SPAG
Game Reviews T

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

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

The email addresses used are those submitted with the review, so naturally some of them may be out of date.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


Table of Contents

T-Zero Tale Of The Kissing Bandit Tapestry The Tempest The Temple Temple of Kaos The Terror of Mecha Godzilla -- The True Story Textfire Golf Theatre There's A Hole In Your Bucket There's a Snake in the Bathtub Threnody Till Death Makes A Monk-Fish Out Of Me Time: All Things Come To An End Time to Shine Tinseltown Blues To Hell In A Hamper TOOKiE'S SONG Toonesia Tossed Into Space Tough Beans The Tower of the Elephant The Town Dragon Tales of the Traveling Swordsman Trading Punches Transfer Trapped in a One-Room Dilly Travels in the Land of Erden Treasure Trinity Triune Tryst of Fate Tube Trouble 2112

T-Zero

From:
Neil Yorke-Smith <neilys SP@G yahoo.com> Review appeared in SPAG #24 -- March 24, 2001 [Note: In the original version of Neil's review, the game's title was maintained in strict lower case -- "t-zero" -- after the game's own fashion of referring to itself. I've changed the case for the sake of readability only. --Paul] NAME: T-Zero AUTHOR: Dennis Cunningham DATE: 1991 PARSER: Custom SUPPORTS: PC AVAILABILITY: Shareware ($20) URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/pc/t-zero.zip VERSION: 1.04 T-Zero is an anomaly of IF. Released in 1991, after the heady Infocom days but before Inform and the renaissance of IF, T-Zero is a surprisingly modern game. Dennis Cunningham's puzzle-based work evokes a rich atmosphere in a land familiar and yet unknown. Cunningham sees himself as a programmer with literary leanings and -- on the evidence here -- succeeds in both. T-Zero runs as a stand-alone DOS game, released in full as shareware. "An Adventure for the Time Being", the subtitle, sums up the story. T-Zero is an adventure game. A literate, immersive piece of IF, but foremost an adventure game. The player-character must locate six objects "scattered across ages and landscapes", objects which are to be transported "somehow...to progressively future time zones where they can right the troubled times." Echoes of other games, such as Level 9's Lords of Time, and premonitions of Nelson's seminal Curses and Jigsaw. (Cunningham had hoped to quote extensively from T.S. Eliot -- compare Jigsaw -- but permission was not granted.) As the subtitle also suggests, time is the motif running through the game. Time and words, although there is much more going on than chronological word-play. A typical example is this extract from the opening: It's just as well that you were dismissed from the museum--your duties as combination custodian and librarian involved either re-shelving books and dusting off clocks or rewinding timepieces and dusting off books. However, you were onto something. An ex-libris librarian, then, the PC has an account to straighten with the mysterious owner of the museum (a museum devoted to time, naturally), Count Zero. Just what the Count is up to, and how the troubled times might be righted, is pieced together as the game progresses. As the game opens, the status-line, in addition to the usual location and score, reads "6:00AM * Day 1 * Present"; there is a strange compass in the initial inventory. It is clear that the PC could be visiting time zones other than the Present. Indeed, once inside the museum, there is time for the Past, Present and Future...and beyond. While T-Zero is not overly large, much more exploration is required than in other games of a similar size. Time is realistically modelled (how could it be otherwise?); each move takes five minutes of game time. The world reflects the current time: the sun rises and sets, hours are chimed, and so on. Exploration is also necessary since some objects do not appear at once and some actions must be performed at the right time -- although precise move-counting is uncommon. The writing is strong, often thematic. Responses defy the conventional, sometimes cheerfully breaking mimesis, but always seem appropriate (try 'g' or 'turn'-ing a fixed object). A favourite is the response to a word not understood by the parser, "That word comes from an unknown realm." Cunningham is not afraid to impose his eclectic world upon the player and the effect can be entrancing: Moebius Strip. The racing strip here twists in on itself to form a continuous band without inside or out. Contenders, defying gravity, adhere to the track whether right-side up or upside down. There are a tortoise and a hare here. The hare is running moebius strips around the tortoise which assuredly continues with measured progress. > get hare You miss by a hare's breadth. T-Zero is impressive technically, particularly considering that it was written without the aid of an authoring system. Unlike some stand-alone games, the parser is well up to Infocom standard, handling full sentences and even genuine adjectives without a murmur. Cunningham appears to have implemented an object system of sorts: the parser knows that poppies and marigolds are both types of flowers, for instance. Most interesting are the meta verbs that become available later in the game: 'find', 'where', 'copy' and 'imagine', the latter which "allows [the] player to 'visualise' unencountered objects or locations." The parser does not pretend to understand more than it does -- which is commendable -- but can lack synonyms and, if rarely, lack objects mentioned in the room descriptions, which is less commendable. It can become confused between verbs and nouns, for instance with 'lever' and 'plant', and plural objects must be referred to as 'it', not 'them'. Version 1.04 of T-Zero is available on the IF archive. The interface has all the conveniences expected: command history, scripting, customisable colours. Function keys are programmable, the arrow keys can be used to enter directions, standard short-cuts (except 'z') and undo all work. Cunningham has added some neat touches, too, like an inline menu for disambiguation and selection, and careful use of colour. The puzzles, on the whole, are not hard in themselves provided the language, time or popular culture references are familiar; the game has built-in context-dependent hints. However, a certain amount of waiting around and verbal dexterity is required, and I found the insight for some of the puzzles slow in coming. When the insight comes, the consequences can be delightful. There is a well-signposted maze early in the game, one which exhibits Lewis Carroll-like qualities. On occasion, I was reminded that the game does not neatly sit in the Infocom tradition. Exits, to take one example, are not consistently listed in room descriptions because an 'exits' verb is provided instead. The descriptions thus seem more natural and concise, at the cost of the repeated use of 'exits' when first exploring. Increases to the score, to take another example, are signalled as default by a small tune, not by a textual message (although of course the status-line changes). There are three main criticisms that can be brought against T-Zero. The first is that the expectations of contemporary IF have shifted from those of the early 1990s. Death, for instance, can occur instantly without warning in the most unexpected ways. While UNDO will remedy the situation, such happenings only irritate. Similarly, some puzzles (to my mind) assume too many Americanisms. And finishing with full points is harder than it ought to be. The player has a Bill of Rights, remember? The second criticism is that sometimes Cunningham's world is too detailed. The PC has a limited carrying capacity, as do all the containers to be found. Objects in or on another object are tediously listed (sand in an egg timer, for instance). The world seems rounded and understanding -- but too easily the parser is seen to be lacking real knowledge. None of these things is wrong by itself but their cumulative effect can become tedious. Finally, on occasion, Cunningham over-reaches himself. While not quite guess-the-verb, the syntax to perform a desired action can be elusive: I found the moebius strip infernally demanding, for example. While often delightful, the linguistic ingenuity can be frustrating and the parser trying (no more trying than Inform or TADS, it should be added). When it works, however, the game works splendidly. It's unclear whether the author is still accepting registration for T-Zero. Various email addresses are given in the documentation, but a search of the web reveals no homepage. Other shareware IF from the time -- see the review of Humbug in SPAG #11 [or, indeed, in this very issue! --PO] -- has now passed into the public domain. T-Zero is an anomaly. Although not to the liking of everyone, definitely recommended: it is, arguably, a piece of modern IF before the modern era, so always lacking the full attention it deserves. An unusual game, unwittingly reflecting its unusual place in the history of IF. From: Francesco Bova <fbova SP@G pangea.ca> Review appeared in SPAG #24 -- March 24, 2001 One day, about 10 years ago I found myself ready to give up on my amber colored IBM XT. Maybe it was the flicker of a screen too old to be any good, or the speed of a processor so slow that words didn't appear until 10 seconds after I was finished typing, but I'd finally had enough and was getting ready to get rid of the old hunk of junk. My real lament was that outside of some word processing and spreadsheet programs, there was really nothing I could do with my old XT. So, I explained my dilemma to a programming buddy and asked for a little help. He promised he would download a few games for