itself is well put together, though it's rendered more difficult by some enticing red herrings--i.e., there are some things that seem to be useful when they're not, and the game doesn't do much to suggest that they are, in fact, red herrings. Likewise, it's initially tempting to do directly what the game wants you to do indirectly, and there aren't many hints about the more indirect methods. There are a few in-game hints, but they're fairly general; if you spend a while trying to figure out the puzzle on your own, chances are you'll already have figured out what the hints have to say before you consult them. Not major sins, but they do increase the difficulty of the puzzle considerably, even if the solution ultimately proves logical; if you're not a puzzle maven, you may want to consult a friend or find a walkthrough. Rematch highlights the real strength of one-move games, in that they make it easy for the author to provide for absolutely everything the player could come up with (since the combinatorial factor--objects being combined in unexpected ways--is limited). In giving you multiple views and variations on the central event of the game (not revealed here, since the surprise of it is part of what gives Rematch its impact), the game enhances its mimetic qualities: you can try just about anything logical, and the parser will handle just about anything you type. The AMUSING section at the end is well populated, and in fact there are many things worth trying that don't, in fact, show up in that list. It may be objected that limiting the player's freedom to one move is a sort of backwards--looking way to achieve mimesis, but we take it where we find it, I guess, and Rematch is plenty immersive even in its one move. There's an odd disjunction in the playing experience, though. It can fairly be said without spoilers that the event at the heart of Rematch is rather grim--it's certainly not something to joke about, and indeed it's fairly shocking when read for the first time. Some of the various events that you harness to solve the puzzle, however, can only be considered absurd, and they would probably fit a little better in a more lighthearted game. The disjunction isn't as stark as it might be, I suppose, because the shock of the main event dissipates as it happens again and again and again, and after a while the player likely sees it as something to avert, not something grim or tragic. Still, there's a split personality there, and it's especially acute if the player happens upon the sillier aspects of the game early in the exploration process. That aside, though, Rematch is an absorbing experience that in some ways goes beyond what the seasoned IF veteran might be expecting. Though the PC's exploration of the the environment is limited to some extent, it's still a richly interactive game. FTP FileTADS .gam file


From: Emily Short <emshort SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #31 -- January 3, 2003 TITLE: Rent-a-Spy AUTHOR: John Eriksson EMAIL: joers SP@G DATE: September 2002 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: VERSION: Release 1 This reminded me in some ways of an Andy Phillips game -- Heroine's Mantle, say -- but without the mad verve. It does have the persnickety puzzles that have unbelievable solutions, and the somewhat sketchy implementation. There were a number of things I did that I think shouldn't really have worked; I don't, for instance, believe it is actually possible to open elevator doors in the way this game's PC does. Once again we have an office setting, once again we have to guess people's passwords -- and they're shamefully bad about choosing appropriate ones, too. Most password systems protecting data of any significance will refuse to allow you to use common words or names, but this is a rule that apparently does not exist in IF-land. The part of this game that could've been a more interesting setting -- the medical lab, with the potentially dangerous chemicals and funky machinery -- is under-implemented. I do like the fact that the game encourages you to clean up after yourself in good spy manner. I have a bit of a quibble, though: it doesn't apply this rule universally. You can leave one thing out of place -- because it is physically impossible to leave it in its original position and still escape -- and no one seems to notice that, though it seems just as significant as all the other things that you are required to tidy up after yourself in order to obtain a perfect score. Some other nitpicks that drove my score for this down a little: there are some grammatical errors. The writing is serviceable, but not stellar. The responses, especially towards the end of the game, inexplicably flicker between first person and second person. Debugging mode was left on, making it possible to find information you're not supposed to know (though in my case this was convenient, as it allowed me to cheat without actually having to go to the walkthrough until nearly the end of the game). The truck is peculiarly implemented and for some time seems only to be a message-daemon, since it passes through the room in which you're standing and then cannot be referred to again. (This wouldn't be so important except that the truck is obviously part of a puzzle solution; the player is going to be trying to interact with it. The game ought at least to recognize such attempts, with comments like "the truck has gone by too quickly for you to catch", rather than acting as though something of critical importance has not even been implemented.) Little things, you know, but they add up, making the whole seem slightly shabby around the edges. Rating: 5 FTP FileDirectory with zcode .z5 file and walkthrough

