Game Reviews S

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The email addresses used are those submitted with the review, so naturally some of them may be out of date.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

Saied Sangraal Sanity Clause Sardoria Save Princeton Savoir-Faire Scapeghost Scavenger Screen Seastalker Shade Shades of Grey Shadowgate Shadows On The Mirror She's Got A Thing For a Spring Sherlock: The Riddle of the Crown Jewels Shogun Shrapnel A Simple Theft Sins Against Mimesis Sir Ramic Hobbs and the High Level Gorilla Sir Ramic Hobbs and the Oriental Walk Six Stories Skyranch Slouching Towards Bedlam Small World Snatches The Snowman Sextet So Far Solitary Son of a... Sorcerer The Sound of One Hand Clapping South American Trek Space Aliens Laughed at my Cardigan Space Horror I: Prey for Your Enemies The Space Under the Window Space War! ...and the PDP-1 The Spatent Obstruction SpeeedIF 8: A Freak Accident Leaves Seattle Pantsless Spellbreaker Spider and Web Spiritwrak Splashdown A Spot of Bother Spur Square Circle Starcross Stargazer Stationfall Sting of the Wasp Stone Cell Stranded A Sugared Pill Sunset Over Savannah Suprematism Suspect Suspended Swineback Ridge Sylenius Mysterium


From: Jarvist Frost <BOBFROST SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #15 -- October 11, 1998 NAME: Saied AUTHOR: Robb Sherwin E-MAIL: robb_sherwin SP@G DATE: 6/8/98 PARSER: Slightly below Inform Standard SUPPORTS: ZCODE interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 1 { Editor's note: this was one of the entries of the 1998 Chicken Comp (see the NEWS section above), hence the reference to chickens crossing the road. The file contains not only this game, but the other entries as well. } In this game you play the role of the spurned lover (male). Your Ex has left you for someone else 18 months ago (while you were standing there at 3am waiting for her in the freezing cold). Now, she has phoned you and asked you to come round and comfort her since she has just been arguing with her new lover, your replacement. You start this game in your bed, and have to get up and decide whether you are going to respond to your Ex's call for help. This game has more bugs than a tropical swamp. Instead of typing 'stand' or 'get out of bed' you have to type 'pump it up' to get out of bed. The direction of your door (the only exit from your apartment) is not actually mentioned in the room description and so you have to guess wildly by typing in directions at random until you realise that it is towards the east. This game hardly recognises any of the items mentioned in the room description. The main way that the story progresses is through people phoning you up. After you finely decide to get out of bed and exit the house you find yourself faced with a decision (which will, either way, end the game). Should you go to your Ex lover's house you should you cross to the other Saied to see your close (female) friend? This game had some _very_ infuriating parser problems. The two items (of which only 1 can be picked up) served no purpose other than to be looked at. Only the second of the 2 locations contains any information about the exits from it. The telephone calls are hard wired in, where ether you are, you still get the telephone calls (which occur at 'so many turns'). From the last two paragraphs of complaints you would expect the writing to be terrible and the game to be boring, frustrating and excessively hard to understand. It wasn't. The writing was of a very high standard throughout and both endings seemed very fitting, in particular I liked the joke about why the chicken crossed the road (and no it isn't "to get to the other side"(TM) but it is something similar). As a whole, this game was good fun and I would heartily recommend it to anyone with experience with bad parsers (i.e. all you Speccy Ifers out there). Once the parser bugs have been navigated, this game turns into a fun, short game and I found it well worth the download time. I will certainly look forward to the 1998 i.f. competition entry from Robb Sherwin. FTP FileInform .z5 file, bundled with other chicken-comp games (.zip)


From: Duncan Stevens <dnrb SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #21 -- June 15, 2000 TITLE: Sangraal AUTHOR: Jonathan Partington, ported to Inform by Adam Atkinson and Graham Nelson E-MAIL: (Adam's) ghira SP@G DATE: 1987 (ported 1999) PARSER: Two-word SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 1.18 of the original, release 1 of the port Sangraal is one of the three Topologika games recently ported to Inform--the others are Fyleet and Crobe--and it's an odd experience in several respects for present-day IFers. While it doesn't meet the fairness and friendliness standards that latter- day IF has developed, the overall level of literacy and wit is high enough to make it worth a look. The parser represents the biggest adjustment. It's a two-word parser that simply ignores anything after the first two words, so GIVE X TO Y will generally work, but PUT X IN Y will not. This requires some fairly tortured inferences at times--DROP is sometimes taken as the equivalent of PUT, improbably--and on the whole it's not a major highlight. EXAMINE is disabled--the "initial" description of each object has everything that's relevant--and other standbys like ENTER and WEAR aren't on the scene either, and nor are meta-commands like UNDO and OOPS. (On the other hand, lots of highly unusual verbs are recognized, and there's no way of guessing what the game does and doesn't allow as a verb.) There are other, smaller differences--abbrevations like I and L aren't provided for--but the parser is the biggest adjustment, and whether it drives the modern player completely insane depends in large part on whether the player grew up on Infocom (whose parser was never limited to two words) or discovered IF only recently (and therefore never encountered the earlier, cruder days of IF parsing). As you might guess from the above, the puzzles don't, by and large, involve particularly subtle object manipulation--i.e., discovering subtle hidden properties of objects generally isn't key to solving the puzzles. They do, however, involve some baffling logical leaps, and it's possible to solve some of them without figuring out the key, so to speak. Moreover, a few are simply infuriating--there's a maze that ranks with the most annoying in the history of IF, which is saying quite a bit, and an extended one-of-these-three-doors-is-telling-the-truth sequence. Some are more creative, admittedly--there's a "seven deadly sins" puzzle that would feel quite original if the idea hadn't been done several times in recent years (i.e., long after Sangraal was released)--but few are real highlights. Supposedly, Sangraal is the easiest of the three ported Topologika games; if so, that should give IFers pause, because in no sense are the puzzles in Sangraal easy, nor is the game design particularly forgiving. It's not at all hard to close off the game without realizing it, and some of the puzzles don't allow for trial and error. The game itself is fairly wide--lots of puzzles are available for most of the game--but many of the available puzzles aren't initially solvable, and solving them in the wrong order can render the thing unfinishable. Sangraal's saving grace is its literacy and cultural acumen. The game is littered with references to various authors--Keats, Poe, Shelley, Homer, the Bible several times over, and many, many more. Some of the digs are rather subtle--there's a Wailing Wall that, initially, you get driven away from because you don't belong there, and you (minor spoiler) evade getting driven away by changing your appearance so that you look the part, a barbed reference to the ongoing controversy in Jerusalem over Orthodox Jews refusing to allow Reform and Conservative Jews to pray at the Wailing Wall. Equally subtle is the following: There is a five-foot high pillar of salt here, which looks a bit like a running woman. But not a lot. Sangraal abounds with humor along these lines, and while not all the jokes work--one sequence involving the "Eleventh Commandment" and a bunch of computer programmers feels rather forced--most of them are funny enough to make the game consistently amusing. The drawback, however, is that much of the humor requires that the player think in the same bizarre and subversive way as the author does, and Sangraal is hence best played with the aid of a walkthrough or a helpful friend who's already finished it. Particularly difficult in this respect are the puzzles that draw on certain poems by Keats and Shelley--the logical progression is highly obscure. Sangraal occupies such an odd niche that it's hard to liken it to any recent work of IF. There's no plot, really--the initial premise (retrieving the Holy Grail) is entirely irrelevant, as with most fantasy quests--and neither is there anything binding the game's world together. (I.e., the world depicted feels less like a setting than an excuse for a lot of silly puzzles.) The puzzles have a way of disappearing once they're solved, and most of them either give the player a treasure-type object or simply award points; none, as far as I can recall, changed the game's landscape, and not many even opened up new territory to explore. No doubt this is a function of the memory limitations of the day, which made it difficult to code for both a solved and unsolved state of a puzzle, but the effect is to magnify the random-collection-of-puzzles feel. While it's an uneven work in several respects, there's plenty of wit in Sangraal, enough to overcome the clumsier bits, and if you enjoy rather obscure satire, you may well enjoy this. FTP FileInform .z5 file FTP FileSource code

Sanity Clause

From: Audrey A. DeLisle <rad SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #1 -- May 15, 1994 NAME: Sanity Clause PARSER: AGT Standard AUTHOR: Mike McCauley PLOT: Excellent EMAIL: ??? ATMOSPHERE: Funny AVAILABILITY: IF Archive S10 WRITING: Excellent PUZZLES: - SUPPORTS: AGT Ports CHARACTERS: Good DIFFICULTY: - You are Santa Claus and you must deliver all the presents before midnight in each time zone. This can be done in five trips. When you have to go to the same place, you will find a different puzzle. It is tedious, but fun if you have the patience. The author wrote S.O.S. (Son of Stagefright, both with AGT.) Understand that each trip will be shorter than the previous one. Your elf is a delightful companion. Author--Mike McCauley, has MAC version, sends map and hints on reg. FTP FileAGT files with PC Executable runtime (.zip) FTP FileSource (.zip)


From: J. Robinson Wheeler <jrw SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #35 -- December 31, 2003 TITLE: Sardoria AUTHOR: Anssi Raisanen EMAIL: anssi.raisanen SP@G DATE: October 2003 PARSER: ALAN standard SUPPORTS: ALAN interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: VERSION: 1.0 (competition release) Normally, I don't play ALAN games, mostly because they're a lot of extra trouble. There doesn't seem to be a way (and I might be wrong about this) of automatically saving a transcript, and that's something I like to do when playing comp games, so that I can refer back to it when writing reviews. [Editor's note: Apparently, ALAN games can in fact generate a transcript when they are started at the command line with the -L switch. This fact does not necessarily overturn Rob's point about these games being "a lot of extra trouble." --Paul] As a result, I ended up doing this very tedious thing of copy-and-pasting a screenful of text at a time from the ALAN terp window into a text editor every twenty seconds. This has served to make me grumpy and irritable and likely to rate the game more harshly than I would have if it had been an Inform or TADS game, which isn't really fair. Maybe I'll add a point at the end to try to compensate, but that isn't really fair, either, I suppose. This is a fairly standard and fairly short old-school type game set in a castle with dining halls, secret passages, a bearded old wizard, and a king who's in trouble. That sort of thing. You start out in a locked room, and figuring out how to get out of there was, to me, the most troublesome puzzle of the game. I went to the hints fairly quickly, and all they did was suggest that something else was hidden in the room with me. Given the extremely limited set of things to interact with, I eventually found it, but it was a total read-the-author's-mind type of situation. The next puzzle after that was equally perplexing. I guess if I'd really taken the time to examine everything (which I was steered away from doing, because it was a kitchen full of knickknacks, the first dozen or so of which yielding nothing more than a note saying that they're not worth playing with), I might have figured it out on my own. Instead, I used the WALKTHROUGH command. After that, things went a little better. I'm an old hand at looking behind things and finding secret passages and so forth. There was a curious cultural gap that made one puzzle here a bit more of a stumper than it was supposed to be, I think. You have a clue sheet of abstract concepts, and then a grid of icons you have to touch, matching the concepts. Two of the concepts were "night" and "wisdom". One of the icons was an owl. The mismatch and the correct solution are left as an exercise for the reader. Later on, I unintentionally found the solution to a puzzle because an NPC blurted out the solution, due to a bug, as if I'd already stumbled on it and was showing him the results. Oh well, whatever works. Just after this, there was something that I guess was a bug -- I was told to proceed through a set of color-coded doors in a certain order, and that order was incorrect: two of the colors needed to be swapped in order for me to get to the end. I don't know what that was about, but it seems like a beta-tester should have found that. Unless it was deliberate, in which case, it was just weird. Right after that, there was a puzzle that reminded me of something I made fun of in one of last year's games. It's the equivalent of going into a room with a gigantic vault safe, with a description saying, "Oh no! How will you ever get this open? Also, there's a note attached to the safe." Examining the note says, "The combination is 59-73-102." Makes you wonder whether it even qualifies as a puzzle at that level. Following one more read-the-author's-mind puzzle, the game suddenly ended, and I had won. Uh -- okay. Well, that was, hmm, brief, I guess. There is nothing especially bad about the game, but nothing especially unique about it, either. Sometimes I like old-school games like this, but this one left me kind of wishing for more in the way of entertainment value. My natural reaction would be to rate this one a 4, but is that because I was grumpy about the lack of a logging feature? Hmm, nah, I think it's because that's the proper rating to give it. RATING: 4 FTP FileZip archive with Alan files (updated version) FTP FileDirectory with Alan .acd and .dat files (competition version)

Save Princeton

From: Brian Reilly <reillyb SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #8 -- February 5, 1996 NAME: Save Princeton PARSER: TADS AUTHOR: Jacob Weinstein PLOT: Rescue Princeton from terrorists. EMAIL: jweinste SP@G ATMOSPHERE: Good AVAILABILITY: IF Archive, shareware,$10 WRITING: Good PUZZLES: FAIR SUPPORTS: TADS Ports CHARACTERS: FAIR DIFFICULTY: Moderate Egads! Gun-toting radicals have infiltrated the Ivy League. Nope, it's not Columbia of '69, but Princeton of today. As a mild-mannered perspective Princetonian, you duck away from your tour of Princeton out of boredom and begin to explore the the campus on your own, only to be startled by the sounds of gunfire erupting in the usually tranquil Princeton, NJ. When you come out of hiding, you can tell that something has gone drastically wrong. Your explorations around Princeton soon lead you to discover that the Administration Building has been seized, and the President of Princeton is being held hostage. Now, it's up to you to oust the terrorists, and rescue President Shapiro. The puzzles in this game are done fairly well, but some tend to be rather illogical or bizarre. The game is full of a good amount of humor, although a lot of it is dependent on Princeton history or a familiarity with the campus. The characters add to the humor of the game, although many of the characters could have been more developed. I do have to add though, that I was ecstatic when I realized that the maze was a non-maze, and did not have to spend hours mapping. All in all, Save Princeton is a fun, enjoyable game. FTP FileTADS .gam File FTP FileMacintosh (.hqx) FTP FileDOS executable (.zip) FTP FileSolution (text)


From: Daphne Brinkerhoff <cendare SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #30 -- September 20, 2002 TITLE: Savoir-Faire AUTHOR: Emily Short EMAIL: emshort SP@G DATE: April 2002 (original) PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: VERSION: 6 (most recent) (Note: I have recently moved, and my computer is still in pieces in boxes, so I am not able to replay the game to get exact details. Also, I played an older release (not sure which one).) Savoir-Faire is an excellent game, featuring a strong sense of place, an innovative backstory & magic system, and a protagonist whose idiosyncrasies are charming in a way that reminds me of Varicella. Place: The opening "room" is so present and alive that I spent many turns there before even going inside. Throughout the house, the furniture, doors, molding, and knickknacks all contribute to a feeling of really being there. But what would you expect from the author of Pytho's Mask and Best Of Three -- both games which focus on conversation and still have room for books, costumes, inlaid tiles...? "Place" also encompasses the idea of culture. With sausages strung up on the rafters and seven planets in a model of the solar system, it's clear that we aren't in Kansas any more. So *this* is "old skool"? I don't remember Zork and Advent being quite like this. Backstory: Obviously, I can't say much about this without giving away the plot. But even the brief opening text raises a number of questions: Where is everyone? What is your relationship to them? To this house? Who are you, that you can so blithely gamble away your life savings and assume someone else will bail you out? Like so many games, Savoir-Faire has a subplot about discovering your true identity, but it's low-key: no melodramatic scenes of revelation. The magic system: Figuring this out is one of those "aha!" moments, so again I can't go into great detail. In some ways, though, I felt frustrated -- the magic seemed to be so powerful that the limitations felt arbitrary at times. The thought "If action A works, why doesn't action B?" crossed my mind many times. If I may digress briefly, I think this is a universal problem with powerful characters in general. It could be called the Commander Data problem (after the Star Trek character). If you have an exceptionally able character, plots tend to fall apart. "A heavy bulkhead? Data can lift it. An encoded password? Data can decrypt it. A rescue in the vacuum of space? No problem!" So the writer ends up inventing more or less believable reasons why this power can't be used to solve this problem. For me, this *mostly* works in Savoir-Faire, but there are occasions when I just rolled my eyes and went to the walkthrough. Of course, this can be written off as more of that "old skool" atmosphere. I should add that another alternative (severely limit your character's powers) is the more usual way of handling things -- hence the numerous magic systems with equivalents of "fnord: create illusion of blue antelope", and similar very specific powers. What Savoir-Faire attempts is more interesting, and mostly more intuitive -- if I *had* magic powers, this is how I would both prefer and expect them to work. Protagonist: A bit prissy, a bit amoral (breaking and entering starts the game, after all!), a bit noble -- yeah, kinda like Varicella. I particularly enjoyed being hungry and eating. This guy is *serious* (and seriously vivid) about his food. Fortunately, he does care about something other than himself. And there is evidence (especially if you play it right) that he has a strong sense of humor and self-mockery. Basically, I enjoyed being Pierre. Other: I especially enjoyed the memories that pop up from time to time (they reminded me of an aspect of L. Ross Raszewski's Moments Out of Time. My only quibble is that there weren't quite as many of them as I wanted, and they seemed to cluster in the beginning parts of the game. And now I've gotten through a whole review without mentioning the puzzles! Isn't that why people play "old skool" games? I had fun with some of them (finding a light source and exploring the cellars, particularly). Mostly the puzzles are tied up with the magic system described above. If you like the magic system, you'll like the puzzles (and mostly, I did). To sum up, while this game may claim to be "old skool", that doesn't mean Yet Another Dungeon Crawl. There's atmosphere & polish which bring Savoir-Faire to a higher level than that. From: Francesco Bova <fbova SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #32 -- March 20, 2003 The type of IF I've always preferred has been more puzzle-based than story-driven, and as a result, I've always enjoyed the old Infocom games because, if anything, they erred on the puzzle side of that spectrum. They typically featured mazes, colour-based puzzles, hunger and weight restrictions, and a whole host of other implements we just don't see in modern IF today (albeit in most of those cases, for very good reasons). With the lack of many truly puzzle-oriented games lately, I have been longing for a big puzzlefest-type game reminiscent of an Infocom classic and I'm happy to say I've found one in Savoir-Faire. Savoir-Faire comes out and blatantly calls itself a piece of old-school IF; a throwback, if you will, to the days of Infocom and perhaps more recently to the days of Curses and Delusions. When a game comes out and patently calls itself old school, comparisons to some of the more popular Infocom classics and early shareware games will be drawn. So the question is, does Savoir-Faire succeed in replicating the old Infocom standard? As far as I'm concerned, it doesn't just succeed in replicating it; it's better in every respect I can think of while still maintaining the illusion that the game could have been created in Infocom's heyday. For example, Savoir-Faire implements many common design strategies used in Infocom games that are now considered designing no-no's (encumbrance-based carrying systems, hunger restrictions, the opening of doors before you go through them), but does so in a much more contemporary and less threatening fashion. There are different light-based puzzles for example, a maze of sorts, and an abundance of locked doors, yet Ms. Short seems to reluctantly (and thankfully) only put a half-hearted attempt into creating an authentic old-school system. The hunger restriction, for example, is only that in name and serves more as a reminder of what goals you should be focusing on as opposed to a rigid hurdle that has to be traversed (which is to say you can never die of hunger). Unlocked doors open automatically once unlocked, and any encumbrance issues are nicely done away with, with a sack that can carry pretty much anything. It probably grated on a game designer as strong as Ms. Short in the first place to have to implement so many old-school faux pas, let alone make them completely unuser friendly. Fortunately for the player, it appears that her innate sense of good game design prevailed. Continuing on with the puzzles, Savoir-Faire again throws up some old Infocom tropes without the typical old school constraints (i.e., unwinnable game states). The credits list the game as cruel, which makes me typically feel that there are many opportunities to put the game into an unwinnable state. Actually, when I see a cruel rating for a game followed by the word 'unwinnable' I get that eerie chill down my spine that I got so often while playing So Far, where every turn seemed destined to limit my possibilities. Although some of the puzzles were on the tougher side, none were unachievable without a little lateral thinking, and I can't think of one that would be considered truly cruel. On the contrary there are plenty of ways to solve the same puzzle unless you go about willfully destroying things (and even then you might find some possible avenues). At one point, while I was stumped, I attempted an action that involved the destruction of an item (an action which I was sure would lead me to an unwinnable state). To my surprise, an alternate solution that I'd thought of but which I felt unlikely to be implemented, turned out to work. To my further surprise, upon reading the verbose walkthrough, I discovered many other solutions for that particular puzzle and was duly impressed. Once again in defiance of most classic-IF axioms, there is very little linearity in this game. As I mentioned, alternate solutions abound and the puzzle-solving process is aided by a whole plethora of parsed verbs to choose from. Savoir-Faire is a game that understands the following sentences equally: >get water from well with teapot. >fill teapot with water from well. And Savoir-Faire also provides for many rare but useful verbs as well as verb synonyms. Also remarkable are the impressive bits of programming involved in the game. There is a magical set of physics to Short's world that the player learns through flashbacks and bits of backdrop, and the macroparsing involved in setting up this particular magic system is impressive; all the more so as the game was originally released in .z5 format (as opposed to the .z8 of later releases.) When things work as smoothly as they do in Savoir-Faire, you know there's a lot going on behind the scenes that makes the game work as efficiently as it does. For the average author this means adding libraries, extra classes, and more often than not ugly, redundant bits of programming. But for the true artist, efficiency is what's important and nowhere is efficiency more apparent in any recent game in memory, than it is with Savoir-Faire. Sure, in terms of gameplay I guess it ultimately doesn't matter how big or small a game is, but as a hack programmer myself, I really do appreciate the elegance and efficiency with which Ms. Short constructed her universe, as I know how difficult it is to make it so. Anyway, all these positives and I haven't even talked about the writing. Ms. Short, a former winner of an XYZZY for best writing, has an economical and beautifully descriptive way about her prose. It's effective and lasting and brings every piece of scenery to life. The writing is such a pleasure to read that one could still enjoy the game greatly just playing it strictly with a walkthrough and reading the responses the game spits back at you. So to sum up, Savoir-Faire is a great game, and I don't have many complaints about it. Since this is a critique of the work, however, I feel obliged to talk a bit about something I wasn't overly fond of in the game, and surprisingly (when I think back to Short's other works), what I wasn't overly impressed with was the story. Well that's not true exactly. I thought the story and background were great up until the ending, after which I felt differently about the story as a whole. The plot starts off with the PC, a minor noble in financial difficulty, returning to the house of his youth where an adoptive family had once raised him. Upon finding the manor abandoned, the PC decides to ransack it for profit (and so begins a classic treasure hunt, albeit with a lot more backstory than the Infocom standard). The story to this point is fine, but as bits of background became more and more available throughout the game, it seems obvious that the protagonist was treated quite fairly by his adoptive parents and their daughter (who it appears also had a crush on him) despite his poorer upbringing and what you could only assume was a lower status in their household. I therefore found it extremely jarring that he would go back and pillage the home of the people who showed him so much kindness growing up. Other factors contributed to my growing disdain for the protagonist as well. For example, the constant reminders of his hunger (as illustrated by his constant yearnings for different exotic foods) that I had mentioned earlier, while important to the plot as it focuses the player on the task at hand, also reinforced, to me at least, the PC's selfishness. I mean really, worrying about gourmet cuisine when it was becoming readily apparent that a dear friend was in trouble? These are not the thoughts of a modern day IF hero. As a result, by the time the ending rolled around, I didn't have a great deal of respect for the protagonist and hoped all the while that he would receive an 'appropriate' reward for his violations and selfishness. In this respect, the game's PC reminded me a lot of the protagonist from Infidel (an Infocom classic for those who don't know). Infidel featured a protagonist who was a self-centered excavator and treasure seeker, committed to running through anything and everyone in his pursuit to achieve his goals. Fittingly, he receives a 'reward' worthy of his self-absorption upon reaching Infidel's conclusion. I was hoping for a similar result in Savoir-Faire but found none. No ending that befitted the crimes I'd committed, no slap on the wrist, no scolding, no guilt; Just some tacked-on sugary sweetness that completed the fairy tale in a typical and (at least for me) unsatisfying way. Interestingly enough, Infidel's original ending was very similar to Savoir-Faire's. I remember reading an interview with Infidel's author Mike Berlyn, and he alluded to the fact that the game's original ending finished very positively; the way most treasure hunts did at that time. But the ending was changed between the initial beta-tests and the game's final release because of an outcry from testers who disliked the protagonist, and thought he deserved far worse than the ending had provided. Faced with such an overwhelming sentiment, Mike and his team got to work to fix the ending and thus was born Infocom's first tragedy. Looking at the credits for Savoir-Faire, I noticed 4 beta testers to its credit -- a normal amount for a piece of modern IF. Let me start by saying that these four testers did a great job. As I've already mentioned in this review, Savoir-Faire is a technical marvel, and so much more playable than any Infocom game I can think of that it's laughable. But I would hypothesize that one advantage of having tens of testers look at a game (which was the case with the Infocom games) is that it's easier for an author to notice trends and sentiments with respect to storyline and mood. So if an author notices, lets say, 6 out of 20 people not feeling at ease with a story's direction it's a lot easier to detect a plot concern than if 1 out of 4 people notice a similar issue. I'd also hypothesize that having a smaller number of testers might mean that those same sentiments may be overlooked and that ultimately having a greater number of beta-testers will improve a storyline regardless of who writes it. Having said that though, it's tough to find dedicated beta-testers in the first place these days, let alone tens of them, and again this is not a criticism of Ms. Short's work in any way, just a comment on how the IF scene is different today as compared to the Infocom heyday. Hmmm... I guess the old Infocom games may have actually had an advantage or two in some areas over today's games after all. Go figure. Anyway, my brief quibble with the ending notwithstanding, Savoir-Faire is an excellent game penned and programmed from one of today's IF masters and well worth playing. Download it today! FTP FileZcode .z8 file


From: J. J. Farmer <J.J.Farmer-CSSE94 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #6 -- July 26, 1995 NAME: Scapeghost PARSER: Very Good AUTHORS: Level 9 Computing PLOT: Linear EMAIL: ??? ATMOSPHERE: Excellent AVAILABILITY: Commercial WRITING: Good PUZZLES: Poor (part 1), Very Good (parts 2 & 3) SUPPORTS: Amiga, Amstrad CPC, PCW, Apple II, Atari ST, XE, 800XL, BBC Master, Enhanced (sideways or shadow RAM) BBC Micro, Commodore 64 or 128, IBM PC, Apple Mac, Spectrum +2 or +3, MSX 64k, Spectrum 48k or 128k CHARACTERS: Excellent DIFFICULTY: Moderate-Low Let's start at the beginning: Alan Chance was a cop. Alan Chance was infiltrating a drug gang. Someone (or something) tipped off the gang. Alan Chance got killed, his partner Sarah was taken hostage and his ex-colleagues think it's all because of his own stupidity. But all is not lost. Alan Chance has returned as a ghost and, with the aid of an adventure game-player intrepid enough to actually locate and purchase a copy of this game, has three nights to rescue Sarah and bring the criminals to justice. Scapeghost was the last game Level 9 wrote before they withdrew from the adventure market, and evidence of their previous experience is obvious. The parser understands pretty much anything you type in; you can use the command "FIND" or "GO TO" to take you to any object in the game, and you can order around characters in the standard fashion (e.g. "JOE, RUN TO MY GRAVE, WAIT FOR ANDY, FIND THE WATCH, GET IT, FIND ME"), although whether they actually do it is another thing. Like most of the later Level 9 games, Scapeghost is split into three parts; in this case, the three nights on which the game takes place. However, unlike many of the previous games, they can be played in any order. I'm not really all that keen on this; the parts follow each other in a logical and chronological manner, and later parts do all but give you the solutions to puzzles in previous parts. I exercised restraint and played through the parts in order. The first part, November Graveyard, is probably the weakest. You start the game by waking up at your funeral just before dusk. There are four characters in the graveyard at this point (a workman, a supervisor, a detective and a crowd of mourners), and valuable information can be gained from following them around. Then night falls and you are introduced to the first of your fellow sufferers - Joe Danby used to be a publican, but he's stuck in the graveyard now because his place "doesn't serve spirits" groans all round. He'll take you on a guided tour of the graveyard and introduce you to most of the residents. It doesn't take you long to deduce that each one of them has a problem, and if you solve it for them they'll help you. It's all rather routine and there are some awful puns along the way. The climax of this part involves coordinating your small army of ghosts in a final effort to delay the drug gang while you wait for part two. As I said, this part has a good atmosphere but it's pretty much all been done before. There is only really one innovative puzzle, which I won't go into detail about because I don't want to spoil it for anyone. It took me about a day to complete this part. The location descriptions are very terse; some versions include graphics, and these help to get the true feel of the locations. I had the BBC Master version, and whilst the graphics were in an ultra low-res mode, with the BBC's normal complement of 8 colours not really helping, they were of surprisingly good quality and quite atmospheric. The back of the box shows some screen shots from the Atari ST version, and these are of near-photographic quality. On the other hand, they would put the best pictures on the box... Although the quality of the location descriptions is rather poor, all of the other text is truly excellent. It more than makes up for the other shortcomings. Part Two, Haunted House, sees you with enhanced abilities, and you can now leave the graveyard. Your previous squad of helpers has melted into the darkness, with only Joe Danby remaining to aid you in your quest to investigate the gang's old hideout. The puzzles in this part are really excellent. You must use your ghostly abilities to piece together your final moments, and to assemble a body of evidence. All of this can be solved by pure logical thought. There's still nothing too testing, but it's all good fun. In part three you can finally get to grips with the criminals - but they're trying to get to grips with you too, and force a priest to attempt an exorcism. After your exploits in part two, the police are making their way to the gang's new hideout - with lights flashing and sirens blaring. A surprise assault it won't be. Although it initially seems that you are left to develop your own strategy to bring them to justice, the instructions actually tell you what to do, which is a mite disappointing. The atmospheric touches in this part are excellent. It's worth playing the part through once just to sit and watch the gang's poker game. The puzzles are once again very original, and in some parts hilarious. Yet again, though, there's nothing overly difficult. Scapeghost is a truly classic game let down by a poor first part and some very brief location descriptions. Another review (in the magazine "The Micro User") said that it contained "real brain-teasers", and left the impression that it was rather difficult. I personally found it very easy - I finished it in three days, which is the quickest I've completed any game, but maybe I was lucky. Availability is probably rather low - it was released in 1989, and when I purchased my copy three years ago Level 9's supplies of all their BBC games were running very low (sold out of all but three), and it's a fair bet that a similar situation exists for the other formats. However, if you do see a copy anywhere, snap it up at once. You won't be disappointed. FTP FileSolution (Text)


From: Virginia Gretton <VGretton SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #35 -- December 31, 2003 TITLE: Scavenger AUTHOR: Quintin Stone EMAIL: stone SP@G DATE: October 2003 PARSER: TADS2 SUPPORTS: TADS2 interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: VERSION: Version 1.0 (competition release) This game was well-coded and extensively tested. I was given choices at the beginning, which worried me in case no-win states lay just beyond the horizon. Happily, that was not the case. The setting did not excite me for a long time. And being forced to abandon a child in a hostile world went against the grain. Still, it is a means to an end -- a workman-like way of coding progression. Inside the main location, I was frustrated by clear solutions combined with inability to get the required response. That said, the tension built nicely and crept up on me unawares. The conclusion was satisfying and mollified my buried worries about child abuse. Multiple endings were sufficiently interesting to make me want to try them. In some ways this game achieved more than my favourite entry -- it drew me in and held my attention in a very subtle way. If Scavenger were a book, I would find myself pre-ordering the author's next title from Amazon. From: Cirk Bejnar <eluchil404 SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #35 -- December 31, 2003 My favorite game of the Comp, this old-school gem combines well-done puzzles with evocative prose to create an intriguing world. You are cast as a scavenger in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, seeking some secret technology of the ancients. This provides a nice explanation for why you go off exploring behind every desk and pick up anything not nailed down. One feature of note is the many alternate solutions that are coded. There is a store in the opening portion of the game where you have a choice of several items. Most of them are optional and they provide the game with a fair amount of replayability. From a technical standpoint, Scavenger is superb. Most actions are anticipated and generate interesting customized responses. In addition, alternate syntax is generously provided. Only once did I have to rephrase a command. There are a few minor bugs in the end game where it fails to properly check state, but nothing that adversely effects gameplay. Personally, I found the gameplay experience of Scavenger to be very rewarding. You are given a goal at the beginning that drives the action throughout. The primary task breaks down nicely into subgoals, how to enter the base for instance, but there are also puzzles which are more of less optional, depending on the supplies you have and whether or not you want a full score. The balance between player freedom and keeping the plot moving was well handled in my opinion. I would also like to mention the writing. It is generally quite good at sketching places or people with a few simple strokes. Details are included with just the right frequency to give you a vivid picture of the world and its inhabitants. The difficulty is not particularly high nor is the game very cruel. And if you do get stuck it features a nicely done hint system to give you a nudge (or a shove if you need it) in the right direction. Highly recommended to all except perhaps very young children. The language and violence would probably garner a PG-13 rating from the MPAA. FTP FileDirectory with TADS2 .gam file, license, readme, and walkthrough


From: Tony Baechler <baechler SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #31 -- January 3, 2003 TITLE: Screen AUTHOR: Edward Floren EMAIL: edwardfloren SP@G DATE: September 2002 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: VERSION: Release 1 I really enjoyed this game, but it had small faults. Before I mention them, I would first like to mention that it was very well-written. I found no obvious grammar errors. Almost everything I examined had descriptions. I found no obvious bugs. I liked the overall premise. The best way to describe it without spoilers is "short and sweet." However, it is just the right size for what it is trying to do. It had small faults. Probably the biggest was that it could not make up its mind about whether we are in first or third person. At the beginning it was obviously first person. It moved into standard IF, which I think is second person. Finally, it was third person in the cut scenes. This was a little jarring since I had already figured out my name but it kept referring to me by name as if I was reading a book about a stranger. I felt myself becoming distanced from the PC, as if I am looking at him through an outside window or some such. Overall, this was minor but detracted from the game. Secondly, I felt it could have transitioned into the three parts more smoothly. In other words, suddenly I am in a different part and am trying to figure out who I am and what I am doing. I guess it did a good job though because the first thing I thought to do was examine myself. It did a fair job of describing me, but I thought that part 3 was better done with more described characters. The NPCs were cutouts but that was perfectly fine for a game like this. They both gave clues as to what they wanted, so by poking around it was obvious what I was supposed to do in part 2. Finally, it lost some points for originality. Sorry, but similar devices have been used before. Besides, I am a little confused how the screen got there in the first place. Again, though, I emphasize that these faults were very minor. The game was slightly above average. The faults might have been less noticeable if the game was larger, but I think the reason why I liked the game as much as I did was because of its small size. It is enough to capture my attention but is not too long and drawn out. I was never this PC but can relate to his nostalgia, even with the narrative style changing as it did. If the transitions were slightly smoother, this would be a good game to polish and release after the competition is over. It is a pleasant way to spend 10-20 minutes. Congratulations and good job. I would like to see more from this author, since I like his writing style. My comp rating: 6 FTP FileDirectory with zcode .z5 file