me off a local BBS and when the disk finally arrived it turned out to be only one game and something called a "text adventure" to boot. Now I was sort of familiar with text adventure games, as I had played the Zork trilogy way back in the early 80s, but what I was unaware of was that the quality for most shareware games produced during the early nineties was very low (relative to today, at least). It was a stroke of fortune then, that my friend downloaded for me the competently created T-Zero. T-Zero chronicles the bizarre plight of a recently fired and evicted Museum custodian who is charged with figuring out what his former employer and game antagonist Count Zero is up to. The story starts off with you waking from uneasy dreams with the realization that you were onto something incriminating about the Count just before he fired you. The bulk of the game then revolves around you trying to get back into the museum to rediscover what exactly it was that you'd latched on to. It's a simple premise to get started on that eventually turns complex, with bit players galore, conspiracies, plans for anti-utopic world domination, and time travel to a past and future world vastly different from the one you started out in. Confused yet? Well there's more afoot here than a simple time travel game where the same room's locations change to reflect your temporal journeys. The plot goes from the mundane, to the prehistoric, to an Orwellian nightmare with landscapes that are as evocative as So Far's surreal worlds but held together more succinctly, with the common thread of slightly familiar settings that change notably over different time periods. Here for example, is a sketch of a sawmill described in the present, past and future: Present: Abandoned Mill Yellow dew-drenched mushrooms pop through the scattered timbers and redwood sawdust that mark the site of an abandoned mill. Past: Sawmill You've lumbered onto a mill with a conveyor belt that lazily leads under whirring sawteeth. Since all the forests you've encountered in this era have been characterized by immature growth, you vaguely wonder about the purpose of the mill. Future: Gristmill Although nothing is being ground here, a host of befuddled joggers relentlessly power a series of studded treadmills. Their emaciated bodies suggest that they are attempting something more than mere exercise. That's some pretty awesome prose in my opinion. The beauty of Cunningham's writing style is that it's so economical, with nary a word wasted. His room descriptions give the reader enough information to accurately describe the setting and mood, while leaving a good part of the surrounding scenery to the reader's imagination. The only criticism about these beautifully rendered scenes is that Cunningham seldom if ever puts in exit descriptions. I've always found that writing exit descriptions tends to break up the flow of a room description, and certainly, one of the reasons I think I enjoyed T-Zero's prose as much as I did was because of the lack of phrases like "There are exits leading east, north, and southwest," tacked on to the end of each paragraph. Having said that though, take a look again at the text in the preceding sawmill description. Do you have any idea how to exit this location? Yeah, me neither. One of the real drawbacks of T-Zero is that you'll probably have to try all 8 cardinal directions upon entering each new room (until you become more comfortable with landscape), and that can be a real pain; especially in a day-and-age where we would expect exits to appear in every room description. A small quibble however, and it does very little to detract from this game. The prose was also particularly good when it came to NPC dialogue. The NPCs by-and-large tend to be pretty one dimensional in terms of their conversation. More often than not you'll get responses like, " is too preoccupied at the moment." when you ask a question. But when you find a conversation topic that the character has something to say about, the responses are typically witty and reflective of the absurd nature of the NPC and the game's surroundings. Here's an example: > Ask Prufrock about Count Zero "My former Prince seems to be intent upon squeezing the universe into a ball and rolling it towards the future without regard to who's flattened in the process. I'd like to see his head, grown slightly bald, brought in upon a platter." What's more, the principal NPCs, like many of the game's items, are "reusable", which is to say that you need to utilize their skills on an ongoing basis at different points in the game. The fabulous prose also fleshes out what is in essence a big house-o-puzzles-type game, making the substantial differences between the game's diverse surroundings seem, well... almost seamless. The puzzles themselves are genuinely hard. Not many of them are unfair, but there are 3 or 4 incredibly obscure puzzles, that will probably irritate you to no end. One of them revolves around a Nord-and-Bert-style turn of phrase, a culturally biased colloquialism; another two involve some extremely suspect lateral thinking; and finally there's an ultra-obscure puzzle centering on a reference to a Beatles song that I didn't get until I saw Oasis do a cover version a few years back. By and large however, the puzzles are well done and integrate effectively with the story. All the puzzles are clued (Hmmm... I won't say well-clued, because not many of the solutions are exceedingly obvious) in one way or another, with a huge emphasis placed on the way object, dialogue and room description text is worded for some of the tougher puzzles. In fact, word association may be a good exercise when you find yourself stumped. Among the more standard-type puzzles there are some interesting spins, with perhaps the most novel maze I've ever seen (It's actually a pleasure to map out once you find the key), the most original key I've ever encountered, and some great lateral puzzles that involve actions in one time period affecting the landscape of another. The game's objects are also many, varied, and interesting. Some of the more notable ones include items that enable you to look at your surroundings as they're presented in the future and in the past, which results in a few hilarious descriptions like this one: "It's a good thing you're merely looking into the past because if you were actually present, you would be impaled on the sharp point of a... etc.", and objects that speed up, distort, and even reverse the flow of time (the status line in this game takes one heck of a beating!). There's also a huge amount of reusability with the game's items with an adventurer's backpack full of many, apparently single-use, items that can be transformed or broken apart to form other important items. If that isn't enough, still other items have interesting mechanics or physics all there own, and I often found the experimentation process with these items to be as much fun as solving some of the more satisfying puzzles. So, to wrap up: T-Zero is a well-crafted game in almost every sense. In fact, considering the production date of this game (way back in 1991), I was surprised to find how easily I felt it could rival some of today's better games in terms of story, puzzles, and game design. Now, that's not to say that it doesn't suffer from typical problems associated with shareware games of that era, because at times, it most certainly does. I've already mentioned the problems with listing exits in room descriptions and one-dimensional NPCs, but there are also problems with the parser handling very few synonyms, and the parser demanding exact and complex syntax for what should be very easy commands. The game unfortunately can also be put into an unwinnable state in many situations without player notification, and I can't begin to imagine how frustrating it would be for a player to make it all the way to the game's end only to realize that something crucial was rendered unattainable near the game's beginning. Still, there are more than enough user-friendly player aids to make up for these shortcomings. As the game progresses, new verbs may become available to you such as "WHERE" (a command which lists the last place you left an object once in your possession) and "FIND" (a command reminiscent of the "GOTO" verb from Irene Callaci's Dangerous Curves, that effectively puts the parser on autopilot until you've reached the destination you just typed in.) Similarly, the parser is extremely helpful in pointing out where it didn't understand your message, with menus to help choose between ambiguous objects and arrows pointing out the parser's problems with your commands. Here are a few examples: > Get go ^ ^ Please one action at a time > Get xyzzy ^ That word comes from an unknown realm. > Drop book You possess more than one of those. Please choose between them: > Scarlet book. > Tan book. > None. All this, and with a parser that appears to be home-brewed to boot! Wow! All I can say is I was lucky that T-Zero was the first shareware text-game I played. T-Zero spoiled me, with its nifty puzzles, beautiful story, and delicate prose, and in a way I've been looking for that same playing experience ever since (and, I've of course found it on occasion :). You can imagine my chagrin when a few years later, I found the IF Archive and began playing the easily executable crop of AGT games, and found them nowhere near as entertaining, challenging, or playable. On that fateful day when my friend downloaded T-Zero, imagine what path my life may have taken had he instead given me a copy of Space Aliens Laughed at My Cardigan. I'd probably be homeless and penniless on the street as I write this! FTP FilePC game files (.zip) FTP FileSolution