Research Dig

From: Paul O'Brian <obrian SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #17 -- May 10, 1999 NAME: Research Dig AUTHOR: Chris Armitage E-MAIL: TheFarseer SP@G DATE: September 1998 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 1 Research Dig has pieces of a good story, inexpertly handled so that they don't reach their full potential. In fact, the experience of the game was a bit like a real research dig -- you have to mine through some errors, cliches, and unclear writing, but you can come away with some pretty good pieces. So let me first focus on the positive. The game has an intriguing premise -- you are a beginning archaeology student, sent on a minor dig on behalf of your research center to an old abbey where the groundskeeper has uncovered "something old." When you arrive, you meet the groundskeeper's daughter, who whispers to you that the old piece belongs "to the Little People," who live underground. (Exactly how little these Little People are remains in question, but I'll get to that in a bit.) From this interesting start the game lays out a sensible map which delivers mystery and magic in reasonable proportions, never so much that it seems like a simple dungeon crawl or D&D knockoff. The writing can be rather atmospheric in several sections and some of the design contributes to this feeling, such as some important red herrings which lead nowhere but help to flesh out the game world. Overall, Research Dig feels like it was written by a beginner, but a beginner with good ideas and a passion for interactive fiction. That being said, it's also important to note that the game has a number of problems as well. Though the map was logical, it also felt quite a bit cliched, with underground tunnels, spooky crypts, mysterious rune-encarved stones, etc. There wasn't anything that felt very unique once the game got to this point, and it felt like a game with a lot of potential had devolved into another ho-hum underground excursion. In addition, the writing suffered at several points from basic proofreading errors. Spelling and grammar mistakes were not legion, but there were enough of them to be seriously distracting, especially since they sometimes turned up in places that would be read over and over again. For example, from the beginning of the game you find that you have a "referance book" in your inventory. After 10 times reading the misspelled word, my patience started to wear thin. It's the kind of error that could have been avoided so easily, I have a hard time understanding why it's there. The same is true for some key coding errors, like the key whose short name is "a key labelled 'Shed'." The problem with a short name like this is that Inform already provides articles for objects, so in the inventory the key is listed as "an a key labelled 'Shed'." Compounding the problem, there are two keys with this same error. The glitch is all the more aggravating because it comes up almost every time the game tries to refer to the keys. My favorite example: "Which do you mean, the a key labelled 'Shed" or the a key labelled 'Conservatory'?" These mistakes were small, but sometimes small mistakes can make a big difference, and this game had the perfect example. However, before you read it, I should warn you that in order to explain my example, I have to spoil part of the endgame. Read on if you so choose. OK, so at one point you find an urn in the groundskeeper's house with a piece missing. Then later on you find a rune-encarved "slab of stone, about 2' square." That's two feet square. That's way too big to be a piece of an urn. However, at the end of the game, you find out that it *is* in fact the missing piece of the urn. Meanwhile, you see the groundskeeper defeated by "a small person, you guess at about 3" high." That's three inches high. That's mighty small! However, by this time you begin to suspect that the game confused its notations, and is using ' for inches and " for feet. This may seem like a minor error, but it changes the meaning of the things it affects so completely that it ruins any possibility of building the mystery. There's something to be learned here: in some ways writing (I mean creative writing) and programming aren't so far apart. Just as a missing semicolon can cause you no end of misery during compilation, so can a very small change completely deflate your story. Also, in both disciplines the semantic and syntactic errors are easiest to find, and your work is unacceptable until it is free of these. Logic errors are more difficult to detect, and take much more sweat to ferret out. Unfortunately for would-be writers, there is no automatic proofreading service for fiction that provides the error-checking of a good compiler. You have to do it yourself. Rating: 6.2 FTP FileDirectory with Inform .z5 file and walkthrough