From: Graeme Cree <72630.304 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #4 -- March 2, 1995 NAME: Seastalker: [Your Name] and the Ultramarine Bioceptor GAMEPLAY: Infocom Standard AUTHORS: Stu Galley & Jim Lawrence PLOT: Routine EMAIL: ? ATMOSPHERE: Good AVAILABILITY: LTOI 2 WRITING: Passable PUZZLES: Good SUPPORTS: Infocom Ports CHARACTERS: Good DIFFICULTY: Very Short and Easy In Seastalker, Infocom's only adventure designed for children, you play the part of...yourself, a brilliant young scientist who has designed a two-man submarine. Before it is completely ready, your aquadome is attacked by a mysterious sea creature, forcing you to rush to the rescue, encountering danger without and treachery within. Obviously, ratings for such a children's game reviewed by an adult will be somewhat skewed, though I tried to compensate for this in Wildcard Points. One of the authors has ghostwritten books for the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and Tom Swift series, and the writing style carries over very well. The game has the same oh-my-gosh-golly sense of adventure that those books have. This is not a criticism, I read and enjoyed the Hardy Boys as a child, but it has a mixed effect on the ratings, causing the atmosphere rating to go up a bit, but the plot rating to go correspondingly down, as I had read so many of these books that the plot seemed rather routine and predictable. The game scored well in the wildcard category, because I thought that it was very innovative in three ways. First, it allowed you to give the main character your own name, or any other name that you chose (this was later used in Moonmist, also by the same authors, but in no other Infocom games). Secondly, unlike other text games, items in a room are not necessarily visible when you walk in the room, even if they are out in the open. In one room, there is a pile of miscellaneous equipment that contains something you need. You are not told that the item is there, and searching the pile will not help unless you tell the game exactly what it is that you're looking for (If you have your documentation, you should be able to figure this out). Third, the system used for piloting your submarine, gives you an ASCII readout of your radar screen, similar to the sector maps in those old Star Trek games (periods for empty sectors, a special character for your ship, and so on). There was however, one feature that I didn't like. Seastalker's documentation comes with maps of both building complexes, and the neighbouring harbour (not the box-and-line graph paper maps that the players would make, but floor plans). This is fine in itself, but many times, the description of a room in the game would not tell you where the exits are. If you have the documentation you can figure it out of course, and perhaps this was meant as a form of copy protection, but it was still rather annoying, as it meant that you had to keep the docs right by your side at all times. I did come up with a little joke to counterbalance this. Remembering the stereotype of the child genius who can design moon rockets, but can't pronounce his S's correctly, and noting that the title of the game, and the name of your submarine had three "S" sounds between them (Seastalker, Scimitar), I decided to play with a main character named Thuthie Thmith. All children's software today seems to be designed for the preschool through kindergarten age group. The rest is for adults. Seastalker, like The Hardy Boys, is for ages 8-14, and even 10 years later it remains about the only game specially geared towards them. Since the purpose of children's software is always to educate as well as entertain, an all-text adventure seems especially appropriate. It's only a pity that there aren't more. FTP FileSolution (Text)


From: Tina Sikorski <tina SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #23 -- December 29, 2000 TITLE: Shade AUTHOR: Andrew Plotkin E-MAIL: erkyrath SP@G DATE: 2000 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 2 Walkthrough? No (hints) Genre: Surreal +------------------------------------------+ |Overall Rating A |Submitted Vote 9| |Writing A |Plot B+| |Puzzles C+|NPCs n/a| |Technical C+|Tilt A+| +------------------------+-----------------+ *** Initial Thoughts Mmm. Games that aren't what they seem at first. Except that this one, I already had a feeling wasn't going to be what it was presented at first, simply from the quality. I have to say, with all due respect to Zarf, that I was a bit surprised to discover he was the author; I generally don't enjoy his games this much simply because his puzzles are usually beyond me. That is just not a problem in this game. It will be very difficult for me to discuss this game without revealing spoilers, I'm afraid; I'll try to keep it to a minimum. *** Writing (A) First-rate, and from the opening paragraphs I was nearly certain that the pseudonymous author was someone with prior experience. I never formed a solid opinion about the potential author -- I'm actually not very good at such things in any event -- but I was sure it would turn out to be someone whose name I recognized. Consider, if you will, this bit of description: "Odd, how the light just makes your apartment gloomier. Pre-dawn darkness pools in the corners and around the tops of walls. Your desk lamp glares yellow, but the shadows only draw your eyes and deepen." This is something well-crafted. Without getting terribly verbose, it reveals information, sets mood, and (though you don't yet know it) also firmly sets the plot in motion. Light and darkness are important in this game (or at least certainly in my view of the game), and they definitely are properly introduced in the first paragraph. Beyond that, I could continue to quote, but why ruin your chance to see the writing develop? The writing is excellent, details abound even where strictly speaking unnecessary, and responses to your actions are superb. *** Plot (B+) This is the thing that is so hard to discuss without giving anything away, because it is on the one hand so terribly simple, but on the other, there are some twists. Perhaps one of the most interesting parts is that there comes a time when you know precisely what will happen (at least for a while) and yet... there is still this sort of frantic "what happens next" reaction. It's eerie, it's creepy, it's just plain fun. *** Puzzles (C+) This would be the one area the game is a little weak in. Oh, sure, the puzzles are fairly straight-forward and oftentimes even sensical. There is an in-game hint of sorts. But... it would be fair to say that the puzzles pretty much exist to give you something to do while you're waiting for the next, er, cascade of story, and unfortunately, because of a few timing problems, it -feels- that way. *** NPCs (n/a) Except for possibly once, there are no NPC encounters. *** Technical (C+) The way the apartment was implemented was interesting. There wasn't much else in the way of neat trickage (fairly surprising in retrospect). There were a couple disambiguation problems, and maybe one bug (but it may have been on purpose) with the in-game hint provision, but overall it was fairly bug-free. *** Tilt (A+) and Final Thoughts I cannot, without revealing entirely too much about this game, explain to you just what it was that had me raving about this game for two days afterwards, including randomly piping up with a particular rant that would, again, spoil things. Let me just assure you that this is the case: for two days, I was so haunted by this game that it was constantly in my head, teasing me... waiting for me in the darkness. In the shadows. In the Shade. FTP FileInform .z5 file (updated version) FTP FileMac .hqx archive (updated version) FTP FileInform .z5 file (competition version)

Shades of Grey

From: Molley the Mage <mollems SP@G WKUVX1.WKU.EDU> Review appeared in
SPAG #2 -- September 26, 1994 NAME: Shades of Grey PARSER: AGT AUTHOR: See Review PLOT: Serious, and quite different ATMOSPHERE: Excellent AVAILABILITY: F_IF Archive WRITING: Often evocative PUZZLES: Not the real focus SUPPORTS: AGT ports (IBM/Mac/Atari ST) CHARACTERS: Atmospheric DIFFICULTY: Fairly Standard (5/10) EMAIL: ??? This is an excellent piece of IF and certainly the best game I've ever seen written using AGT. One of the most interesting factoids about this game is that the authors have never actually met face-to-face; the entire game was designed and written on Compuserve gamers' forums and via E-mail. Despite the geographic disparity, the product is a wonderful game, once you get past the very first single stupid non-intuitive puzzle, which is all that keeps this game from being an 8.0 (and thus in my ultra-elite). Basically, you have amnesia. You are wandering the streets of an unknown city during an unknown year wondering who you are and how you got here. Eventually you will discover a clairvoyante who will help you to discover your true self and your past through the power of Tarot. What you learn is that this is a somewhat political, occasionally difficult, *extremely* well-written game which deals with the past, present, and future of Haiti. Beyond that I can say no more without spoiling the excellent plot, but take my word for it -- Shades of Grey is a game not to be missed. You might find occasional frustration with the parser, but overall this is only a minor annoyance and is quickly forgotten in the stream of evocative images which will begin pouring forth from your computer as soon as you play... From: Christopher E. Forman <ceforma SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #8 -- February 5, 1996 The AGT programming language was designed to be easy to use, to give non-programmers the power to create their own games. Yet in games I've seen, its parser has been almost consistently flawed, leading me to believe that users didn't find this aspect of the programming as user-friendly as AGT's developers had intended. But "Shades of Gray" is different. The annoying quirks that plague every other AGT game simply are not present. The parser generally accepts multiple methods of phrasing, a move in a wrong direction does NOT repeat the entire room description, and trying to examine something that isn't there gives a better message than the annoying "You see nothing special", which always seems to imply that something is there when it really isn't. Add to this the fact that the writing approaches the very best in _any_ text adventure, and you've got something well worth downloading. What fascinates me about "Shades of Gray" is the fact that it wasn't written by a single author, or even a creative pair. This game is the combined efforts of _seven_ authors, from both the U.S. and the U.K. Not only that, but the authors' only means of communication has been through a private CompuServe Gamers' Forum! Having collaborated with a co-author myself, I can appreciate the difficulty in trying to merge the products of two creative minds into a single streamlined work of art, but SEVEN...! One would think that conflicting ideas and plot details would crop up incessantly, reducing the end product to a cluttered, incomprehensible mess. But, astoundingly, it doesn't. In fact, "Shades of Grey" has the most fascinating plot I've ever seen in a work of I-F. You begin with no clue about who you are or what you're supposed to be doing, shifting back and forth between hallucinations and reality. Eventually you gain the help of the clairvoyant Lady Magdalena, whose Tarot cards seek to provide insight into your existence. (I often wonder if this game was Graham Nelson's inspiration for the Tarot puzzles in "Curses.") As you learn more about yourself, and your past and future, you act out the roles of yourself as a young child, a soldier, and Robin of Locksley and the Sheriff of Nottingham, all culminating in a complex political thriller surrounding Haiti. To say more would certainly spoil the entire game, but rest assured that everything fits together beautifully in the end, after you've faced every facet of yourself and put the events together. The use of seven authors leads to a rather segmented design, but linearity serves the story well. The individual episodes vary in style and quality (both in the writing and the overall design), yet somehow this creates the effect of many pieces coming together. And the whole of "Shades of Grey" is far, far more than the sum of the parts. Still, it's not perfect. The parser still isn't up to TADS level, but it's the closest I've seen from AGT. And there are some small mazes and a few puzzles that involve trying to guess the author's frame of thinking. But the rest of the game is so breathtaking that these flaws are easy to ignore. Give this one a play. Even if you normally hate the AGT system, you'll enjoy it. FTP FileAGT files with PC Executable runtime (.zip) (updated version) FTP FileAGT files with PC Executable runtime (.zip) (older version) FTP FileIBM Pophints (.zip)


From: Adam Myrow <amyrow SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #36 -- March 16, 2004 TITLE: Shadowgate AUTHOR: David Griffith (originally published by Icom for the Nintendo Entertainment System as well as many other platforms) EMAIL: dgriffi SP@G PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: freeware IF-archive URL: Source code is also available at: Sometimes, a game grows larger in the mind when it is not played for many years. This was the case for a game called Shadowgate which was released by Icom for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1989. I have been totally blind since birth. Thus, I was never able to play the original game by myself. However, I was able to play it a few times by having a friend read the text and I would tell him what I wanted to try. The game was a mixed graphical/text game with a menu of verbs which could be applied to objects in your inventory. Anyway, I never got very far, and eventually, lost access to the game. Fast forward to late 2003. I was casually browsing when I noticed a post announcing that David Griffith had just released an Inform adaptation of Shadowgate based on the Nintendo version. I was thrilled. After over a decade, I could now finally play this game by myself and get past the puzzles which had previously stumped me. I grabbed it immediately. What I discovered was that this game had become much more exciting in my mind than it was in reality. First off, as the original was based on a menu of verbs rather than a parser, the puzzles were rather simple. With one or two exceptions, one object is used to solve one puzzle. Once the puzzle is solved, the object is either removed from play or will never be needed again. There are no alternate solutions, and few hints. Either you get past the obstacle, or you die. In fact, dying is extremely common in this game. There are numerous death traps besides the instant death puzzles. Take an object, go through a door, or attack a monster with the wrong weapon, and it's curtains for you. As if that weren't bad enough, there is the light source problem. When you start the game, you have a torch. You will quickly notice lots of torches lying around for the taking. Be sure and grab them! Your torches don't last very long, so you will find yourself constantly lighting new torches and dropping dead torches. The good news is that there is no inventory limit. This was fairly minor, as there are more than enough torches to let you finish the game. I think I ended up with 10 extra torches at the end of my play session. It's just a nuisance to constantly be told that your torch is about to go out and having to light one. There are no mazes, and no hunger or sleep puzzles, so most of the really annoying puzzles of older games are absent. It's just that learning by death is not much fun. Here's a typical example of what I mean. Tower Prison You are in a bare, round room. A beautiful woman is chained to the wall. Moonlight streams in from a window. You can see a golden blade and a beautiful woman here. >x blade It's some sort of spike that is made of precious metals. The tips are as sharp as needles. >get it As you reach for the golden blade the beautiful lady suddenly transforms into a wolf! With a load [SIC] roar, the wolf pounces on you, taking your life! The wolf's powerful jaws rip your throat out! *** You have died *** It's a sad thing that your adventures have ended here. Examining the girl gives no hint that she is anything other than what she seems. So, the only thing you can do is learn by dying, undo, and try to figure out how to get rid of the wolf. Another even worse example of this. Stone Tunnel This hallway is made of large granite slabs. There are exits up, west, and north. You can see four unlit torches here. >w Without thinking, you jump through the opening and immediately hear a loud click. Suddenly, the granite slab above you gives way and crushes you beneath it. It breaks every bone in your body. As for plot, it is the standard save-the-world type of plot. You must overthrow the evil Warlock Lord before he releases the Behemoth to destroy everything. Of course, this involves collecting various items and assembling them into a weapon of great power. In other words, nothing that hasn't been done before. There are a few spells as well. I don't know how spells worked in the original graphical game since I didn't get that far, but in this version, the good old Enchanter system of using gnusto to copy them into a spell book from a scroll was adopted probably because it is readily available. This really isn't a big deal as far as I'm concerned since like everything else, the spells each are used exactly once. So, overall, I was a bit let down by the game mainly because it had grown into an epic in my mind. What it is, in reality, is a very short little fantasy game with loads of death traps and one-use objects. There are also plenty of red herrings. However, while the plot is minimal, the writing is fairly decent aside from a few spelling errors. I think most of the writing comes from the original game, but according to the "about" text, many descriptions were made longer to account for the lack of graphics. So, it's not all bad. As for coding, I found a few minor bugs, but for the most part, things work pretty well. The torches, while annoying, have had a lot of work done on them to make dealing with them as painless as possible. I would suggest that any game developers have a look at this game's source code even if you don't plan on using Inform. Bundled with the source code are some transcripts of very early beta versions of the game with embedded remarks from the beta testers. These serve to illustrate the sorts of bugs to watch out for and the crazy things players might try when they get stuck. So, for me, I actually found the source code and transcripts very informative despite finding the game to be a little annoying. If you treat it like a game from the late 1980's rather than a modern piece of IF, I think it will sit much better with you than it did with me. From: Francesco Bova <fbova SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #37 -- July 10, 2004 This game is a reimplementation of Shadowgate Classic as it appeared on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) presented by ICOM in 1989. It's an interesting experiment and follows somewhat in the recent IF Arcade tradition that converts graphical games to text. I played Shadowgate in '89 and always felt it would transfer well to a text adventure setting, so I was pleasantly surprised to see this game released in late '03. In its exactness, the Inform version stays very true to the NES version (from what I can remember of the NES version). Even the little bits of background noise and red herrings from the original were completely implemented, and I have a lot of respect for the painstaking amount of replaying of the original version that must have happened to get this done correctly. All of the NES version's written responses were intact although thankfully the IF version cleans up some grammatical and spelling errors. For nostalgia's sake then, this was a great walk down memory lane. Unfortunately, once you look past that, it also highlighted many of the design errors inherent in many of the early NES games. There are unfortunately many things to gripe about here so let's start with one of my least favorite foibles: author telepathy. Specifically, there was major death without warning. Seemingly innocuous actions like picking up items freely available in the scenery, or entering apparently non-threatening directions often lead to death with no discernible justification. It was also fairly easy to break certain structures which always left me wondering whether or not I had permanently made the game unwinnable or not. I think the game can't actually be made unwinnable, unless you don't budget your light resources properly (which is another issue, but I'll get to that later), however death-without-warning abounds and waits in every corner, which is something we just don't accept in IF games anymore. Another issue is a concern that always crops up in my reviews, and that's the combinatorial explosion of having too many items in your inventory. Throughout the game, you collect well over 80 items and when you begin the endgame, it's difficult to remember what each piece does or the exact details of each item. This leads to a lot of put X in Y, hit X with Y experimentation, which gets pretty tedious the third or fourth time around. It also makes the game more difficult than it probably should be, as your light resources dwindle very quickly -- the net effect of all this is that every time I somehow made the plot progress I would have to save, explore, make the plot progress again, restore to a previous saved game armed with my new knowledge, and proceed forward. Ultimately, that type of forced gaming experience is a recipe for disaster. It's unfortunate, too, because many of the game's structure problems could have been easily alleviated by loosening its light restrictions a little. The light issue I keep referencing actually has to do with the limited life cycle of the torches you find lying around. As I played through the game a second time with walkthrough in hand, I completed it with a reserve of only 5 usable torches (having picked up every available torch I could find). Essentially, I won without wasting a move. Unfortunately, the game is so cavernous and the amount of author telepathy need to win the game so great, that winning without wasting a move is next to impossible, as is completing the game with any usable torches. There is a spell of sorts that you can find that might help you with this issue, but it has to be invoked in every new room you enter, which leads to further tedium. And, considering the tight restrictions on your time, I'm not entirely sure you'll find the spell before you run out of torches, so the benefit might be moot regardless. Still, the torch issue remained faithful to the NES original, as did a number of other conventions, which have to be commended. For example, the original Shadowgate loved to bury clues in the scenery -- specifically, the game's walls. The regular Inform parser has a wall object parsed for each of the cardinal directions, and the author here did a great job of subtly clueing the player into examining a wall without blatantly telling us which one. I believe this involved a nice hack in the Inform source code's wall objects. That is to say: a general query of X WALL, would still generate a disambiguation request, listing all the cardinal directions, but if you examine the right wall there wasn't a simple default response [I am impressed here because I believe I attempted to parse something similar a while back and made a mess of it]. Before I started playing the game, I was curious to see how the author was going to implement the puzzles buried in the room's constructs and for the most part, I was really happy with the way he did it. There was only one glaring omission, where a clue of vital importance was buried in the scenery with no hint as to where or even why a player should look. I knew it was there from the NES version, but were I a first-time player, there is absolutely no way I would have found it. So, overall the game is effectively parsed, diligently researched and implemented (the attention to the original game's detail is impressive and the consistent representation in the face of the original's poor design choices -- i.e., torch issue -- was commendable), but ultimately, due principally to the original's shortcomings, it doesn't live up to the standards we expect in IF nowadays. Despite this, however, I was surprised by how much I really enjoyed the nostalgia. As a result, you may want to check this out if you've actually played the NES version, but probably skip it otherwise. FTP FileZcode .z5 file FTP FileInform source code

Shadows On The Mirror

From: Jessica Knoch <jessicaknoch SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #35 -- December 31, 2003 TITLE: Shadows On The Mirror AUTHOR: Chrysoula Tzavelas EMAIL: exstarsis SP@G DATE: October 2003 PARSER: TADS3 SUPPORTS: TADS3 interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: VERSION: IFComp ver 1.0 A major part of this game is figuring out who you are, why you're stuck in this car, who the driver of the car is, why you don't want to see your grandfather, and so on. It's tricky; there's a lot to it, and it can't all be explained, even when you play through it several times. But what I have seen of the story and background is pretty intense. There's some supernatural stuff going on, and the PC is in the thick of it, and you get to be cool, and the driver of the car is cool, and there's just a lot of cool parts. But... there is a problem. It's kind of like the third quarter of a really close (American) football game. Sure, the score is tied at 24, but that's what it was at the half, and you're not down to the wire yet, because it's still the third quarter. Or maybe it's like the second to last chapter in a short novel -- all the really good stuff has already happened, and all of the explanations are saved for the last chapter, so even though you're in a great story, it isn't happening now. It's already happened, or it's going to, but everything that happens in Shadows is subtle and under the surface. That said, what you get of the story is definitely worth playing the game to see. I was initially put off by having to repeat actions to get the whole effect, but it's mentioned in one of the "hint" or "about" menus, so I guess I should have known. There are some pretty good liner notes, which is always nice. Hints and a walkthrough are included, so I can't complain too much about the puzzles, such as they are. In this game, "puzzles" are either an action you have to take, or a milestone you can reach in the conversation. In this sort of situation, getting to a "losing" ending and having to replay loses a piece of the game's appeal, but there's nothing to do for it but restart and try again. Shadows makes it worth the trouble. FTP FileTADS3 .t3 file

She's Got A Thing For a Spring

From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #13 -- February 5, 1998 NAME: She's Got a Thing for a Spring AUTHOR: Brent van Fossen E-MAIL: vanfossen SP@G DATE: 1997 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Inform interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 1 PLOT: Reasonably interesting (1.4) ATMOSPHERE: Effective (1.6) WRITING: Strong (1.6) GAMEPLAY: Mostly good (1.4) CHARACTERS: Excellent (1.8) PUZZLES: Not especially notable (1.3) MISC: Attention to nature is a nice touch (1.6) OVERALL: 7.6 Though it's arguable whether She's Got a Thing for a Spring has the best or most memorable setting in this year's competition, Brent van Fossen has clearly given the backdrop a wealth of detail: there are ample descriptions of flora and fauna that play no part in the game other than scenery, and the player gets a feeling that Mr. van Fossen lives among and enjoys observing the sights that he describes. The rest of the game doesn't quite live up to the setting, unfortunately, but She's Got a Thing... is a solid entry in this year's competition nonetheless. The story: you've received a note from your husband asking you to meet him at a hot spring, and you have to get over there, first, and then assemble all the little things needed to enhance the experience. Getting there is fairly straightforward, and gathering most of the accoutrements isn't difficult, but one puzzle at the end requires considerable intuition and, even when the gap is bridged, doesn't make much sense. (It feels like the author is either trying to make the game harder or trying to come up with an excuse for the puzzle -- which is, to be fair, a reasonably clever one, though the game doesn't give you much of a nudge.) Still, the idea is compelling, and the sensual delights associated with the various features of your dip in the hot spring are so vividly described that it seemed a safe bet to me that this is among the author's favorite real-life experiences. Among the more intriguing parts of the game is only tangentially related to the plot: you encounter a fellow named Bob, who resides in a cabin in the woods and can offer his knowledge on virtually everything in the game. Bob seems to serve as a stand-in for the author in providing useful information about the various forms of wildlife you encounter -- he has a paragraph for all of them, as far as I can tell -- and he'll go on about the various aspects of his little cabin and garden. (In fact, he so fits the image of the benevolent kindly old fellow that his one off-color comment, when you ask him about the spring, seems slightly out of place; dirty old man, perhaps, but it doesn't seem to fit his persona.) One gets the feeling that Bob is so happy to have someone to talk to that interaction isn't much of a problem for him; he'll often babble on whether or not you respond. If there is a side of Bob that is lacking, it is Bob himself -- we get something about his wife Sally, dead of breast cancer, but virtually nothing else. (Moreover, you are told repeatedly that you remind Bob of Sally, certainly effective in painting Bob as a slightly forgetful old coot, if that was the intention, but it breaks the spell more than anything else. (Even a forgetful old coot doesn't word it the same way every time.) If you stay by Bob's side, you can watch him picking strawberries, fixing a rocking chair, fixing the porch, making lunch, making a strawberry shortcake, painting the forest (no, silly, on canvas) -- and though all this takes hundreds of moves, the passage of time is slowed while you're with Bob (a comment on the stimulating nature of his company?) so that you don't forfeit the main story by hanging out around the cabin. The main problem with all this is that, apart from a few things right at the beginning, you're largely confined to typing Z endlessly -- there are undoubtedly a wide variety of things to ask Bob about, but they slow down his various chores, and even those run out after a while. There doesn't, sadly, seem to be any way to participate in Bob's actions, and watching Bob put together the batter for the shortcake, ingredient by ingredient, loses its fascination after a bit. And if you're an IF player conditioned to expect that something elaborately coded will be relevant, well, you'll be wrong, because you only need about five moves' worth of interaction with Bob to finish the game. Bob is worth noting because he's the rare example of an NPC who is much more developed than he needs to be; in fact, he's a relatively ordinary character with an ordinary life which you can even witness in all its glory. The failure to really fill out Bob's background is a weakness, yes, but even so, he does such a remarkable amount of things and reacts to such a remarkable amount of stimuli that one can only wonder at the amount of code that went into him. It isn't, of course, unprecedented to have an NPC who plays encyclopedia for the game, but to have one who does that but also carries on complicated time-sensitive tasks of his own (which speed up dramatically when you walk away from him). And I don't recall ever encountering an NPC who did such a variety of, well, mundane tasks, described in such detail; it reinforces the idea that living in the wild and carrying out these chores is something that Mr. van Fossen enjoys, or at least thinks more people should know about. Bob is noteworthy, in short, because he's one of very few NPCs that can't be reduced to an obstacle; more often than not, characters represent puzzles, locked doors upon which you need to use the right key to get the needed object or bit of information. There is much more to this one -- the mundanity of it all makes him feel more real -- and if for nothing else, She's Got a Thing deserves recognition for the inclusion of Bob. (He's a close second to Maurice of Zero Sum Game as best NPC of the competition, I think.) There are several puzzles, as mentioned, one slightly unfair but most reasonably straightforward. One requires observation, as it happens, to figure out a pattern, irritating to the impatient IF player but consistent with the feel of the game (as in, nature is there to be observed, not simply co-opted to the player's ends). The gameplay is likewise strong; most verbs and nouns have several synonyms, and there are multiple substitute syntaxes for most important actions. One puzzle is a mite peculiar -- you dodge an adversary simply by moving away, and the adversary disappears and doesn't return (though the behavior in question is not atypical in real life) -- and the solution to another is not obvious to those of us who aren't familiar with hot springs -- but most of the puzzles are passable. As suggested, though, the appeal of this one lies less in the puzzles than in the scene as a whole, and though a few elements of it do break the spell -- two elk lock antlers and stay that way for the _entire game_, several birds are largely untroubled by your presence -- the game is well-written enough to make those minor flaws. The descriptions are effective... The canyon rim trail descends, clinging tightly to the stone wall, then disappears entirely as the rocks converge. You have no choice but to wade, the current swift and powerful. Overhead, a small slice of the sky is visible between the two cliff faces, covered with ferns that thrive in the dark moist environment here. The crevice runs northwest to south. ...and restrained; Mr. van Fossen has the sense not to go on about how beautiful the setting is, certainly a welcome touch. Moreover, the vocabulary employed is considerable and scenery objects get far more detailed description than standard IF would give; it is virtually impossible to find a "That's not something you need to refer to in the course of this game" in She's Got a Thing... (And there's even some humor: a book that you find includes short stories about "a bored diplomat who uses underground means to accomplish his goals", with other references to the 1996 competition.) And even though things get resolved oddly at the end -- you learn about a few things involving your own thoughts and motivations for the first time -- the nature of it fits the game quite well. On the whole, then, though She's Got a Thing... might not be the entry whose playing experience stays with you the longest, it's a polished work that's consistently enjoyable to play. Though sticking with Bob is only for the extra-patient, there is much to do in the game environment, and I gave it an 8 in the competition. FTP FileDirectory with Inform .z5 file and walkthrough

Sherlock: The Riddle of the Crown Jewels

From: Graeme Cree <72630.304 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #4 -- March 2, 1995 NAME: Sherlock: The Riddle of the Crown Jewels PARSER: Infocom AUTHOR: Bob Bates PLOT: Very Good EMAIL: ? ATMOSPHERE: Excellent AVAILABILITY: LTOI-2 WRITING: Excellent PUZZLES: Very good. SUPPORTS: Infocom Ports CHARACTERS: Quite good. DIFFICULTY: Standard In Sherlock: The Riddle of the Crown Jewels, you play the part of Dr. Watson. Moriarty has stolen Victoria's regalia, leaving a trail of clues to follow, and Holmes must recover them before the weekend is out. Fearing that Moriarty would anticipate his own moves and trap him, Holmes puts the case in your hands to throw Moriarty off the trail. Having read all the Conan Doyle Holmes stories, I found Sherlock a positive delight to play. Both Doyle's writing style, and the atmosphere of 19th century London are approximated extremely well. Unlike Infocom's earlier mysteries which took place in one house, Sherlock's action takes you all over London. Numerous little bits of Holmesian minutiae flesh out the game. The humour is appropriately wry without resorting to the usual Infocom style of silliness that would not work nearly as well here as in other games. Sherlock is remarkably free of save/restore puzzles (i.e. ones that require death or failure to acquire information that can be used after you restore the game. You are usually given multiple opportunities to solve ones that you probably wouldn't get the first time around. The only place where Sherlock suffers is in its "intangibles". The concept of the villain laying down a trail to follow is more reminiscent of Batman's Riddler than Professor Moriarty. Also, the idea of Holmes turning such a vital case over to a tyro, stretches the imagination a bit, despite the fact that he personally oversees your activities. The game also suffers a bit from the "Zork Syndrome", where you as the adventurer go wherever you want and take whatever isn't nailed down. In the course of the game you must take or deface items from Scotland yard, Madame Tussaud's, and the Tower of London, with little consequence or resistance. In e-mail correspondence, Bob Bates told me that he was aware of this problem when writing the game, and sought to minimize it as much as possible. To a large extent he succeeded, but there is a little residual weakness. Finally, it must be remembered that Moriarty died in the same story that he was introduced (The Adventure of the Final Problem), and that at that point Watson had never heard of him. Therefore there is a difficulty in going back and doing a story where he and Watson meet. To be fair though, Conan Doyle himself made the same cheat in The Valley of Fear, as did almost all of the movies. Despite these nits, the game's strong points almost completely overwhelm them, and Sherlock, Infocom's final all-text game, ranks as one of their very best. FTP FileSolution (Text)


From: Preston Landers <planders SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #4 -- March 2, 1995 NAME: Shogun PARSER: Infocom Graphic AUTHOR: Infocom PLOT: Linear EMAIL: ??? ATMOSPHERE: Very Well Done AVAILABILITY: LTOI 2 CD version only. WRITING: Very Good PUZZLES: Fair SUPPORTS: Infocom Ports CHARACTERS: Very Good DIFFICULTY: Hard I forgot that I had a copy of one of Infocom's last releases, Shogun, laying around over Christmas break. So when I found it, I decided to tackle it because the novel it was based on, James Clavell's SHOGUN, is one of my favorites. The parser is Infocom's last, the Graphic style similar to Zork Zero. There is one graphic puzzle (that can be solved "non-graphically" if you must.) There are many beautiful illustrations in the style of Japanese 17th century paintings. The game itself is extremely linear. If this really turns you off, you won't like the game. You go through a number of "episodes" or scenes, very closely based on the book. Honestly, I don't think I could have won the game if I had not read the original novel (or used the built-in hints extensively.) For instance, you must know where to go and what do to almost by magic. If you haven't read the book, or you don't plan on using the hints, then you might not enjoy this game. Those caveats aside, it WAS a very enjoyable game. It was done by Dave Lebling (I believe.) The story, in case you haven't seen the mini-series or read the book, casts you as John Blackthorne, a 17th century English pilot, sailing a Dutch ship towards the fabled Japans. The game goes quite a bit into the political intrigue between the various feuding Daiymos (Japanese kings.) Ultimately, you must become a samurai and help your Daiymo become Shogun, or Supreme Ruler. There are a few sub-plots, such as your love interest with the beautiful courtier Mariko (how many games do you get to type 'MAKE LOVE TO MARIKO' to score 5 points?) but overall, the game flies from one episode to the next in a very fast-paced, and overall, enjoyable game. From: Graeme Cree <72630.304 SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #4 -- March 2, 1995 In SHOGUN, you play the role John Blackthorne, an English seaman in 1600, working for the Dutch to open up a trade route to Japan. Based upon the book of the same name, the story involves your attempts to learn Japanese native customs while caught in the middle of the power struggles between Toranaga, and Ishido, two local warlords. The writing is much grittier than in any other Infocom game; from the cockroaches swarming over your cabin floor to the frequent violent killings to the occasional nude bathing scene. Shogun was the only Infocom game ever to carry a warning label on the box. If it were a movie, it would probably be a PG-13. Shogun is also the first of Infocom's three Graphic Interactive Fiction games. Unlike the other two however, there is no interaction between text and graphics (except the automap in the maze in Chapter 10), and graphics simply pop up at certain times. Ordinarily in a game like this, the cartoon-like graphics would positively destroy the atmosphere, but in a historical novel they resemble what you might see in an ancient manuscript, and thus add to the atmosphere. One weakness of the game is in compartmentalization. Rather than one large game, it is divided into 18 separate chapters. It is rather like Nord and Bert, except that there are more chapters, and they must be played in a specific order. This does not work as well here as it does in Nord and Bert. Your point total is the only thing that carries over to the next chapter; the items in your inventory are pre-determined. Admittedly, this is probably the only way to adapt such a novel to game form, but the effect is still not entirely satisfactory. Many text games end up being all puzzles and no story. Shogun is exactly the opposite. Too often the story just seems to go on around you while you get meaningless points for smiling, nodding, or bowing at the right times. The result is rather too many "guess what the author is thinking" type puzzles, rather than puzzles that can be reasoned out. Two exceptions to this are Chapter 1 (The Erasmus), and Chapter 16 (The Ninja). Both are outstanding blendings of story and puzzle solving, and rank with Infocom's best moments. One nice feature is that the game asks if you want to save at the end of each chapter. I keep a save file for each chapter on a scratch disk, so that I can enter the story at any point if I ever feel like pulling the game off the shelf. Shogun is a very good game to read, though a bit less satisfying to play. Overall though, a fine effort. FTP FileSolution (Text)