Tale Of The Kissing Bandit

From:
Adrian J. Chung <ajchung SP@G yahoo.com> Review appeared in SPAG #29 -- June 20, 2002 NAME: The Tale of the Kissing Bandit AUTHOR: J. Robinson Wheeler EMAIL: rob.wheeler SP@G stanfordalumni.org DATE: February 2001 PARSER: Infocom Standard SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: http://www.plover.net/~emily/smoochie/bandit.zip VERSION: Release 1 (SmoochieComp original) Oh this is sweet -- a delightful little story of a night of adventure. You play a mysterious secretive character who steals kisses from women caught unaware. The whole game is like this. Well, most of it. Really. Go play it if you have 5 minutes to spare. The game is as compact as it is amusing. The light-hearted mood is sustained by excellently conceived prose heavily peppered with overt prompting to move the player along. I found myself using verbs I would never think to use in any other game. There are no puzzles to speak of and the story is very much on rails after the first few rooms. It never ceases to amaze me what can be accomplished with such sparse geometry, objects, and NPC interaction -- a sign of very effective writing. And lastly, if you haven't done so already, play through "Shade" (Zarf's Comp 2000 entry) prior to this one for maximum effect. That should quiet any feelings of missing out that those who're not ifmud regulars may have. FTP File.zip package with all SmoochieComp games