Return to Ditch Day

From: Valentine Kopteltsev <uux SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #42 -- October 2, 2005 NAME: Return to Ditch Day AUTHOR: Michael J. Roberts E-MAIL: mjr SP@G DATE: June 12, 2004 PARSER: TADS3 SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 1 Prepare for a nostalgic trip to Pasadena, California, back to your alma mater - the California Institute of Technology, which you once explored when playing Ditch Day Drifter. One of the problems with nostalgic trips is, the traveller risks going through a major disappointment in the end. Like, when getting to the place you used to live as a child, you suddenly find out that your wonderful playing area full of mysterious corners and secluded nooks turns out to be a rather dull patch squeezed between faceless blocks of flats, and the music school, the way to which you remember as quite a jorney, lies in fact within a five minutes' walk from your former house. The first good news is, you won't have such "shrinkage" troubles with Return to DD. There are several reasons for that. The first one has little to do with the skills of the game author: the thing is, the world perception difference between a student and an alum isn't as harsh as for children and adults;). But even if it was, I doubt you'd have noticed any decrease in size. That's because the game world itself has grown considerably bigger. I don't mean just the number of rooms, although Return to DD has about twice as many of them as DD Drifter (that is, if you don't count in the Behavior Lab maze in the latter); rather, I'm talking of the way the rooms are depicted. What passed for room descriptions in DD Drifter, were essentially lists of exits. That's entirely different in Return to DD: even locations in the area leaving the least space for being elaborate, the steam tunnels, can be distinguished between not just by the directions they lead; other rooms have yet more detailed and vivid descriptions, with practically all the objects mentioned there implemented. You can bet this makes the whole thing seem more real. Still, with all those changes, the place remains quite recognizable. There are topographical resemblances -- in particular, the room you have to solve the "stack" (a challenge you need to overcome to get into a senior's room) for is the very same as in DD Drifter, and its nearest surroundings have a similar structure. Some other major sections, like the aforementioned steam tunnels, don't retain the layout but maintain the overall atmosphere, the "feel" of the rooms. Another thing "inherited" by Return to DD from its predecessor is the humour, which, however, has become more brilliant yet much less harmless; in fact, it gets rather spiteful at times -- for example, read the brochures in the Carreer Center Office. This is quite understandable -- our player character clearly has rid himself of most of the illusions he had during the years that have passed since he graduated. This brings us to the characters. The very generalized, "about the same as always"-looking drifter has developed to a man with a well-defined personality. The folks he has to deal with also aren't the sparingly animated cardboard puppets they used to be anymore; it was amazing to find out they have streaks I previously encountered in real people (for instance, I myself recently baited one of my workmates with getting a huge project done in the couple of days remaining till her vacation pretty much the same way the workers in Return to DD tormented their colleague). With all the praise the "troupe" deserves, one design choice concerning character animation seemed somewhat odd to me: namely, the way conversation was organized. I think it's best described with the term "implicit menu- based system". In most cases, when you initiate a dialogue with someone, the game comes up with topic/action suggestions, like this: >TALK TO TIFFANY As you open your mouth, Tiffany suddenly starts to cry. (You could try to comfort her, or pummel her into silence.) These suggestions really work like menu choices: they only are used to advance the conversation, and the parser doesn't understand them if they're typed somewhere else in the game. The only difference is, instead of selecting the options by number, the player has to re-type them, which is somewhat tedious (in spite of the fact they can be abbreviated). As far as I see it, the theoretical benefit of such a system is more freedom for the player, since, in addition to the options suggested, (s)he can enter some other command. In practice, however, I didn't encounter any situations where this extra freedom was needed, so that a "normal" menu-based conversation seemed more appropriate. Well, maybe it's just a matter of getting used to; anyway, making the suggested options clickable wouldn't do any harm. Having such great characters in one's game, it'd be rather stupid to stick to the old trusted treasure hunt, instead of providing them with a decent story. Without getting into much detail, let me assure you -- there is a good plot, and, which is even better, an optional semi-mystery by-plot. The puzzles needed to be solved in order to complete the main story line are kept on the easy side. The player never remains without guideance, as the "tactical subgoals" always are formulated clearly. One of the puzzles was of the "refer to data source one to find out about data source two, then refer to data source two to find out about data source three, then [put the necessary number of iterations here]" type, which I'm personally not so fond of, yet it was just an episode, and anyway short enough to avoid becoming annoying. Also, a couple of puzzles required some random exploration of the surroundings, but it seemed quite logical under the given context, and was, because of the splendid game world, more of a pleasure than of an issue. The puzzles for the by-plot were more challenging, but still manageable. Since we're talking about puzzles - unlike its predecessor, Return to DD features an adaptive hint system of top quality that keeps track of the player's progress in the game. To put it short - the sequel, quite unsurprisingly, turned out to be superior to the original game in almost every respect. The only point where DD Drifter probably beats its offspring is, encouraging new authors to write in TADS. I mean, after completing DDD, a novice author probably is going to feel a fit of energy and enthusiasm, because the game really is very simple from the technical point of view; Return to DD, on the other hand, is more likely to put him in a state of depression ("Bah, I'll never be able to write THAT good!"). Still, if I had to choose between the game's overall quality and its promotional value, I'd undoubtedly opt for the first one. TADS3 game file (hints included in-game)