From: Christian Baker <lankro SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #20 -- March 15, 2000 TITLE: Shrapnel AUTHOR: Adam Cadre E-MAIL: ac SP@G DATE: 2000 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: Shrapnel is weird. Really weird. I just want to get that out in the open. Shrapnel seems less like a game, more like an idea that Adam Cadre had been mulling around. The question on r-g-i-f is, is Adam Cadre a genius or a madman. I’m settling for genius, but as Andrew Plotkin said "If he snaps and starts barbecuing the neighbors, of course, we'll have to pencil in some corrections." Shrapnel starts off outside the classic Zork White house, but it’s soon obvious that this is no Zork clone. Or any clone of anything ever made. You go north, you get eaten by vicious attack dogs. I try to quit, seeing that this is just another "One room death" game. I start typing QUIT, and find to my surprise that the game is forcing me to type RESTART. I go north from the original location, and find that another location has opened up. And so on. And so forth. I felt like the game was leading me round the (extremely strange) plot, and it seemed like it was just a matter of time before I completed it. But on the brighter side, the writing and room descriptions were excellent. A good example is: In the pines As you proceed along the path, the light trickling in through the treetops seems to grow brighter, as if it had been sunrise and not sunset when you began. And the trees... this isn't North Carolina anymore. This is, what? Maryland? Pennsylvania? You'd think a man would notice walking two hundred miles, but apparently not. You hear voices in the distance. "Hey, Green," says the first one. Even this is enough for you to pinpoint the accent: Carolina. So you're not caught behind enemy lines. Good to know. "Yeah?" says someone, presumably Green. There was a Green in your regiment, you recall. Common enough name to be coincidence, though. "Have you been helped?" The characters are a bit underdeveloped, but what do you expect from a game you can complete in under 10 minutes? What this game does best is unsettle you. The whole game has an extremely eerie atmosphere, and half of that is due to the strange plot (or lack of a plot, I’m not sure which.) The other half is due to some Adam Cadre writing, and the strange ignoring of player input. It really adds something to the game, and gives the feeling of a total lack of control. All in all, the game is short and pointless, but darn enjoyable for a short while. From: Duncan Stevens <dns361 SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #20 -- March 15, 2000 It's science fiction! It's a split-identity story! It's a war story! It's a parody of Zork! It's a satire! It's Adam Cadre's Shrapnel, the weirdest bit of IF to come down the pike in quite some time, and there are enough things going on here to drive several full-length games (this one takes about 15-20 minutes, though). The ideas are interesting, but there's not much polish here--mostly, we only get the ideas. Still, Adam's ideas are better than most, and the game does has its intriguing moments. To try to describe the plot of Shrapnel would be a thoroughly futile endeavor, because the point is that the story doesn't travel in any discernible path: rather, you come across fragments of story here and there, and what exactly is going on isn't apparent until the end, when a character appears and infodumps all over you. Even then, it may not be fully clear how everything fits together--there are still plenty of hows and whys left unresolved for those who care about such things. Moreover, there are quite a few memorable images and surprising moments, meaning that you might remember and be affected by certain bits of Shrapnel even if you never tried to put the various story pieces together. Shrapnel might in fact be remembered more for its meta-IF elements than its actual story. For one thing, this is the first work of IF to actually ignore keystrokes--not disregard a command, but actually ignore that the player is typing something and show something else as the input. What's shown is 'restart,' no matter what the player types, at the restore/restart/quit prompt, though restart generally continues the story from where it left off rather than starting from scratch. Moreover, pauses are an essential part of the presentation of the text, again a meta-IF function that may catch the IF veteran off guard. Similarly innovative is "talk" as a conversation system: you direct your conversation toward whoever you're paying attention to, usually the person you last interacted with, and you're given a choice between accepting or rejecting a proposed rhetorical sally; if you refuse, your character says something else, something you have no way of predicting. The fragmentary aspect, the variety of apparently unrelated plotlines, is reflected in the text itself, which now and again spits out disjointed words and phrases that have already appeared elsewhere. All these are intriguing, even subversive takes on IF as we've known it up to now, but--I know, I know, this is a hangup of mine--they also reduce the interactivity aspect down to just about zero. In something as short and disjointed as Shrapnel, the immersion factor is minimal anyway--by the time the player has figured out what's going on in the story, the story's over--and when the game commandeers the keyboard, the player is justified in thinking, well, why do you need me here, tapping on the keyboard? Why don't you just let everything scroll by me at once? Certainly, there's interaction of a sort here, even if it's forced: being powerless to stop the course of the story is an integral part of the experience, of course (though it's still possible to quit at prompts other than restart/restore/quit), but, again if you can't figure out what story is being told, it's hard to get all worked up about not being able to stop it. The limited control over the conversation system is similar: if the player's only control over what's said is a veto on one conversational option, the character may as well just start talking. (Admittedly, there are several people the player can talk to, but the choices aren't exclusive--were this rewritten as static fiction and the conversations simply written out, one character after another, the effect wouldn't be dramatically different. There are a few effects that couldn't be reproduced in static fiction: notably, you die repeatedly over the course of the story, and the place is littered with your own corpses by the end--but it's questionable how much impact that has on the story when the player's likely reaction to the deaths is something on the order of "huh?" It's not that there are no choices to be made in Shrapnel, but the choices there are affect the outcome so minimally that the result is closer to F than IF. Still, in its own way, this is pretty good F; the effect may be that of an early draft of a novel, with ideas, themes, and character development all fighting for space, but it looks like it would be a fascinating novel. Notably, the protagonist is split between two separate identities, and piecing together the way those identities is an intriguing challenge. (Of course, given the rampant confusion, the player isn't likely to make much headway in separating out those identities by the end of the story, but there's definite replay potential.) On the figurative level, the numerous violent deaths you experience are a precursor to the pain that your character inflicts, and you could even say that you're desensitized to the violence sufficiently that it doesn't have much effect on you, the player, after a while. (A similar process seems to have gone on with the character himself.) The Zork parody element--Shrapnel is set in and around a white house, and the living room has a rug with a trap door under it--brings out the ho-hum-more-violent-deaths aspect, since one hallmark of traditional fantasy IF is dying violently so many times that *You have died* has zero emotional impact. The core of the story, involving a dysfunctional family and abuse, is vividly and disturbingly rendered: the abuse is sufficiently distanced from you (you hear accounts of it rather than actually seeing it--that your sense of culpability is minimized, which is exactly the effect that the character himself has achieved. The way you seem to find horrific violence around every corner is a direct reflection of the nature of the story: the events that have already transpired have left unsightly secrets everywhere. The science-fiction aspect that appears at the end of the story, in an apparent attempt to make a bit of sense of the demented structure of the story, feels a bit tacked on, but it doesn't diminish the impact of what's come before. In its own way, then, Shrapnel is quite a story, and that it's less interactive fiction than a forced march isn't a major drawback, in the end. It's certainly not easy to make sense of what goes on, nor is it particularly pleasant, but it's still an impres precursor to the paindown to just about zerooff guardfragmentary aspectdemented structureseems to have gone onho-humrhetorical sallytacked onrampantbits of Shrapneldisregard a commandscratchdiscernible pathculpability*you have died* [Hit any key to exit.] FTP FileInform .z5 file FTP FileBrief notes on the game, by the author FTP FilePC Executable

A Simple Theft

From: Duncan Stevens <dns361 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #20 -- March 15, 2000 TITLE: A Simple Theft AUTHOR: Mark Musante E-MAIL: olorin SP@G DATE: 2000 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 1 Mark Musante's A Simple Theft is indeed simple: you're apprenticed to a fellow who wants to retrieve a jewel from a castle, and you're sent in to do the deed--but it's a nice small game nonetheless, with just a few puzzles and a fairly thoroughly done backstory. The setting is fantasy, but magic at this point is not under control--your master is hoping to find something that would help in control it--and the incursion of magic at an entirely unexpected point in the story, and your discovery that a certain object has magical properties, therefore fit the plot nicely: you have no special insight into or control over magic, so you're not expecting it when it appears. The technical aspect, while mostly good, isn't flawless: one puzzle is marred by what I consider a major design flaw (it turns on using an object that you're told you can't pick up), and a key object is rather confusingly described. Still, in a game this small, there's only so much that can go radically wrong, and on the whole the coding is fairly solid. Likewise, the writing is more than good enough to tell the story, and it's pretty funny in spots as well. A Simple Theft feels like an introduction to a longer game--in particular, your boss, who's barely a character in this one, is an intriguing character who deserves more development in a longer, more in-depth game. Indeed, the ending text suggests that there's more to come: the story doesn't feel at all complete. For one thing, most of the names dropped in the introduction remain dropped--they're not explained anywhere--suggesting that the author intends to make something more of the world introduced here. The PC is worth fleshing out as well--it's intimated that you're a thief, but you don't learn anything about how you learned your trade or how you came to be apprenticed to your boss. In short, A Simple Theft is a nice preview of what could be an intriguing full-length game. Should there be a followup, it'll certainly be worth a look. FTP FileTADS .gam file

Sins Against Mimesis

From: Paul O'Brian <obrian SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #13 -- February 5, 1998 NAME: Sins Against Mimesis AUTHOR: Adam Thornton E-MAIL: adam SP@G DATE: 1997 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Inform interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 1 (1997 competition release) Few things are more unfunny than an in-joke that you're not in on. On the other hand, an in-joke that you *are* in on can be hysterical, as it provides not just the pleasure of humor but also the feeling of community that comes from shared experience. Sins Against Mimesis is definitely a very in-jokey game, and consequently not for everyone. However, having been a longtime (since 1994) lurker and sometime participant in the rec.*.int-fiction newsgroups, I was part of the audience at which the game was aimed, and I have to admit that I found a lot of the in-jokes really funny. In fact, one of the most fun parts of the game was to play name-that-reference -- kind of the IF equivalent of listening to a World Party album or a Dennis Miller routine. Of course, the nature of the game (and the fact that it was written pseudonymously) also invited us to play guess-the-author. My guess was for Russ Bryan, but as it turns out the game was written by Adam Thornton, a relatively new author. If you haven't played much IF, and in fact even if you haven't spent much time on the IF newsgroups, most of this game is going to mean very little to you. Even its title is an allusion: to "Crimes Against Mimesis," a well-crafted series of articles posted to the newsgroups by Roger Giner-Sorolla (whatever happened to him, anyway?) a year or so ago. The rest of the game continues in that vein. The opening paragraph alludes to Jigsaw. The score of the initial part of the game is kept in IF disks which magically pop into the player's inventory every time a correct move is made. In some ways, this familiar, almost conspiratorial approach is a weakness. Certainly in the context of the competition it won't endear Sins to any judge who stands on the outside of the privileged circle at which the game aims itself. Even for an insider, the constant barrage of "if you're one of us, you'll know what I mean" references can start to feel a little cloying. However, the game is cleanly coded and competently written, and on the first time through I found it quite entertaining. There aren't many games which I would highly recommend to one group of people and discourage others from playing, but Sins is one of them. If you're an raif and rgif regular, I think you'll find Sins quite funny and entertaining. If not, forget it. It's bound to be more baffling and irritating than anything else. Prose: The prose is generally somewhere between functionally good and rather well done, with occasional moments of brilliant hilarity. Plot: The plot is based around several clever tricks which are quite funny at the time, but aren't worth repeating. If you've already played, you know what they are, and if you haven't played yet I won't give away the jokes. Like the rest of Sins, the plot is funny the first time through but won't wear well. Puzzles: Actually, this was the weakest part of the game. Many of the puzzles can be solved by performing extremely basic actions, which of course hardly makes them puzzles at all. Others, however, depend either on extremely specific (and not well-clued) actions or on deducing something about the surroundings which is not included in object or room descriptions. For a game so adamantly self-aware, it's ironic that Sins falls into some of the most basic blunders of puzzle design. Technical: writing -- I found no mechanical errors in Sins' writing. coding -- I found no bugs either. FTP FileInform file (.z5) (updated version) FTP FileInform file (.z5) (competition version) FTP FileInform source code and makefile (.zip) (updated version) FTP FileGUEmap format map (.gmp)

Sir Ramic Hobbs and the High Level Gorilla

From: Donna Mccreary Rodriguez <donnar SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #6 -- July 26, 1995 NAME: Sir Ramic Hobbs and the High Level Gorilla PARSER: AGT AUTHOR: Gil Williamson PLOT: Slightly linear EMAIL: ??? ATMOSPHERE: Whimisical AVAILABILITY: IF Archive (, F WRITING: Good PUZZLES: Clever; logical SUPPORTS: AGT ports CHARACTERS: Whimsical; "punny" names DIFFICULTY: Easy You, the main character, are Sir Ramic Hobbs, Knight Errant. You have made a pledge to rescue Princess Anne de Pea from the clutches of the High Level Gorilla, who resides in the Pleasure Dome of the kingdom of Trassch Khan. Corny, yes......but really a light, fun little game with no pretenses except to entertain the player and present some interesting puzzles. Gil Williamson, the author, says that---having spent days lost in the caverns of Zork--he wants to make no unfair demands on the player, and he is true to his word. In case you get stuck, there is a solution file zipped in. Try this one. In my download from GMD there was no information about registering the game and no contact info on the author, so I suppose it's a gift. FTP FileAGT files with PC Executable runtime (.zip) FTP FileAGT Source code(.zip)

Sir Ramic Hobbs and the Oriental Walk

From: "John Wood" <john SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #10 -- February 4, 1997 NAME: Sir Ramic Hobbs and the Oriental Walk AUTHOR: Gil Williamson EMAIL: Gil.Williamson SP@G DATE: October, 1996 PARSER: AGT SUPPORTS: MS-DOS (runtime included), AGiliTy AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF Archive URL: Not a popular choice, this was my second-favourite game of the competition and my favourite AGT game to date by far. You play a drunken knight the "morning after" who has to get the castle deeds back from an evil wizard - not the most original of plots. However, the amusing responses from the game's narrator and the situations you find yourself in more than make up for this. I only used one hint during the two hours, and this was the second game I went on to finish before the end of the competition. The ending is unfortunately weaker than the rest of the game, which would have lowered the score I gave it slightly, but it still remains great fun. From: "Christopher E. Forman" <ceforman SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #10 -- February 4, 1997 First off, will someone please tell me whether the last word of this game's title is "walk" or "wok"? The game says "walk," the filenames say "wok." Also, is it "Sir Ramic Hobbs" or "Sir Ramric Hobbs"? The other game starring this character says "Sir Ramric." I'm bumfuzzled. Having never played the other Sir Ramic (Ramric?) Hobbs game, "Sir Ramic Hobbs and the High-Level Gorilla," I can't comment on how this game stacks up to its predecessor. I can say, however, that it explores both extremes of enjoyability. The ability to shapeshift into different animals was a lot of fun, and brought back fond memories of Infocom's "Arthur." It's funny, with clever object descriptions and commentary by the game's parser, which assumes the persona of a wizard who follows you about. His comments are frequently witty taunting, but it's done good- naturedly, unlike "Stalker." This is much more entertaining than the nameless, faceless entity that most adventure game parsers never rise above (though "Lost New York" does come close). The method of travel (via armchair) is amusing. Also, it's impossible to make the game unsolvable. My score was dragged down, however, by a great deal of typical AGT fare: Incongruities, a lack of apparent plot until the very end, obscure puzzles, a maze where one wasn't necessary, odd results when the author didn't anticipate something (entering the library when invisible, for instance, still gets you stopped by the librarian), and of course the almanac puzzle. Ohhhh, do not even get me STARTED on the almanac puzzle. After nearly an hour of wandering about, squinting in vain at the teeny tiny letters on my screen, trying to deduce a compass direction from them, then finding I'd made a wrong turn when I followed the directions I DID find... blur-r-r-r-gh! Half good, half bad, which means... From: "Magnus Olsson" <zebulon SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #10 -- February 4, 1997 [ Note: There appears to be some confusion about the title of this game: is it the "Oriental Walk," as the title screen says, or the "Oriental Wok," as it's called in some of the docs? "Walk" probably, since there _is_ an "Oriental Walk" in the game, but no wok even in the kitchen :-). I suppose the "wok" is intended as a pun... ] One topic that has been the subject of much heated discussion on is that of player characterization. How can you cast the player as a set character, perhaps totally unlike the player's ordinary character, and make him or her feel and act like this character? The prevalent view seems to be that most players hate when the game tells them what they feel and think, and that few things are as irritating as being told that your, perfectly reasonable, action is out of character. It is interesting to see that one of the less sophisticated games of the competition not only tries to do this, but succeeds at it. And, perhaps surprisingly, it does so by casting you in a far from flattering role: that of Sir Ramic Hobbs, an antihero in every sense of the word - or, to be frank, a bumbling, drunken buffoon. Or perhaps this is just why it manages to pull it off. For "Wok" is a farce, and you are the butt of the jokes. Not just you, Sir Ramic, but you, the player. Much of the humour lies in the player being misled, and the game pretending to misunderstand the player's confusion as Sir Ramic's stupidity. In some cases (such as the sudden darkness), the game leads the player completely up the garden path, thereby forcing him to act in character. As the reader may have guessed, "Wok" is a game that talks back to you. It even makes an attempt to explain who is doing the talking by giving a name to the "narrator": Prang, a disembodied wizard who takes orders from the player and guides him along. As a moderately experienced IF player, I found this slightly annoying at first, and then I forgot all about it. However, the documentation says that the game is aimed at beginners, who maybe will find this a help. Despite the fact that the game talks back to you, commenting on your every action, and making fun of many of the mistakes you're making, it is all very good natured (as opposed to a certain other competition game, that apparently made some people feel quite insulted). I never had the feeling that the author was making fun of me, but rather that we were sharing a joke. And Sir Ramic may be a buffoon, but he's quite a lovable buffoon. This is all very skillfully done. Apart from the writing, however, the game is quite unsophisticated. To start with, it has a rather primitive look-and-feel. To avoid fanning the ongoning religious wars, I won't speculate whether this is due to the game being written in AGT; it does have, however, the feel of a "typical, mid 80's, AGT game" - garish colours, rather minimalistic room descriptions, a simple parser, rather underdeveloped atmosphere, NPC's that are just animated obstacles. To be fair, however, these aren't very serious flaws. The parser, for example, is quite adequate (there is one glaring "guess the word" problem, but a better parser couldn't have remedied a lack of synonyms), one of the NPC's (the dog) is at least a bit more developed, and this is not the kind of game one plays for the joy of exploring a detailed fantasy world. The puzzles are fairly standard, but there are some interesting twists (and the series of transformations at the end is quite clever and entertaining). The obligatory maze adds nothing to the game and could have been advantageously removed. The eponymous puzzle, the "oriental walk," is clever, but far too tedious - and this is aggravated by the fact that saving is disallowed while solving the puzzle. Disabling saving is probably a way to prevent solutions by trial-and-error, but an unfortunate consequence of this is that a single mistake means having to start the puzzle all over again, with all the directions randomized. The online hints can be somewhat infuriating, since there is only one hint per room, but fortunately a walkthrough is provided. Unfortunately, the walkthrough is of no help in the "walk" - you'll just have to sweat it through (the endgame is worth it!). In conclusion, "Wok" is a game that lives by its wit and humour, which are more than enough to outweigh its shortcomings in other areas. In fact, I found it one of the funniest games I've played. FTP FileDirectory With AGT Files

Six Stories

From: Suzanne Britton <tril SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #19 -- January 14, 2000 TITLE: Six Stories AUTHOR: Neil K. Guy E-MAIL: tela SP@G DATE: 1999 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: 1.0 "Six Stories" is the first full-blown use of HTML TADS I've seen, complete with high-quality graphics (well, "illustrations" feels like a better term), sound effects, and speech. However, these multimedia aspects are used differently than they are in most commercial games. A combination of effects, including subtle background textures that look like aged paper, are used to give you the impression of being inside a storybook. There is your own story, which you are playing out, and five others nestled inside that, each recounted with pictures and a quiet voice like a parent reading at a child's bedside. All come together to contribute to the one puzzle of note (which, though it is arguably an "old chestnut", I quite enjoyed solving). I found the experience, though all too brief, to be thoroughly charming. Puzzlewise, the pieces all fit together with a satisfying little snap. Storywise, there are many insinuations and ambiguities and loose ends--enough that I plan on a second play-through to get a clearer picture of the whole. The author doesn't go out of his way to explain what any of this means and why it's happening. This is obscurity done right--unlike some other entries this year which shall remain nameless. While "Six Stories" has a number of cosmetic bugs, as well as a gameworld which is arguably over-detailed for a game of this size (leading to some unwieldly disambiguations), I found no serious problems. It is one of several games this year that disables compass directions, which normally irritates me, but in this case, there was good reason for doing so. The main reason I'm only giving "Six Stories" an 8 is because it ended just as I was getting warmed up! FTP FileDirectory with TADS .gam file and resource files


From: Robb Sherwin <Robb.Sherwin SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #20 -- March 15, 2000 NAME: Skyranch AUTHOR: Jack Driscoll E-MAIL: slackerbox SP@G DATE: 1999 PARSER: DOS, custom SUPPORTS: AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: 1 Professionalism. With over a hundred new text adventures being written every year and excellent libraries, documentation, and newsgroup help available, it's perfectly reasonable to have expectations of the games we choose to play. The thing is, it doesn't always work out that way. Skyranch is completely lacking in professionalism. Many have stated that it did not appear as if the author was a native speaker of English. Valid, perhaps, but there has always been a percentage of the population that simply does not come across as fast, competent and skilled when it comes to the electronic word. We have all seen "the first e-mail" from our otherwise intelligent computer-newbie friends that looks like it was typed by a mentally handicapped, three-fingered snow ape. This is the type of voice Skyranch speaks with. We're actually somewhat lucky that the game is not written all in caps. The game definitely has potential. It's about an experiment in the sky. As a survivalist type, you have signed yourself up to take part in the skyranch project. The real challenge isn't dealing with the lack of oxygen and air pressure as so much as being unable to concentrate on anything other than the dreadful sounds of heavy machinery. One verb will usually do it for Skyranch. If Driscoll was made aware of the concept of synonym he no doubt thought, "bah! Who needs 'em?" Unfortunately, this does not bode well for the player. You absolutely have to go into the game with the understanding that the game's vocabulary is slightly better than Mystery House, second-level verbs are not going to be referenced and guessing the verb won't help you as much as getting a thesaurus and typing in alternate ways to express "exit" one by one. The thing is, it's often extremely amusing to place yourself in a literary world where the author is not a superb writer of English. (The Walter Miller Home Page, or Fat Chicks In Party Hats website, for instance.) Driscoll's game offers this style of appeal. His description for the robot that follows you around ("Lloyd 2.0") ends with the robot telling you, "I will love you always." This apparently sincere expression of emotion in a sea of poor spelling and incorrectly used homonyms is *funny*. No one, short of the author of Annoyotron, really goes out and attempts to make a bad game. The unexpectedness of Lloyd 2.0 can at least produce a chuckle. Realizing that the author does care about the game can shock you into seeing it differently. More, the game's concept, at least, is not completely without merit. Sure, it's no Trinity -- hell, it's not even Punkirita Quest, but Skyranch contains a small bit of style to keep it from otherwise being a *complete* waste of time. Unfortunately, the lack of a decent parser really does damn the game. Exiting the ferry is not accomplished by "exit" or "out" or "get out of ferry" -- it is done by typing "leave." Although making those sort of breakthroughs allow you to continue to play the game, you can't effectively experience it in one sitting unless you are blessed with the gift of telepathy (and, er, have Mr. Driscoll sitting next to you within your effective mental range). Skyranch would be most effective -- and most entertaining -- if Driscoll collaborated with an experienced TADS or Inform programmer. Any sort of spell checking would absolutely ruin the game's charm, but being able to navigate the game's world is a must. Until that time, Skyranch's appeal is limited to the sort of player that enjoyed Space Aliens Laughed At My Cardigan, Symetry, and Human Resources Stories. FTP FileDirectory with PC executable and accompanying text file

Slouching Towards Bedlam

From: Jessica Knoch <jessicaknoch SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #35 -- December 31, 2003 TITLE: Slouching Towards Bedlam AUTHOR: Star C. Foster and Daniel Ravipinto EMAIL: bedlam SP@G DATE: October 2003 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: VERSION: Release 1 (competition version) The title recalls the W.B. Yeats poem, "The Second Coming," in which the question is posed: "What rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?" It is, possibly, the most suggestive and fitting title of any game in this Comp. You play... well, the game starts in some sort of office, where you are listening to a voice on a phonograph talk about chaos, and a secret, and moments of madness. Almost immediately, the game has an eerie tinge to it, resulting from two things: first, if you've seen enough movies, you suspect that it is your voice on the phonograph -- moments of madness, indeed. Second, the text studiously avoids saying "you." You're examining objects, exploring the contents of the office, but the descriptions of things and even descriptions of actions are ghostly, passive: the desk you want to look in is not "your desk," the response to "open drawer" begins with "The large central drawer opens..." Even default responses have been changed, so that trying to take an object you already hold gives "One cannot take what one already has." It all evokes a mystery, and the discovery that the office is in an insane asylum in 1855 only adds to the creepy, disturbing atmosphere. But this is not a scary game: there are no monsters chasing you, no weapons to wield in self-defense. The act of exploration is so natural, after the first scene, that you don't realize for some time that the *PC* is also exploring. There is a subtle lack of familiar references, which you might expect after identifying yourself as Dr. Xavier, who is superintendent of the asylum. Instead, the PC is just as new to all this as you are, which aligns your purposes seamlessly, making the player and the PC one. You are given a powerful tool to aid in comprehension, described in the phonographic diary: the Triage unit. It is a mechanical information assimilator, and it follows you around on wheels. It can identify objects and give you an idea of how things are used. It's also useful for other problems you encounter during the course of the discoveries, and is just about the ideal thing to have along in a text adventure. In the course of exploring the asylum and the town, some odd things start to happen. We start to get into spoiler region here, but you can find a pattern to the odd things, and between that and the odd things you find as you explore, the mystery slowly begins to take a clearer shape. Eventually, gradually, it coalesces until the situation is clear. However, what you will do about it is not clear. There are several options, with five different outcomes, none of which could rightly be called winning or losing. If ever there was a game where not having a score was justified, this is it. As for the other aspects of a game people generally talk about: wonderful. I didn't see a single confirmable error in the text. The actions needed to "solve the puzzles" were logical and intuitive, and figuring out how one of the various machines worked in the game was very satisfying. There are hints: good, extensive, thorough and gentle hints. The pacing is superb: the pieces of the story come at just the right moments, the understanding comes gradually and not too slowly. The size of the game is next to perfect for the Comp, exactly filling up two hours in reaching one or two endings and reading the appendices. There are moments that made me completely forget about the real world, and focus entirely on what was happening in the game. In short: you must play this game. FTP FileZcode .z5 file

Small World

From: John Wood <john SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #10 -- February 4, 1997 NAME: Small World UTHOR: Andrew D. Pontious EMAIL: byzantium SP@G DATE: October 1996 PARSER: TADS, above average SUPPORTS: TADS ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF Archive URL: VERSION: Version 1.0 Idly examining a globe, you find yourself at the north pole of a tiny world which has stopped spinning. You need to start it spinning again. This was one of two games I couldn't help playing to its conclusion before the end of the competition period. The puzzles were gauged about right for my talents, and the atmosphere sucked me in. Apart from the poles, the locations around the planet are named for the time of day (Gloaming, Morning, Noon, etc) which provide a means of moving from the poles. Indeed, a lot of normal adventuring activities are affected by the small world - dropping things becomes a minor puzzle because of the low gravity. What really makes this game is the way that everything is so neatly tied together. It all makes a bizarre sort of sense, and responses are almost always appropriate. My favourite game of the competition. From: C.E. Forman <ceforman SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #10 -- February 4, 1997 I'm not sure how fit I am to comment on this one, as I didn't finish it completely. Treat my opinion as worthless if you think it appropriate. "Small World" is a nicely-programmed little work (at the outset anyway), with an imaginative map layout and some nice features like the "sack object" (its first appearance in a TADS game, if I'm not mistaken), a "warning mode" like PTF's, and the direct elimination of a great many useless verbs, which ends up saving a great deal of wasted typing (programmers take note). It also has a cute scoring system (earning percentages of a single coveted point), one of the most amusing NPCs of the entire competition (the devil), and some theological issues that got me thinking. Now for the bad part. After my getting about 18% of the point, plot advancement abruptly ground to a screeching halt, reducing the remainder of my playing experience to the following: "Okay, the hint system tells me that I'm making progress simply by moving around. Wandering around... yep, wandering around... no visible progress... >HINT Still says that moving around makes progress... Hoooooo-KAYyyyyy... wandering around some more... la de da de dee... still no visible progress... doot de doot, hmm hmm hmm... nope, not yet... maybe if I wander around in a slightly different manner?... huh-uh, no change... noon, afternoon, twilight, evening, midnight, gloaming, dawn... aaaaaaand back again... dawn, gloaming, midnight, evening, twilight, afternoon, noon... still wandering around... I must be making a LOT of progress now... Damn, time's up." From: Duncan Stevens <dnrb SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #24 -- March 24, 2001 Small World, another largely forgotten gem from the 1996 competition, is a nice effort on several levels--the puzzles are creative and reasonably forgiving, there's a funny and thoroughly implemented NPC, and the game takes whimsical pokes at a variety of targets that should keep even the non-puzzle-solver entertained. You've been transported magically to a tiny world (eight feet in diameter) which has stopped spinning, so your brief is to get things moving again. Along the way you encounter a miniature Adam and Eve, nuclear war, interplanetary conflicts of various sorts, and other problems of various seriousness. The most memorable aspect of the world is the devil that tags along behind you on a pogo stick making snarky comments about most events in the game; as a parody of Satan (in reference to heaven, "Is that powderpuff really where you want to go when you die?") or as general comic relief ("A miserably whistled rendition of 'Can't Get No Satisfaction' assures you the devil is right behind"), the devil is one of the game's main assets. The game itself has become somewhat more user-friendly in recent releases--the competition release made inventory management somewhat excessively cumbersome for the sake of realism. (The cleanup makes sense--insisting on realism in the story of an eight-foot-in-diameter world was probably overkill.) Still, owing to the nature of the beast, it's not an easy game; when so much of what goes on is dependent on whimsy, it can be difficult to tune into the author's brand of whimsy in order to get the puzzles solved. Some of the non-user-friendly aspects are still there, in fact--the game can close off without warning early on if you do certain things out of order. Nor is there an overarching logic to the game that the player needs to acclimate to, really--there's no theme or motif that explains the puzzles. They're not bad puzzles, but they're not particularly accessible, either--and the last one, which effectively plays games with the syntax and is rather difficult to visualize, is even more challenging. There's a hint system; it doesn't adapt perfectly to your situation, but it works well enough. What's interesting about Small World is that it doesn't appear to take itself seriously, and yet the conflicts on the world you inhabit are rendered as actual conflicts rather than as humor. That is, even though the devil appears to be mostly there for fun, you do have to get rid of him, and at a key moment you get the devil rooting against you (and various heavenly choirs rooting for you). When you finally succeed, the devil gives "a great despairing wail, taken up by all his followers, combining the sounds of howling wolves, screeching canaries, hissing snakes, yammering jackhammers," which eventually "trails off to a hollow, echoing moan, then silence." A little heavy for a comedy game, as are the various nuclear warheads hurled at you (you're given a thousand-turn countdown until the inhabitants run out of missiles). In its own way, though, the comic/serious duality works--after all, your role is, in a sense, to play God/savior for the miniature world, and you get a sense of both the comic absurdity and the tragedy of such a role. That is, your perspective permits you to laugh at the world you're charged with saving, but the inhabitants can be forgiven for not seeing the humor in it all. The quality of the writing helps here: generally, when the game's being funny, it does so through understatement, without appearing to try too hard, so shifting into a less whimsical mode doesn't feel like a jolt. Small World is uneven in a few respects, but it's none the less enjoyable for that, and the most recent releases have improved its production values. FTP FileTADS file (.gam) (updated version) FTP FileMacintosh (.sit) (updated version) FTP FileDirectory With TADS .gam File and hints (competition version) FTP FileCommented Solution (Text)


From: Valentine Kopteltsev <uux SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #43 -- January 7, 2006 NAME: Snatches: An Interactive Horror Story AUTHOR: Gregory Weir EMAIL: Gregory.Weir SP@G DATE: 2005 PARSER: Inform AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: snatches/snatches.z5 In a number of respects, this game is so unusual I haven't been sure how to start reviewing it. Finally, I've come up with drawing an analogy with a theatre play. So, imagine a dark stage, on which, in a circle of light, a fight is going on -- a fight between the main hero and a strange, evil creature. Searchlights start to flare up in a seemingly random fashion, illuminating various spots on the stage for short periods of time. Finally, putting the single pieces of this mosaic together, the spectators get an integral picture of what's going on. And that's how Snatches is set up. It consists of several episodes from the perspective of different characters in the game (so that there're many player characters, but only one main hero), following in a random order. The narration is threaded by the aforementioned fight, cut-scenes of which occur after each episode like a refrain. This technique works very well -- to a no small extent thanks to the catchy writing (I've even considered to imitate it in my review, but finally let it be, realizing I'm not up to the task). There have been minor implementation issues regarding overlapping of, uh, let's call it "character experiences" (in the single episodes, different actors often are able to visit the same places and interact with the same objects, which sometimes can have effects unforeseen by the game author), but they are completely forgiveable. The main problem the work has is (I'm returning to our theatre parallel), after the searchlights have finished scanning the stage, and the battle has ended, the director doesn't quite have an idea what to do next, and effectively just rings down the curtain. Sure, Snatches featured several endings, but none of them seemed worthy. In my opinion, a "the evil can't be defeated" type of epilogue (in the style of the X-Files movies) suggests itself here -- but it's just what I think. Anyway, in my eyes, this is the only snag that prevented Snatches from being a major challenger for the podium. SNATS: PLOT: An appropriate ending would help it a lot (1.2) ATMOSPHERE: Satisfyingly sinister (1.5) WRITING: One of the best in this IF-Comp (1.8) GAMEPLAY: Ragged but integral (1.6) BONUSES: The unusual story-telling approach (1.3) TOTAL: 7.4 CHARACTERS: Mostly adequate (1.4) PUZZLES: Modestly stick to their last (0.6) DIFFICULTY: Trivial -- except for a couple somewhat tricky points (4 out of 10) COMP SCORE: 8 COMMENTS: The correlation between the SNATS and the Comp score is pretty good. The slight difference is caused by the fact that, when I replayed Snatches for the review, I fished out the technical issues mentioned there (somehow, they eluded me during my first play-through). From: DJ Hastings <djhastings SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #46 -- October 17, 2006 Snatches is a horror story about a creature that is stalking and attacking people in and around an old house. During the game you switch perspectives frequently, although you play each character only once. This is because the perspective switch usually occurs when the "shadow" bumps off your current character. Because of this, most of the game is pretty linear. In fact, Snatches could probably be better described as an "interactive story" until the very end, when there are multiple endings available based on your actions. There are clues here and there in the main story that may help with the endgame, but no real puzzles until the end. I actually think that this is a problem with the game. By the time I got to the endgame, I was used to doing fairly obvious things and watching the story unfold. So when I hit the puzzley bit, it felt like an interruption. I didn't *want* to do anything clever at that point; I just wanted to finish the story! I found a couple of the less optimal (but more easily accessible) endings and then quit. If the final segment had been similar to the rest of the game, I would have enjoyed Snatches far more. That's not to imply that I didn't enjoy it. On the contrary, I really liked viewing various events through multiple sets of eyes, and piecing the story together as I gained more information. I particularly enjoyed playing as the family dog and seeing his perspective on things. Even though I knew that each of my characters would get killed eventually, the author managed to keep me interested in them and their story. I thought that the story itself was reasonably interesting and creative, although I haven't really read any horror fiction, so it could be completely hackneyed and I wouldn't know it. :) In my opinion, it was well told using the character switching. The game had a number of bugs, mostly small inconsistencies in the text of the game. These appeared to be caused by making assumptions about what the player would do. For example, one cutscene describes a character's gun going off when she drops it. When I played the character, I had fired the gun until it was empty, but the cutscene still described it going off when it was dropped. This sort of thing could have been ironed out with a little more testing (and probably should have been). There were also a few typos and at least one programming error. But none of the errors I saw had any real effect on gameplay, and they were infrequent enough not to spoil the story. On the whole, I had fun with this game in spite of its problems, and look forward to seeing what else Mr. Weir will come up with. Zcode executable (.z5) Walkthrough