Tapestry

From:
C.E. Forman <ceforman SP@G worldnet.att.net> Review appeared in SPAG #10 -- February 4, 1997 NAME: Tapestry AUTHOR: Daniel Ravipinto EMAIL: ravipind SP@G linux.kirbynet.lafayette.edu DATE: October 1996 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Inform Ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition96/tapestry VERSION: Version 1.0 This is the first one I played (if that makes a difference). I loved the writing in "Tapestry," particularly the purgatorial prologue scenes. Vivid and absorbing, the prose makes you feel, which is rare for I-F. The author of this game seems to have put the most effort into his writing of any of the Inform entries, as indicated by the fact that it's both the longest Inform entry and one of the shortest actual games. The depth comes from the "fiction" aspect, not the "interactive" aspect. All the interactive scenes are short and small and offer relatively little room for experimentation, since the major choices you must make are limited to one of two paths. Still, I'm a sucker for multiple endings. Most surprising to me: Neither of the paths is decidedly "better" than the other. Doing what the web-weavers say changes nothing, but gives Timothy an impression of strength and willingness to accept what has been done. Doing what Morningstar says is right always ends in someone else's tragedy. Yet the insightful, non-judgmental epilogue makes either choice feel proper in the grand scheme of events, adding depth to the otherwise simplistic plot. All in all, a nicely polished entry, with imaginative characters, and a story that could do with perhaps a bit more overall interactivity. Daniel Ravipinto is either a new author to watch closely, or a pseudonym, and if he's the latter I'm dying to know his true identity. From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G merle.acns.nwu.edu> Review appeared in SPAG #14 -- May 17, 1998 PLOT: Simple but effective (1.3) ATMOSPHERE: Not much (1.3) WRITING: Quite good (1.5) GAMEPLAY: A bit clunky (1.1) CHARACTERS: Sketchy (1.1) PUZZLES: Few (0.8) MISC: Ambitious, not wholly successful but interesting (1.8) OVERALL: 7.0 Daniel Ravipinto's Tapestry is the sort of game that can really only be done once: any imitation would lose the impact that the original had. It tries to do something, moreover, that very little IF tries to do--defend a position--and if the overall experience isn't entirely successful, the player should at least recognize the novelty of the ground it's breaking. Though less a game than a philosophical position, Tapestry does what it sets out to do reasonably well; it didn't, however, make a persuasive argument as far as I was concerned. The basic idea is relatively simple: you play a man named Timothy Hunter who has died, who meets one certain personage offering a choice and then three others who offer two more choices, distinctly contrasting, and who is given the option to replay key scenes from his life and reconsider certain moments. The choices--you discover this immediately, so I don't feel that I'm giving much away--include your decision to attend a key meeting to help a client when your mother was dying, your decision to kill your wife when she was suffering from a painful disease, and your failure--it's hard to construe it as a decision--to avoid a pedestrian in the car accident that ended your life. You are given three choices; I won't spell them out, but they hinge on changing the events as opposed to changing what you make of them. It may fairly be said that the game element of Tapestry isn't extensive; there aren't really any puzzles, and what there are, I'm afraid, mostly derive from choosing syntax or figuring out fairly specific responses that the game demands. There's one moment in the second scene where I knew perfectly well what I wanted to do but couldn't figure out the precise wording, and the hint menu didn't help. In that respect, Tapestry might work better as straight fiction than as IF: giving the story its own pace, rather than tying its advancement to figuring out actions, might have made it more powerful. (Though the game is technically proficient in several respects--the hint menu adapts to your situation quite skillfully, for one thing, and the situation changes to block off certain paths in subtle but effective ways.) At any rate, the game element is good enough to tell the story/make the argument, which is all that's really needed. The nature of the paths you're given and of the way the game treats them makes it reasonably clear that there's a "right" way, and two "wrong" ways, to go about this; the game locks you into your path once the choice is made, and the eventual consequences and the terms in which the games sums up your decisions at the end leaves little doubt about that. While I don't dispute the logic or philosophical force of locking you onto your trajectory, on the game's terms, it does limit the realism element somewhat; in theory, you might have learned from one experience and want to take a different sort of path at the next decision point. At the very least, having to play through the thing when your decisions are foreordained--when the game is simply waiting for you to input the correct things, not giving you choices as such--is a bit frustrating; I'm not really sure whether it would have been better to let it all scroll by than to provide the illusion of interactivity. It also limits the realism of it all somewhat to suppose that, if certain key life decisions were changed (and these are about as key as they get), everything that follows would have turned out the same, or sufficiently so that your decisions aren't changed. Even if the game is more an argument than a real-life depiction, these things affect the persuasiveness of the argument; when the author is both setting a somewhat contrived scene and staking out a position that depends on it, it feels like he's stacking the deck. I bring all this up because, on the terms that the game presents them, one can't really argue with the "right" choice; the others are laden with awful consequences and negative adjectives. But it's not clear at all to me that this is a fair depiction of the choices; at the very least, I think I could rewrite key moments of the game without changing the basic plot or structure to make either of the other two plots the preferable one. The game didn't, in short, convince me that my choice was actually justifiable or correct, merely that the author wanted me to know that he believed it was. That's interesting, in its way, but not very persuasive. My main problem with Tapestry, in short is one that I can't really blame the author for, as such, but it impeded my enjoyment of it regardless: there was no path that actually reflected what I, speaking for myself, wanted to do. I should probably say that I'm a moderate-to-conservative Christian with very definite ideas about what would or wouldn't imperil the state of one's soul, and it's not at all the author's fault if the game's outlook leaves me a little cold. That said, though, I found a certain incoherence in Tapestry; the ending struck me as so nihilistic that nothing that came before really seemed to matter much. I can't really explain without spoilers, but suffice it to say that all the endings seem agnostic--if not outright atheist--about the protagonist's ultimate fate, which made all of the foregoing feel a little hollow. Put another way, the game stacks the deck again, by making it seem as if everything depends on your decisions but not actually giving you much difference in the resolution. The author is, of course, free to say all this, but implicit in the nature of the argument is that the player has to swallow the author's entire worldview, not simply look at the validity of what he's saying. And as I resisted accepting the author's assumptions, the story didn't work very well for me. Tapestry did, I must admit, make me think about the situation it presented; it was hard for me to give a clear answer regarding what I'd do (besides "not do the things in the first place") because it's such a bizarre situation and because the terms aren't spelled out very clearly. Am I actually reliving my life? If not (as noted above) how could it be that I can change parts of it and not change the whole thing? There are Christian arguments for all of the positions, but I found that the weakest ones were for the path that the author clearly preferred, which struck me as interesting. It could fairly be argued that I should have seen where things were going from the beginning and qualified my objections, and I did have a sense from the first quote and from the identity (which I did get, along with the Trinity reference) of the first NPC. But I still think there's an incoherence in setting the one figure against the other three, since they come out of specific traditions that presuppose specific things, and putting them together just never feels like it makes a lot of sense. More accurately, I don't think the first character really belongs in the game, at least not in the role he inhabits; the author is free to rethink the real nature of that person, of course, but the rethinking isn't well enough developed for me to buy it. I don't, in other words, think that the presence of that specific character makes any sense outside a certain context; it may be a product of my biases, but those specific biases are not uncommon in the world. Despite my differences with it, though, I must grant that Tapestry is a well-written and, mostly, well-crafted work, with plenty of thought behind it. Whether or not I agree with the views expressed in Tapestry, I look forward to future works by Mr. Ravipinto. FTP FileDirectory With Inform .z5 File, instructions, and walkthrough