Return to Pirate's Island 2

From: Joe Barlow <seagull2525 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #22 -- September 15, 2000 NAME: Return to Pirate's Island II AUTHOR: Scott Adams EMAIL: msadams SP@G DATE: August 2000 PARSER: S.A.G.A. (full sentence) SUPPORTS: Windows 95/98/NT/2000 (Mac/Unix ports being considered) AVAILABILITY: Commercial (US $19.95) URL: Unlike many text adventure fanatics, I didn't grow up with the games of Scott Adams. By the time I discovered interactive fiction, Infocom had already established itself as the undisputed king of the genre, with detailed room descriptions and state-of-the-art parsers the norm rather than the exception. As such, the idea of playing "simpler" works did not appeal to me -- two-word inputs were far too limiting after years of using Infocom's elegant full-sentence engine, and I gave a wide berth to these (perceived) lesser offerings. I'd heard of Mr. Adams, of course: ads for his games lined the pages of every available computer magazine, and I knew that he had produced some of the genre's most commercially successful offerings, including "Adventureland" and "The Count." I acknowledged and respected him as a computer game pioneer, but to actually *play* a Scott Adams adventure was, for me, an exercise in frustration: the terse room descriptions and the minimalistic parser -- which at times verged on "sadistic" -- were not enough to overcome the admittedly brilliant puzzles and intriguing story lines ("Voodoo Castle" was the lone exception; to this day, it remains the only Scott Adams game I have ever solved). What a pity, I thought, that these clever games were mired in such a poor play system. Well, Mr. Adams seems to have read my mind: with his first new text adventure in over fifteen years, the just-released "Return to Pirate's Island II," he has gone to great lengths to correct many of these problems. "Pirate's II" contains a number of Scott Adams firsts, including digitized sound effects, lengthy (and occasionally quite eloquent) room descriptions, and, best of all, a full-sentence parser. Will long-time fans be delighted or dismayed at these changes? To a large extent this still remains to be seen, although the game has generated positive buzz from many of its early players. The story's enjoyment does not stem from the plot, which is so thin that it borders on non-existent: the player's mission is to collect treasures and deposit them in a safe place. It's a tried and true formula, having been used in the original Crowther/Woods "Adventure," Infocom's "Zork I," and many of Mr. Adams' own previous offerings. This game, like the ones just mentioned, is strictly a puzzle-fest: there are no NPCs to speak of, nor any character development... nothing but good old- fashioned treasure hunting. In that respect, "Pirate's II" feels like a homecoming: many interactive fiction fans have bemoaned the recent trend toward experimental "literary" games (like Adam Cadre's "Photopia"), and these players will no doubt welcome the nostalgic feeling which permeates this work. It's clear that a lot of time and effort has gone into "Pirate's II": Mr. Adams has injected his famous sense of humor into the story at every opportunity (the opening puzzle appears to be a sly jab at Infocom's "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," for example), but the resulting game is nonetheless a mixed bag. While the puzzles are quite clever, and although the work contains the richest text descriptions ever to appear in a Scott Adams adventure, the negative traits are unfortunately strong enough to offset the positive. One significant drawback to "Pirate's II" is the text. For a game that had such a large group of beta testers (sixteen, according to the website!), the work contains a surprisingly large number of typos and grammatical errors (the use of "to" instead of "too," incorrect use of ellipsis, etc). It's not that big a deal, but considering the game's $19.95 purchase price -- and its creator's status as a text adventure brand name -- I expected a little more attention to detail. It's particularly frustrating since many of the room descriptions are otherwise quite lovely. Another major obstacle is the program's troublesome installation routine, which is just as difficult to "solve" as many of the game's puzzles. (I had to install "Pirate's II" three times before I was actually able to run it. The documentation admits that the user may encounter error messages, and that he or she should simply ignore these warnings if they appear). A little more attention to detail would really have helped the professionalism of this package, but I suppose I should be thankful that I can play the game at all: "Pirate's II" runs on Mr. Adams' own Windows-based engine, the S.A.G.A. (Scott Adams Grand Adventure) system, which leaves a lot of non-Windows users out in the cold. Mac and Unix ports of the S.A.G.A. interpreter are reportedly in the planning stages, however, so non-Microsoft adventurers may be able to play the game in the near future. My remaining quibble is more the fault of the S.A.G.A. engine than the game itself: boy, is it ever *slow!* On my 486dx/100, the machine I use for all my text adventure excursions, there is a pause of approximately three seconds after I hit the ENTER key before the game prints the results of my actions; I was reminded of my days playing "Zork I" on my trusty Commodore 64 back in the late '80s. I refuse to believe that *any* text adventure needs a Pentium processor to run optimally, and I hope that Mr. Adams will tweak/optimize the S.A.G.A. engine for slower systems when and if he releases another game which employs it. But I don't wish to sound overly harsh. "Return to Pirate's Island II" is not a bad puzzle game, and marks a welcome return from one of interactive fiction's founding fathers. The gameplay and interface will feel familiar to anyone who enjoyed earlier Scott Adams adventures, with many of the game's features (the lovely room descriptions, the full-sentence parser, the "Lurking Horror"-style sound effects, and the built-in hints system) being impressive achievements indeed. But such innovations should not come at the cost of performance -- the agonizing slowness of the S.A.G.A. engine, coupled with the alarming number of typos in the text, may ruin the fun for many questers. Die-hard puzzle fans will find much to like, but casual admirers of Mr. Adams' work will have to decide if the game is worth its $19.95 asking price.