The Snowman Sextet

From: Dan Shiovitz <dans SP@G> Review Appeared in
SPAG #43 -- January 7, 2006 TITLE: The Snowman Sextet (Parts 1, 2, 4, and 5) AUTHOR: Roger Carbol, Jessica Knoch, Josh Giesbrecht, and Tommy Herbert EMAIL: david.cornelson SP@G DATE: May 26, 2005 PARSER: TADS2 and Inform SUPPORTS: TADS and Z-Machine interpreters AVAILABILITY: freeware; IF Archive URL: I am totally interested in continuity in IF. I like it intra-game, like in time travel games where you get to visit a place at different times and see how it's changed; and I like it inter-game, like how in Unnkulian Unventure II you play the famous hero of Unnkulian Underworld, or how Paul O'Brian's Earth And Sky series develops a storyline over three games. The obvious next level of complexity is to try for continuity involving multiple authors. I've heard several proposals for doing this -- some kind of shared-world deal, or different authors working on a single game -- but the most complicated multi- author setup I've seen is the Snowman Sextet that David Cornelson organized earlier this year. Perhaps a little too complicated -- although the name suggests it was to be a six-part story, parts 3 and 6 never got completed. Nevertheless, there's a pretty decent story that can be pieced together from the existing four parts, so I thought I'd take a look at what's there, and see how the different games compare. The overall setup seems to be some sort of story about a family travelling up a mountain to make a snowman and coming back again. The individual games are pretty small -- usually only four or five rooms each -- with one or two puzzles. Each game advances the plot a bit and the next one picks up more or less where the previous game left off. None of the games are particularly hard; you should be able to play all four in an evening. The first part of the story, But For A Single Flake by Roger Carbol, is set in your family cabin in the mountains. It seems like Carbol may have expected the players to know the overall premise coming in, since the game never explicitly tells it (or even tells the player what their immediate goal is). On the other hand, the game is small enough that this isn't really an issue -- there're just four rooms and one puzzle -- so you can pretty much bumble through without knowing exactly what you're supposed to be doing. In fact, it's small enough room-wise that I'm surprised that the implementation isn't any deeper: your wife is in bed asleep in the first room, but you can't wake, kiss, or talk to her. On the other hand, there are a number of bits of writing that are quite snappy, and I was evilly pleased to see a response for >PUSH GRANNY. The second segment, by Jess Knoch, is set on a boat in the middle of the lake. Just starting this shows a few bumps in the segment-game idea -- the story-so- far at the beginning of the game disagrees with the previous game over whether your wife came along, and the boat's suddenly gotten a lot bigger than it was last game. This segment has the best puzzles of the four, I think: they're not too hard, but they fit the environment and I had to think about them a bit (although there's one thing that seems like a puzzle but as far as I can tell is just a red herring -- sort of a weird choice to make time for in this short a game). The writing is fairly straightforward, but Knoch definitely gives the impression of having done her homework about boats. Unfortunately, there's no game three in the series so I was unable to find out what happened next, but it wasn't too hard to pick up the plot with game four. Game four, Josh Giesbrecht's Kaboot's Story, was my favorite of the four games, and not just because the PC is a hamster. Well, ok, it's *mostly* because of that, but it's also funny and cute on its own merits. My notes for this game say "storing things in cheekpouches = awesome", and I don't think I can put it any more clearly than that. The family seems to have weird priorities if they' re more worried about building a snowman than freezing to death, but luckily the heroic hamster is here to save the day. Save the day multiple times, in fact -- I played through this game in just 22 turns and still had to shepherd the family through three crises. The puzzles themselves aren't particularly challenging but they don't slow the game down either, so there's nothing wrong with them being the way they are. I guess that's really the secret to the appeal of this game for me: it was about the same length as the other three games, but had like three times the number of events, and that made it feel extremely fast-paced and fun, especially with the cheerful writing to back it up (the thing with gangster chipmunks was totally ridiculous but also pretty funny). Game five, the fourth and final game written for this project, is Tommy Herbert's Fran and Bart Want a Snowman!. Despite the previous game being about a hamster who fights off a puma, I found this game the least plausible of the four. Possibly this was inevitable given the premise -- you have to bring the snowman back down off the mountain, and there's no real way to do that without pretending snowmen are much less likely to fall apart than they actually are. The game also feels a little overwritten most of the time, but there are a few very funny bits -- especially the ending text -- that are noteworthy. The coding, on the other hand, was uniformly solid: this felt to me like the best- implemented of the four, despite requiring the most complex commands. Unfortunately, there was no game six written, so the cliffhanger that game five ends on won't be resolved, but I'm sure it all worked out happily in the end. Overall, the Snowman Sextet is a useful look at the benefits and drawbacks of doing a multi-author series like this. The most obvious issue is, of course, that if not everyone gets their parts done you're left with holes in the story. And really, even if they do, you're still likely to have more issues keeping strict continuity from game to game -- Susan's re-/dis-appearance between games one and two, but also more subtle stuff like how the characterization of the NPCs (sulky or cheerful? quiet or loud?) changes from game to game here. Playing these also pointed out the usefulness of having a story-so-far summary at the start of each game -- I only got it in game two, but it was really nice there to re-establish the backstory as the current author understood it. On the plus side, though, I really think it's cool to have a bunch of games in the same story. The viewpoint switch on one of the games was especially nice to provide a different perspective on the story while advancing the overall plot, but even when authors didn't switch viewpoints, they still provided a unique style for their games that made the series as a whole better than any part. The premise behind the games Part 1 -- TADS2 executable Part 2 -- Zcode executable (.z5) Part 4 -- Zcode executable (.z5) Part 5 -- Zcode executable (.z5) Part 5 -- Walkthrough

So Far

From: Alistair G. Thomas <agt20 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #12 -- December 13, 1997 NAME: So Far AUTHOR: Andrew Plotkin AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF Archive EMAIL: erkyrath SP@G DATE: December 1996 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: .z8 compliant Inform interpreters URL: Story File: Invisiclues: http://www.bioc.rice.educ/~lpsmith/IF/sofar.html So Far has been around for a while now, having been released in late 96, but for some reason it's never been reviewed in SPAG News. Magnus reckons we're all too daunted by it. Given that it won the awards for Best Game, Best Writing and Best Puzzle in the 1996 interactive fiction awards, organised by XYZZY News, I thought it was about time it was written up here. It's a noteworthy title, for a whole slew of reasons. IF's traditional features have been handled extremely well, in that the writing, the puzzles and the coding are as near flawless as they come. There are further aspects however, concerning the game-world and the player's place within it, that add new and thought-provoking elements. I'll go through all of these. In reviewing any adventure, there's a balance to be struck, between describing the game and giving the game away... In this case especially, where so much is so inventive, I really don't want to reel off the places and events that make up the story. I'll try and describe the style and the approach, and I'll quote a little, and hopefully you'll get some idea of what's different about So Far. On beginning, the first thing to strike you is the quality of the writing. Most of the text is in traditional fantasy style, i.e. plenty of adjectives, plenty of drama, plenty of verbal swoosh. From a writer of limited ability, this can be fairly cringe-inducing, but the author here brings it off extremely well. There are dramatic moments, exotic settings, and strange, half-understood events throughout this game, and the prose never flags. I would say this is the best writing, in this style, that I've seen in IF. West Portico More people are relaxing here, perhaps because of the kegman who sells his beer under the theater portico. The main street bakes in sunlight to the south; the front of the theater continues to the north, adorned by some decorative potted shrubs. A couple of people nearby are discussing the moons. That's right; tonight is the night that the astronomers have been going on about. You'll have to be sure to watch. Snuggled in a blanket, ideally... if you ever find Aessa. You feel the faintest cool breath of air. Wait. Wait. What's ever cool in this suffocating summer heat? It comes again, slight, smoky, deep with autumn. Impossible. >x sky You lean out of the shade and look up. The sun scorches you from one side of a metal-blue sky. The moons are also visible. Warel is already high; Amwal is just rising, but she will soon be catching up, approaching tonight's lunar event. Early in the game, the settings are pretty much fantasy staples, but they're varied and well realised. The player has no particular idea of their role, or even their identity, but without giving too much away, the game is a journey, an exploration of worlds weird and wonderful. While some of the places to be found are standard adventure-fare, frozen wastes, castle moats and the like, others are fresh and fascinating. These tend to be the inhabited stretches. The author creates the impression of some rich and living cultures, by virtue of things happening in the background, with virtually nothing in the way of Ask XXX About YYY. Coming across these people, observing their strange activities, it's eerily reminiscent of the early Star Treks, when Kirk was always beaming down to strange new civilisations, picking his way cautiously amongst the 'aliens'. These people are a good example, in fact, of the style the author has adopted throughout the game. The world is not there for the player's benefit. It does not revolve around him. On seeing a building, a street, a door, an object, there's no guarantee that you'll be able to do anything useful with it. It may well be there for some reason which doesn't concern you. This is not to say these things can't be referred to, or looked at or under or manipulated, just that they won't progress the story, or at least, not the story of the player. Conversely, as you find yourself in strange places, with strange items to be had, some of these things most definitely are useful, if only you can work out how to do whatever it is they do. >x box The box is strange, even stranger for being so simple. Just polished wooden sides, trapezoidal, no two faces parallel. But the joinings are precise; no seams show. The craftwork is exact. No mark shows on the rich reddish wood, except for the natural grain; and also a row of paler circles on each side. These seem to be inlaid discs of a blond wood, flush with the surface, each incised with a deep star-shaped mark. >x discs The discs are each about as long as the last joint of your thumb. They are arranged in precise rows of three discs each, one row on each face of the box. Each disc is incised with a mark in the shape of a three-pointed star. Often you'll have no idea why or how things do what they do, you just have to figure out how to make them do it Moving through things and places, that you know nothing about, but that you have to make some sense of to move on, gives the story an eerie, other-worldly feel. In the early stages this feeling, of things going on that no-one is telling you about, is evoked by impassable locked doors, streets the locals won't let you enter, arcane power sources for derelict machinery. You're reminded of Europe, in the later 19th century, where one of the influences that produced the Impressionists was the new availability of prints from Japan. These, shockingly, included pictures of objects half-in/half-out of the frame, cutting people or scenery in half, with seeming disregard for the careful composition of scenes characteristic of Western art until that time. In the real world, whatever you choose to look at, you catch unconnected things in shot. The author has achieved that effect here. It's a subtle, quite brave thing to do, pretty much new in IF. Later on, things become less conventional yet, and the familiar traipse round the map, looking for objects, becomes a fond memory. Read this example. In this dark place, seeing nothing, you're battered by sound, different sounds as you move around, some so loud that they block your progress, some deadly. The solutions to these problems depend on sound as well, but you never know just why or how they work, or exactly what you've done, or why this place is like this. Darkness It is too dark to see. You are nearly deafened by unseen clangor. A thousand bells might be roiling a foot above your head. The noise is dampened to the east, where you can hear an occasional sharp rap, and to the north, where an echoing plipping noise gives the impression of dripping water. >listen to the bells The noise is a thousand incessant bells, from an ice-sweet chime to a fierce, deep gongen. Not one of them pauses, for one moment. Somewhere behind the noise, there is an indistinct voice, chanting: "Hear the tolling of the bells... iron bells..." >listen to the bells Somewhere behind the noise, there is an indistinct voice, chanting: "What a world of solemn thought their monody compels..." >listen to the bells Somewhere behind the noise, there is an indistinct voice, chanting: "To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells..." >listen to the bells Somewhere behind the noise, there is an indistinct voice, chanting: "From the jingling and the tingling of the bells." Metaphysical moments come thick and fast towards the end. You find yourself drifting among clouds, with vague feelings of attraction and resistance interfering with your progress. You see shapes acting out scenes you don't understand; you don't know where you have to be. When they ask you questions, you don't know what they mean. In most games, this would mean you'd missed out the bit where you found out the answers. In So Far, the author has pushed the idea that in a strange world, the player might well face strange incomprehensible things, and to pass through that world, he might well have to figure out what they can do for him. He is not the focus of this world; it has its own history, its own concerns. The player will not get his hand held here. The idea that things need not be explained, as long as they exhibit an internal logic, is probably the defining characteristic of So Far. Metaphysical choices, vital and incomprehensible objects, whole worlds which aren't north-south-east-west-strolls: these really require a new view of the player's place in his world. It asks what IF does, what it can do, and so what it should do. And this, is Modernism. In IF. If this carry-on doesn't stop, we'll be a proper grown-up medium before you know it. Lordy. But moving quickly on now, um... puzzles. The puzzles are generally very good. There are only a few problems which come down to find & use, and even these tend to be unusual objects and uses. There are also some excellent, more complex problems, which are imaginative and very satisfying to solve. (XYZZY News voted the immense gate the best problem of 1996, although I preferred the bizarre animals. I had to consult the invisiclues for the light source...) These problems (and there are a few) involve several stages, and are thankfully well coded, with the possibilities arising from each step dealt with intelligently. There's very seldom a single action which the player has to find. More likely, a range of choices will be apparent, most of which will end with the player feeling rather sheepish, with the actual solution requiring quite some thought. Indeed, the range of things the player can do at each stage of one of these problems is part of what makes them difficult. And this is a difficult title. The puzzles are not re-hashes of things we've seen before, and the stranger ones will definitely have you scratching your head. The significant freedom the player has can let him screw things up completely. There is apparently a walkthrough available, although I haven't seen it, and in fact Lucian Smith has gone to the effort of producing some online invisiclues, which I had to use for the later sections, and would recommend above a walkthrough. Screwing up is generally worth doing a few times however, just to read what's gone wrong this time. Black humour, metaphysical angst... you'll be on the end of it all. On the technical side, coding is robust enough to deal with even the complex, multi-stage problems encountered. Basics like spelling and grammar are just about perfect, and guess the word problems are almost non-existent, although in some weird situations, you may find yourself producing weirder suggestions than the parser is expecting. In conclusion, I'd recommend So Far to anyone. Some of its new ideas won't be to everyone's taste, but they're certainly worth looking at. The more traditional parts are imaginative and involving and make a cracking game in their own right. Go get it. From: Duncan Stevens <dnrb SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #25 -- June 20, 2001 It's well known that latter-day IF has moved away from the puzzle-centrism that marked earlier games (to the point where many authors resist the term "game," though no one has come up with a substitute, to my knowledge). Some recent, um, works of IF have shown their defiance of puzzles by eschewing them altogether, but many authors have managed to both incorporate puzzles into the IF they produce and to convey that the puzzles aren't the raison d' etre. Andrew Plotkin's So Far was one of the first games to make that break, and it did so in an interesting way: there isn't a plot as such, but the game conveys themes and impressions in a way that manages to tell a story nonetheless. Trouble is, it's not easy to convey to the uninitiated what that story is. A relationship that may or may not be broken is at the center of it--as the game begins, you appear to have been stood up by Aessa, the object of your affections, and everything that follows picks up the thread in one way or another. You repeatedly encounter machines and devices that don't work properly, usually because of neglect; you repeatedly find yourself in situations where verbal communication seems to be impossible; you repeatedly navigate through hostile and uncomfortable settings. Does all that reflect the relationship in question and the problems with it? Presumably, but nothing is ever spelled out as such; in a sense, you learn about the relationship that drives the game by observing the game and guessing at what pieces are supposed to be allegorical or metaphorical, and in what way. What's interesting about the thematic elements, though, is that they're not just window dressing: at several points, puzzle solutions are solutions because they reflect the themes. In other words, there's no particular reason that could be expressed through any deductive process why something should work, but an attentive player who recognizes the parallel should try the correct solution because it seems to fit into the story. So described, it sounds fairly crude--"gee, I think I'll have everything in my game in threes, and then require the player to knock on a door three times"--but it's done much more effectively than that; the theme in question isn't just an arbitrary motif. To say that you have to think on the game's terms overstates the case a bit; it's more that you have to recognize where the game's sending you. Still, it's an unusual twist. The genre, to the extent there is one, has been called magic realism: the settings aren't taken from fantasy as such, but the rules of the game's world are surreal in some respects. It's a limited surrealism, though: the "magical" aspects are few and limited, and many of the reactions you set off, or problems you solve, are firmly rooted in the ordinary and explicable. Moreover, for the most part, the game keeps the fantastic and mundane elements distinct: with a few exceptions (and those exceptions form an obvious pattern) you won't be wandering along through a conventional setting and come upon something wild and weird. Magic realism, like straight fantasy, can sometimes lead a player to suspect laziness--"rather than trying to make sense of all this, I'll just call it magic"--but So Far mostly resists that characterization: the departures from realism eventually (though not right away) are revealed to be part of a larger pattern and follow rules of a sort. And the writing--ah, the writing. I'm reminded of a saying to the effect that an master or expert is someone who knows when and how to break the rules, because the writing in So Far breaks a lot of rules and gets away with it every time. The prologue, for example: Hot, foul, and dark. How did indoor theater become so fashionable? Well enough in spring rain or winter, but not in the thick, dead afternoon of high summer. And though Rito and Imita looks very fine, shining with electric moonslight in the enclosed gloom, you're much more aware of being crammed in neck-by-neck with your sweaty fellow citizens. Damn the crowd, in truth: your mood was hot, foul, and dark when you sat down. Aessa was supposed to meet you here. She's made excuses before, and you don't think about what it might mean. Try not to think, rather. Just watch the story. One of your favorites. But it's miserably hot, and you just aren't caught up in the play... A lesser writer would not be able to get away with that "in truth" or "well enough," which should sound terribly stilted; a lesser writer would not be able to get away with a neologism like "moonslight" in the first paragraph; a lesser writer would not be able to get away with calling the fellow playgoers "citizens." Here, though, it all works--the seemingly stilted language not only anticipates the poetry of the play, but doesn't even sound awkward here. ("Damn the crowd, in truth" has a certain unlikely ring to it.) Even the shift back to more conventionally colloquial language ("you just aren't caught up in the play") fits--the earlier mood reflected in the unusual sentence patterns is broken, just as the character's concentration breaks. "Moonslight" works because the writing has already established that it's ever so slightly off-kilter--and because the light in question is "electric," off-kilter in its own right. And "citizens" suggests that the theatergoers are there under some sort of duty or compulsion, as if the play is something to be endured rather than enjoyed. Another example: Grassy Hilltop Not a flat tame greensward, mind you; you are surrounded by wild, waist-high, reed-yellow growth that hisses and rattles in the dry breeze. The grasses roll to every cloudless horizon. Above you towers an immense tree -- the only one visible anywhere in this prairie world -- and its shadow slices blackness past your feet. A path of flat, trampled grass cuts south down the hill. The direct address to the player ("mind you") could be distracting, but it's terse enough here (and rare enough elsewhere in the game) that it slides by without yanking the player out of the scene. There are also a lot of adjectives here--"flat" twice, "tame," "wild," "cloudless, "immense," "trampled"--but the active verbs ("hisses and rattles," "roll," "towers," "slices," "cuts") do most of the descriptive work; the adjectives are mostly in a supporting role. "Greensward" feels a little like a thesaurus word, but since it's impossible to miss the meaning of it here (because of the contrast with the "wild, waist-high, reed-yellow growth"), the use of the word doesn't feel willfully obscure. In the gameplay department, So Far breaks some rules as well. For instance, the game begins with a lengthy noninteractive sequence--you can look around and examine things, but that's about it--which is hardly a surefire hook. (And there's no hint at anything more interesting until the noninteractive sequence is over.) Even after the game gets going, it takes quite a while for the player to get a handle on where it's going--and given the nature of the story, or lack thereof, most players are likely to feel directionless for a while. It's rare that you encounter IF with no clear goal, and a new author might not be able to get away with such a move. Arguably, though, that aimlessness is unavoidable, given what the game is trying to do; the alternative is to give the player an ostensible plot that gives way to the introspection that happens here, but there are problems with that as well. There are also various unfairnesses--plenty of learning by screwing up, and in one respect it's easy to send the game into an unwinnable state simply by progressing too far in a certain direction without progressing enough in another. (On the other hand, the point-of-no-return moment is about as obvious as such a moment can be, and it's also fairly obvious that more lies down the other path.) The game bills itself as "cruel," and while it isn't as cruel as Change in the Weather, it's far from forgiving-it's easy to waste essential resources, and at one point it takes only a few moves of waiting to game the game unwinnable. So Far is not a particularly long game, and the overall puzzle-count is relatively low, but the world you're exploring feels larger than it is. Part of the way the game achieves this effect is by scattering locked doors and inaccessible (for one reason or another) exits through the game, which constantly reinforces the sense that you haven't seen everything of interest in the game's world. It's been said that the effect is also to remind you that you're not the center of attention -- the game's universe doesn't revolve around you -- and that effect is particularly well achieved in one setting with a wide variety of characters who can't be bothered to acknowledge your presence (unless you break the rules somehow). Red herrings have always been with us, but obstacles that aren't meant to be overcome are an unusual breed of red herring; Infocom's Planetfall is the only game I can think of that used unsolvable puzzles to set the scene in a similar way. It should also be said, though, that puzzles that aren't meant to be solved at all and puzzles that can only be solved by figuring out the logic of the game's world make for a highly difficult game, and most players will probably end up using hints at some point. It's obvious enough to be hardly worth saying that when Andrew Plotkin's So Far was released, in 1996, it was unlike any IF that had preceded it. Part of what made it unique (then) was the emotional content--the emotional impact of the game is, in many ways, the point. (For the PC, anyway, and arguably for you too.) The prevailing theme of the game is tension and separation: if you don't choose to feel that tension, you're unlikely to find the game involving. It wasn't unknown then (though it was far from common) to impute some sort of emotions to the PC, but generally those emotions weren't particularly complex--now and again the PC might be afraid of something, say--and usually things would be nicely spelled out. Here, by and large, you figure out what the PC feels by analogizing from the impact on you, the player. (The game also tracks your mental state to some extent--the status line, while not recording your emotional temperature as such, does note your general impression of each setting. Examples are "hot, sticky," "mild spring, quiet," and "cramped, crawling.") That reading points to the significance of the PC's emotional state.) It might be argued that that's true for every game that has any kind of emotional content, and it simply doesn't matter what the PC feels--but here, I think, it does matter. You're given a choice at the end of the game, with two very different endings depending on which choice you make--and the choice that most consider "better" (though there's debate about that too) reflects a certain understanding of the emotional significance of the terrain you've traversed. That is, to the extent that the game can be understood as an introspective journey, the "better" resolution of that journey reflects a specific emotional reaction to the self-understanding you've achieved. Other games since So Far have given emotions their place in various ways--Sunset Over Savannah, for one, reproduced So Far's status line but made it describe the PC's mental state more precisely than So Far does (and had the status line reflect events that are likely to affect the PC's thoughts). Other games have aimed at affecting the player's emotional state rather than the PC's; Photopia and Exhibition come to mind. But it's the subtlety of the emotional effects that So Far conveys that make it notable: the feelings at issue are unfulfilled yearnings here, a sense of alienation there, a sensation of conflict between duty and sympathy at another point, and there are no full-orchestra emotional turning points. In this respect, as in others, it's a game that rewards careful reading. It's difficult, in the end, to explain what it is that makes So Far so memorable. The settings are vivid, but not spectacularly so, and the strongest theme in the descriptions is decay and abandonment--compelling on an emotional level but not necessarily captivating as IF. A few of the puzzles are memorable, but there aren't enough puzzles here to make the game work on that basis alone. My own sense of why I found the game fascinating was that it demanded attention and analysis; indeed, without analysis, it's not even vaguely memorable, because very little of what's most interesting about So Far is there on the surface. More than any other IF I can think of--Losing Your Grip is the only game that comes close--So Far is best appreciated through poring over the transcript and drawing connections between events that aren't necessarily juxtaposed in space or time. (An example: dawn is a recurring theme throughout the game. There are several references to "dawn-tales," and at a key point you're told that "dawn is distant yet." As it happens, the woman you're seeking is named Aessa, and the Latin for "dawn" is "aes.") (Another example: a certain substance links two disparate scenes by protecting a road from erosion in one setting and sustaining a trapped character in another.) There's been plenty of IF that's been thought-provoking, but very little that calls for textual analysis. Is that good, or bad? Shouldn't IF be capable of appreciation without transcript dissection? I dunno; I certainly wouldn't say that So Far is to everyone's tastes, and I do enjoy IF where the relevant happenings are closer to the surface. But much of the best contemporary fiction works in a way that's closer to the way So Far works, and it's exciting to see a work of IF that aspires in that direction. That the product is less than ideal as a game, in the final analysis, seems almost beside the point. FTP FileInform File (.z8) FTP FileStepwise walkthrough (Text) FTP FileAlternate stepwise walkthrough (Text) FTP FileTHL format hints (.zip) FTP FileUHS format hints (.uhs)


From: Emily Short <emshort SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #37 -- July 10, 2004 TITLE: Solitary AUTHOR: Kahlan EMAIL: kahlan SP@G DATE: April 18, 2004 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-Code Interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: VERSION: Version 1 "Solitary" is a short, puzzleless game set in the player-character's dorm room. The basic point of this piece, as with a number of other plot-driven/puzzleless games I can think of ("Photograph", "Shade", and even to some extent "Photopia") is to put together the background that led to the current situation. As far as I can tell, this is the author's first game, and it shows in certain ways. There are some odd glitches in the world model: as, for instance, when you put on a piece of clothing, but can't afterwards remove it, and are told that you're not wearing it. Apparently the author circumvented the normal operation of "wear". Similarly, some default responses have been replaced with answers that don't really make sense in all contexts. For instance: >DIE You jump on the spot, fruitlessly. >KILL ME You can't snap that in two. For the most part, though, the implementation is fine: there aren't a lot of glaring omissions, or scenery that seems important that you can't examine. Moreover, I had the sense that the author cared about the game and about doing a good job -- and that's always a good sign. Most of the problems I had with "Solitary" had to do with storytelling technique rather than with implementation. One major challenge of writing a learn-backstory-through-exploration game is to keep the player from discovering information out of order -- especially when, as here, everything is in a single room and almost every object is accessible more or less at the same time. In this case, there are all sorts of items in the room that *should* let you discover a critical background fact, but the player character refuses to acknowledge them until you hit on exactly the right trigger. It's annoying and manipulative (in my opinion) to prevent the player from reading some useful document with a line like "You can't bear to read that.". I certainly *can* bear to read it, and telling me otherwise does not heighten my feeling of identification with the player character. What's more, finding out what has happened is the only goal I-the-player have in the game. There are no other goals provided. The only way for me to move forward is to investigate things, so it is irritating to come across what seems like a juicy piece of evidence only to have the game refuse to let me look at/read/think about it. Even so, by the time the Horrible Truth was revealed, I had pretty much already guessed it. Foreshadowing is a useful technique, but only if it doesn't completely give away what's coming. Best of all if it leads you to expect something close to the truth, but wrong, so that the real revelation still takes you by surprise even though you thought you were prepared. The handling of PC emotion also needs some work. At a number of points in the game, I'm handed emotions that I have no reason to feel. Being told that I'm weeping intensely is weird when I-the-player have so little cause to do so. In that respect, this would work (a little) better as a story in the first or third person, I suppose -- but I think it would still seem a bit maudlin and self-indulgent. My other fundamental problem with "Solitary" is that the background story is not very interesting. I'm sure the events would be horrible to live through. But there aren't enough particulars here to make me feel much of anything about the protagonist or about any of the implicit NPCs. The player is told that the PC is hurting, that things are bad, that her love used to be strong, etc., but so what? I need more than that before I can generate much empathy. Instead of the vaguely-worded memories, I need specific flashbacks that make me actually feel something about the PC and the people she interacts with. I need more examples of what was so great about her relationship with her love. I need to feel as though they're people I know and would actually care about, rather than place-holders. This is not easy, but without it, a story like this falls flat. Finally, the last line of the game reads as funny in a way that undercuts what good effects the game has achieved elsewhere. I should mention a few positives, though. "Solitary" is set in a dorm room, which is something of a cliché, but I've certainly seen duller dorm-room implementations. The items here did help to paint an image of the player character. (She came off as somewhat immature, but I suppose that's not out of place.) Some of the descriptions showed a nice attention to senses other than sight: tangibles such as how well a drawer slides open, for instance. This is a good sign. "Solitary" also comes with a hint system, which got me through a few points where I was stuck. That was useful as well. It's not a long game to play, but there are a few moments where you may need guidance. I would have liked this system even better if it had adapted itself to what I'd already tried and suggested only new directions, but it worked well enough as it was. I'd encourage the author to write more IF, but also to look into improving traditional story-telling techniques, particularly characterization and plot structure. There's promise in the care that went into "Solitary", but it would be better put in service of a richer story and more accomplished writing. FTP FileZcode .z5 file FTP FileAuthor's notes

Son of a...