The Tempest

From:
Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G merle.acns.nwu.edu> Review appeared in SPAG #13 -- February 5, 1998 NAME: The Tempest AUTHOR: Graham Nelson E-MAIL: graham SP@G gnelson.demon.co.uk DATE: 1997 PARSER: Inform, sort of SUPPORTS: Inform interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition97/inform/tempest/tempest.z5 VERSION: Release 3 PLOT: Um...borrowed (1.0) ATMOSPHERE: Not bad (1.2) WRITING: To the extent that Graham wrote it... (1.4) GAMEPLAY: Clunky (0.7) CHARACTERS: Fine, but borrowed (1.0) PUZZLES: Few, not very good (0.6) MISC: Brilliant idea, execution so-so (1.3) OVERALL: 5.6 Of the 1997 competition entries, among the most memorable, and the most ambitious, is Graham Nelson's "The Tempest" -- but it may also be the hardest to rate. Certainly, the extensiveness of the Inform hacking is impressive, and the sheer concept of adapting a drama and making it interactive is novel -- but the game does not, in truth, meet all the challenges the task presented. For the few who don't know: this is an adaptation of Shakespeare's "The Tempest." Your role is that of Ariel, the fairy servant to Prospero, the protagonist of the play, and you must complete a series of missions given you by Prospero to (a) move the plot along and (b) win your freedom. The text of the play is virtually all there within the game, and, essentially, when you do something right, the play moves along; you're given a series of situations within the play where the action stops, in a sense, and you need to do something to restart it. After the first scene, you can never make the game unwinnable; you can take as long as you like to hit upon the right thing to do to move things along, and no one will complain. The responses to your actions are written entirely in Elizabethan, perhaps the best part of the whole thing for me; an unrecognized verb elicits "That instruction, that verb, doth elude me," and "get violets" brings this response: "I pluck me nodding violets from this darling bed." Swearing will yield a rich variety of insults, including this: "Mind thy tongue, thou paunchy pottle-deep plume- plucked strumpet!" There is, in short, wit aplenty. There are also, however, some serious problems. Your required actions are not always obvious, even with a copy of the play in hand, and there is no walkthrough or hint system to help you along. Though there are very few puzzles as such -- though one, requiring that you unlock a cabinet, is rather confusing and frustrating -- simply figuring out how to do whatever Prospero has commanded often takes considerable guesswork. Limiting the difficulty somewhat, though hardly in a positive way, is the small set of commands that the game recognizes; once the player figures out the 10 or 15 actions that are helpful, the experimentation required for any given problem is reduced somewhat. The problem remains, though; a bottleneck at the very beginning, in the form of actions that require some intuition even for those who know the play, makes the difficulty of the whole enterprise obvious. Other problems abound -- at one point, even though you can fly, you are required to swim, not an obvious turn of events. The one significant puzzle requires such trial and error that it breaks the spell, so to speak, in that the other characters involved never comment on your presence. And translating some of your tasks into interactive-fiction actions sometimes results in some strange creations, notably three homonculi that you carry around. Nelson takes considerable care to make this a performance of the play, not an innovation on it. Most obviously, you are prevented from speaking your own words -- you cannot ASK a character about anything -- though Ariel will speak lines at the appropriate time, independently of you. This isn't generally a problem -- it would confuse things if you tried to interact with most of the characters anyway -- but given that there are scenes and actions added that aren't Shakespeare's, it doesn't seem that a few questions to Prospero (with the responses described rather than recorded -- "he tells you that...") would break the spell. True, the game does have a note on each character available when you type the name at the prompt -- but there are other things that bear explanation. The desire to avoid dialogue that isn't Shakespeare's is understandable, but it shouldn't override the necessity that a player understand what's going on. Also problematic is that some of the action does not actually turn on anything Ariel does, meaning that, in some cases, _very_ lengthy stretches of text go by before you get a prompt again -- which isn't a problem the first time, but might be if you have to replay that section for some reason -- and in other cases, you set off a scene merely by walking into a room. And in a few cases, though your action does trigger the advance in the plot, the connection feels a bit strained -- and it's those cases where what's required of you is particularly hard to guess. Ariel changes shape now and again, as the play dictates, but the way you prompt them -- when you do; sometimes it just happens -- feels random and impossible to guess. Though these problems speak to the difficulty of the project, it is undeniable that Tempest is not, for all its charm, a particularly playable game. Even so, I enjoyed the experience -- though, I must say, I enjoy Shakespeare as a whole, and being thrust into the middle of the play was entertainment enough for me. Simply having a setting to match and make sense of the action was in many cases helpful and illuminating -- it made sense of the plot in a way that Shakespeare's stage directions sometimes do not -- and the cut scenes that happen in response to certain actions give the player a sense of how the story progresses. And even though there is a feeling of being distinct from the play, in that the prompts only come when the action stops and you have to restart it, that does reinforce the sense that you're controlling the events on the island and the various characters are, in a sense, puppets. Of course, your ability to manipulate them is severely limited by the plot of the play; there isn't much real freedom to test your power. But the sensation is interesting all the same. I found the "performance" genuinely involving in a way that simply reading the text could not reproduce. The sequence of events is variable, to some extent -- certain scenes can be triggered at different times -- but never, as far as I can tell, can you delay or speed up an event in a way that doesn't make sense. And whatever the other faults of Tempest, it must be conceeded that Nelson's Elizabethan is outstanding; even the most mundane responses are written convincingly. The difficulty remains -- how to rate this? Though the gameplay limitations of Tempest are considerable, they are there for a valid reason, not simply inadequate coding -- and, as such, I decided they shouldn't count too heavily aganist the game. Though it doesn't "work" especially well, the concept as put into practice works about as well as it could, and the author should get some credit for a worthy effort. I gave it a 7 on the competition scale, and think that a few minor changes -- like the addition of a hint system, ideally in Elizabethan -- could make this one highly enjoyable. From: Paul O'Brian <obrian SP@G colorado.edu> Review appeared in SPAG #13 -- February 5, 1998 "Yet look, how far The substance of my praise doth wrong this shadow In underprizing it, so far this shadow Doth limp behind the substance." -- William Shakespeare The Merchant of Venice III.ii.126-129 The Tempest attempts a great deal, and achieves much of it despite being somewhat flawed. The work presents itself not as a game, but as an "interactive performance" which asks the player to perform as the magical will of Shakespeare's Prospero, guiding the spirit Ariel (a.k.a. the parser) through the plot of The Tempest (the play), though not necessarily in the order in which Shakespeare wrote it. Remarkably, this complicated positioning of subjectivity works quite well (and opens some unexplored territory for the mixing of first, second, and third person forms of address in IF). It is blended with a new approach to dialogue which prevents the player character from speaking at all but presents many screenfuls of dialogue between other characters (and sometimes including Ariel himself), the exchanges broken up by pausing for keystrokes between each character's lines. In a sense, the player's commands to the parser become essentially stage directions issued to an onstage persona via a magical conduit. This idiom also works beautifully, bestowing the game with a powerful aura of theatrical performance. The Tempest is entertaining and innovative; it often feels quite magical to inhabit the Prospero/Ariel connection, and to take part in a groundbreaking interactive experience. I think that the game also has great potential as an educational tool, allowing readers to experience Shakespeare's language in a new and thrilling way. All this being said, however, the Tempest is not without its problems. Actually, perhaps the game just has one major problem which manifests itself in several ways. Although the game does an excellent (sometimes astonishing) job of rearranging Shakespeare's scenes and lines to fit the interactive mode, the fit is not perfect. Several times during the game I felt faced with responses which, if not complete non sequiturs, were certainly only tenuously connected to the command I had typed. Tempest wrenches in bits and pieces of dialogue from all over the play for various purposes, pressing them into service as room descriptions, parser rejoinders, and other sundry purposes. Sometimes they are perfectly suited to their purpose and sometimes less so. When I was on the wrong end of this continuum, my relationship with the game became strained -- the parser's responses were beautiful, but didn't make enough sense, and not because of any opacity in the Elizabethan English. This situation creates a problem with the game's puzzles: usually interactive fiction prose can be written in such a way as to suggest subtle hints to the problems facing the player. However, when control of the prose escapes the author, those hints become harder and harder for a player to come by. It is to this difficulty with the prose (and, of course, to the lack of any hint system or walkthrough) that I ascribe the problems I've seen players having, often with the very first puzzle of the game. With a typical piece of IF, the game could simply tailor its responses to help the player along -- the Tempest often achieves this goal, but all too often it falls short. Plot: I predict that a certain contingent of voices will raise the hue and cry over what they perceive to be the Tempest's lack of interactivity. I wasn't able to finish the game in two hours (far from it, in fact -- I got only six points, another example of an excellent competition game which breaks the two-hour rule), but the parts I saw made it pretty clear that the game leads you along rather carefully from one plot point to the next, allowing for very little branching. My own opinion is that this structure is not a problem -- after all, the piece bills itself as "more a 'performance' than a 'game'," and as such it's perfectly appropriate for the Tempest to enforce a certain degree of rigidity to accommodate the exigencies of its plot. In fact, what this achieves is the inclusion of a much more complicated plot than is common in interactive fiction; by limiting the player's ability to affect the narrative stream, the game allows the complexity of Shakespeare's plotting to shine through even in this challenging new form. I'm satisfied with the trade-off. Prose: I suppose this is where I ought to weigh in on the debate over the originality of a work like the IF version of the Tempest. It's my opinion that the IF Tempest is absolutely a different piece of work from the Tempest, the play. Yes, the author uses almost the entire script of the play, but I would argue that such usage is not plagiarism, because whatever Shakespeare's intentions, I think it's safe to say that the play was not written to be adapted into interactive form. Consequently, I don't see the IF Tempest as any less an original work than Emma Thompson's Sense and Sensibility or, for that matter, Shakespeare's MacBeth (whose plot was lifted from Holinshed's histories.) Yes, the seams do sometimes show between the author's additions and Shakespeare's text -- these are the work's weaker moments. However, in judging the Tempest's prose, I judge not the quality of Shakespeare's writing, but the quality of its usage in its new medium -- on that basis, more often than not, it succeeds. Puzzles: As noted above, this is where I identify the major weakness of the Tempest. [SPOILERS AHEAD] I cite as an example the first puzzle of the game, where Ariel must blow a storm to upset the boat and set the plot into motion. The reason that players are finding this puzzle so difficult is that it requires rather close knowledge of the play (and not just of the play's first scene), which most players, even very well educated ones, are not likely to have at their fingertips. No hint is given of Ariel's powers or of his purpose in regard to the ship. Now, in a typical IF game, there might be a sentence or two in the introductory paragraph which introduces the idea and sets players on their way. However, because of the constraints imposed by using a collage of prewritten text, these hints are unavailable and thus players flounder in a "read-the-playwright/designer's-mind" sort of puzzle. It won't be the last time. Technical: writing -- The prose did an excellent job with handling a number of difficult technical tasks with regard to writing and using Elizabethan English. coding -- I found only one bug in Tempest (at least, I think it was a bug), among a thoroughly reworked library of Inform responses and the introduction of a number of excellent devices for the presentation of dialogue and clarification of the plot. FTP FileInform file (.z5)