From: Christopher E. Forman <ceforman SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #10 -- February 4, 1997 NAME: Reverberations AUTHOR: Russell Wain Glasser EMAIL: rglasser SP@G DATE: October 1996 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Inform Ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF Archive URL: VERSION: Version 1.0 Say what you want, but I LIKED this one! The plot - pizza guy gets caught up in battle with mafia and causes earthquake threatening to destroy city while simultaneously building friendship with cute female lawyer - has the look and feel of one of those really bad "Up All Night" movies they show on Fridays and Saturdays on the USA network. At 11:00 and 10:00, respectively. Not that I actually WATCH those awful things. Well, not usually. Oh, okay, you caught me! Happy?! The puzzles in "Reverberations" are full of very text-adventure-like situations, and the room descriptions consist largely of lists of exits, but the rest of the text is just plain fun, and the answerable rhetorical questions and southern-California dictionary provided with the game provide many a laugh. A couple of minor bugs (some of the "amusing" commands don't seem to work properly), but nothing major to gripe at. A really fun way to kill half an hour or so. FTP FileInform file (.z5) (updated version) FTP FileInform File (.z5) (competition version) FTP FileSolution (Text)


From: Duncan Stevens <dnrb SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #26 -- September 26, 2001 TITLE: Ribbons AUTHOR: J.D. Berry E-MAIL: berryx SP@G DATE: 2001 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 2 A counterpart of sorts to Ian Finley's Exhibition, a 1999 competition entry, J.D. Berry's Ribbons, the winning entry in Marnie Parker's 2001 IF Art Show, takes the "art show" premise and runs with it. It doesn't run extremely far, truth be told, but it's a nice concept. As in Exhibition, you're in an art gallery, checking out a series of exhibits, and as in Exhibition, you get a series of different perspectives on each exhibit. Rather than playing the critics, you read their critiques, which are posted by each exhibit, but the effect is similar -- you learn something new about each work, and about the critics, from each critique of it. (At least, that's the hope.) There aren't as many exhibits here -- only four, whereas Exhibition had twelve -- so there isn't as much room for development of the critics; their voices don't develop in the same way that those of Exhibition did. The twist is that the works themselves have a better chance of coming across because (a) the critics are a little less obsessed with themselves than Exhibition's critics were and (b) the works are, to some extent, interactive. (It also helps that one of the critics' opinions is that of the artist himself/herself.) You can alter certain aspects of the works, and the critics' opinions will change (though not their ultimate judgments) to reflect the alterations. The results in this respect are sometimes amusing: the same critic praises the same work for both the presence and absence of an element, or slams an artist's binary decision no matter which way it goes. As a jab at criticism itself -- portraying critics as applying preconceived opinions regardless of what they actually find -- this works pretty well. Unfortunately, not enough of the game leads to those moments; Ribbons is more interactive than Exhibition, but that's not saying a lot. Interaction with one exhibit (other than passive interaction like SMELL) is precluded entirely because someone else has vandalized the work and you don't want to be held responsible. Another exhibit allows for interaction, but not in a way that changes any text (of the descriptions or of the critics' reactions) -- you're told that you're altering things, but that's about it. The other exhibits allow for a little more interplay, but I left the game feeling like the most interesting aspect was barely there. (Perhaps the author and I differ about what the most interesting aspect was.) Credit where credit is due, though -- the artworks themselves are well rendered and intriguing, and the variety of perspectives you get (the descriptions change slightly after you've read each critic's take) is impressive. It's pretty clear (at least, to me) that they occupy four distinct categories -- one strictly aesthetic, one literally representational, one metaphor/symbol, and one simply abstract -- and I enjoyed seeing the extent to which each critic managed or failed to grapple with each work on its own terms; in each case, some of the reaction amounted to "I don't like this because of the category it's in." (Sorry, no points for complaining that this critic has been known to do the same thing.) It's also fun to see the artists gently mocking the whole critical enterprise. For example, one critic notes that part of his work wasn't originally planned, but "[t]he curator's (Hi, Mrs. Washington!) little boy wanted to be part of the show, so he brought me that part from his trainset. Congratulations, Daniel, you are officially [sic] an ARTISTE!" The works themselves also bear scrutiny -- in some cases second- and third-level nouns are available (as in, objects mentioned in the room description are first-level, objects mentioned in the descriptions of first-level objects are second-level, etc.), deepening the level of detail available considerably. Ribbons is a fifteen-minute game at most, but it's a worthwhile fifteen minutes. As with Exhibition, reading the critics' thoughts is far and away the meat of the game, but those thoughts are good enough that that's not faint praise. FTP FileInform (.z5) game file