From: DJ Hastings <djhastings SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #46 -- October 17, 2006 TITLE: Son of a... AUTHOR: C.S. Woodrow EMAIL: ??? DATE: October 1, 2005 PARSER: Infocom Standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF Archive URL: VERSION: Release 1 SOA is a puzzle game without much plot to speak of. You're stranded on a deserted highway and have to find a way to get back to civilization. All of the puzzles are well integrated with the story; none of them felt artificial to me. The solutions, too, were for the most part things that I might reasonably try in the same situation. None of the puzzles made me say "cool!" when I solved them, but none of them seemed tedious or boring either. I mentioned that the solutions to the puzzles were things I might reasonably try, and that leads me to the game's main problem: I *did* think up the correct answer to all but one of the puzzles on my own, but I often couldn't manage to get the game to understand what I meant. In some cases the game failed to understand reasonable phrasings of a command (and the phrase it *did* understand didn't quite make sense). In others, the game recognized the alternate phrasings that I tried but gave a generic failure message, with no indication that the correct action was slightly different, leading me to believe that my solution was wrong. I ended up going to the walkthrough on about half of the puzzles only to find that I had already tried the correct solution, but with the wrong words. The writing is clear and very funny in several places, although there were quite a few grammar errors sprinkled throughout. The game would also be fairly easy without the problem mentioned in the previous paragraph. I'm generally not good at solving puzzles, but I thought up the answers to nearly all the puzzles on my own. If the author releases an updated version with some of the problems fixed, it could make an excellent game to help introduce new players to IF. On the whole, SOA just needs a few good rounds of testing to become a solid little game. Zcode .z5 file Plain text solution


From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #15 -- October 11, 1998 NAME: Sorcerer AUTHOR: Steve Meretzky E-MAIL: Good question DATE: 1984 PARSER: Infocom standard SUPPORTS: Infocom ports AVAILABILITY: Commerical URL: N/A VERSION: Release 15 RATING: ATMOSPHERE: A bit inconsistent (1.2) GAMEPLAY: Very strong (1.7) WRITING: At times too jokey (1.5) PLOT: Save-the-world (1.3) CHARACTERS: Few, not central (1.1) PUZZLES: Good, two excellent (1.8) MISC: Style doesn't work as well as it might, but entertaining and satisfying, with lots of very funny Easter eggs (1.3) OVERALL: 7.0 Sorcerer, the second entry in the Enchanter trilogy, begins arrestingly enough... You are in a strange logation, but you cannot remember how you got here. Everything is hazy, as though viewed through a gauze... Twisted Forest You are on a path through a blighted forest. The trees are sickly, and there is no undergrowth at all. . One tree here looks climbable. The path, which ends here, continues to the northeast. A hellhound is racing straight toward you, its open jaws displaying rows of razor-sharp teeth. That may be the best hook of any of Infocom's games--no desultory "west of a white house" here. Escaping from the hellhound leads to a attack of locusts, a crumbling riverbank, a pit of snakes, a rotted drawbridge...the danger comes thick and fast. Unfortunately, it soon turns out that the landscape in question is a dream--a dream that exactly predicts the middle of the game, true, but still just a dream and unrelated to one's performance in the game. I spent quite a while trying to figure out what exactly I was supposed to be doing in that dream, and only grudgingly concluded that it was a long, elaborate red herring. Steve Meretzky is among Sorcerer's authors, and his influence is clear: his earlier Planetfall was crammed with red herrings, and the jokey approach to NPCs (distinctly different from the other two entries in the series) also echoes the earlier game. The role of red herrings in a game is a matter of taste--though this reviewer doesn't care for it, he can't unequivocally declare that a large percentage of irrelevant objects and locations makes for a bad game. He can, however, warn the potential Sorcerer player to set aside the "anything this complex must be useful somehow" assumption and not to spend too long on any given problem or object, since chances are good that Meretzky is up to his old tricks. (Lord knows, I spent hours in some of those areas that proved irrelevant, trying to figure out why they were in the game.) Also notable in Sorcerer is the introduction of magic potions, absent in Enchanter and Spellbreaker--though, typically, only some of the potions that you find are relevant. Some of the potions have effects that are limited in duration, and one is permanent (it still seems to be in effect in Spellbreaker, in fact)...and Meretzky's goofball side is evident in the responses when you drink one potion while the effects of another are still ongoing--e.g., "Uh oh. Your left ear turned into a poisonous toad and ate your brain." Still, even if not especially innovative, the addition of magic potions give the magic another dimension. Meretzky's forte as a writer is humor, and Sorcerer's genre is wizardry/fantasy, not humor--and though the writing is far from disappointing, the atmosphere hardly approaches that of Dave Lebling's or Brian Moriarty's games. Too often, Meretzky is content to tell rather than show the player what to think--for example, in reading Belboz's journal at the beginning of the game: "The last three entries are strange and frightening, written in a hand quite different from that of Belboz, and in a language totally unfamiliar to you." Yes, fine, we can understand what has happened--but how more skillfully might the sense of unease have been heightened by dropping the "unfamiliar" part and actually reading bits from the journal, bits that imply something sinister! Compare the discovery of the alterations to your paper at the beginning of Lurking Horror; Lebling gives us all sorts of suggestive little tidbits ("there is something about a 'summoning,' or a 'visitor'...") in order to let our imagination roam. On the whole, there is little mood to Sorcerer; the dangers are so often vaguely ludicrous that it is hard to generate much in the way of tension. (Killer vines? A slot machine that crushes you with coins?) There are many, many locations like this: Highway This is a wide road winding away to the east and west, perhaps a relic of the Great Underground Empire you read about in history class. A passage leads up to the north. This could be in any game; the "history class" reference is typical of Meretzky in the way it shatters the description. That approach works brilliantly in Leather Goddesses and in other humorous games, but Sorcerer is not as free for humor in that respect, and contrasted with the skillful atmosphere in the rest of the series, the writing in Sorcerer feels a bit flat. (The lack of atmosphere is illustrated by the inclusion of the amusement park--how strange and inappropriate would that have felt in Enchanter or Spellbreaker?) Though the abandoned equipment and empty rooms in Planetfall became wearying, they did create a world of sorts; the world of Sorcerer feels thoroughly incoherent. All that said, though, there is much in Sorcerer to enjoy, including two of the better puzzles in the Infocom library. I enjoyed the glass maze immensely, even if it required considerable trial and error (and I never thought to take the easier solution); the idea felt so innovative that I was willing to put up with the aggravation. And the coal mine/time paradox puzzle is justly famous, and well worth the effort required to reach it; though I've knocked Meretzky's writing, I must admit that the tension I felt when trying to get through the mine in time was considerable. I don't particularly approve of the inclusion of the maze in the coal mine--it felt like an artificial way to make the puzzle more difficult--but the nature of the puzzle itself was so absorbing that I could forgive that. (And there's something vastly entertaining about being told "You cease to exist!...If you had continued to exist, your score would have been..." when you violate the confines of the loop.) As a mind-bender, the coal mine puzzle is one of the best--consider sometime where the knowledge of the combination originated--and the feel of ultimately getting through is indeed rewarding. (I always felt like the character's need for sleep once that puzzle is completed is intended to mirror one's own relief at being out of danger at last.) Minor annoyances--the maze, Meretzky's insistence on "Wheeeee!" in the coal chute--aside, this puzzle is clearly the highlight of the game (it makes the final few puzzles--fairly "duh"-worthy puzzles--feel wildly anticlimactic, though). Sorcerer is not especially hard--it was rated "advanced" under the rating system at the time, but there are few if any genuinely difficult puzzles (though figuring out what to solve takes a good deal of energy, of course). For fans of Enchanter, Sorcerer is worth playing; it continues the inventive use of magic to solve puzzles, and there is a genuine sense of accomplishment at the end. Though, particularly in the writing, it doesn't quite equal the standard set by Enchanter, it is well worth the time of any fantasy-game enthusiast. FTP FileSolution (Text)

The Sound of One Hand Clapping

From: Magnus Olsson <mol SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #5 -- April 19, 1995 NAME: The Sound of One Hand Clapping PARSER: Advsys (not quite sufficient) AUTHOR: Erica Sadun PLOT: Many linear sub-plots EMAIL: erica SP@G AVAILABILITY: IF Archive, S10 PUZZLES: Simple WRITING: Beautiful, poetic ATMOSPHERE: Beautiful DIFFICULTY: Quite easy SUPPORTS: DOS (portable source for Advsys run-time included) CHARACTERS: Non-interactive but interesting It's a sad fact that the world of interactive fiction seems to be an almost exclusively male one; although many women enjoy IF, there are very few female IF authors. In fact, the present game is probably the only one by a female author that I've played. Had this been the only unusual thing about this game, it would have been noteworthy as a curiosity, perhaps; fortunately, it has other qualities that make it a very unusual experience. To start with, the setting and general idea of the game are quite different from the logical, puzzle-oriented world of most adventure games, which tend to have a rather mechanistic view of the world (pardoxically, this seems to be especially true of magic-based games; indeed, the magic systems of games like Enchanter are more logical and mechanistic than most scientific gadgetry in SF games). As one might infer from the full title of the game, "The Sound of One Hand Clapping - a Riddle in Subtlety", the focus of the game is different, emphasizing emotion, empathy and analogy, rather than deduction. This is not to say that the puzzles aren't logical (they are - see below), just that the emphasis is on a different kind of thinking; for example, several puzzles can only be solved through meditation (in the game, that is - you don't have to be a Zen master in real life to solve them). What makes this game truly outstanding, however, is the atmosphere and the quality of the writing. I can't put it in any other way than saying that this is by far the most beautiful piece of IF I've ever come across. My experience is that most good IF reads like either "hard-boiled" novels, gothic horror stories or slightly absurdist comedy - all of these pretty "male" genres (if I'm allowed to continue flogging the rather moribound horse of gender differences in writing). "One Hand Clapping," on the other hand, at its best reads like a prose poem: the imagery vivid, the prose gently flowing. This kind of writing makes very high demands on the author, and she is in general up to the challenge. There are, as might be expected of an amateur author, some beauty spots. Occasionally, the rhythm of the prose falters (rhythm being especially important in this kind of poetic writing), turning it into a drab march of short descriptive sentences, which renders the imagery peculiarly ineffective; occasionaly, the metaphors seem a bit overdone, dangerously close to empty rhetoric; but these are mere blemishes that hardly detract from the overall impression. More serious is, perhaps, a certain tendency to bathos; for example, the long build-up towards the encounter with Crystal Dragon results not in the expected profundity, but in a rather trivial conversation, and the final confrontation with Black Dragon (the villain of the piece) culminates in a disappointingly trite plot device. Still, I'm willing to forgive these shortcomings of the writing; the game is a pearl, albeit flawed, and flawless pearls are few and far between. As for the atmosphere, it is as beautiful as the writing: in typical fairy-tale fashion, you are transported to the World Beyond to find six dragons and obtain six keys in order to confront Black Dragon, and restore balance to this world as well as the one Beyond. The fairy tale atmosphere is not the usual, Western, one, but Chinese, or rather generally "Oriental" -- in the author's own words, it's not realistically Chinese, but "Chinoiserie", the reflection of the Oriental world in the mirror of Western folklore and prejudice, and some aspects of the game, such as the Zen allusion of the title and a puzzle involving a bonsai tree, are decidedly Japanese rather than Chinese. The dragons are not the fire-breathing monsters of Western folklore that you generally find in adventure games, but Chinese dragons: supernatural beings of great subtlety, not to be confronted by violence but to be won over by empathy, provoked into action, or perhaps simply outsmarted. The World Beyond is as perfect as a Chinese painting; serene, meditative, with just enough detail for your imagination to fill in the rest. So much for writing and atmosphere. Had these been the only aspects of the game, it would have been close to a masterpiece. However, the game-play aspects are, unfortunately, on a totally different level of perfection. The puzzles are not bad. Most of them are quite simple, but I don't mind simple puzzles; in fact, having too difficult puzzles in a game like this would perhaps only distract the player from the beauty of the World Beyond. A few of the puzzles are quite subtle, one perhaps overly so, since it hinges on the player's interpreting a clue quite literally. Without being too explicit, let me say that at one point, when obeying certain instructions, you should carry them out to the letter, without thinking or rephrasing them into the verb you'd normally use. You could claim that this is an example of the different way of thinking needed to solve these puzzles; to me, however, it is dangerously close to "guess the verb". Despite what I've written above, many of the puzzles are not very unusual or even imaginative, but just standard fantasy game puzzles. On the other hand, they are not trivial, and a few of them offer new twists on old ideas. Perhaps there are a few too many puzzles of the type "find hidden object X, give it to dragon Y" with nothing more to it; this, however, may be a plus for the inexperienced player. Meditation plays an important role, as several of the puzzles can only be solved through insights gained that way; the player is advised to meditate frequently, since only a fraction of meditations lead to enlightenment (there is a random factor involved). A plus regarding the puzzles is that the plot is multi-linear; if you're stuck on, say, how to extract a coin from a bonsai tree, you could always try to climb a glass mountain or explore a mysterious cave instead. The map branches out with six-fold symmetry from the central point, Rainbow Fountain; similarly, the Fountain is the central point of the sub-plots, which with six-fold symmetry branch out from it. The NPCs, most notably the dragons, are unfortunately not very interactive; they don't care very much about human affairs and generally only pay you any attention when you perform the right action to rouse their interest - and you can generally only do this once. This, however, is the nature of dragons, so maybe one shouldn't complain. Like in most IF, you feel distinctly alone; the dragons aren't very sociable. Your most memorable companion is a "fire iguana", a curious lizard with a tendency for quasi-profound Taoist utterances. Though the iguana doesn't make a very good conversationalist, he's really quite charming. There are also some more NPCs that aren't very interactive. The area where I feel I must be the most critical of the game is its interactivity and general playability. To begin with, the parser isn't very good and has some annoying quirks (the game was written with Advsys, to which I'd like to return in another article); fortunately, no sophisticated commands are needed, but there's still an element of "hunt-the-right-word", especially since the game's vocabulary is pretty limited. However, you can live with a bad parser. What's worse in my opinion is that you can't do very much. Most objects are in the game for one specific purpose only; you can't do anything with it until you find out that purpose, and then it's rather evident. It may seem that interactivity is not very important; after all, we can never hope for an accurate simulation of reality in a text adventure, and, unlike the "simulationist" school of IF theorists, I don't think authors should even aim for such realism. However, if the game introduces a highly complex and usable object, like (to use a real example from the game) a box of rubber bands, the player will want to play around with it, or at least get some sensible message when trying to do so; in this game, the player has far too little freedom to interact with the simulated world; there are far too many possible actions that are just not possible to perform, and there are far too many interesting objects described in the text that either aren't recognized by the parser or produce a message about "that's just scenery". At least to me, this produces a feeling of being led by the hand through a beautiful diorama with a few useful artifacts strewn about; your hands itch with eagerness to touch and manipulate things, but you are constantly reminded that you're not supposed to do that, just to watch and admire. By contrast, the really great games of IF (such as Infocom's best) may have a less perfect atmosphere, and far coarser writing, but they actually let you experience their world, not just observe it. _This_ is the great potential of IF, as opposed to books, plays or films: not only do you experience the world "as if you were there", but you can actually interact with it. Alas, "One Hand Clapping" to a large extent misses exploiting that potential. Had this game had a better parser and a larger vocabulary, and had the author put more effort into the interactive aspects, this would have been a great work of IF. Had she polished her prose just a little more (avoiding, for example, the occasional anticlimax), and added perhaps just a little bit more dramatic tension (let's face it, the plot is rather thin). While I don't hesitate to give this game near-perfect marks for writing and atmosphere, I must unfortunately rank it as less-than-average on gameplay, and the plot is only of average quality. Still, with my wildcard points for overall impression, this adds up to an impressive (for a shareware game) 7.5. And: despite all my criticism, let's not forget that "One Hand Clapping" is an unforgettable experience. Play it, if only for the writing; immerse yourself in the atmosphere, let the gently flowing prose entice you away from the usually cold and logical world of computers, enjoy for a while the subtle simplicity of this world of imagination: The peace of summer, Fish gliding through still waters, Subtle as dragons. FTP FilePC Executable runtime & AdvSys files (.zip) FTP FileAdvSys files & source code of Unix interpreter(.zip)

South American Trek

From: Graeme Cree <72630.304 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #5 -- April 19, 1995 NAME: South American Trek GAMEPLAY: No synonyms AUTHOR: Conrad Button PLOT: Unintentionally funny EMAIL: ? ATMOSPHERE: Almost none AVAILABILITY: MS-DOS WRITING: Passable PUZZLES: Uninteresting SUPPORTS: MS-DOS CHARACTERS: Unimportant DIFFICULTY: Easy South American Trek by Conrad Button is an educational text adventure designed to teach children about South American geography. The plot is a bizarre cross between a wasteful Federal pork program, and a college fraternity initiation. You are sent by the President to spy on South America. But rather than seeking to learn about troop strengths or drug lord activity, your mission is to learn things like Venezuela's leading export, and the capital of Peru (a quick look in the atlas could have saved millions of taxpayer dollars). You start on Devil's Island and must travel to South America by raft (here's where the fraternity-like stuff comes in). Once there, you wander around learning about the various countries and solving puzzles to try to acquire the item you need to signal the submarine waiting for you at Cape Horn. Once you've reached the sub, the captain will ask you six trivia questions about South America. If you get a question wrong, back you go. You have a maximum of three opportunities to get all six questions right. The map scale varies tremendously. Some areas are no bigger than a temple or a mine shaft, others are the size of a city, or even an entire region. But since South American Trek, or S.A.T. (appropriate acronym) is an educational game, we should not be asking whether its plot is plausible, but rather, whether or not it fulfills its goal of educating while making learning fun. Unfortunately, the answer is that it most certainly does not. The programming may have been good by 1986's shareware standards, but now or then, the game is worse than a month of detention. Like all Buttonware text games, the 2-word parser is rock bottom. There are absolutely no synonyms for anything. If you try to refer to the "rowboat" as a "boat", the game will not know what you are talking about. To make it even more confusing, some items are known only by their adjective. If you see "copper ore," you must type "take copper". "Take ore" will not work. In addition, the map is especially confusing. Generally speaking, there are two ways that text game authors can make their map challenging. The first way is to change directions in transit. For example, suppose that you leave a room by going south, but must go west rather than north to return. The second way is by varying the transit length. For example, look at the following map: E D C A B As you can see, the distance between A and B is longer than the distance between E and D. As a result, if you go from A to B first, you will probably draw a short line, and only after you have then gone to C, D, E, and A will you discover that the first line wasn't long enough and have to redraw the whole thing. Using this motif once or twice may make a game a little more challenging, but South American Trek uses it extensively. Not only is the technique totally unsuitable for the beginning audience that the game is aimed at, but it is used to such excess that even the advanced gamer will be annoyed more than challenged. The beginner will never want to play another text adventure again. The information about South America is presented in the "room" descriptions, and in one or two speeches made by Miss Diddlemeyer, an American teacher you may pick up along the way, but who is not necessary to win the game. The presentation is hardly more interesting than just reading it out of a book, since the game doesn't really make you apply the information anywhere, except in the trivia quiz that the submarine captain gives you at the end. The rather dry information about major exports, highest mountains, and longest rivers, does nothing to bring the area alive, since it is primarily a sidebar to the game rather than being integrated into it. There are one or two laudable points. The game's contrived and unintentionally humourous plot may give the game a small amount of cult value, and the idea of mixing education with play value is a good one, despite the poor execution seen here. Unfortunately the kids will be too busy trying to redraw their maps and play "guess-the-word" to have time to learn anything, much less have any fun. Gaming parents would be much better advised to try Carmen Sandiego. FTP FilePC Executable (.zip)

Space Aliens Laughed at My Cardigan

From: Molley the Mage <mollems SP@G WKUVX1.WKU.EDU> Review appeared in
SPAG #3 -- October 26, 1994 NAME: Space Aliens Laughed At My Cardigan PARSER: AGT AUTHOR: Andre M. Boyle PLOT: Minimal EMAIL: ??? ATMOSPHERE: Demented AVAILABILITY: IF Archive WRITING: Strange PUZZLES: Weak SUPPORTS: IBM CHARACTERS: Not Much DIFFICULTY: Incomprehensible "Space Aliens Laughed At My Cardigan" has perhaps the best title of any game I've yet seen on the Interactive Fiction Archive. This alone prompted me to download it and give it a play. I had a moment of fear when I discovered that it was written with AGT; I am able to report, however, that the game would have been just as bad in TADS, Inform, or any other language as far as I can tell. The introduction is promising -- you're sitting in the garden when an alien ship lands nearby and two blue beings begin making fun of your cardigan. They then proceed to vaporize it with a ray gun. You're quite dismayed, since your mother gave you that cardigan, and you fear physical reprisals if she discovers that it's gone. Getting a new cardigan, therefore, becomes the goal of the game. Sadly, the game was almost totally unplayable, and I was unable to determine if Our Hero actually succeeds. All I can really say about the game is that it had a glimmer of potential, but that quickly vanishes under a torrent of typographical errors, bad attempts at humor, and bugs. There are 10,000 possible points in the game; just by walking around and picking things up, I somehow achieved 257 of them without attempting to solve a single puzzle. The puzzles themselves are nonsensical; sometimes typing HELP will get you a hint, other times not. The atmosphere of the game is badly fragmented; items and locations are thrown together without the slightest rhyme or reason. The parser is unresponsive at best and damnably frustrating most other times. There are a few funny bits of text -- the chess grandmaster in particular is rather humorous -- but most of the attempts fall on their face. I usually prefer Irish/British humor to American humor, so I can safely say that cultural differences do not play a role in my failure to find the game funny (although people with no experience whatsoever in British humor might not even understand why the jokes are *supposed* to be funny). The most interesting thing about this game is that while registration is not expected by the author, if you do register (for $60.00 or 30 pounds) the author offers to write an entirely new game to your specifications and place you as a character in one or more of his later games. I am mildly curious to know if anyone has taken advantage of this offer, although I must say after playing Space Aliens Laughed At My Cardigan, I can't see any reason why a sane person would. From: Magnus Olsson <mol SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #4 -- March 2, 1995 Initially, it was the title that drew my attention to this game. I didn't download it, however, until I saw the review by Sean Molley (a.k.a. Molley the Mage) in SPAG3 - I wanted to see for myself if it really was possible to have a game as bad as his review indicated. What I found exceeded my wildest expectations. This game is not just bad, but unspeakably so, and it's uniformly bad; the writing, the puzzles, the atmosphere, the plot, the NPCs, the room descriptions, the attempts at humour are all miserable. If there was an award for the world's worst adventure game, this game would be an obvious candidate. In addition, this game must be the most bug-infested piece of software it's ever been my misfortune to try; it actually seems as if the author hasn't even tried playing his own game once, or he would have found the bugs immediately. You may wonder why I bother to write this review if I'm only going to tell how bad it is, which Sean did an excellent job of saying in his review. Well, I think Sean missed an important feature of this game: its cult value. In fact, every aspect of this game makes for a truly unique experience: the total lack of logic, the weird malapropisms triggered by some player actions, the utterly bewildering atmosphere, the author's inexplicable hatred for policemen (try examining the "policeman standing here like a total and utter prune" sometime), the demented dialogue produced by your interaction with some NPCs, the attempts at humour (including some utter failures at imitating Douglas Adams), just to name a few examples. A great source of unconscious humour is the author's weird, fractured English (it's hard to believe that he actually lives in the U.K.), that switches freely between tenses, persons, even gender (human NPCs are referred to as "it") and spellings. Playing (or trying to play) this game is sure to create a lasting impression. It is not to be recommended for the weak of heart or those incapable of appreciating the beauty of absurdity, but if you'd like to experience Infocom on acid, as it were, you should by all means try it out. FTP FileAGT files with PC Executable runtime (.zip) FTP FileAGT source code (.zip)

The Space Under the Window

From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #12 -- December 13, 1997 NAME: Space Under the Window AUTHOR: Andrew Plotkin E-MAIL: erkyrath SP@G DATE: 1996 PARSER: Inform, thoroughly hacked SUPPORTS: Inform interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: 2 Not sure if it's reviewable, but I'll try. Andrew Plotkin's Space Under the Window is a work of "experimental" interactive fiction, as part of a project that produced a variety of creative works under that title -- and it's hard to imagine how the others could have pushed the boundaries as much as this one does. The point of Space... is to let the player interact with the environment without conventional IF commands -- and what, exactly, is the player doing? It's hard to say, but it's certainly worth trying. The mechanics are simple: given a block of text, ranging from a sentence to several paragraphs, you type a word appearing somewhere within the text, which may or may not affect the narrative. If it does, the screen clears and you are given a new block of text -- sometimes changed only by a word or two, sometimes with a new paragraph, sometimes entirely different, and you start once again trying words. The effect is not quite EXAMINE [object], as the following shows: The window is open, so you climb down inside. The table is set for two. >two The window is open, so you climb down inside. The table is set for two -- a surprise; you didn't think you were expected. No one would type "examine two", but the change manages to elaborate on the concept, somehow, and suggest that you have learned more about the idea. The closest analogue in real life might be a storyteller whom you are invited to interrupt constantly to explain something more fully, though the storyteller apparently declines sometimes to elucidate whatever it is. (Sometimes, a word that led to development may not later, even if that word is still on the screen.) The progress is thoroughly nonlinear -- most words, if typed a second time, will reverse the effect of the first input, though that isn't always true. As a result, there is minimal need to restart even if you've sent the narrative somewhere you'd rather not, since you can undo the effects of any command (either with a well-placed word or "undo"), and a few commands can send the story back to the beginning. This could be mechanical and fairly dull without some imagination -- it could become conventional IF with only EXAMINE available -- but Plotkin is up to the task. Many words yield unexpected results, and trying to manipulate the story to do something in particular is almost invariably a failure -- it is more accurate to say that you discover the story as you go along. In that sense, this is closer to conventional fiction than traditional interactive fiction, since you only affect what particular story you see -- you are not, really, writing the story yourself. The levels on which you change the story, though, are several; there is a wide variety of input by which you can affect what you "see". One of the more intriguing involves light, and its effect -- this is one transition: The window is open, so you climb down into dimness. The table is set for two -- a surprise; you didn't think you were expected. The cold shadow lifts a little. Yes. An empty vase, white glass, stands beside a single lit candle. A smile touches you; it feels like the first one in some time. You are arranging your flowers when the door opens. >dimness The window is open, so you climb down into dimness. The table is set. An empty vase glows, white glass catching the light of a single candle. The rest of the room shades into obscurity. You are arranging your flowers when the door opens. (You slip back into the shadow of a corner.) A figure climbs out, and lowers the door closed. Primary among the adjustments for the seasoned IF player is losing the "goal" feeling -- the need to type in the right combination of commands that will produce a "You have won" or some equivalent. That, to say the least, is not the point of Space Under the Window, and insisting on it leads to frustration; there are certainly many endings to the story, but not many of them resolve much, such as who you are and what you're trying to do. Moreover, many of them are frustrating in some respect: they seem to represent failures of one sort or another. A lost connection here, an ignominious flight from an encounter there, distrustful silence that never gets broken. Those that aren't expressly negative are at best neutral, and the player learns to appreciate intriguing twists as developments in the story rather than goals achieved. Space... is superior in that respect to other "experimental" works of IF, such as "In the End", that never quite lose the feel of "accomplish something." The mechanics are part of it -- though you occasionally say things, the player has no control over the words, nor when they are said, and the effect is sometimes like a novel centered around a main character who is not always sympathetic. Not being able to exercise control over the character -- yet playing in the second person nonetheless -- is a strange and disconcerting feeling, and the haphazard ways that your input affects events reinforce the sense that you are witnessing rather than participating in the narrative. The result is subversive in its way -- it questions the assumption that you are sent to an interactive-fiction environment to do something concrete, make an effect, rather than experience what's there. In effect, it makes the scene itself, and what happens there, more important than you, the player (though you as the player are distinct from "you", the character), since your importance is mostly to enter commands that allow you to see more. In that the setting is almost entirely fixed in one location, Space... also forces the player to appreciate the minute details that Plotkin brings out. There are a few red herrings that I found somewhat distracting. One of the few choices you can make sends some signals suggesting it will affect the plot, but in fact it doesn't -- it merely affects a certain room description. There are plotlines that simply can't be followed -- it looks like they might lead to several-paragraph narratives, but they simply stop, and all input either reduces the text or sends the player down a different line. And it is best not to try to understand the cryptic bits of conversation by cross-referencing between different storylines, since the comparison yields little insight; it's ultimately more rewarding simply to regard the exchanges as cryptic and appreciate the way they change with your commands. At one point, a certain input will add to a fairly innocuous account of a woman's movements the following: "(Always careful, and always quiet. It took months before you saw past that.)" You never discover what the "months" reference meant, nor enough to say what you "saw", which certainly intensifies the air of intrigue; it's difficult to say whether Space... would be more or less satisfying with fewer unanswered questions. There is certainly intrigue aplenty in the movements you observe, all the more because they reflect a history unavailable to you. The above addition also provides a moment of insight into your own character -- the scorn in the tone of that statement reminds the player that he or she is not, despite the second person, dealing with a blank slate. The writing is skillful: Plotkin makes the scene changes reflect your input while limiting your ultimate control over what you see. (The experience is sometimes like throwing a rubber ball in the general direction of an object -- we know it will change things around, but we can't reliably predict how.) Sentences and phrases are added to existing text, with considerable effect: The window is open, so you climb down inside. The table is set for two -- a surprise; you didn't think you were expected. Yes. An empty vase, white glass, stands beside a single lit candle. >surprise The window is open, so you climb down inside. The table is set for two -- a surprise; you didn't think you were expected. The cold shadow lifts a little. Yes. An empty vase, white glass, stands beside a single lit candle. A smile touches you; it feels like the first one in some time. Again, the change is more psychological than perceptual; your character begins to perceive something differently, and the change affects later interactions. In the hands of a less effective writer, this sort of thing could feel clumsy, as if our attention were deliberately drawn to whatever it is that's affected -- but, here, an inattentive player might miss the significance of the change and how it influences later developments. An equally effective example is the difference between the following two descriptions, depending on a certain input earlier on: "I never dreamed it would." She tosses her head back suddenly. "It seemed appropriate, that's all. Here. Finally." The flame of the candle flickers uncertainly, but her voice is still steady. "...Shall we go?" "I never dreamed it would." She tosses her head back suddenly, her lips falling one more time into that wry smile. "It seemed appropriate, that's all. Here. Finally." The flame of the candle flickers uncertainly, but her voice is still light. "...Shall we go?" Not so remarkable when examined side by side, but it takes a good writer to know when to make changes minor rather than waving flags at the player that might disrupt the feel of the narrative. Plotkin's writing almost never intrudes on the structure of the story (the sequence with the flowers is one of the few exceptions), and it rewards close attention to the various paths. Perhaps the best thing about Space... is the spareness of it: the reader is left to infer details from the way various pieces of the setting flicker in and out with light changes. And there, as well, the writing is well-calculated to tell the player just as much as needed to paint the picture. It's hard to categorize this one, obviously; some will quickly grow bored with it on ground that not much happens, and some will be frustrated with how limited the player's control is, as if different commands opened pages of a novel at random. And the feeling of not having anything as such to do requires some attitude adjustment, true. But there is much to appreciate in Space Under the Window, notably some of the more satisfying or upbeat endings, and even without a "right" way to play it, finding a previously undiscovered narrative trail is just as intriguing as any new discovery in conventional IF. If you can set aside your assumptions for a little while, give this one a shot. FTP FileInform file (.z5)

Space War! ...and the PDP-1

From: Greg Boettcher <greg SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #43 -- January 7, 2006 TITLE: Space War!...and the PDP-1 AUTHOR: Paul Allen Panks EMAIL: dunric SP@G DATE: June 2005 PARSER: Simple SUPPORTS: DOS/Windows AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: VERSION: 1.03B If you played the games in IF Comp 2005, you may have played Paul Allen Panks' game Ninja 2, which took last place in the comp. It begins with a dragon who is programming a PDP-1 computer and shouting "Spacewar!" If you looked at this and thought it was sort of weird and irrelevant, then you may not have realized that the "Spacewar!" remark was a reference to this game. Well, okay, it was still pointless and irrelevant. Nevertheless, just in case you're interested, it was a reference to this game. So what is this game like? Some people complain that Panks' games are all full of generic fantasy cliches. If you are among these people, then you should know that this game is not in some generic castle or dungeon, but is set solidly in the real world -- specifically, on the M.I.T. campus in the year 1962. The goal of the game is to locate a tape of the then-new computer game Spacewar and find a way ot play it on M.I.T.'s PDP-1 mainframe computer. Of course, to do that, you have to kill a dragon that inhabits M.I.T., and maybe deal with the campus werewolf too. But mind you, such combat is only the means to an end. The main purpose here is to play Spacewar. In such a way does this game depart from the usual dragon- slaying conventions of Paul Allen Panks. Oh yes, and I forgot. In this game, you are Master O'Ryoko, a "ninja of peace." Also, sometimes another ninja will come from out of nowhere to fight you. Therefore, let no one say that this game does nothing to escape from the drab, boring atmosphere often to be found in games set on college campuses. I wish I could say that this game is better implemented than many of Panks' earlier efforts, but I'm afraid I can't. Few verbs are recognized, and none of the items mentioned in room descriptions can be interacted with at all, unless they are listed individually as something "you see." Basically, if you can't take it or kill it, you can't do anything with it, with only two exceptions. This is a step down from the likes of The Golden French Fry, which Panks at least had beta-testers for. Maybe the weirdest thing about this game is the scoring system. Sometimes your score goes up or down based on your achievements, but more often it depends on verb usage. If you want to boost your score, just take something and drop it repeatedly. Each time you do, you get ten points for taking it and four more for dropping it. Taking inventory gets you two points every time, and examining anything is good for three points (even if you just type "examine asdf" or just "examine"). However, be sure not to use a verb the game doesn't know, such as "wait" or "listen" or "put," because then your score goes down by ten points. In conclusion, if you liked Ninja 2, you'll probably love Space War!... and the PDP-1. But, oh wait, based on IF Comp statistics, there is roughly a 0% chance that you liked Ninja 2. Well, anyway. MS-DOS executable and BASIC source code

The Spatent Obstruction

From: Mark J. Musante <olorin SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #22 -- September 15, 2000 NAME: The Spatent Obstruction AUTHOR: Chris Canavan EMAIL: ??? DATE: November 1992 PARSER: AGT SUPPORTS: AGT ports AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: VERSION: 2.55 Never volunteer. That's what they say in the army, or so I'm told, but I've failed to follow that particular pearl of wisdom on many occasions and, at least this time, I would have been better off for it. This particular volunteering on my part was brought about when Carl Muckenhoupt was looking for people to help him put together his "Baf's Guide to the IF archive". In the course of that assistance, I came across this game. The title intrigued me. What was a Spatent? What was obstructing it? It turns out the first obstruction was that the game was written in AGT. Now the problem with AGT is that, while it's easy to write a game using it, it's hard to write a GOOD game. Why? Because you have so much more work to do to get the parser to behave the way you want it to. Allow me to illustrate with an example. One of the first main puzzles in this game is trying to take a taxi to the airport. In order to tell the driver to take you there you have to give him your ticket so he can see where to go. You can't use > DRIVER, AIRPORT nor can you use > SAY "AIRPORT" Instead, you just give him the ticket. Unfortunately, if you haven't given him money first (and I'm willing to accept that I'm in a universe in which you pay the driver before he takes you anywhere), the game prints out the confusing Don't know how to give here... Of course the 'give' verb does work... it was expecting 'give money' first and THEN 'give ticket.' The fault of this lies in the fact that each eventuality must be carefully coded for in any AGT game. For TADS or Inform or any object-oriented development system, there's an easy way to put in a hook for 'player trying to get ride without having paid first'. In AGT, each additional combination causes a multiplicative increase in the number of 'commands' that must be written. As a result, AGT appears easy to write games for but is actually extremely difficult indeed. While I'm at it, I may as well flag another problem with this game: that of adjectivitis. Most, if not all, IF authoring systems have the ability to add adjectives to objects, but it's a peculiar habit of AGT authors to add adjectives to every object. The canonical example of this is the legendary Detective's "wooden wood." So we're stuck with gold doorknobs, and white mailboxes, and wrapped money, and signs tacked up everywhere of every color imaginable. One last thing I'll mention that seems to be a hallmark of an AGT game: room descriptions tend to be devoid of any mention of ways out. Instead, you must, as a player, remember to type 'show exits' at each location. When I sat down to play this game, I knew full well that these sorts of things would probably be present. I bring them to your attention in this review in case you've heard an undercurrent of disgruntledness about AGT games but no clear explanation as to why. Rest assured I'm leaving out many other problems. So let's ignore the difficulties and quirks of the AGT gaming system and concentrate on what makes adventures fun: writing, puzzles and story. THE WRITE STUFF One thing I clearly remember when playing early (pre-1985) Infocom games was that it would be really cool to create a game like this myself. I think many players would like to become authors, just like many actors would love to direct some day. Since it's so simple to slap together an AGT game, many people try it, regardless of writing ability. Canavan is able to get the point across, but his use of English could do with grammar- and spell-checking. However, even that wouldn't be enough. Here's a sample room description: Ahhh, the kitchen. Its beautiful plastic floors and wooden cabinets make it look so beautiful. You remember late night snacks and reading the paper on the kitchen table. It is a very beautiful place indeed! The best that can be said for it is the unintentionally amusing bits and pieces. When you get a sentence which starts, "He grabs you under your legs...", it can't help but bring a smile to your face. While these phrases are rare, they occur often enough to mitigate some of the deleterious effects of the rest of the writing. It's not in every game that you see a "forst of lush green ivory" or learn that a robot can shut himself down "for an infinite number of years with no damage." Expectedly, this game lacks implementation of detail. In the dining room, Canavan is very careful to point out that there's a vase on the table, and nothing on the desk. However, the game doesn't recognise 'vase', 'table' or 'desk' as objects. Early games, pre-mid-1990's did this because of lack of resources, so it's forgivable. Those more used to modern games in which you at least get a response along the lines of "that's not important" would find it to be just another source of frustration. FOR PUZZLES' SAKE Many beginning authors wonder how to put puzzles in a game. Where do people come up with their ideas? This question appears often enough in the newsgroup and most of the time the response is along the lines of story-integration: make sure the puzzles make sense in the course of the story. In other words, don't put a 15-puzzle in the middle of the road and then prevent the player from walking any further until the puzzle is solved. In The Spatent Obstruction, Canavan decided to make the living room of your house dark. So naturally the player explores a bit looking for a light source of some kind. When I found my way to the backyard and saw one lying there, I was amused by the fact that Canavan provided an explanation: This is your back yard. You are totally surrounded by woods, which makes this an appealing sight. Green light plays through the leaves of the surrounding trees. A small deck and barn are the only real things that mark the otherwise perfect grass. The only exit to this area is back through the small, almost invisible, path you came from. There is an oil lamp here. > X LAMP This is an old, rusted, oil lamp. You doubt that it would even wortk except for the fact that there is still old oil sitting in the bottom. You remember leaving this here when you cleaned out your barn. However, the next time I started the game, I went to the backyard to get the lamp and found out that the lamp wasn't there. This caused me to be stuck for many minutes until I figured out that the lamp only appears there after you open your mailbox and read the airline ticket which lies therein. Moreover, you must be holding the airline ticket when you read it or you will remain lamp-free. This is a good example of how not to make a puzzle. This game seems to have been designed with these sorts of puzzles in mind. You must perform task A before object B will magically appear. Several puzzles are time-based in that you only have a few turns to complete a particular part of the game before the game whisks you off to a new location. If you haven't completed everything you need to (and there's no real way of telling, save experience), it's time to restore and try again. In the words of the game, "death is a very possible." Oh, the game has a maze, but an easy solution, so it's not bad at all. STORYTIME The game starts innocently enough. You were at a party last night and your friends helpfully brought you home and left you on your driveway to sleep off the effects of the alcohol. With friends like these, who needs Spatents? The good news is that you've won a free ticket to France. Now all you have to do is get past a homicidal taxi driver. After working your way to the airport and hitting on a flight attendant, you suddenly find the world has changed, and you've acquired a robot sidekick named Lexter. This is all quickly explained by an expository scientist who never stops running around. Apparently you've blorped through time and you need something called a Spatent Obstruction to hold open a time rip long enough for you to get back. But, and here's the spice which thickens the plot, they're illegal. And that's when things get confusing. The game takes you through a few twists and turns and, at one point, I was surprised to find myself in the enemy computer room. I was relieved to discover that it was "the room your supposed to run to if an enemy attacks." But relief turned to depression when I learned that the enemy (detection) computer was "about three inches bigger than you are". How immodest. The most disappointing part was when I learned that a bug caused me to get stuck about 80-90% of the way through the game. If someone is aware of a walkthrough that works around this bug, I'd be very interested in it. AND NOW LET'S GO OVER THE FILMS WE'VE SEEN ON TODAY'S SHOW I've been sitting here thinking about whether this game could have anything worth recommending. As you might have noticed, the "feature" I liked most about this game was the unintentionally funny writing. The puzzles weren't very clever, nor were they integrated into the game. They ranged from "read the author's mind" to "I'm supposed to do WHAT?!?". Once the game's bug stopped me from progressing any further, I used a program called 'agtout' to decompile the game's text. At least I got to read the ending if not actually participate in it. Canavan is nice enough to set up for a sequel which includes finding your robot sidekick again and, apparently, recruiting an alien crew to help you fly around outer space and blow stuff up. Much to my disappointment, France seems to have been left as a permanent unresolved plot thread. I have to come to the unfortunate conclusion that this game really isn't worth playing. There is nothing here that stands out as fun or enjoyable. The plot is too basic, the puzzles too obscure. The best that we can hope for is, if Canavan does write a sequel, he learns from his mistakes. Bottom line: thumbs down. FTP FileAGT files (.zip)