The Temple

From:
Mike Russo <russo SP@G its.caltech.edu> Review appeared in SPAG #31 -- January 3, 2003 TITLE: The Temple AUTHOR: Johan Berntsson EMAIL: temple SP@G ramsberg.net DATE: September 2002 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2002/zcode/temple/temple.z5 VERSION: Release 1 Hoary as the genre is, I'm a big fan of Lovecraftian horror, and The Temple manages to nail the obscure sense of existential menace that makes it work; the city it depicts feels almost like a living thing, aged, decrepit, and full of hate, although the descriptions do provide a few moments of unintentional hilarity (the "irregular-sized basalt blocks of irregular size" spring to mind). Though there are no elements that are specific to the Cthulhu Mythos that I could detect, the dream-world setup echoes the best of Lovecraft's work, and while Charles' longing for his lost love seems more out of Poe than anything else, it certainly adds a welcome complexity to the theme; there's hope as well as despair, which makes the ultimately positive ending fit the story better than it would in a straight Lovecraft pastiche. I enjoyed the puzzles and felt them to be generally well-integrated, although that could reflect my own bias in favor of messing around with rituals. I did need to consult the walkthrough at one point, since knowing how much Lovecraft liked cats, I hadn't thought of throwing things at the one in the game, but for the most part there were enough clues to know both what to do next and why it was important. The inclusion of an NPC in the same situation as the player was a nice touch, permitting a few fun puzzles that required teamwork, and cleverly allowing the author to play up the horror of the situation without being forced to manipulate the player too heavy-handedly. I did run into one fairly significant design bug -- Charles helped dig me out of a cave-in after I opened up a portal and sent him back to his own time! -- but aside from that, the game was quite solid. It's true that The Temple isn't fleshed out as completely as it could have been -- leaving plenty to the reader's imagination is a critical part of Lovecraft's style, but it still would have been nice to know more about the presence trapped in the vial, or have a better idea about where the cultists generally got their victims -- and the puzzles generally feel lightweight -- boiling two powders together isn't quite as eldritch a ritual as I'd have liked. But it succeeds quite well at evoking and sticking to a mood, and presenting gameplay that fits that mood admirably. Rating: 7 FTP FileZcode .z5 file (updated version) FTP FileDirectory with zcode .z5 file and walkthrough

Temple of Kaos

From:
Cirk Bejnar <eluchil404 SP@G yahoo.com> Review appeared in SPAG #35 -- December 31, 2003 TITLE: Temple of Kaos AUTHOR: Peter Gambles EMAIL: peter.gambles SP@G admin.ox.ac.uk DATE: October 2003 PARSER: TADS2 SUPPORTS: TADS2 interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2003/tads2/templeofkaos VERSION: Version 3.3.1 (competition release) Most of this game's text is written in a rhyming verse that many will doubtless find tiresome, but that I actually liked. The sparse, tortured syntax captured the feel of the piece quite well. However, it did cause a bit of a problem when unaltered library messages were encountered. And even when the messages were altered there was some evidence of sloppiness, as when a message says you're alone even when you're not. But such things remained minor annoyances and overall the text flowed smoothly. The story, on the other hand, often went in fits and starts. The game follows an inverted logic (candles that take in rather than produce light, etc.) that can be maddeningly difficult to unravel. While checking the clues sometimes provides an "aha!" moment, just as often the feeling is more along the lines of "well I wonder why _that_ would work?" On the plus side, the game features a unique (as far as I know) dual scoring system and a simple yet shrouded back story that I found fun to unravel. Overall, your mileage may vary, but I found Kaos an enjoyable pastime and would recommend it to anyone willing to enter its skewed vision. FTP FileDirectory with TADS2 .gam file and hints