Richard Basehart Adventure

From: Bonnie Montgomery <bkm SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #14 -- May 17, 1998 NAME: Richard Basehart Adventure AUTHOR: Matthew Garrett EMAIL: cavan SP@G DATE: January 1997 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Inform ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: VERSION: Release 1 When I contacted Matthew Garrett for his input on this review, his reactions were roughly shock, surprise, and worry. He wrote, "I'm probably guilty of wasting several people's time with a fairly simple joke." The joke of Richard Basehart Adventure is "steal whatever original creative content exists in an IF game that is itself derivative of a another game." The game whose creative content is being ransacked is Detective: An Interactive MiSTing by C. E. Forman, in which the characters of "Mystery Science Theater 3000" heckle their way through Matthew Barringer's Detective. To find a walkthrough of Richard Basehart Adventure, read Forman's introduction to his MiSTing. MST3K character Gypsy creates a simple game about her idol, which Garrett brings to life, capturing every nuance. However, since there are only about three nuances total, actual playing of Richard Basehart Adventure is, in my opinion, optional. Is Matthew Garrett guilty of wasting my time? I think not. He pointed me back to Forman's MiSTing of Detective, a game I had not played since the 1995 competition. A year later Forman released a Silver Screen Edition, which included an interview with Matthew Barringer (15 years old and "much cooler" than the 12-year-old self that had written Detective) and snippets from an abandoned but hilarious second MiSTing, The Caverns of Chaos. The worst crime for which Garrett can be accused is not properly using his Web site as a vehicle for self-promotion. (He might have learned a trick or two from Forman, who, by his own admission, shamelessly promotes The Path to Fortune throughout the Silver Screen Edition.) The page from which Richard Basehart Adventure is available does not offer any links back to Garrett's home page. If it did, Garrett could have drawn attention to his other projects, including his "proper" IF work in progress, which he is offering for download in return for feedback.

Rippled Flesh

From: Christopher E. Forman <ceforman SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #10 -- February 4, 1997 NAME: Rippled Flesh AUTHOR: Rybread M. Celsius EMAIL: rybread SP@G DATE: October 1996 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Inform Ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF Archive URL: VERSION: Version 1.0 Another horror story that doesn't succeed at being creepy, although it comes close once or twice if you let your imagination fill in the gaps that the less-than-convincing text leaves. There are a lot of puzzles that require guessing the author's manner of thinking, and, though a couple were kind of neat, the game has the same feel of "Punkirita," by the same author, with lots of incongruous ideas slapped together, peppered with pop-culture references that don't seem to fit. (To the author: The first "Alien" movie was good, too. It's only the third one that sucked. And the fourth, if they make it.) The text file with the game explains that the author didn't know how to implement some features, so I have a brief word for potential authors: Don't be afraid to post requests for help on We were all new to Inform at some point. (Even Graham Nelson, sort of.) Finally, let me just urge players to stick with this game to the end. Please, PLEASE don't deprive yourselves of the attempt at an explanation for everything that happened during the course of the game. It's a major (unintentional) hoot, and I loved it so much I gave the game an extra point! Also, if you don't mind my asking: What's the DEAL with disco this year? Both "Rippled Flesh" and "Phlegm" make use of it. Is disco, as those annoying music commercials claim, really "back and hotter than ever"? FTP FileDirectory With Inform .z5 File and walkthrough FTP FileInform source code