SpeedIF 8: A Freak Accident Leaves Seattle Pantsless

From: Jonathan "Skip" Rosebaugh <skiprosebaugh SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #25 -- June 20, 2001 [Note: This overview does not include Dan Shiovitz's game "You Are A CHEF!", which Skip suggests is so perfect that to review it would be wrong. --Paul] NAME: SpeedIF 8: A Freak Accident Leaves Seattle Pantsless AUTHORS: Matthew Amster-Burton, David Cornelson, Christopher Huang, Admiral Jota, and Dan Shiovitz [not included in review] DATE: 2000 PARSER: TADS and Inform standard SUPPORTS: TADS and Inform interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: VERSION: 1 The Games reviewed: * A Freak Accident Leaves Seattle Pantsless by Christopher "Miseri" Huang * I Went to the WTO Ministerial Conference and All I Got Was This Souvenir Delegate From Mauritius by Matthew "mamster" Amster-Burton * Pantsless in Seattle by David "Jarb" Cornelson * A Freak Accident Leaves Seattle Pantsless III: Endgame by Admiral "Jota" Jota SpeedIF is a blot on society. As indicated by the name, a SpeedIF entry is a work of IF written very fast -- two hours is the usual time limit. The parameters for each SpeedIF are usually generated via a mad-libs style audience participation thingie on ifMUD. The parameters for SpeedIF 8 were: SpeedIF8, entitled, 'A Freak Accident leaves Seattle Pantsless[1]', outside of a shop (type of which is your choosing) named 'End Of Days' serving something on the menu named 'Blitzkreig', 'ViReX', and 'Macrolicious'. At another location, 23rd and Lincoln, an experiment is taking place that you need to help complete. This experiment involves corn, an electical kite, and a missing sock. Bonus points for ZeroG Sex, and _any_ references to BWP (Blair Witch Project). [1] Pants are considered to be inherently funny on ifMUD, particularly when they are not being worn. As might be expected, the entries were many, various, and totally off the wall. Below is a transcribing of the notes left behind by an adventurer who failed to protect his sanity. A Freak Accident Leaves Seattle Pantsless Entropy fascinates me. I loved, for example, "The Entropy Effect." Physics fascinates me. On the first day of physics class, I managed to use both words in the same context, and was overjoyed, so it's only natural for this game to please me. You have a quest. You must recover a sock -- a sock that vanished in a clothes dryer. Along the course of your quest you will encounter two out of three of the following items: a voodoo doll, a rectal thermometer, and an artifact of Jack the Ripper. Why? There's no reason; there doesn't have to be. This is SpeedIF. Once you complete your quest, you find that you have socks. You have, in fact, all the socks ever lost for the past few decades. However, since the law of conservation of mass applies to plane transfer, everybody for miles around loses their pants. Provided that the protagonist escapes lynching, he will have both a mighty terrorist weapon and an excellent source of socks. Also, he will have popcorn. Mmm, popcorn. The virgin adventurer might be tempted to look for meaning in this work of SpeedIF. After all, we have physics and meta-physics. We have complicated experiments designed to reverse the flow of time. We have food. Alas, no. The only meaning is that there is not, and can never be a meaning in SpeedIF. Unless there can be one. The only possible thing to take away from playing this game is a newly-enhanced respect for the limitless possibilities for counterfeiting involved in transformation of physical matter. I Went to the WTO Ministerial Conference and All I Got Was This Souvenir Delegate From Mauritius Aha! Here we have both entertainment and social commentary in one small package with a very long name. Featuring both a famous author and a mayor, and also a bonus appearance of the author, this little game manages to make us concerned enough about the fate of world trade that we too will drop our pants -- erm, I mean, practice civil disobedience. Also, this game features hilarious puppets. This is likely the only SpeedIF game ever to feature more puppets than NPCs, even though it has 10,003 NPCs. Also, I was disappointed that Neal Stephenson prefers Sherman tanks to his own All-Purpose Plex Armed Strife Mobile Unit. In fact, Neal Stephenson isn't even really a part of this game; he just stands around playing with advanced weaponry. In fact, why are hydrogen bombs even available to World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference protesters? Is this the kind of world you want your children to inherit? If not, then get out there and protest the protesters. What is in fact a part of this game is removing pants as a statement and protest, which gets you trucked off to jail in the ending statement. Like small countries, this small, short game has a very, very long name, and like small countries, it may be worth visiting. Pantsless in Seattle At last a game that respects the integrity of science enough to include a Professor, and a game that respects the integrity of hormones enough to include a beautiful woman. Er, that's just one game, in case you were counting. Like every other game in the SpeedIF universe, this game is short, sweet, and gets worse everytime you play it. (Actually, it doesn't, but I felt compelled to work entropy in here somewhere.) This game does, however, feature what I think must be a character from Spellbreaker, in that this NPC does some magic. Like another game, this game features loss of pants. There is a NPC responsible for this atrocity, but he is never brought to justice. What is this world coming to when a pants thief can, in addition to his previously heinous theft of socks, get away scott-free with the theft of all of Seattle's pants? Obviously, the problem is scott-free. If Adventureland were not packaged with Inform, the knowledge of Scott Adams games would be limited to an elite few. Once this happens, there would be a socialist revolution within the IF community, and pants would be shared equally. A Freak Accident Leaves Seattle Pantsless III: Endgame Once again, we have a criminal. In this case, however, our arch-fiend is not a magic-wielding pants-thief, but a deranged sock. Also, despite the title, this game takes place in Acapulco. This game is the third in a tragically non-existent series and it makes frequent reference to the precursing games. Furthermore, since it takes place in Acapulco, all dialogue is in Spanish. Fortunately, subtitling is provided for non-Spanish-speakers. Those who can speak Spanish, however, will be laughing. The Spanish dialogue is the second-funniest thing in the game, right after the sock. The game ends with a promise of more to come. [Here the scribbled hand ended. I can only presume that he died of starvation, while frantically waiting for A Freak Accident Leaves Seattle Pantsless IV: Tentative Title.] So, there you have it, folks. Once upon a time, only the IF Gods could enjoy games made humorous due to time limits, but now these games are available even to mere mortals. So play away, and come join the ifMUD so you too can help keep the tradition of quickly written Interactive Fiction alive. Please note: The author is not on crack. The author is on caffeine. FTP file containing all games


From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #15 -- October 11, 1998 NAME: Spellbreaker AUTHOR: Dave Lebling E-MAIL: I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you DATE: 1985 PARSER: Infocom standard SUPPORTS: Infocom ports AVAILABILITY: Commerical URL: N/A VERSION: Release 87 RATING: ATMOSPHERE: Rich, surreal (1.8) GAMEPLAY: Outstanding (1.8) WRITING: Excellent (1.9) PLOT: Absorbing (1.9) CHARACTERS: Few, strange (1.6) PUZZLES: Good, but very hard (1.9) MISC: Absorbing in way that belies plot, humorous, diverse settings, slightly disappointing ending (1.8) OVERALL: 9.2 The culmination of Infocom's Enchanter trilogy came in 1985 with Spellbreaker, and quite a culmination it was; the final installment in the trilogy was far harder than the previous two, and far more satisfying as a game. Authored by Dave Lebling (who chose to leave his personal insignia in a thoroughly unlikely -- and slightly macabre -- place in the game), Spellbreaker puts the player at the head of the Circle of Enchanters at a moment when magic itself appears to be on the wane -- a plot borrowed from Ursula LeGuin's Earthsea Trilogy, to be sure, but no less compelling for that. Gone is the semi-slapstick feel of Sorcerer -- the humor is subtler here -- but the mood here is also darker and lonelier; you encounter some humans along the way, but many sections of the game feel deserted -- at least, no longer populated by humans -- and Lebling's talent for atmosphere is evident. One room description begins this way: This is a ruined temple to a forgotten god. Black basalt pillars reach to the ceiling, but some are broken and lie in huge fragments on the ground. The air is stale and filled with the odor of decay. Bats roost in the rafters, the only remaining worshippers. Though the plot of the game amounts to, as with the first two entries, "save the world from an evil force through your use of magic", there is far more going on here -- and the plot is much more integrated into the game as a whole. The initial development/hook, though very different from the device in Sorcerer, has considerable shock value -- and, incidentally, serves to draw the player into the story rather than sounding a false alarm. Learning the "rules" of the game takes some time, and there are numerous opportunities to make the game unwinnable, many more than in Enchanter or Sorcerer (including one juxtaposition early in the game that seems like a "pull-my-finger" joke of sorts) -- but the unconventional nature of the story makes every new development a new discovery in a way that cannot be said of your average collect-the-treasure cave quest. Spellbreaker was given an "Expert" difficulty rating under the system at the time, a label only somewhat accurate. The bulk of the game's puzzles are fairly standard use-the-proper-spell affairs, though some, naturally, rely on wits rather than magic -- but up until nearly the end, Spellbreaker could just as well be an "Advanced" game. The last few puzzles, though -- certainly two of the last three, and a few others from near the end as well -- are vastly more difficult; I will candidly admit that I needed a substantial push. (In fact, I didn't even get the premise of one of them without assistance -- one that amounts to a variation on a mathematical problem -- and I suspect I was not alone in that respect.) That factor increases the frustration level of Spellbreaker considerably; intuitive leaps are needed at the end that were simply not necessary earlier, and the unwary player might well assume he or she has missed something that would make the last few puzzles less baffling. It should also be said that, considering the intricacy of the puzzle-solving required to get there, the great climactic ending is something of a letdown -- one short paragraph, in effect, hardly longer or more resounding than any of the many deaths one can die. The nature of the ultimate ending does, in a way, explain that -- but it still feels like a letdown (I wondered for a while whether there was another, "better" ending).Despite frustration, though, there is an elegance to many of Spellbreaker's puzzles that the player can only admire; Lebling manages to shake the feel of "put the octagonal key in the octagonal hole" or "give the food to the animal blocking the door" that plagues many games. (The implications of one puzzle in particular are either completely absurd or supremely logical -- either way, they might give you a headache trying to sort it out.) In a sense, the puzzles reflect the plot -- on occasions, magic ceases to help the player at all; there are areas and situations where no amount of spellcasting will set things right, a subversion of the "spell for every occasion" feel of the first two games. In other instances, though, the player's magical powers circumvent the rules of the game's universe in ways that the first two games (in the temple and the coal mine, respectively) had only hinted at. The effect is occasionally a bit dizzying -- in that the geography is largely non-contiguous, the player jumps between realms and situations, and types of dilemmas, rather abruptly -- but the final confrontation ties things together, for the most part. Spellbreaker's plot has been described, and criticized, as "narrow" and "linear," which usually means that the amount of exploration possible before the player is confronted with another puzzle is small -- and hence that only one or two puzzles are available at a given time. Critics of such an approach claim that it makes a game too easy -- but Spellbreaker should give the lie to that; even though the difficulty increases toward the end, as noted, there are few puzzles that could be considered obvious. Moreover, after the first few puzzles are solved, the game opens up considerably, to the extent that it is often possible to have five or six unsolved puzzles at hand. (And there are also a few dummy puzzles, or what seemed so to me, and a few that require specific tools that don't come until well after the problems are first encountered.) Granted, the freedom of the player is limited; the amount of variation in a winning game of Spellbreaker is minimal (as in, there are only a few puzzles or tasks whose order of solving or accomplishment can move around -- and not very far, at that -- whereas very few of the puzzles in Sorcerer, say, were in sequence) -- but that is part of why the game was, in fact, rated "Expert"; of the several puzzles available for head-scratching over at any given moment in Spellbreaker, it is likely that only one will be solvable. The feel of the game lends to the sense of narrowness, true -- for the uninitiated, the player follows a trail of sorts of mysterious cubes that transport him/her between a series of apparently disconnected locations, and the surface area that each cube provides to explore is limited to one or two rooms in a few cases. But it is possible to have several cubes whose possibilities are not fully explored at any given time -- one cube, by my count, has six distinct puzzles associated with it. The point is that Spellbreaker avoids the usual problems associated with linearity (in a way that, say, the recent "Time: all things..." does not), and provides one important advantage inherent in narrow games -- the sense of a storyline that the player discovers/is drawn into, rather than a bunch of problems to solve. (The cubes, suffice it to say, have a significance beyond their ability to transport you hither and yon -- and once you realize that significance, the plot of the game becomes much more intriguing.) The writing, as in most Lebling games, is controlled and skillful, all the more so considering the nature of the game's world -- the sheer surreality of your surroundings as the game progresses. (Try to picture this scene, for example: This place is odd indeed. Nothing that you look at is what it seems. If you look at something carefully enough it turns out to be something entirely different. The room is cluttered with objects and obviously hasn't been cleaned in a long time. The floor is overgrown with grass and weeds, and rabbits have chewed them. There are bird nests around the ceiling and droppings here and there. A very untidy and unsettling place. Much of the walls, ceiling and floor is covered in mirrors. There are empty, mirrorless square areas at north and south and a round black emptiness to the east. If you can visualize that scene at all, your imagination is better than mine.) There are, of course, defensible reasons why Lebling chose to have that particular room appear that particular way -- but it is also true that the atmosphere is sometimes more baffling than evocative of anything in particular. But though the nature of your travels allows Lebling to give you scenes like this... Light Room This place is bright and glaring. The very materials of which it is made blaze with light so bright that their forms are obscured. There are glowing archways to the west and south. ...or this... No Place There is nothing here. You are here, but there is no here where you are. You see nothing. Your senses are vainly trying to find something, anything to work on. You can know your body is there, but you can't truly sense it to confirm the suspicion. Your mind is alternately drawn in three "directions" (or at least what seem like directions): east, west and south. There is something slightly different about the nothing in those directions. ...the sense that the author is Telling You A Big Cosmic Important Tale is mostly absent, thankfully, and the game manages to take you into realms several degrees removed from the average landscape without losing the feel of the adventure-game romp, no small feat. Those who have finished the game might do well to consider the nature of what Spellbreaker was purporting to describe, and the restraint with which Lebling carries it out; that much of the game seems prosaic is, in a way, high praise. The humor in the game is essential to its enjoyability, in that respect -- in the plain scene, notably, in the merchant's patter, and in the very nature of the idol puzzle -- and the absurdities (and acknowledgment of same) help keep the game from becoming portentous. Spellbreaker and Trinity have been mentioned in the same breath, and for good reason -- their plots have much in common, and there is a deft interaction between puzzles and story in each game that makes them just as absorbing for the narrative as for the challenge of the puzzles. A resounding conclusion to a somewhat uneven series, Spellbreaker deserves to be considered one of Infocom's very best. FTP FileSolution (Text)

Spider and Web

From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #14 -- May 17, 1998 NAME: Spider and Web AUTHOR: Andrew Plotkin E-MAIL: erkyrath SP@G DATE: 1997-8 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Inform interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 4 PLOT: Multilayered, intriguing (1.6) ATMOSPHERE: Effective (1.5) WRITING: Strong (1.6) GAMEPLAY: Solid (1.5) PUZZLES: Logical, some difficult (1.6) CHARACTERS: One, very thorough (1.5) MISC: Ambitious idea, carried off with skill (1.8) OVERALL: 8.0 Andrew Plotkin posted on a few years ago a list of implicit assumptions common to most IF, suggesting that experimental IF works might set about subverting those assumptions. Plotkin's Space Under the Window pushed the limits of IF, to be sure, but in a rather straightforward way; there, the author forced the player to give up the usual mode of interacting with the game environment. Spider and Web, though no less subversive in its way, is altogether more subtle--and Plotkin overturns the tropes of standard IF to great effect. As it would be altogether too hard to discuss otherwise, I'll describe the essential structure--the outer layer, as it were--of the game: as a spy sent to investigate an enemy laboratory, you have been caught and are recounting your actions to your interrogator. But you recount them not verbally, but as scenes replayed in your memory and picked up by a mind probe--and therefore you play out the recreations as conventional IF narrative, or so it seems at first. Moreover, your interrogator interrupts you constantly to inform you that you have gotten the scene "wrong," or to interject comments when you do get it right, and there's therefore a sense that you're discovering what you've already done. The confusion of narratives that arises is done with remarkable skill: after all, the effect of the scene is that the interrogator is asking you, for the most part, to confirm what he already knows, and therefore the point of most of the exercise, as far as he's concerned, is less to learn anything than to have you submit to his coercion, repeat what he's telling you. (The interrogator describes it that way: "It comes down to telling stories. You spin me a story, and I listen....This verse isn't yet right.") Critical theory meets IF, in other words: the controlling ideology enforces its rule by forcing the controlled to repeat--and play out, over and over again--the narrative. The idea, at least for critical theorists, came down from Marx, but it has a life of its own by now. If Foucault wrote in this medium, he'd more than likely write something like this. ("Discipline and Punish" in IF form? Internalized panopticons? could happen.) The experience of playing it is unique and vaguely reminiscent of "1984"--it forces the player not only to accept someone else's account of a certain truth, in this case his own memories, but to replay them in conformity with what he's told--and the feeling is often unnerving. At any rate, Plotkin uses this premise skillfully, often in ways that can't be revealed here lest they spoil the fun. Among the more amusing moments is the opening scene in the city streets, which, like everything else, you're replaying for the interrogator's benefit--and you therefore throw in some ingratiating sentiment laced with sarcasm: "And however much of the capital city is crusted with squat brick and faceless concrete hulks, there are still flashes of its historic charm." Later, a subtle dig at the police state: "The alley is quite empty, bare even of trash. (Your guidebook warned you: the police are as efficient about litter laws as about everything else they do.)" Later repetitions of the scene cut out most of the rhapsodizing about the city's charms, as if in acknowledgment that the interrogator doesn't want to hear it. The temporal confusions abound: this is one work of IF where much of the action has already happened at the beginning of the game, and the story technique works far better than many "flashback" sequences common in film. The slow-developing plot is frustrating at times--the player is often reduced to thinking "_why_ would I have done that?", and not all the questions get resolved. But there is method to Plotkin's madness, as always, and the twists are calculated for maximum effect. Spider and Web owes its setting and plot to Cold War spy movies and novels, in a sense. It gradually becomes apparent that you're after a mysterious device, a weapon of sorts: they have it, you want it or alternately don't want them to have it, it's essential to the balance of power, etc. (And a certain less-than-credible scene toward the end recalls one of the silliest features of action movies.) There is also a certain debt to science fiction, though, in the wealth of gadgetry that you carry around--you bring a toolcase with you--and in the endgame, which requires that you figure out a whole host of devices at high speed in a way reminiscent of lots of SF. Particularly since so much of the plot turns on understanding the properties of gadgets, it's tempting to make them the real point of the story--and yet good science fiction, despite appearances, is often less about neat technology than about the human conflicts that it brings about, and Spider and Web is no different. At one point, your interrogator--oddly candid, but I suppose he has to be for the story to go anywhere-- acknowledges that the new weapon, rather than enabling a supposed "clean war", would actually make the ongoing war even more chaotic and enable dangerous abuses of power, but then acknowledges that he still participates in building and developing the weapon. (The tension, in critical theory terms: the figure who wields the power admits his doubts about the validity or appeal of the dominant ideology, thereby deconstructing that ideology's claim to exclusive truth and legitimating dissent. Well, maybe.) Implicitly, technology becomes an end in itself, divorced from its desired ends--or, alternately, avoiding a certain technological advance is more risky than pursuing it, lest one's side lose the destructive advantage. The latter echoes Cold War deterrence theory, while the former is an element in most dystopian visions (Fahrenheit 451, for example). At any rate, the endgame underscores the importance of the backstory; players should probably go back to old save positions once they near the end simply to make sense of some of the earlier speeches. As a game, Spider and Web works well. The interrogator's comments act as a sort of hint system for much of the game, since your various mistakes draw out comments that indicate what he's looking for and narrow down the scope of your actions through repeated tries. As such, the game is fairly short and most of it isn't all that hard; it's only toward the end that the Zarfian side comes out and the player needs real intuition to keep up. (As with other Zarf works, furthermore, the hardest points are the most satisfying to solve--they're rewarded in one way or another.) There are a few points where the interrogator's responses don't quite seem to match your actions, and it isn't quite clear at those points whether he just doesn't care about the discrepancies or whether there are bugs afoot. The ultimate ending is something of a letdown, at least in terms of spy-novel victory-for- your-side expectations, though it certainly fits the Zarf ethos. On the whole, the puzzles are unique and well crafted; there is nothing arbitrarily thrown in to require puzzle-solving, and the obtacles feel logical enough. There's even some humor, unlikely as it sounds: the interrogator is equipped with plenty of sarcastic jabs. (At one point, if you claim that the guards lied about something: "Ah. They'll be hurt to hear so.") The atmosphere is likewise effective: the halls are cold but not obtrusively so. As seems to happen in many Plotkin games, a key shift in mood is marked by the lights going out and the player's having to stumble around in "dimness" (the word, in particular, reminded me of Space Under the Window); though the dimming doesn't accompany changes in the landscape, as happened in Change in the Weather, it does serve to heighten tension and set the final events of the game in motion. Technically proficient, with a well-developed story, Spider and Web is a solid game. But Plotkin is not, precisely, known in the IF community for conventional solid games, and Spider and Web doesn't really fit many categories. The spy-adventure aspect is subverted by the moral ambiguities: it isn't clear that arranging for your side to have the weapon would be an altogether good thing, and it becomes obvious that the interrogator is driven to develop it more by political necessity-- the regime demands it--than by personal fascination with the possibilities. Indeed, one event toward the end suggests that the power game is what really matters, that the technology is expendable; the real value of the thing lies in simply having it while the other side doesn't. A development parallel to the story of the weapon, moreover--call it one of the plot layers--suggests that technology still can't keep up with human ingenuity, in that a large part of the game turns on outsmarting a device that your captors rely on. While there are science fiction elements, the game turns on the interrogation and the conflict it masks rather than the technological/ speculative bits; the specter of the omniscient questioner who manipulates his captives into saying what he wants recalls, among other things, Koestler's Darkness at Noon. Most importantly, unlike the bulk of IF, the player cannot identify a clear goal for the protagonist, or necessarily even assume that he understands what the protagonist is thinking at any given time; the feeling of discovering rather than creating a story recurs on several levels. Put another way, the game sharply limits how much innovation you can give the set script, sometimes because you have to match the interrogator's account and sometimes because every move is vital, as in Change in the Weather. Throughout the story, discovering what you're "meant" to be doing means discovering what your own character is up to, sometimes in surprising ways, and the effect is occasionally similar to coming gradually out of a total loss of memory. There is much that's worth pondering over the course of Spider and Web: the various competing narratives keep the player guessing (some of the techniques reminded me of Agatha Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, though I'm sure they're not unique), and the game is well- crafted on every level. Anyone who has enjoyed Plotkin's previous efforts should without a doubt check this one out. From: Adam Thornton <adam SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #14 -- May 17, 1998 This review necessarily contains spoilers for _Spider And Web_. If you haven't played it, I recommend you stop reading here, go out and get a copy (, and play it. It is certainly worth your time. After you've played it, continue. It's an excellent game. If I have to give it a rating, uhhhh, let's see. 9.0 out of 10. Now go play it. _Spider And Web_ is the latest IF effort by Andrew Plotkin. It represents a radical departure from his earlier works in that it is neither an impossibly unfair series of timing puzzles (e.g. "A Change In the Weather"), nor is it a lyrical allegorical journey (e.g. "So Far"), nor is it an arcade favorite reborn (e.g. "Freefall"), nor is it an Interactive Unbelievably Painful Breakup (e.g. "The Space Under The Window"), nor is it even a Computer Science homework set (e.g. "Lists and Lists"). Instead, it's a Cold War spy story, and a fairly straightforward one at that. When stripped to its essentials, the plot is: break into a research center, elude the guards, steal the Secret Plans, and escape. Nothing we haven't seen a hundred times before, right? Well, no. This is, after all, a Zarf game. For starters, the game begins with the player outside a closed door in a grimy alley, with no means of opening the door. It's only after giving up and walking away that we find the real setting of the game: the player has been captured and is being interrogated. The player, it turns out, was a spy breaking into this facility. He, or possibly she--Zarf doesn't specify, and it's made quite clear that at least the captors' forces include both men and women; I'm going to refer to the protagonist as "he," since that's how I imagined the game--was captured. His captors have a memory-extraction McGuffin that allows them to see the scene through his eyes. The challenge of the first part of the game is to replay each scene in such a way that it matches the evidence found by your captors. It's an awful lot like the movie _Groundhog Day_ in that you do everything over and over until you get it right. Except that, after you're comfortable with that paradigm, about two thirds of the way through the game, there's a huge shift. You escape and are suddenly playing for real. And that's when you find out that there were certain things you lied to your interrogator about, and figuring out what you told him vs. what you really did becomes the major challenge of the game. The escaping puzzle has to be one of the best ever seen in IF. It's incredibly subtle, incredibly elegant, and extremely satisfying. But aside from that, finding out that you were an unwitting Unreliable Narrator is an amazing rhetorical gimmick, and works beautifully. It completely subverts what you thought you were doing; the first part of the game becomes _Groundhog Day_ except that you're repeating everything until you get it convincingly and consistently *wrong*. The remainder of the game, alas, falls a little short. Most of it concerns figuring out what you really *were* doing in the earlier part, and realizing how to use it to get into the Lab. Once there it's pretty obvious what you need to do to get enough time to operate, and what to do. However, at this point, it *is* pretty much a Cold War spy story, albeit an exciting one. The metaphysically neat parts of the game are behind you. One object, which you have to use twice, is the hardest part of the game, because it appears in no room descriptions, and unless you examine the walls or listen very carefully, there's no indication that such things exist. This is, in fact, precisely the point. They're ubiquitous and never noticed. Annoying, but it can hardly be said to be unfair. The mechanics and prose are, as in every Zarf game, excellent. The one fleshed-out NPC is convincingly drawn, and Zarf's choice to limit conversation with him to "yes" or "no" works well both in the context of the game and as a tool so that the amount of coding is kept to a minimum. The spy gadgets work intuitively and the interface seems very believable. And they're fun to play with. It's interesting and very refreshing to have an exciting spy story as the basic premise, and have no one get killed or even seriously hurt in the game's main action. The total body count is seven, plus or minus, unconscious guards, most of them simply stun-gunned, one poisoned with a temporary neurotoxin, and one interrogator with a bad headache. Plus whatever happens to the player's character. There are some nice incidental touches: words like "night-clumps," the twin moons seen in the sketch in the interrogator's office, the marvellously evocative phrase "dawn-tales." All of these give a feeling of a fleshed-out background world with a charmingly minimalist sketch. They also make the game feel like a sequel of sorts to "So Far"; if the world of "So Far" was late Victorian (well, the beginning world, where _Rito and Imita_ is playing), then this is near-future, maybe a century and a half down the road. The "web" of the title also plays a nice recurring role. "Scan-web" is apparently a metal-detecting metallic woven fiber. Indeed, maybe that's all it is: metal passing through it would set up an inductive current, which could then trigger an alarm somewhere. It's also used as some sort of conductive field-generating device in the lab, and, of course, the whole issue of the game is "Who's the spider, and who's the fly?" The interrogator is an interesting character. He's a thinking man with a hell of a job. Zarf says that he tried to create an NPC and ended up once again writing himself, but with a dirty job. That's possible. But I found he rang very true to the one intellectual career military man I know, who once described himself to me as "your basic liberal arts colonel." He's someone with an artistic side, and his art reveals a great deal about his personality. So do his bookshelves. I, alas, don't believe Zarf's explanations that I can see the contents of his shelves from the door--more on this later. The political setting of the game is interesting. This would have been an amazingly affecting game in 1986, the year of Trinity's release. It is set in a nasty Cold War, and the Device in the Lab is, as the interrogator points out, at least the equivalent of the Bomb in terms of destructive potential. These days, it's a nice spy thriller. Back when Balance of Power and Detente actually *meant* something, it would have been much more relevant. Half the fun of the game is figuring out what really happened. The basic plot (not the one you tell the interrogator) goes something like this: { Editor's comment: The final part of Adam's review contains an analysis of the game that goes to such detail that I felt I couldn't publish it here - it would simply give away too much for people who haven't completed the game. This was a difficult decision to make, since this analysis is in a way the most important part of the review. As a compromise solution (approved by the author, of course), I felt that publishing the first part of the review, while making the complete text available elsewhere, would still be worthwhile; the complete and uncensored review is available from Readers without WWW access may email me for a copy. } FTP FileInform file (.z5) FTP FileSolution (Text)


From: Duncan Stevens <dnrb SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #22 -- September 15, 2000 TITLE: Spiritwrak AUTHOR: Daniel Yu E-MAIL: dsyu SP@G DATE: 1996 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-machine interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 3 It's hard to discern what accounts for the enduring popularity of the games set in the Zork universe; that it was the first commercially available full-parser interactive fiction probably has something to do with it, but it's still remarkable that a game released in 1980 should still be inspiring sequels. For Daniel Yu's Spiritwrak is certainly a sequel--the magic system is suspiciously reminiscent of the Enchanter series, and the humor captures the Zork style. It's a well-crafted homage, sufficiently so that, if you liked the originals, you'll almost certainly enjoy this. The plot, in true Enchanter-series style, is save-the-world crossed with collect-the-objects: you have to retrieve the four pieces of an ancient rod to defeat an evil demon-type fellow. Just as typically, you don't set out into the world knowing where to look for the pieces; you just start solving puzzles and let things fall into place. The puzzles are unrelated to the plot, naturally; some of them are classic logic puzzles cribbed into the game (including a variant on the old some-statements-are-true-and-some-are-lies bit), and some are mechanical puzzles (the best of them is an elaborate seesaw), and others are just apply-the-clues or apply-the-magic. There's a twist in the plot toward the end, but it's not an especially remarkable one--partly because the plot has so little effect on what you do. Changes in the storyline barely affect how you tackle the game, after all, so the surprises don't impact gameplay. One nicely done touch, however, is the fragments of a manuscript that you find scattered through the game, some of which hint at the eventual direction of the plot, some of which just impart background information. The likely sequence of the fragments develops the story well, unfolding it bit by bit. For a largely irrelevant plot, in short, Spiritwrak develops it well. The game design doesn't fare so well. The layout is wide, in design parlance, meaning that, fairly early on, lots of puzzles open up, so there's lots to work on at any given moment--though not all the puzzles you're working on may be solvable at that time. Moreover, there's a transportation system that requires coins, and coins are a finite resource, so it's possible to simply run out if you spend a lot of time trekking around experimenting with puzzles. There are significantly more coins available than you need, of course, but they're not all available right away, and it's not at all unlikely that you'll have to go back to an earlier save position because of the coin problem. It's also just a nuisance to use the transportation system to travel between areas of the game. There are other problems as well--for instance, your inventory is limited, and while there's a rucksack-type object, you'll run out of inventory space long before you encounter that object. Several other puzzles involve mind-reading of one form or another, and one logic puzzle simply doesn't work (fortunately, there's a walkthrough on GMD). In most respects, the game is forgiving; it's difficult to render the game unwinnable without realizing it (other than wasting coins, of course). But it's also player-unfriendly in some ways that were somewhat more acceptable in 1996 than they are now. On the other hand, player-unfriendliness along those lines was fairly standard in the early '80s, and it's not only in that respect that Spiritwrak follows Infocom's example. Rather than a spell-casting system, you have a prayer book with prayers that you intone after first learning them--which almost precisely recalls the approach of the Enchanter trilogy, and the names of the prayers are suspiciously familiar. (Along with GNUSTO, FROTZ, and ESPNIS, lots of silly spells mentioned in the Enchanter trilogy--like FOBLUB (glue audience to seat) and TOSSIO (turn granite to pasta) are included.) The place names (Gurth City, Borphee, etc.) are taken from the Zork universe, and to some extent the same casual blending of fantasy-medieval and modern goes on (though the modern element has the upper hand here). Absurdist and fourth-wall humor abounds, occasionally in ways that recall Infocom--at one point, for example, you have to get past a guard by baking a cake--and there's even a self-referential Implementor appearance. Not all the jokes work, and the world-building is sometimes shaky--it's often obvious that a scene or character was patched in for the sake of a puzzle. But the whimsy and the gonzo humor are captured nicely, enough so that this works well as a nostalgia trip. Expect to spend plenty of time with Spiritwrak--it's long, many of the puzzles are difficult (and a few are just tedious), and the aforementioned game design problems may have you backtracking more than you'd like. If you didn't grow up enjoying the Zork and Enchanter universe, there's no reason to try Spiritwrak, really; it was a fair game in 1996, but the IF scene has changed considerably since then, and there are much better things out there. But the game does succeed more often than not in recreating the Infocom feel--usually, though not always, a good thing--and I'm confident it'll push the right buttons. FTP FileInform .z5 file FTP FilePuzzle hint guide FTP FileStep-by-step solution