Textfire Golf

From: Francesco Bova
<fbova SP@G pangea.ca> Review appeared in SPAG #25 -- June 20, 2001 NAME: Textfire Golf AUTHOR: J. T. Adams AKA Adam Cadre EMAIL: ac@adamcadre.ac DATE: 2001 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-code (Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware VERSION: 1.01 URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/zcode/golf.z5 Do you know why you don't see any extremely tall golfers on the PGA tour? Sure there are the odd anomalies, but by and large most professional golfers are under 6'2'' (and over 90% shoot right handed, but I won't get into that). The reason: Tall golfers have more in the way of mechanics that they have to get right to hit a ball properly. Because their arms and legs are longer, and correspondingly the arc of their swing is bigger, the distance traveled from back swing to contact is longer and more can potentially go wrong as the clubface approaches the ball. As a result, any mistake (i.e., opening up the club face too much) during a tall golfer's swing is magnified to a much greater extent than it would be had the golfer been shorter. Having said that, if a taller golfer gets all of his mechanics in place correctly, then the resulting swing should produce a much better drive, all things being equal, than that of a shorter golfer because of the extra power provided by the increased leverage of the golfer's longer arms and body. The net effect of this concept is that good shorter golfers should be more polished and consistent than good taller golfers, but when taller golfers get everything done correctly, they should be able to produce better individual results than shorter golfers. Strangely enough, this concept parallels many an IF piece (nice segue, eh?). Before we look at the comparison, let's start with a little IF theory. The larger the IF game, the more rooms and more objects to implement, and the greater the combinatorial explosion. What it means to a game designer is this: Every time you add one object to the game, you have to consider how it may need to interact with every other object in the game. In essence, by adding one object you're potentially DOUBLING the number of interactions that may need to be allowed (or disallowed, with appropriate "you can't do that" messages). An example of how this can be a problem crops up in one of the largest IF releases in recent memory, The Mulldoon Legacy. Mulldoon is a game that taxes Inform's memory capabilities with an incredible amount of rooms and objects. Although still impressively good, the problem with its first release was that players tried to utilize obviously single-use inventory items in logical ways, even though the author hadn't accounted for all the possible uses of the many items in his game. And, in a few cases, alternate solutions were found that were never intended by the author. This lead to a bit of frustration on my part, although once I thought about it, the sheer task of trying to come up with all the possible combinations in a game like Mulldoon would be quite difficult even for the most experienced author. The point is that the bigger the game, the more little oversights and errors can be magnified into bigger ones and, much like a tall golfer's swing, can cause adverse affects that affect the bigger picture. Suffice it to say that bigger games that are technically competent and consistent deserve much praise due to the sheer difficulty of reducing this combinatorial explosion. The combinatorial explosion (or lack thereof), is also the reason why I would expect a higher degree of polish for a smaller game and be much more critical of such oversights. Textfire Golf is a fairly small game and so, keeping my previous opinions in mind, I would expect a high degree of polish (not as nice a segue, I know, but I've been trying to work that golf analogy into a review for, like, ever, and this seemed an appropriate place to do it). To be honest, I would expect a high degree of polish anyway because of the name in the authorial credits, so it was no surprise that Textfire Golf impressed me in many ways. A halfway Z-abuse (not completely ASCII art-based like Z-snake, for example), Textfire Golf also incorporates an interesting storyline for a quick 9-hole game of golf. What makes this game really work though, is the arcade-like feature of being able to control your ball's pace and trajectory. This is done with a power meter that you stop with a press of the space bar, and a trajectory meter that will result in you slicing, hooking, or driving dead center. The method follows the standard arcade power and trajectory meter pretty faithfully, and is certainly an improvement on some of the older style golf games I've played (the one I'm thinking of involves pushing a little white ball set in the arcade's console, which gave the player little to no control over the ball's distance and direction). The course itself isn't too difficult to play, and with the benefit of the UNDO command you can always go back and retry a stroke if you've made a mistake (if only it were that easy in real life). I actually would have preferred it if the author removed the UNDO command, just to keep us a bit honest. It would have, at the very least, provided me with more incentive to replay the game in an attempt to get my score a little lower. For players who only play the game to fiddle with the golfing interface, this is especially true. Still, even with the UNDO feature enabled, there are many reasons to try replaying this game as there are multiple endings that take into account almost every contingency you can think of (i.e., hitting your ball out of bounds 20 times in a row, or putting with your driver). I came up with roughly 16 endings myself, but I'm sure that there are more I didn't find. The fiction side, as is typical of a Cadre game, is well written with witty dialogue and Mr. Cadre's trademark snarky parser. The best bits of prose for me came from your foursome's bastardized golfing lingo and constant cheap shots. Here is a typical example: Ted's ball sails over the bridge and lands on the far side of the lake. Ed taps the ball off the tee and onto the fairway. "You do realize that if you keep us here till eleven it's coming out of your pay," Ted points out. Fred shanks the ball into the lake. "Maggie, call Aquaman!" Ted yells. Although interaction with the NPCs is limited (all you can really do is ask your caddy for a certain club type), the interaction with the game's environment is surprisingly rich, as the author has allowed for many common golfing actions (common cheating techniques for example), and some not-so-common actions that generate some interesting non-default responses. Each hole is described creatively as well, and that's more of a challenge than you'd probably think considering most golf holes have similar types of scenery. The storyline also proves to be more substantial than its initial premise of a simple foursome of golf. You play the part of Ned, a lowly hack who works for a construction company and wants to play with the big boys. When an opening in the usual foursome appears, you're invited to play and with the invitation comes an opportunity to assert your position within the company's hierarchy. What may get lost while you're enjoying the mechanics of swinging your golf club and taking in the beautifully described scenery however, is that there are lofty issues afoot with the PC. Ned, as it turns out, is a character fraught with insecurity; so much so in fact that his constant overanalyzing leads to an abnormal inability to act. In this respect, he reminded me of the 2000 XYZZY-award-winning PC from the 2000 IFComp game Rameses. When I played through Textfire Golf I could see shades of J. Alfred Prufrock's quote, "Do I dare to eat a peach?", creeping into the protagonist's mindset as his constant self-critiquing leaves him unable to act, and this was similar to my playing experience with Rameses. Comparing Rameses' protagonist with Ned, the big difference is that while both are overanalytical in their mindset and are therefore unable to act proactively, the Rameses PC WILL NOT act regardless of what the player types. This essentially relegates the player to the role of conscience or voice of reason that the protagonist refuses to listen to. Ned, on the other hand, can be broken out of his cocoon to do just about anything. Also, unlike the Rameses PC where the failings of the protagonist are specifically driven by his own inabilities, Ned seems to have a streak of bad luck working against him that affects him regardless of his actions. Of the 16 or so endings I found in the game, none were positive (although it may be the case that I never saw the optimal one). It's as if the golfing gods are punishing him for having the hubris to elevate himself above his current place in the corporate chain. Hmmm... maybe I'm overanalyzing a bit. I suppose it could also be the case that Ned's just unlucky and a bit shy. Also, keeping the author's previous works in mind, there seems to be a real trend towards more realistic endings as opposed to the overly happy, utopic ones. The comment here may be that Ned was naďve in the first place to think one golf game could change his future. Whatever the case, Ned is an interesting PC to be sure, and more than I expected considering this game was initially labeled a Z-abuse. OK, I think I've said enough. Let's wrap this baby up. For you golfing fans, I think you'll get a real kick out of Textfire Golf and it's novel golfing interface, and for everyone else, the dialogue and scenery descriptions coupled with a more-than-skin-deep NPC are worth the time it takes to download. Golfing score: BIRDIE FTP FileDOS executable (.exe) FTP FileInform file (.z5)