Risorgimento Represso

From: Mike Russo <russo SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #35 -- December 31, 2003 TITLE: Risorgimento Represso AUTHOR: Michael Coyne EMAIL: coyne SP@G DATE: October 2003 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: VERSION: Release 1 (competition version) This game initially threw me for a loop; given the intimidating title and the scholastic setting of the opening, I was expecting a much more historical take than the one I was presented. My initial notes involved a fair amount of griping about such anachronisms as the use of Mendeleev's periodic table, but once I grasped what kind of game I was in for, I had a much more pleasant time. Risorgimento is a whimsical, well-coded adventure in the Infocom tradition, distinguished by some very entertaining puzzles. The plot is nothing terribly involving -- the player character is a student desperately trying to make his (her?) way back to the modern day -- but that's not really the focus of this offering. Instead, it's the series of challenges facing the player that are responsible for keeping the interest level high, and fortunately, they succeed at this task quite admirably. The author should be congratulated for removing much of the annoyance often associated with IF: doors automatically open and unlock, for example, which makes exploration stress-free. The environment unfolds gradually, with new areas opening up in a logical, manageable fashion; although there are quite a few locations, I never felt lost or unsure of what I should be working on. Although an inventory limit is implemented, the bottomless satchel greatly ameliorates the irritation. Really, the only complaint I had was that reading the notebook cycled through three different passages, only one of which was useful for a particular puzzle (although while writing this review, I discovered that READ CHEM jumps directly to the appropriate section, a thoughtful convenience.) NPC interaction is slim, but what there is works fairly well; one doesn't expect the absent-minded wizard or the bored gate-guard to be very interested in chit-chat, after all. The writing is workmanlike and seemed almost completely error-free. I did run into one coding oddity -- attempting to pick up the iron key Ninario dropped after his abduction sometimes returned a complaint about the difficulty of taking it home with me. Just about every object I thought to examine was implemented, and the overall attention to detail was satisfying; the author indicates that he spent almost three months testing and revising, and the effort shows. The meat of the game really comes in the puzzles, and the quality is again consistently high. The second I read the chemistry notes, I knew that I would need to make some gunpowder, but the in-game clues were robust enough that I didn't even need to look up atomic numbers to complete this section -- it was deep enough to be interesting but not complicated to the point of frustration. The misadventures at the farm are another high point -- when you're standing at the top of a tree, wearing welding-goggles, a helmet, and a bear rug, and holding a cannonball, and every step along the way made perfect sense, that's good puzzle design, right there. While some obstacles were a bit hard, some judicious tyromancy was usually good for a nudge in the right direction, and many problems had more than one solution. I might quibble with some of the implementations (a few seem rather difficult without some outside knowledge -- the Greek meaning of arktos, the presence of methane in human waste, etc. -- and it took me a long time to figure out that AIM CANNON AT DOORS was the proper syntax), but overall the puzzles were fair and well-clued. The only thing holding Risorgimento back from a higher rating is the fact that I do tend to prefer my games a bit more plot-heavy, but really, that's merely a minor issue of personal taste. The level of care and conscientiousness that went into this game is impressively high (look at the list of AMUSING actions if you need any more proof!), and I hope we'll have a sequel to look forward to next year! FTP FileZcode .z8 file (updated version) FTP FileZcode .z8 file (competition version)