From: Adam Myrow <amyrow SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #39 -- January 7, 2005 TITLE: Splashdown AUTHOR: Paul J. Furio EMAIL: pjf SP@G PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF-archive freeware URL: directory containing PDF documentation, walk-through, and game. This was not only one of many games involving space travel this year, it was one of at least 3 games in which you wake up from cryogenic sleep to find that a disaster has taken place, and you are the only one who can do something about it. Why this particular story line was so popular this year is a mystery, but this is the best of the games to explore this subject. The game gives credit to Steve Meretzky for inspiring the author, and the influence is pretty obvious. For example, you will find lots of broken machines which need fixing, there is a robotic companion who makes cute remarks and follows you around, and of course, your companion is necessary to solve some of the puzzles. Of course, if you have played Planetfall, this will sound rather familiar. Continuing in the Infocom tradition, this game has several humorous bits. The included PDF documentation is a side-splitting parody of a travel brochure and an even better spoof of a legal document. When I discovered the exact reason for the cause of the disaster, I was left laughing out loud. As for the story, you are one of several other colonists who are traveling to a distant planet known as Ayria Prime 6. The trip will take over 30 years, so, of course, you are all put in cryogenic sleep to await your destination. So far, so good. However, when you finally do reach the planet, the ship crashes into the ocean. The computer wakes you up, and you have to rescue the other colonists. Naturally, you start out with a very tight time limit, and some obstacles to overcome. Once you have gotten past the first major puzzle and bought yourself some time, the game opens up for more relaxed exploration and planning. While this game is clearly inspired by Infocom, it thankfully leaves out some of the more annoying features. There is no starvation puzzle, and no sleep timer. Of course, there is a light with a limited battery, but it's unlikely that it will be a problem. If the player should get stuck, there are InvisiClue-style hints to help out. They are even sprinkled with fake questions, just like Infocom's were. So, for fans of Infocom, this game will suit them well. However, I'd suggest that they wait to see if a second release comes out. While the first release is perfectly playable, there are a few grammar errors, and some parser trouble. It's not bad, but just not quite at the high standards that it is trying to pay tribute to. From: Carolyn Magruder <carolynmagruder SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #39 -- January 7, 2005 Score: 7 out of 10. This review includes an extraordinarily mild spoiler. If you want to avoid all chances whatsoever that you will see a spoiler, please leave this review or make sure that you stop reading at the [SPOILER ALERT] mark. [It is quite a mild spoiler, so I've left it in, along with the warning. --Paul] You awaken in a cryotube only to discover that there is a malfunction and your ship is in trouble. You have been selected randomly from the passengers on your sleeper ship to try to save the ship. (This is a seriously weird backup plan on the part of the ship's designers, but, oh well, I'll let it go.) Splashdown is a neat game. Its greatest strength is its setting, which carries a gritty sense of realism that I appreciate. I can see this place, with its puddles, its mist, its broken girders, and all the rest of it. The room descriptions show where to go in aft/forward/port/starboard notation, but it didn't actually insist on it -- it would still accept standard north/south/east/west instructions. I appreciated that, too, although I wound up writing out a paper map because it helped me with the layout. (I have trouble keeping directions to about more than six rooms at a time straight in my head, so this does not necessarily say very much. Your mileage will probably vary.) As well as having a neat setting, Splashdown had neat puzzles. The puzzles varied in difficulty, but every one made me say "Oh, I see, that made good sense" afterward, and none of them involved commands that were not straightforward and mimetic. Some puzzles required you to twist your brain intuitively (which I am less good at) and some required you to think logically through a pattern (which I am normally better at, but I have a few personal excuses that sum up why I hit the hints so fast, although I won't bore you by actually writing them down.) Both kinds were pretty good at rewarding you and making the puzzle matter. Those who particularly object to resource-rationed games should be aware that Splashdown has two rationing systems in play as the game begins. One involves the allocation of the power supply, and the other is a time limit. Both are logical for the game, and I did not object to either one. Between the two, however, I doubt that anyone will finish Splashdown on a first attempt without hitting the hints very heavily (or the walkthrough.) What else is interesting about Splashdown? As I play through a game with the purpose of reviewing it, I take short notes in a Notepad file, and I refer back to them when I write the review. My first note relates to a nice touch of foreboding in the opening sequence, and my second note reads, "That PDF file is bigger than the game itself! What on earth did he put in there, bricks?" So I opened up the PDF file, and then added to the second note, "No, he put in a pretty cool intro and briefing. That's a lot of work for a game that won't be longer than 2 hours. I approve." And I do approve, and a lot of work was plainly put into the PDF file (although the cover page could use some smoother, straighter lines on the ship-- the art didn't seem to match the flavor of the game's actual setting to me. This is such a minute whine that the author has every right to whine about me including that whine.) You can play the game just fine without the PDF, though, which is nice. In an odd way, Splashdown reminds me of the Fox cartoon Animaniacs. Animaniacs mixes a strong dose of kid humor with a whole lot of grown-up easter eggs, and the result is something that you can enjoy at quite a few levels of knowledge. Similarly, I could enjoy Splashdown without understanding the easter eggs and in-jokes that are constantly spewed forth by the game's sidekick, Spider the maintenance robot. As it happens, I am familiar with most of the in-jokes... and I hated him anyway. Aside from Spider, Splashdown is a beautifully crafted sci-fi piece with an intense, serious tone. Spider's casual lingo and constant in-joke commentary is seriously detrimental to this valuable tone. He feels like he was written for another game entirely, a comic parody of the genre, and then the author adapted him for Splashdown at the last minute. I'm sure that isn't what happened, as the author has shown a great deal of insight and care in all other aspects of the game, but hearing repetitive references to Planetfall every 20 moves or so left me ready to scream. In his capacity as an information-producer and puzzle-solving system, he is super. In his capacity as comic relief, I wish the game hadn't included any comic relief! (Your mileage may vary.) There is one more thing I want to touch on, which relates to the subject of easter eggs and in-joke humor. I thought about getting out of this review without it, but it did affect my enjoyment of the game. [SPOILER ALERT] I hit the hints bright and early, as I've mentioned above. One hint begins, "Is a colonist missing?" When I spotted that heading, all my mental bells and whistles went off -- "Ooh! Sabotage! This is going to be so neat!" When I got farther and farther and farther without learning more about the missing colonist, I finally looked, and seeing that it was only an easter egg was pretty disappointing. It was perhaps an appropriate punishment for checking the hints so fast, but I felt like I'd been promised something by the game that I never received. This wasn't fair. Almost everything else about the game was, though, so that makes up for it. Right? Right. FTP FileDirectory with .z5 Zcode file, readme, walkthrough, and PDF feelie FTP FileMap in .gif format

A Spot of Bother

From: Valentine Kopteltsev <uux SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #46 -- October 17, 2006 Title: A Spot Of Bother Author: David Whyld E-mail: dwhyld SP@G Date: December 24, 2005 Parser: ADRIFT Supports: ADRIFT interpreters Availability: Freeware URL: Version: 4.0 In the former Soviet Union, a corny phrase was very popular -- "a city of contrasts". Journalists loved to use it in their feature articles about various towns of Western Europe and the USA, setting off the lustre of the city centres and villa districts against the misery of the slummy outskirts, letting the readers make their own conclusions about the reasons for such an inequality. Since then, this cliche has somewhat fallen into disuse, at least in Russia -- I suspect to a no small degree because our own towns developed pretty much in the same direction. However, as I played A Spot Of Bother, I couldn't help myself thinking of it again; if I had to describe the game using a single word, I'd choose "uneven". The undoubtedly most brilliant part of the game are its characters. The exaggeratedly tough PC, Stavros McGrogan aka The Bulldog, the eccentric Mrs. Moog he needs to rescue, her no less extravagant, albeit in a different manner, husband, and the mean Sergeant Twiddles, Bulldog's immediate superior, who isn't even a real character in the game, and only appears in cut-scenes -- all of them are depicted with great care and love, and made me smile more than once. I'm not getting in much more detail now, but it's not because the characters don't deserve it -- I just don't want to spoil the fun for other players. We fairly often talk about puzzle-oriented IF and plot-oriented IF; in my opinion, A Spot Of Bother doesn't fall in any of these categories. I'd rather call it a character-driven game, and I think it's quite unique in its way. Now, please don't start showering me with insufficient IF-literacy accusations (although they probably are condign). I know there are enough games built around characters out there (the most widely-known examples probably are Emily Short's Galatea, and Best Of Three), but they all (or, at least the ones I have encountered) are more or less experimental works exploring character interaction, without any real plot or setting. It's entirely different with ASoB: in respect to layout, it's a fairly traditional text adventure, but all the nominally present game elements seem to serve but one purpose -- grotesquely setting off the PC's and NPC's personalities. The plot, for instance, is in itself a quite standard save-the-world business: the old lady who's the head of the British Nuclear Research Facility, Mrs. Moog, has fainted in her cottage, and you have to get her out, because a nuclear reactor is going to explode, and she's the only person competent enough to shut it down. However, this story is just ideally suited to comically emphasize the PC's toughness, and Mrs. Moogs nuttiness. The effect is supported by luminous writing; a few "glosses" could send a reader less phlegmathic than the author of this review down to the floor cringing with laughter. All this, as well as the understanding of the secondary role of the plot, helps not to pay any attention to a few stretching points. But now we get to the "slummy outskirts" or, to be more precise, the "poor relatives" of the game -- the puzzles. They also are here mostly in order to accentuate what an oddball Mrs. Moog is (according to the game story, she's paranoid about security, and has set up several quite fiendish traps against burglars in her house; the puzzles as such consist in overcoming these traps). However, making the puzzles weird enough to fit with Mrs. Moog's eccentric nature, yet fun to solve for a much less eccentric average player at the same time seemed to be a task the author wasn't entirely up to. Thus, the player has to do enough reading the author's (or Mrs. Moog's?) mind, be very pedantical about examining each and every item in each and every room in order not to miss something crucial, and formulate her/his commands very carefully. One example illustrating the remark about command wording (not adopted from the game): imagine you get to a room whose description goes like this: Foothills Here, the doleful monotonity of the planes gives way to rocky terrain. The latter is doubtlessly much more picturesque; unfortunately, it also makes your further progress to the south impossible -- at least if you don't employ the shaggy, stocky skewbald pony grazing nearby as a transport facility. > SOUTH You can't pass there afoot. > GET ON PONY You can't get on the pony. > CLIMB PONY You can't climb the pony. > CLIMB ON PONY You can't climb the pony. > RIDE PONY No, I don't understand that. Try something else. > EMPLOY PONY No, I don't understand that. Try something else. > CLAMBER ON PONY What a lucky guess!, you think to yourself, as you climb onto the pony, and make yourself ready to continue your way to the south. Of course, A Spot Of Bother features built-in hints, but they aren't completely thorough, and don't give away the final solution. Thus, although one can't deny they are a great help in overcoming the "read the author's mind" and "examine everything" issues, they're still pretty ineffective against the too strict phrasing requirements. Whatever, after a long but unsuccessful fight with the prototype of my pony example, I resorted to a walkthrough I dug up in the Internet for the rest of the game, and never regretted doing so afterwards. Finally, there are a few things that anything but adorn a game with such ambitions. I mean minor glitches -- room descriptions unaware of state changes they should be sensitive to, items mentioned in the descriptions yet inaccessible for manipulations, that kind of things. There are a bit too many of them, especially considering this is the fourth release of the game. For instance, there is an official cheat (!) for one of the puzzles, because the appropriate section of the game sometimes doesn't work as it should for uncertain reasons. To be fair, I think the problem lies not on the part of the game itself but on the part of the interpreter, although it doesn't really matter from the player's point of view. To put it short, I think you're going to have a great time in the company of The Bulldog, Mrs. Moog, and Sergeant Twiddles. Just don't fix on the puzzles too much. SNATS (Score Not Affecting The Scoreboard): PLOT: Grunt (meaning "ideal for setting off the characters' personalities") (1.1) ATMOSPHERE: Grunt (one of the game's main attractions) (1.7) WRITING: Grunt (cool) (1.7) GAMEPLAY: Grunt (well, uneven) (1.0) BONUSES: Grunt (the troupe) (1.1) TOTAL: 6.6 CHARACTERS: Grunt (they're what this game exists for) (1.9) PUZZLES: Frown (I've seen better) (1.0) DIFFICULTY: Grunt (pretty easy -- once you use a walkthrough;) (7 out of 10) ADRIFT game file


From: Christopher E. Forman <ceforman SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #9 -- June 11, 1996 NAME: Spur GAMEPLAY: Quirky but not frustrating AUTHOR: Kent Tessman PLOT: Unfolds nicely EMAIL: by723 SP@G ATMOSPHERE: Good AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF Archive WRITING: Good PUZZLES: Logical but not obvious SUPPORTS: Hugo ports (DOS, Amiga, Linux) CHARACTERS: Fairly convincing DIFFICULTY: Medium Considering the potential for atmosphere and adventure puzzles with a western theme, it's something of a surprise to me that Infocom never did a game in this particular genre, not to mention the fact that there is so little I-F in general set in the Old West. Kudos are due Kent Tessman, who has found a relatively unexplored niche in the world of I-F in which to place "Spur." The game is full of atmosphere and serves as a good showcase of the Hugo language's capabilities. Since no one has yet done a review of a Hugo game (since there are so few to begin with), I suppose I should analyze the parser and overall user- friendliness of the system before examining the game itself. Relative to the most popular development systems out there, Hugo's parser is far superior to AGT's standard, but a number of strange quirks keep it from matching Inform and TADS for ease of use. For instance, a number of common phrases aren't understood -- "OPEN DOOR WITH KEY" as opposed to "UNLOCK DOOR WITH KEY" is one that comes to mind. To ride a horse, you must first "GET ON THE HORSE" and then "RIDE" in the desired direction ("RIDE HORSE" won't get you on the horse in the first place). "KILLing" and "SHOOTing" someone are two completely different actions. Also, I found one that was quite (unintentionally) amusing: >steal the axe You'll have to buy the pick-axe first. ("STEAL" seems to be a synonym for "TAKE" in this case.) Much of the scenery can't be examined either. Don't get me wrong, most major objects such as a billiards table are present, but tables, chairs, and even Grady's bar aren't even recognized. I'm not trying to be overly harsh here; I merely want to give players a basic feel for how the parser handles, and Hugo handles quite well overall, with most of the standard "ease-of-use" features ("UNDO," "OOPS," command recall, etc.) implemented. If a particular syntax doesn't work, it usually takes little experimentation to find another common one that does. Rarely is there a need to guess a particular phrase, and if the need seems to arise, it's more than likely that you're on the wrong track, so it's not too terribly frustrating. To perhaps put it more tangibly: I usually score the AGT parser around 0.7 (with a couple of exceptions), and both the TADS and Inform parsers around 1.5 or 1.6 on average. By this standard, Hugo would come in at 1.3 or so. (This is Hugo 2.0, BTW. As no games have yet been released with 2.1, I can't offer comment.) The action begins immediately, with the player thrust into the middle of a gunfight, and doesn't let up. The outset is fast-paced, pushing the player along, but it doesn't force the sort of do-or-die time limit where you're dead if you don't do everything exactly right (such as the opening to "Demon's Tomb" or the endgame of "Christminster"). Some events are timed, but sufficient warning is provided. "Spur" has a pleasant western atmosphere to it, with appropriate situations and puzzles, and some intentional anachronisms tacked on for humor. Those more familiar with the western genre (and I for one am not) will no doubt spot some minor cliches but I found nothing so obvious as to make me cringe. The game is linear overall, and it's sometimes easy to overlook things. Quite a few problems rely on the other characters and can't be solved unless you gain the right information from the right person (much like "The Path to Fortune"). Reading the sample commands in the online help will give you some nudges if you're stuck in the early stages. What's interesting here is the fact that the Hugo engine prevents you from asking characters about something if you haven't actually seen it. This adds a degree of realism, but has the side effect of being a pain on subsequent playthroughs. It's a trade-off. The characters in "Spur" are quite nicely done, many of them with reasonable mobility and most of them fairly responsive. The fact that they're observing your behavior as well lends to the realism. Grady the bartender has a superstitious streak, but you can't trick him by giving him a fake charm if you create it while he's watching you. Little Jimmy whines incessantly if you steal his taffy. Old Dan, the town drunk, wanders about on his own personal quest for liquor. Sheriff Argyle is a constant threat until you can escape town. Your own character is not the typical John Wayne western hero. The story reveals that you're not a very good shot at all, and most other characters don't have a very high opinion of you. It's also necessary to do some rather unkind things in order to complete the story. (The scoring system reflects this by summarizing your exploits rather than using a point tally, and the effect is pleasing.) Although "Spur" is not a long game, it's a detailed one. You're more or less free to do what you choose, with few messages to the effect that "violence isn't the answer." Killing off other characters, though fatal, is a perfectly valid move (shooting Sarah's horse was particularly fun -- gawd I'm sick!). "Spur" is a fairly unique work of I-F, and a fine example of what the Hugo language can do. I'm looking forward to more games from Kent Tessman in the well as more Hugo games. FTP FileHugo File (.hex) FTP FileHugo Source (.zip)

Square Circle

From: Carolyn Magruder <carolynmagruder SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #39 -- January 7, 2005 TITLE: Square Circle AUTHOR: Eric Eve EMAIL: eric.eve SP@G DATE: October 2004 PARSER: TADS3 SUPPORTS: TADS3 interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: VERSION: 1.0 (competition release) Score: 8 out of 10. "Square Circle" is a detailed, interesting game with a cunningly designed plot. Playing it without assistance from the walkthrough would be a task of several days due to the length of the plot and the difficulty of some of the puzzles (for me, at least; your mileage may vary.) The image of the world that it puts forward is both satirical and chilling. As the game begins, you awaken in a cell with instructions that inform you that you will only be released from prison if you successfully create a "square circle." Although "main character has amnesia" premises are becoming quite time-worn, this game handled it with elegant flair, and I was caught properly flatfooted by revelations related to the amnesia (though I suspect that speaks more to my lack of proper attention than to the game itself.) That having been said, I should admit that I relied heavily upon the walkthrough all the way through, which I blame partially upon myself but partially upon the author. I try not to spoil things in reviews, so I will be as vague as possible. There was a puzzle in the very first room that I did not get... and the HINT command completely failed to recognize it as a puzzle. This seems unfair; I gained points after I completed it, so I should have been able to get a hint for it. (It wasn't quite "guess the verb", but I took something for granted that the system did not take for granted, and confusion ensued.) I stopped using the walkthrough after a bit, and, lacking its advice and support, I then did something that I thought was a correct course of action. After a great deal of frustration, I returned to the walkthrough, and that is when I discovered it is possible to do something that puts the game into an unwinnable state without warning. As far as I could tell, I was stuck at that point until I starved to death. I didn't look forward to starvation. (There may have been a way out even then -- the author of this piece was obviously more cunning than I was. I didn't spend too much time looking for it, though.) Two puzzles seemed telepathic to me -- one was a "guess the verb" situation, while another required me to abandon the grammar I expected to need in favor of another grammar structure. (Something like "(verb) X on Y with Z at A" seemed like the most logical grammar to me, and what the game wanted was "(verb) X at A". I really needed the game to give me more information there.) One puzzle in a later sequence seemed transplanted from another game idea entirely, and it did not seem to fit with the "feel" of the game world to me. Aside from those objections, all of the puzzles seemed both fair and intelligent. Many of the puzzles apparently had multiple solutions, which impressed me appropriately. In a similar vein, it was apparently possible to end the game in more than one way, which I appreciated. Guess-the-verb and trouble with the hint system aside, I liked the interface a great deal. This game went out of its way to be as helpful as possible to the player. Among other commendable features, you could mouse-click your way through the help system, through exits from the room, and through footnotes. I'm not sure how much of the system was inherent to TADS 3 and how much was written by the author, but it was quite nice. The conversation system was both quite powerful and quite subtle. When I was conversing with the NPCs, the game provided me with the exact syntax I needed to do the things I already wanted to do without beating me violently about the head and shoulders with it. Serious kudos. Although the NPCs and the setting were quite interesting, there were a few peculiar flaws in the game world. Considering the game world in question, I really couldn't understand why one specific NPC hadn't been taken out and shot long ago, especially considering his proximity to an area where he would be particularly unwelcome. (I hope that was both vague enough to avoid spoilers and precise enough to make sense!) Another major figure in the game world also had an inappropriate name... to wit, "Dunderhead". I could see the name as a placeholder until the author gave him a real one, but having this jokey name in such a serious game was very jarring. Yes, the situation had elements of satire, but that pushed me past my limit in the issue. Maybe others won't react that way. I can't be sure. Despite excellent writing and a chilling world view, there was something about the game world that I found quite dry. I could certainly picture the areas described in the various rooms, but that was in large part because they were so generic in their description and flavor. (You've seen one forest, you've seen them all?) On the flip side, I have the feeling that many of the areas were *supposed* to feel dry and generic, and there were often some remarkably subtle shifts in scene and situation (for example, an area that changed its room description depending upon whether or not I was wearing something specific.) I'm torn between whether or not the generic nature of the area was intentional. It lessened my enjoyment, but it enhanced the message of the game. Hrmph. One last issue: I was disappointed to have the PC remain such an enigma. I wanted to know what he actually looked like -- "you look much as you always did" was a serious disappointment. I understood his political motivations by the end, and that was good, but I wanted to set those motivations aside and learn some more about the PC as a person. The hints of emotion were wonderful, but I wanted more! FTP FileDirectory with .t3 TADS3 file and walkthrough


From: Stephen Granade <sgranade SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #1 -- May 15, 1994 NAME: Starcross PARSER: Early Infocom AUTHOR: Infocom PLOT: Excellent EMAIL: ??? ATMOSPHERE: - AVAILABILITY: LTOI 1 WRITING: Excellent PUZZLES: See Difficulty SUPPORTS: Infocom Ports CHARACTERS: Somewhat Weak DIFFICULTY: Logical yet challenging In Starcross you play a black-hole miner who is captured by a drifting alien vessel. You must enter the hulking ship and, once inside, figure it out in order to get home. The game, written in 1982, was one of Infocom's early efforts; its parser lacks some of the nicer features incorporated later (I kept wanting to type 'g' for 'again'). The writing was very well done. It presented the alien artifacts without making them too bizarre or cryptic. The plot allowed for plenty of exploration, yet kept things moving towards the final goal. The game's main weakness is its NPC's. Your ship's computer is mildly amusing, and the leader of a band of lizards reacts nicely to you; however, the other NPCs are not as well fleshed-out. My wildcard points went to the puzzles. They are some of the most logically-presented yet challenging I have ever worked on. The raygun puzzle and the force-bubble puzzle are two of my personal favorites. It is an excellent puzzle-oriented adventure, one of the first "explore an alien setting" games. Starcross is available in Activision's Lost Treasures of Infocom package. This repackaging has leeched much of the character from the original. I found the hint book structure to be particularly annoying. Starcross is rather difficult and requires a lot of logical thought and experimentation to solve. It ranks with some of the best interactive fiction games I have played. FTP FileSolution (Text)


From: C.E. Forman <ceforman SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #10 -- February 4, 1997 NAME: Stargazer AUTHOR: Jonathan Fry EMAIL: jfry SP@G DATE: October 1996 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Inform Ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF Archive URL: VERSION: Version 1.0 The author admits that this is a prologue for a much longer game, and as that it succeeds perfectly, with easy puzzles to set up Ali for his quest, and a limited area to explore at the outset. The layout (a village with townspeople to interact with) reminded me of my own "Path to Fortune." Some clever, obscure name references, if you can find them (Keraptis, for instance, is the name of a winged beast from the "Pirates of Dark Water" cartoon serial of a few years back). All in all, though, it's pretty standard fantasy stuff, remaining relatively enjoyable without breaking any new ground (or trying to, for that matter). But given the current opinions toward D&D-based fantasy I-F, perhaps it's for the best that the game in its entirety was never finished. FTP FileDirectory With Inform .z5 File and walkthrough


From: Graeme Cree <72630.304 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #5 -- April 19, 1995 NAME: Stationfall GAMEPLAY: Infocom Standard AUTHOR: Steve Eric Meretzky PLOT: Detailed & developed EMAIL: ? ATMOSPHERE: Excellent AVAILABILITY: LTOI 1 WRITING: Excellent PUZZLES: Very Good SUPPORTS: Infocom Ports CHARACTERS: Very Good DIFFICULTY: Above Average The sequel to Planetfall, Stationfall takes place 5 years later. Sent in a shuttle on a routine bureaucratic errand to a local space station, you arrive to find the station deserted, a strange alien space ship in one of the docking bays, and mechanical devices behaving erratically. You must discover what happened to the crew, and deal with the unknown threat before your limited supplies run out. Generally, the problem with sequels is that they are either a boring rehash of the original, or they are so completely different that they are sequels in name only. Stationfall strikes a marvelous balance between these two extremes, and provides a quintessential example of what a sequel ought to be. The old happy-go-lucky Stellar Patrol charm is still there, but it only partially covers a new and more somber tone. Whereas in Planetfall, we see only empty buildings to show us that something is wrong, in Stationfall more grim clues show through the cracks: bloody notes; log entries that break off in mid sentence; common household appliances that may blow up in your face, and strange sounds coming from the sealed off lower decks. Where in Planetfall, we are able to undo virtually all of the damage in the end, in Stationfall all of the laughs can't change the feeling that somehow things won't work out so neatly this time, nor do they. The characters are few, but well developed, and disturbingly not always what you would expect. The puzzles go beyond the normal Infocom style at points. Deciphering ability will solve one, a trip to the dictionary may help with another. A few are quite obscure, but generally even these have some clue, generally in the form of a piece of guesswork made by the former occupants. The plot is extremely well detailed, and pieces of it are hidden all over the station. Some of the puzzles are almost as good as those in Starcross, but rather than being isolated, they all contribute to supplying a piece of the story. All in all, Stationfall is an outstanding blending of humour and suspense; puzzles and story. FTP FileSolution (Text)

Sting Of The Wasp

From: Jess Knoch <jessicaknoch SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #39 -- January 7, 2005 TITLE: Sting of the Wasp AUTHOR: Jason Devlin EMAIL: jdevlin1984 SP@G DATE: 2004 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: VERSION: 1 Overall: Me gusta mucho. A lot of fun to play, good characterization, great story, with room for improvement in certain areas. I think "Sting of the Wasp" (hereafter SotW) is the only "Interactive Damage Control" that I've played. It certainly seemed like an unusual premise: you've been caught in a compromising position, and someone took a picture. You've got to find out who and destroy the evidence before anyone has a chance to tell your husband. The game begins with a warning about the strong language and sexual references. I am almost universally in favor of these types of warnings, and I much appreciate being told about things like that ahead of time. The warning also says "Despite the first scene, this is not a pornographic game." That originally gave me a good deal of pause, but I decided to try it out anyway. It turns out to be mostly true: the game is not pornographic, but the first scene *is* -- or at least it's rated R. But none of that part is interactive, so those who are uncomfortable with such things can close their eyes until that first room description rolls around. The player character, Julia, is not the nicest person in the world -- we know from the first scene that she's having an affair -- but her personality is very distinct, and it is shown very well throughout the game. This description of her clothes says an awful lot about her: >x clothes Nothing but the best for you. Pumps from Prada, skirt by Yves Saint Laurent, a gorgeous silk blouse from the much-coveted Vera Wang collection which is currently hanging about your shoulders, exposing your three thousand dollar chest. The setting is the country club that the PC and her husband belong to. There are suspects everywhere -- apparently none of these people particularly care for the PC. Everyone is competing for status, snidely putting the PC down and trying to make each other look bad. Interaction with the NPCs is pretty thorough -- they even react (usually by making catty comments) to weird things you do as the PC, like search the bushes, or try to walk east when there is no exit that way. It's too bad the game doesn't recognize "talk to ", because that seems very intuitive and makes sense, especially given the special note in the help menu -- "talk to about " *is* implemented. The hint menu has an attitude, which I like. The first hint I saw was an excellent one, which really gave me an idea of what I needed to do without making me feel like I had been told what to do. Unfortunately, not all of the hints were quite that helpful. For instance, a simple "Have you talked to Rodrigo" (names have been changed) doesn't do me much good if I don't remember who Rodrigo is, or know where he can be found. A different hint might tell me he's on the polo field (places have been changed), but if the only reference to the polo field I can find is a location titled "Outside Stable (next to the Polo Field)" with no mention of how to get there, then I'm still kind of lost. Especially since the game is pretty consistent about listing the exits in all the other rooms. Speaking of listing the exits... that brings me to the part of the review where I talk about the stuff that doesn't work so well in the game. There's one location that just flat-out lists the directions to other rooms wrong. It wasn't too hard to figure out, though. Worse was trying to figure out what to do when all of the hints said "don't continue until you've..." and I didn't qualify for any of them. A few misleading responses threw me off, like when I tried to take an object that I thought would come in handy (and indeed, was required to solve a certain puzzle): it said nah, let take care of that. I didn't know I had to search for it before I could take it. I had just assumed if it was there that I would find it. I had a few troubles finding the syntax required for certain actions, but eventually (with the help of the hints) I made my way through the puzzles. And oh, what fun puzzles they were! If I have a choice between knowing what needs to be done but struggling with the syntax, and wandering around trying to figure out what I'm supposed to be doing, I'll take the former every day of the week. Still, I ran into trouble again when I needed to use the phone and the hints said "See 'Xavier won't let me use the phone!'", but I couldn't find any such hint. I thought I was in an unwinnable state, having missed my opportunity to use the phone, but it turned out I was wrong. The game was pretty forgiving, right up until the endgame, and I had plenty of warning that it wasn't going to be forgiving. I'm not sure how many times it would have taken me to solve that on my own, but I had the hints, and that took care of it nicely. But what about the story? you ask. It wasn't just all running around solving puzzles, giving x to y and unlock doors, was it? Well, maybe, but it didn't feel like that because of the characters. You see, in order to get what she wants, Julia (the PC) has to find out some secrets of the other people at the country club and exploit them. The parts that I started guessing ahead of time (like the two people I suspected were "an item") were very satisfying to confirm! Then I suspected that someone else was after someone else -- the whole thing was a cross between a soap opera, a detective story, and some type of show where you're the criminal and you have to cover your tracks. I can't think of what that would be. Anyways, I liked it. Oh, and SotW doesn't get full marks for writing/story because of some punctuation issues. Not a big deal, just something to clean up. I did give it full marks for entertainment/puzzles, because it was just that much fun to play through and figure out. Extra-fun, in fact. FTP FileDirectory with .z5 Zcode file and walkthrough

Stone Cell

From: Duncan Stevens <dns361 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #19 -- January 14, 2000 TITLE: Stone Cell AUTHOR: Stephen Kodat E-MAIL: skodat SP@G DATE: 1999 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 1 Stone Cell is one of the most uneven works of IF imaginable. The game's world is complete and thoroughly rendered--yet many of the most important details either are inaccessible or require information-gathering techniques that I never ran across. Some of the puzzles are clever, but most are also so poorly clued that there is no way to solve them other than looking at the walkthrough. And bits of the writing are colorful and vivid, but long stretches are ludicrously turgid and overwritten. The overall impression is a game with potential for a terrific story, let down by poor game design. It appears you're a young girl, in a medieval village, who has appeared at church improperly attired and is facing imprisonment as a consequence--excessive, it seems, though the game never puts the excess in any sort of context. Beyond that, you understand very little at the outset: the game elects not to explain anything about the setting. This is actually an interesting way to immerse the player in the story, in that the action starts right away without explaining who or where you are, and leaves you to piece together the salient details. Realism suffers somewhat (i.e., when your character asks other people about her own basic biographical information), but not excessively so. And there are lots and lots of things to figure out--the game name-drops left and right, and you accumulate unexplained references much faster than you can ask people about them. The game fairly drips with information: virtually no scenery is left unimplemented, for one thing, and there are lots of doors that you simply cannot get through. The effect is that the game's world seems much larger than it is--you have the sense that you have seen only a small portion of it by the end of the game--which is certainly a nice touch. Unfortunately, the masses of detail available mean that it's easy to fail to discover something important, or to lose an important name in the shuffle--and even at the end of the game, I could not discern how I should have learned a few key bits of information. The author has taken care to make the world of the game complete, but it ends up being almost too detailed, with too many names to keep straight. Still, an excess of detail is arguably more interesting than an underdescribed game, and Stone Cell certainly does put together an interesting setting. Sadly, the puzzle-solving spoils the fun of the setting, by and large, by requiring mental telepathy on a grand scale. Particularly egregious in that regard is the dungeon cell of the title, which the author splits into nine parts, each with a one-line description--and a certain key object is hidden entirely, without even an oblique reference in the description that might lead to it. This is the most peculiar design choice in a game filled with such peculiar choices--the author's powers of description appear to be up to the task of rendering each portion of the cell vividly enough that the scene wouldn't be boring or repetitious. Indeed, it becomes apparent that there are quite a few things worth noticing scattered around the cell, and why the author chose to shortchange the descriptions is unclear. That poses one artificial barrier to solving puzzles, but there are others--you are supposed to sense, somehow, that you can signal a certain person a certain way from a certain spot in the cell, and how you know this remains a mystery to me. There is a measure of logic to most of the puzzles, but usually it's the sort of logic that is apparent only in retrospect--a player is unlikely to hit on most of the solutions other than by blind guess. (Particularly so in the case of the guardians that are distracted by a certain object; it is not apparent why those guardians react the way they do--or in the case of the solution that requires an adversary to be almost unfathomably stupid.) The unfairness of the puzzles detracts considerably from the effectiveness of the story, since most players will wind up relying heavily on the walkthrough. (A few of the puzzles, particularly the one where you open the door of your cell, are rather ingenious, though.) The writing occasionally works and more often is ridiculously overdone, as in the following passage when you emerge from your cell: During your time underground, time has passed as if you were here to witness it; the world has fallen into the drowse of deep night, without the least concern for your whereabouts. At this moment, a realization holds you captive: all shall continue as it always has, long after you have expired and returned to the loam. Or this, from the initial description of your cell: This is a sepulcher for the living. You are ensconced in the tomb where you shall surely perish, with no one to anoint your body, no one to assuage your throes, no one to hear your final lament. The grammar here is fine, and there aren't really all that many unneeded adjectives and adverbs, but the cliche and melodrama levels are painfully high--it really isn't necessary to hand-wring about the awfulness of your prison cell, or exclaim over your sudden discovery that the world goes on without you. The author here can put sentences together, clearly, but knowing when to stop is a problem. Some of the descriptions that aren't supposed to be fraught with melodrama are acceptable: >examine beams Hewn from trees felled on the surrounding hillsides. You used to run wild through those trees, on those rare days you'd complete your chores before nightfall. Nothing special, but it sets a scene and doesn't call attention to the writer unnecessarily. Stone Cell is a little too quick to ascribe emotions to the PC, and to maunder on about those emotions; the more restrained scene that leave the player to make inferences about the PC's feelings work much better. The other problem with the writing is that, in many cases, there's simply too much of it--some descriptions go on for more than 200 words, much more than necessary. Conciseness is a virtue in IF writing, and there's not a lot of it here. The story itself is uneven, in the end--the story ends up being about the feudal lord's family as much as yours, though the introduction made it seem like the focus would be injustice, as visited upon those in small communities who transgress in minor but symbolic ways. It isn't apparent at the outset that you should care about the details of the lord's family, in other words, and the game never really signals that the PC does care about said family. The author seems to have been so eager to develop the various narrative threads that he never got around to making any of them work as a story--why do you care about the internal politics of the castle (as you seem to), when you're a twelve- year-old? Depending on how you approach it, the failure here is either an incoherently written PC (who's a lot more worldly than she appears), or a backstory that didn't fill out the necessary details as it should have. Stone Cell is an interesting mess, in short--there's a whole lot of story running around with very little to tie it together, and the shape of the game is unfortunately provided by several badly done puzzles. There are clearly good intentions at work, though, and the setting was intriguing enough that I ended up giving the game a 7 in this year's competition. FTP FileDirectory with TADS .gam file and walkthrough


From: Stas Starkov <stas_ SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #28 --March 20, 2002 NAME: Stranded AUTHOR: Jim Bayers EMAIL: bayers SP@G DATE: 2001 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (GNU General Public License Version 2) URL: VERSION: 1.0 What would you say if you saw a room description like this: Main Street This is Odduck's main street which is also Highway 13. Huge elms grow to each side, their leaves casting mottled shade on the pavement. It's safe to cross as there are few cars. Set in the center of the street is a manhole cover. From here, Main Street stretches east and west. To your north is the Odduck Diner, home of world famous jerked chicken. South of you is a park filled with trees. What was your first thought after reading the paragraph above? Let me guess -- you thought, "The author can't write at all". Yes, it's obvious that the writing is icky, that the sentences are put in the wrong order, that the sentences themselves are very short and unamusing, that ... but that's enough. And what would you say if you saw a whole game consisting of such passages? I can imagine your answer being short -- a four-letter word. :-) But I haven't told you all the truth. Those stylistic lapses were done deliberately! Why do I think so? Hmmm... Because it looks _too_ babyish, _too_ art brut, _too_ simple-hearted. But: "Stranded is an interactive game for educational use," the game author says. (Have you noticed the absence of the word "fiction"?) And believe me, he doesn't lie -- the game was _intended_ for a young, very young player. But the mere intention is not enough to make a good game, I think. I don't know much about nurturing children, but when I was a child, I read well-written books; they were true literature by true authors. And I've never read a book written by a child for children, but I'm aware that there can be other approaches to literature for children. Apparently, the author of "Stranded" took one of those other approaches. I think, during game creation, he was under the impression a child's book should express itself in baby-like language. Was he right? Do children enjoy the same lowbrow language that they talk themselves? Maybe -- I can't judge: I'm neither a child, nor a schoolmaster. Nevertheless, I can't disregard the game's language, because it's _me_ who has to express my opinion of it (and the game in general), and it's _you_ who have to make a decision whether to play the game, or not, on the basis of that opinion. However, it's not as easy as you probably think. The game also contains graphics, which look as if made by a child. The pictures were not drawn by hand and then scanned -- rather, they were created with the aid of a vector graphic editor ("CorelDraw", I suspect). They are not ugly, but they are _intended_ to look like a kid's work: unrealistic perspectives, askew lines, flat two-dimensional depictions of 3D-objects. But wait -- there is a style of art that uses this very approach. It is called "primitivism". The disciples of the style think that art must be uncomplicated and jolly. Primitivism is mainly a pictorial art, but when I look at the writing of the game I notice it's primitivistic, as well. Thus, "Stranded" is a work of primitivism. See -- the game is a work of art! But not everybody is ready to enjoy that art style. I wasn't, for instance -- to me, the writing seemed just ... umm ... not good. But I'm sure somebody will like the style, at least because it's so unusual. But let's go into further detail of the game. As I said, "Stranded" is intended for novice players, so there are not many puzzles or other challenges. The game is quite straightforward and easy: your protagonist -- a young pupil -- missed a bus in a small town called Odduck. Now he/she wants to leave the town to go home, or get back on his/her bus. And to do that, he/she needs money for a ticket. In such a situation, the only possibility is ... to find a job. To be more specific, he/she runs errands. All the errands are easy, and not very interesting. From a hardcore IF-player's point of view, the game's dialogue system is not done very well. It's menu-based, so you can choose one of its options at a time, but it also lets the player have the same dialogue again and again and again. Well, the usual graphic adventure features exactly this type of dialogue system, and children might find it more convenient; but again, I'm not a child, so I didn't like it. Some of the puzzles are purely educational, some didactic. That's good for a young player. The number of locations in the game is quite large, but the locations can be accessed easily and they look ... uhm ... bright. And the whole game is lighthearted. The town the PC gets stuck in is a big, sunny, and almost trouble-free place, inhabited exclusively by kind people. The town residents, who are speaking a funny vernacular, lead a peaceful, happy life. But the PC needs to get home. Like in real life. Unfortunately, I've found a bug in the game; it wasn't terrible, but it let me win the game without solving all the puzzles. I sent a note to the game author saying about the bug, and he promised that it will be fixed in a next version. Let me sum it up: "Stranded" is a short cushy game either for young novice players or for somebody who feels nostalgic about innocent childhood. Hardcore IF players probably will find the game weak. FTP FilePC Executable FTP FileTADS .gam file

A Sugared Pill

From: Greg Boettcher <greg SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #43 -- January 7, 2006 TITLE: A Sugared Pill AUTHOR: Colin Borland EMAIL: colin SP@G DATE: December 30, 2005 PARSER: TADS 2 SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware; Author's site or IF Archive URL: VERSION: 1.0 Although A Sugared Pill has a few flaws, its story and its puzzles were interesting enough to keep me feeling involved all the way until the end of the game. It's worth a play. As the game opens, you are walking out of a social club, when suddenly a hit man tries to kill you. This is rather unexpected, since you are more or less an everyman character (or maybe an "everywoman" character, considering your character's taste for Whitney Houston). Anyway, your first job is to prevent yourself from being killed by the hit man. After that, you will naturally want to uncover the reason for your attempted assassination. By the time you solve this mystery, you will have gone through both the upper crust and the shady underworld of modern-day Scotland, and you will be in a position to stop the plans of your would-be killer. Certain elements of this game are rather impressive. At the bottom of the game window, there is an attractive, custom-built set of icons, telling you where the exits are, and giving you shortcuts for driving, walking around, and talking to people. Also favorable is the fact that many of the puzzles are well designed and satisfying to solve, and the story is likely to hold the attention of anybody who likes mysteries. There's also quite a bit of humor in the game, poking fun at bureaucrats, executives, security guards, and other components of modern-day society. For instance: The clerk opens a desk drawer and takes out a box of staples. He then fills in the relevant form, recording that he has done this. Unfortunately, the game also has quite a number of bugs. For instance, "open car" and "close car" doesn't work, while "close car door" actually produces an error message in some cases. There are also annoying aspects of game play, such as the fact that, in more than one case, you have to look behind objects in order to win the game, even though examining those objects gives you no hint that there is anything behind them. The worst aspects of the game involve puzzles that are harder than necessary due to flawed game design. A couple of such problems are created by the game's conversation system, which is not implemented in a consistent manner, thus making things harder than they should be. You can talk to characters using a number of methods, including (1) the traditional system of "ask," "tell," and "character, command"; and (2) the command "talk to character," which sometimes brings up a list of options and sometimes doesn't. The problem is, these two systems are not interchangeable. There is a case where you need to tell a character about something, but if you use the "tell" verb, you will never accomplish this. You must instead use the "talk to" verb. Then, after you've gotten used to the idea that "talk to character" is the primary format for conversation, it later turns out that there is a puzzle you cannot solve without using the "character, command" format; the ability to give the corresponding command is not available in the "talk to" conversation menu. Due to these problems, A Sugared Pill can be quite a frustrating game, and I probably wouldn't have solved it if I hadn't emailed the author more than once. On the other hand, most of the puzzles are satisfying to solve, and the game has plenty of funny moments. What's more, the game's story may well appeal not only to mystery lovers, but also to those who are interested in the author's ideas about a few things that are wrong with modern society. As far as I'm concerned, that makes A Sugared Pill well worth playing. TADS2 executable

Sunset Over Savannah

From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #13 -- February 5, 1998 NAME: Sunset Over Savannah AUTHOR: Ivan Cockrum E-MAIL: ivan SP@G DATE: 1997 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 1 PLOT: Intriguing (1.7) ATMOSPHERE: Very good (1.5) WRITING: Mostly strong (1.6) GAMEPLAY: Consistently good (1.6) CHARACTERS: Not many (1.3) PUZZLES: Some quite original (1.5) MISC: A genuinely innovative premise (1.9) OVERALL: 8.3 This year's competition had a fair crop of "ordinary person doing ordinary things" games, for want of a better description, but few of them confronted the central problem associated with such games: how to make the game interesting, more than a collection of dull tasks. After all, if the player wants to relive the joys of washing dishes or finding phone numbers, in theory he or she doesn't need interactive fiction to describe it for him; a good work of fiction, interactive or not, manages to transport the player to another world, and one would hope that the new doesn't look exactly like the old. But Ivan Cockrum's Sunset Over Savannah is up to the task; the game give the player an apparently ordinary situation and invests it with unexpected life. Indeed, the goal of the story lies in the process of discovering the hidden wonders of your environment -- and the experience for the player may fairly be called unique. The initial premise of Sunset is unrevealing: you are on the last day of vacation from your office job, and you're discontented with your work and thinking of quitting. With no more direction than that, the game deposits you in front of the boardwalk in front of your Savannah hotel -- and it might seem that the background is a way to explain your presence before the real plot, yet to be discovered, starts. But if you assume that you'll encounter an adventure game with a little poking around, you're wrong, because that prologue really did give the plot: the key developments are all in your mind, involving your decision on whether to quit your job. Handled poorly, this could be fairly silly -- "you find a brochure for a job on an ocean liner, so now you're thinking of doing that" -- but the beauty of Sunset is that the developments feel plausible. Mr. Cockrum employs an innovative device for keeping track of the internal action: a status line with your state of mind on any given turn. Some actions -- jumping over a railing and landing with a crash on the beach -- lead to temporary changes ("stunned"), and other developments are more permanent. And though many of the pivotal actions are far from ordinary -- some merely unusual, a few simply fantastical -- very little conscious suspension of disbelief is required, simply because the setting feels so real. Mr. Cockrum integrates the ordinary and fantasy elements skillfully: those parts of the story that go beyond ordinary experience are few, carefully chosen, and clearly surprise the player-character as much as the player. Just as importantly, those elements are out of your control and mostly independent of your actions, so the feeling of ordinariness juxtaposed with the fantastic is enhanced. The idea of tracking your feelings and making them central to the plot is original to this game, to the best of my knowledge, and Mr. Cockrum carries it off skillfully. The connections between your experiences and your corresponding thoughts are sometimes a bit forced; an experience involving a sand sculpture starts you thinking about the sculptor and his artistic vision about your job "and how infrequently it lets you pursue your own visions." And there is no real sequence to the required actions, though some inevitably come before others; the plot is not so integrated with the puzzles that certain tasks address certain moods. But one could argue that realism dictates against such manipulation -- the idea is supposed to be that you stumble across experiences that affect your thinking, not seek out those experiences in order to force a certain decision on yourself -- and the arbitrariness of the connections mirrors the arbitrariness of real-life decision-making, to some extent. Moreover, the plot requires a certain degree of aimlessness to be realistic; no one sets out to wander around a beach and pavilion with certain goals in mind, and though several of the things you need to do require more effort (and some semi-suicidal motivations in a few cases) than might be expected in real life, exploration and experimentation are what move the story along. The puzzles themselves are quite good -- few of them are very hard, though a few, as noted, require whimsy that borders on suicidal tendencies, and others require wanton destruction of property that, while unremarkable for an adventure game, break the feel of the game somewhat. I must admit that one puzzle, if puzzle it can be called, eluded me completely when I first played the game -- I didn't see any reason for doing one particular vital thing -- and the prospective player should know that logic occasionally yields to simple impetuousness for this particular player-character. That aside, though, there is plenty of creativity at work, particularly in the way you use the objects at hand to get around problems; the way you catch the crab is one of the more inventive puzzles in this year's competition. The description-to-puzzle ratio of the writing -- the amount of text that is there simply to be read -- is unusually high, as might be expected, but that is hardly a drawback. The writing, for its part, is strong and descriptive, though occasionally Mr. Cockrum piles on a few too many adjectives and images at once. At one point, we are informed that "somehow this amazing spectacle has cut through your ingrained layers of cynicism to revitalize your waning belief in a world full of wondrous novelty." Er, maybe, but there are simpler ways to put it. And the tone wavers now and again -- at one point, the sun is described as a "fat, ripe, blood orange," inadvertently deflating (at least, I assume it was inadvertent) what was otherwise a picturesque description. A few flaws aside, though, Sunset is compellingly written: most events and descriptions are portrayed with a wealth of detail, consistently absorbing and almost never tedious. Some particularly strong examples: Pavilion You're standing in the center of a colossal gazebo that provides shade for sunburned tourists like yourself. The octagonal floor is made of unbroken grey concrete, bordered on each face by a waist high railing. Tall beams support a sloping wooden canopy that rises over three times your height. A red brick enclosure squats in the southwest corner and a small snack bar nestles up against the enclosure to the south. To the east lies the foot of a seemingly endless pier. A number of wooden benches sit along the north face of the pavilion. Damp Sand, North of Pier The damp, hard packed sand is darkened almost to bronze by the relentless tide to the east, while to the west it lightens to a powdery gold before ending in tall dunes. To the south, you can pass through the pylons supporting the long pier that stretches east from the pavilion. Though the writing in Sunset is not always as economical as it might be, the moments that get described with particular detail warrant the attention; the game's interest in detail mirrors the player-character's observations of the surroundings, and the circumstances justify more attention to the scene than your average passerby might give. Particularly effective in that regard is a series of random messages involving your scenery that recur now and again... A slight gust of wind sends eddies of sand swirling over the brick path. ...or... A young boy wearing a bright blue bathing suit and matching flip-flops runs by. ...which, though not precisely relevant to anything in the game, do plenty to set the scene. An extensive "fun stuff" section available at the end of the game testifies to the wealth of attention that went into writing Sunset, and there are many things in the game that reward curiosity, notably collecting the various shells and chatting with the old man. Several line-break descriptions amplify the effect, notably this: "Grains of sand on the concrete floor twinkle as the light of the setting sun streaks through them at just the right angle." (And, naturally, there is humor here and there; hitting return without entering a command elicits one of the following -- "Beg pardon?", "What?", "Sorry?", and "Mumblemumble?", the latter of which amused me immensely.) Though there are several moments where text takes up at least a full screen, it is a tribute to the writing that those are highlights, invariably clear and vivid. In short, Sunset is well-written enough that even aimless wandering and experimenting feels intriguing; there are few games that can say that. Whether Sunset will appeal to a given player is, I think, largely a matter of taste; some might simply regard the subjective approach dull or mechanical, or find the story too aimless to be involving. My own enjoyment of the game no doubt owes something to my biases. But there is no denying the skill that Mr. Cockrum brings to bear on this game, nor how well it achieves its objectives, and given that and the novelty of the concept, I feel comfortable rating Sunset as my only 10 in the 1997 competition. FTP FileTADS file (.gam) (updated version) FTP FileBinHexed Macintosh format (.hqx) (updated version) FTP FilePC Executable (.zip) (updated version) FTP FileDirectory with TADS .gam file and walkthrough (competition version)


From: Mike Harris <harriswillys SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #49 -- August 18, 2007 TITLE: Suprematism AUTHOR: Andrey Grankin DATE: February 3, 2007 PARSER: TADS 2 SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF-Archive URL: In the non-IF world, Suprematism is a Russian art movement originated in 1915 by Kasimir Malevich during a very turbulent time in Russia's history. It consists of bold geometric shapes such as squares, circles, rectangles and the like. Malevich's original Suprematist works were Black Square and Black Circle (1915), both featuring the eponymous shape on a stark white background; the viewer being meant to appreciate the strong contrast - a bold yet simple black vs white being allegorical for despair vs hope, confinement vs freedom, structure vs openness and so forth. Grankin has brought this artistic concept to IF. The zip file contains two "games," black.gam and white.gam, the player being meant to contrast the two. As far as play goes - well, nothing really happens, as of course they aren't really intended to be games. By intent, they don't respond to the usual typed control commands (e.g. quit) and must be closed through the interpreter. One can get a feel for each module with just a few minutes of entering commands. It can't be easy to translate visual art to IF, but Grankin has done a creditable job. That said, if one does not "get" Suprematism as an artistic style or has little appreciation for its cousins in the modern art world, one is unlikely to appreciate Grankin's IF creation. Out of 10 I give it a 1 for simplicity and 6 overall. Zip containing the two TADS 2 game files that make up the whole work


From: Graeme Cree <72630.304 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #4 -- March 2, 1995 NAME: Suspect GAMEPLAY: Infocom Standard AUTHOR: Dave Lebling PLOT: Good EMAIL: ? ATMOSPHERE: Not Bad AVAILABILITY: LTOI 1 WRITING: Not Bad PUZZLES: Very Good SUPPORTS: Infocom Ports CHARACTERS: Very Good DIFFICULTY: Advanced In Suspect, you start as a reporter covering Veronica Ashcroft's halloween party. When she is murdered in a back room, with some of your personal possessions found at the scene of the crime, you are the prime suspect (hence the name!), and you've got 12 hours to find the real killer. Suspect may be a victim of ratings inflation. My numbers for it totalled 5.8, and assuming that 5.0 means an average game, this still indicates a pretty good effort. However, it seems to be especially low for an Infocom game, though I didn't dislike it by any means. The puzzles are generally well done, but it suffers from a lack of vividness, and a lack of feeling that you're really there. This problem afflicted some of Infocom's earlier efforts (except Planetfall which was extremely well written, and Suspended, where you really aren't there!), and their early mysteries in particular. One problem might be that in several of the early Infocom games, there seemed to be a set of stock responses to various commands that stayed the same from game to game, while later on they began to tailor them from game to game. For example, in many early Infocom games, if you try to enter something that you can't, you're told simply "You hit your head on the [NOUN] as you attempt this." Also, Infocom's early mysteries, which took place in a single private residence seemed to lack the sense of exploration and discovery that one comes to expect in an Infocom offering. This is of course purely a matter of taste, and may not be experienced by a different player at all. All in all though, Suspect remains a very solid effort, and well worth a play through. FTP FileSolution (Text)


From: Graeme Cree <72630.304 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #8 -- February 5, 1996 NAME: Suspended GAMEPLAY: Early Infocom AUTHOR: Michael Berlyn PLOT: Save the World EMAIL: ??? ATMOSPHERE: Changing viewpoints AVAILABILITY: LTOI1, Sci-Fi Coll WRITING: Good PUZZLES: Save/Restore SUPPORTS: All Infocom Ports CHARACTERS: All-Robot DIFFICULTY: Expert The implicit promise of a good adventure game is that the gaming experience is just like really being there, or as one of Infocom's early brochures put it, "It's like waking up inside a story." In Suspended, the promise is broken, deliberately. You aren't really there, and you don't wake up. In Suspended, you play the part of an alien being frozen in an underground cryogenic chamber that is part of an underground complex that controls the planetary weather control devices. In the event of emergency, your mind (but not your body) is activated in order to coordinate repair efforts. The main characters are your six repair robots; Auda, Sensa, Iris, Poet, Whiz, and Waldo (Where's Waldo?), who perform the game's vital tasks, and report to you what they see and do. Each one has different abilities (one can only see, one can only hear, et cetera), and must be directed by you to the point where they will do the most good. Suspended is a game that will appeal to some players and infuriate others. It is the ultimate save/restore game. It is flatly impossible to solve it on the first play through; you must acquire vital knowledge through failures before you can put it all together to be able to win the game. Also, simple knowledge is not enough. The game works on a very strict time limit, and to win, you must not only know what to do, but be able to optimize the time it takes to do it. Since the robots take time to travel through the complex, you must have the foresight to have them in the proper locations at the proper times, which means ordering them there earlier. If you take too long, a team from the surface will enter the complex to take control from you. It might be best not to think of Suspended as a work of Interactive Fiction at all. It is a pseudo-simulation game, written before software technology was developed enough to develop real simulation games. It is a game for frustrated would-be air traffic controllers who enjoy coordinating multiple activities from a central location, much more than it is a work of fiction. It is a game for people who like to play WITH games, not merely play them. To help you, the game supplies a game map (the only Infocom game apart from Seastalker to do so), and markers to track the movements of your robots. The original edition gave a good, mounted map with rubber markers. The thin-paper map included with Lost Treasures I is much more difficult to work with. I haven't yet seen the components for Activision's new Science-Fiction Collection. The parser is one of Infocom's early ones, and is missing several convenient abbreviations that players will be used to. Not merely "x" for examine, but also "z" for wait, and "g" for again are missing. The very handy "Oops" feature is also missing. Suspended features three different levels of play, of increasing difficulty, designed to give the game more replay value. It might not be the best computer game ever written, as Rolling Stone said in their review, but it is worth a look. FTP FileSolution (text)

Swineback Ridge

From: Mike Harris <M.Harris SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #45 -- July 17, 2006 TITLE: Swineback Ridge AUTHOR: Eric Eve EMAIL: eric.eve SP@G DATE: May 8, 2006 PARSER: Inform 6 SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF-Archive URL: VERSION: Release 1 Eric Eve described Swineback Ridge as “a fairly easy, slightly tongue-in-cheek game that should provide brief amusement for an occasion when you're looking for an IF-Snack rather than an IF-Meal.” It’s a well put together little game, no more than a diversion really, with no obvious or glaring bugs and fairly well written text. The puzzles are straightforward and not terribly complicated; objects and functions are well implemented and despite its short length and relatively small number of locations it’s clear that it was no throwaway. The PC is a general with a sword and worn battle armor, who must defeat an enemy encampment across the river, and that’s pretty much all you need to know about a slightly hackneyed backstory. The writing is well done which saves the game from cliché – “As you stoop over him, you recognize General Chorza, your old friend and comrade, who was meant to be commanding the army here until your arrival.” That said, such writing and the game’s subtitle - “A Desperate Battle” - is somewhat over the top for such a short game which somehow manages not to convey any desperation whatsoever. To be fair, this may be the “slightly tongue in cheek” part of the author’s description. If it’s meant to be taken at face value, however, extremely limited opportunity to interact with NPCs doubtless contributes to this lack of a sense of urgency, as does a lack of progression or “time passing” based on number of moves, which I half expected based on the premise and subtitle. Nothing changes in the enemy camp except in reaction to the PCs actions. I can only speculate at the author’s intent but the game as it stands gives the impression – in its writing at least - that it’s a part of a much larger game yet to be fleshed out. The simplicity of the puzzles is slightly disappointing and somehow unsatisfying given such florid verbiage. All in all, Swineback Ridge isn’t a bad way to kill an hour or so, but ultimately is no more than a simple object-puzzle game with a needlessly complex backstory. On a scale of 1 to 10 I rate it a 3 in difficulty and a 6 overall. From: Emily Short <emshort SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #45 -- July 17, 2006 Swineback Ridge is described by its author as snack-sized and light-hearted, and both of those are accurate. The premise isn't that funny -- you've been sent to lead your country's army in a last defense against the invading enemy -- but when you consider that this enemy worships the demon-god Malodor, it's hard to take the whole situation seriously. The puzzles are of moderate difficulty, and are quite well-designed: objects are reused in inventive ways; physical relationships are described clearly and make sense; there's plentiful feedback on partial solutions; all of the props have some logical in-game reason to be there. There were perhaps one or two points when it wasn't immediately obvious to me what I should try next, and the game is perhaps a little less perfect at articulating your goal at a couple of points than at prompting you through the puzzles once you've identified them -- but then again, I was never stuck for long, so I can't complain too much. Though I've seen the game described as Fantasy, there's nothing all that fantastical about what you have to do; if your enemies worship a strange deity, well, there's no clear evidence that he actually exists. The player's activities are non-magical; the puzzles can be solved through the application of real- world principles. There are admittedly a few points where, in order to make sure the player doesn't lock himself out of victory, Swineback refuses to allow an action purely on the grounds that the action isn't something you want to do at the moment. This makes the game easier, but diminishes the sense of immersion just a bit. This is a minor and perhaps unavoidable blemish on a charming piece, though. Swineback Ridge may not be terribly ambitious, but it has a focused story and tightly designed puzzles; it is also highly polished, with an adaptive hint menu and plenty of responses to unlikely actions. If you're looking for a puzzle game that you can play in an hour (or a little less), you'll probably find Swineback Ridge quite satisfying. From: Valentine Kopteltsev <uux SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #45 -- July 17, 2006 (Disclaimer: in this review, I express a few rather daring speculations about the development process for Swineback Ridge, as well as about the motives behind its creation. It goes without saying these speculations are based entirely on my own opinion, and all I do describe is nothing other than my personal thoughts and impressions of the game; I also would like to apologize to Mr. Eve if they have nothing to do with reality.) By pure coincidence (and it really *was* coincidence -- somehow, I managed to remain unaware of Swineback Ridge author's name until I looked at the credits after starting the game) I reviewed another game by Eric Eve, All Hope Abandon, not too long ago. This fact undoubtedly left its trace on my impression of Swineback Ridge: it was as if Rolls Royce produced a subcompact. And by subcompact, I don't even mean a puppet doomed to become a cult object (like the new Mini), but a genuine mass consumption product -- pretty much the way Japanese cars used to be in the 1970/80s. Most of the things a reviewer could say about Swineback Ridge are covered in the game's own ABOUT section. From there, we can learn that this work was intended to a) be an exercise in Inform for its author, and b) provide a few (by my estimation, 30 to 60) minutes' amusement. It seems to succeed in both roles: I'm quite sure IF-authors having the skill and patience to polish their first attempt in an IF development system new to them to such an extent are in vast minority, and the game's entertaining value, albeit relatively modest, can't be denied, either. However, speaking objectively, the game's adequacy with the aims and goals set by its author doesn't save it from being totally unremarkable. Sure, it'd help you to while away an hour or so -- but after a few weeks, you wouldn't remember it. At this point, the reader could ask a completely justified question: so, why did I bother writing this review at all? Well, because Swineback Ridge is the perfect mass product, or very close to being it. To explain what I mean, let me refer to that example with Japanese cars again: they were supposed to transport a handful of people together with some luggage from point A to point B -- and they'd never let down their owners in doing so. Of course, things like the satisfaction of the drivers' ambitions, as well as driving fun were out of question -- but they weren't included in the contract, so to speak. And that's the case with Swineback Ridge: its author seems to have formulated his goals, and then has done everything necessary to reach them -- but not a jot more than that. This approach threads the whole game: for instance, there hardly is an object in the room descriptions you couldn't examine -- but none of the responses are particularly catchy; the puzzles are logical and make perfect sense -- but not a single one would evoke an "Aha!" feeling after being solved... In its current state, Swineback Ridge deserves a place in an IF textbook as a pearl of pragmatic game design. It embodies all aspects needed for a work to be of a high technical standard -- methodical pre-planning, consequent implementation, and thorough beta-testing -- but nothing beyond. Things that hasn't been invested into Swineback Ridge at all, or only injected in homoeopathic doses, are of the kind one can't learn from a textbook, anyway: fantasy, spirit, and ambitions (in a good sense). But hey -- they weren't in the contract. SNATS (Score Not Affecting The Scoreboard): PLOT: Straightforward (1.1) ATMOSPHERE: The absolutely necessary minimum (1.0) WRITING: Even and solid (1.2) GAMEPLAY: Adequate, but nothing striking (1.2) BONUSES: Thorough implementation (1.2) TOTAL: 5.7 CHARACTERS: The closest approximation were two corpses (-) PUZZLES: Well-clued and logical (1.2) DIFFICULTY: (Intentionally) pretty easy (3 out of 10) FTP FileZcode (.z5) game file

Sylenius Mysterium

From: Paul O'Brian <obrian SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #13 -- February 5, 1998 NAME: Sylenius Mysterium AUTHOR: C.E. Forman E-MAIL: ceforman SP@G DATE: 1997 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Inform interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 1 (1997 competition release) [Because of the nature of Sylenius Mysterium, any or all of this review could be considered a spoiler. In addition, spoilers are present for "Freefall" and "Robots." You have been warned.] There seems to be this strange impulse in the text adventure community to recreate the experience of graphical arcade games using the Z-machine. The first evidence I ever saw of this trend was Andrew Plotkin's "Freefall", a z-machine Tetris implementation using realtime opcodes to reproduce the geometrical game with ASCII graphics. Others have followed, including Torjborn Andersson's "Robots", which recreates one of the earliest computer games, and a DOOM implementation which I haven't played. I have to say that this notion baffles me. When I first saw "Freefall", I thought it was good fun. It struck me as a typically amazing Plotkin programming exercise which showcased the versatility of the z-machine. But it didn't become an arcade staple on my machine. As a text adventure, it was pretty wild. As Tetris, it was pretty average. I played it once or twice to see what it could do, then deleted it. "Robots" I kept, but I don't play it. Now here's Sylenius Mysterium (hereafter called SM), the bulk of which is a textual emulation of a horizontally scrolling run-and- jump game, a la Pitfall or Mario Brothers. This kind of thing used to come up as a joke on the IF newsgroups from time to time, and now here it is, a real game. Unfortunately, SM demonstrates the reason why those games were implemented graphically in the first place. Namely, it's silly to implement an arcade game in descriptive mode. ("You begin walking right." "You execute a running jump." "Beneath you is a low wall.") These types of structures are what graphics are best at doing, and they were being done 15 years ago. It's both more fun and less confusing to see an arcade environment in graphics, and if even ancient computers are capable of doing so, what's the point of making a text adventure which simply produces an inferior copy of the original? Playing SM just made me wish that the author had sacrificed portability and implemented the arcade section in graphics. Hell, even cheesy ASCII graphics would have made for a more fun experience than one long room description reading "A panoramic landscape, parallax layers of empty, ruined buildings, scrolling by with your movements." It seems to me that text is good at certain things and so is graphics, and to make a text version of Pitfall makes about as much sense as a joystick-and-fire-button version of A Mind Forever Voyaging. It's great to know that the z-machine has realtime capabilities to produce a text arcade game, but surely those capabilities can be put to better use. SM does have a prologue which operates in a traditional text adventure mode, and this section of the game is quite well-done, with the exception of a number of problematic bugs. The game does a very nice job of defining an engaging and convincing setting and characters, as well as creating a sense of nostalgia for the old gaming consoles. The Atari system was my first introduction to videogames that could be played at home, and I have many fond memories of days spent at friends' houses playing "Missile Command" or "Donkey Kong" or "Pitfall." In fact, the game evoked nostalgia so well that my disappointment was all the sharper when I realized that its "arcade" section was nothing more than realtime text. Prose: The prose in the IF section of the game was really quite accomplished, so much so in fact that it sent me to the dictionary a couple of times to confirm the meaning of unfamiliar words. All the game's elements, from the sterile quiet of a mall after-hours, to the almost exaggerated "skate punk" main character, to the loving descriptions of the old-time game consoles, were written in a style that I found quite rich and absorbing. Plot: The plot in SM is mainly a device to whisk the player to the arcade section. The plot of that section is (intentionally, I think) extremely pure and simple: find the bad guy and undo his evil deeds. Puzzles: Again, the puzzles outside the arcade section were few, and those inside the arcade section can't really be called "puzzles" in the traditional sense, though I would argue that the game does propose an interesting juxtaposition between the challenges of a Mario Brothers-style arcade game and IF puzzles -- the two are closer than they are sometimes thought to be. Those puzzles within the IF section were usually quite simple, though from time to time bugs arose that made the simplest actions seem unintentionally like puzzles themselves. Technical: writing -- The writing was technically excellent. coding -- Here there were a number of problems. I was keeping a text file of all the major bugs I found until I realized that the author had provided no email address (not even an anonymous remailer for comp97) to which bug reports could be sent. Suffice it to say that there were a number of situations, both inside and outside the arcade section, that needed much improvement. That being said, however, I'm willing to forgive quite a bit from someone who takes on a project as ambitious (even though I personally don't find it to be very interesting) as the arcade section of SM. That section suffers from game-killing bugs of the "FATAL: No such property" variety (or at least it does under WinFrotz), but the working sections of it seemed to work quite well, and I salute the serious effort it must have taken to create them. FTP FileDirectory with Inform .z5 file and associated text files
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