The Ritual of Purification

From: Paul O'Brian <obrian SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #17 -- May 10, 1999 NAME: The Ritual of Purification AUTHOR: Jarek Sobolewski E-MAIL: sable SP@G DATE: September 1998 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 1 The feeling I got while playing Ritual reminded me of nothing so much as those old Dr. Strange comics from the 60's, back when the master of mysticism was drawn by Steve Ditko, himself a master of the bizarre. The game is full of strange, hallucinatory images: a road that melts into nothing, an arch with marble carvings on one side and black decay on the other side, exploding and melting universes. The whole thing made me feel like I was immersed in a Ditko landscape, and the fact that the main character is a spellcaster on an astral voyage didn't hurt either. Of course, some of the scenes in Ritual could never have taken place in a 60's comic -- at least, not one that adhered to the Comics Code Authority. There's nothing really outrageous, but there are scenes of sexuality, drug use, and gore that you'd never see Dr. Strange experiencing. I'm not suggesting that the game is some sort of Dr. Strange rip-off, or that Ditko was an inspiration for Ritual -- that's just what it reminded me of. However, one source of inspiration for the game was clearly some of the more obscure poetry of Edgar Allan Poe. At the completion of almost every puzzle, the game throws a box quote from Poe, usually one which has some relation to the obstacle just overcome. These quotes are well-chosen, digging deep into the Poe archives and highlighting how much he inherited from William Blake, as well as how much he prefigured H.P. Lovecraft. At its best, most deranged or sublime moments, the game evokes the weird, dark mysticism shared by all these creators. On the whole, the effect is very trippy, and a fair amount of fun. Unfortunately, there are some false notes as well. From time to time a character will say or do something fairly anachronistic, which tends to break the spell pretty thoroughly. In fact, at one point you can get a character to whip out a bong and start taking hits from it, which brings the whole elevated plane of symbolism and wonder dive-bombing back to earth. The effect is not so much of Alice in Wonderland's "hookah-smoking caterpillar", but more of Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. It just doesn't fit. There are also a few times when the game seems to slip into cliches or "AD&Disms" -- one beast is described as "biting easily through a set of plate mail", and some of the spells feel suspiciously close to ones I remember from 7th grade basement role-playing sessions. In addition, the game has a number of grammar and spelling errors, usually minor problems like missing punctuation or vowel mistakes, but again they break the spell. Finally, and worst of all, there's a bug in the game which causes it to not respond at all if a certain action is taken sooner than the game expects it. There's nothing that ruins immersion quite so much as when a game just doesn't respond to a command in any way. Well, maybe not *nothing* -- crashing the interpreter would probably ruin immersion more, but because of the lack of response problem I ended up turning to the hints, only to find that I had in fact given the right command to solve the puzzle -- I just gave it a little too soon. The game suffers a bit from the "unconnected symbols" syndrome -- sometimes it feels like all of these dreamlike images are just images, with no meaning or substance attached to them. However, the game manages to pull them together somewhat through its title, intro, and ending -- the bizarre symbols with which the game is littered are all loosely connected through a theme of purification, of facing inner demons and the pain & joy of life in order to become a better person. It didn't entirely work for me -- some of the symbolism seemed arbitrary or cliched to my mind -- but I think it was a good beginning. I would really like to play a game with this kind of tone which had freed itself from shopworn images and RPG leftovers. Something with imagery like the more arresting parts of Ritual, but which really cohered to make a powerful statement on some aspect of the human condition, could really take advantage of IF's immersive capability to create a remarkable work of art. Ritual isn't it, but I hope it becomes the jumping-off point for someone (the author perhaps?) to create something like it but better: no writing errors, no cliches, no anachronisms, no bugs -- just the Ditko universes exploding and melting all around us, with meaning. Rating: 6.9 FTP FileDirectory with Inform .z5 file and walkthrough

Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots

From: Paul Lee <bainespal SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #41 -- July 15, 2005 TITLE: Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots AUTHOR: Benjamin Mullins EMAIL: benmullins SP@G DATE: February 2005 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-code ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF Archive URL: VERSION: Release 1 This is a cute little game in which you play the blue "rock 'em sock 'em" robot and are determined to defeat your eternal adversary, Red. The obvious goal comes very easily; it is the bells and easter-eggs that make this game worth your five or ten minutes. Many actions give funny responses, and there are several humorous ways to end the game. Although the game will draw its laughs, there are not really enough things to do to make it a serious endeavor. Still, it accomplishes its goal well enough for what it is. Neither the coding nor the writing are very spectacular, but they both pass. The game has been tested and is not terribly buggy, although the Inform debugging commands are still present. Most everything works the way it obviously should. The only thing that disappointed me was one object that when used suggested something that the game did not incorporate. The writing similarly is fine. In fact, in places the prose is pleasantly witty. At any rate, the small amount of time that you put into this little work should be fun. FTP FileZcode .z5 file
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