Theatre

From:
Gareth Rees <gdr11 SP@G cl.cam.ac.uk> Review appeared in SPAG #6 -- July 26, 1995 NAME: Theatre PARSER: Inform's usual AUTHOR: Brendon Wyber PLOT: destroy the evil EMAIL: cctr120 SP@G cantua.canterbury.ac.nz, brendon SP@G caverock.co.nz ATMOSPHERE: Lovecraft horror AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF Archive WRITING: good spelling, no style PUZZLES: good SUPPORTS: Infocom ports CHARACTERS: not convincing DIFFICULTY: easy [This review contains some plot details, but spoils no puzzles.] The introduction to "Theatre" explains that you are an estate agent, trying to sell an old run-down theatre in a slum area of town. It is late in the evening, and you're in a hurry to see off the buyer and set out to the opera, when you remember that you left your pager in the basement. After collecting it, you discover that your car has been stolen, and a nasty thug turns up to make sure that you don't wander off. It looks as though you're going to have to spend the night in the theatre unless you can find a phone and call the police. You have to play through the above. It takes a minimum of about ten turns, but it feels very forced because the game won't allow you to explore until you have finished the opening, and the "You can't do that yet, because that would be contrary to the plot" messages come thick and fast. Perhaps the author could have found a more natural way to restrict access to the rest of the theatre until the opening was finished. After the opening, the game becomes much wider. You explore the haunted theatre, at first in search of a way out, and then in search of magical items necessary to thwart a certain evil power. You find yourself collecting the scattered pages of the 1898 journal of Eric Morris, the man who drew the architects' plans for the theatre, which gradually reveal a tantalising story of how he fell in love with Elizabeth, a mysterious and beautiful woman who persuaded him to alter the plans in nefarious ways. My first impressions were very favourable. The developing plot was intriguing, and the atmosphere well-judged. I imagined that the focus would be on some tragic and melodramatic incident in the history of the theatre (perhaps, I speculated wildly, this would be a jealous rivalry between two leading actors over a woman, or a spurned prima donna who killed herself). The puzzles were logical and not over-hard, and the programming was excellent: almost everything I tried produced an intelligent response, and there were never any problems guessing verbs. The developing journal entries kept me interested in looking around for more. If anything lets the game down, it's the quality of the prose, which feels as though it has been very hastily written, without much attention to grammar. There are few memorable or vivid descriptions, and lots of clumsy phrasing. This is a particular problem with the journal entries, which have an unfortunate Adrian Mole tone. However, the game becomes weaker as it progresses. The early sections are original and interesting, but there comes a point where the game loses its atmosphere and becomes a standard fantasy set in H. P. Lovecraft's "Cthulhu" mythos. A couple of scenes (the monster in the library and the rats in the tunnels) feel as though they could have been lifted straight out of Infocom's game "Lurking Horror," also based on Lovecraft's books. The interesting exploration eventually comes to an end with the disappointing realisation that this has been a simple treasure hunting exercise: you have to find a collection of colour-coded jewels of power and leave them in the correct place. The author explained to me that because of time constraints, he hadn't been able to spend as much time on the ending as he would have liked. "Theatre" certainly feels as though it reached a certain point and then was finished off in a desperate rush. There are many loose ends: for example, it is hinted that there is a cellular phone in the theatre, but this never materialises. Some of the closing scenes are very unfortunate: for example, the appearance of Elizabeth near the end completely spoils the characterisation of her that was established through the journal. It's very disappointing that there is no real attempt to link the plot with the potentially interesting milieu of early twentieth century theatre. I don't want to sound too negative. "Theatre" is excellent when considered only as an adventure game, with good puzzles and superb game-play. I felt that it lacked the consistency and prose that would have made it a good piece of fiction too. But then I feel the same way about Zork . From: Julian Arnold <jools SP@G arnod.demon.co.uk> Review appeared in SPAG #6 -- July 26, 1995 In this game you are a property agent who, having just shown some clients around a decrepit theatre, are annoyed to realise that you left your electronic pager in the old building. The game begins as you re-enter the theatre with a view to retrieving this object before meeting friends at the opera. Suffice to say things do not go quite as planned. _Theatre_ is very distinctly split into the traditional opening, mid-game and end-game. Indeed, the three sections seemed rather too distinct from each other, lending a rather disjointed feel to the game. Also contributing to the feeling of disjointedness is the atmosphere, which changes about half way through from ghostly psychological horror to semi-Lovecraftian `icky' horror, more reliant on physical revulsion than a sense of `something's wrong'. This is a shame, as it reminds the player too much of _The Lurking Horror_ which is the better game. The opening is nice 'n easy for beginners with plenty of advice in case you don't know what to do next. This may be frustrating for more experienced players as it is very linear. The middle game opens up more, with several well thought out but familiar puzzles open to the player at once. However, as mentioned above, there is a sudden change of direction in the atmosphere and style of the game, which was not to this reviewer's tastes. The end-game is where _Theatre_ really falls down though, with a short sequence of ill- or un- explained puzzles which, once finally solved, leave the player with an unsatisfactory ending and a bitter aftertaste. Hmm, the previous paragraph gives the impression that I didn't like _Theatre_. This is not true, there are many good points to recommend the game. For a start it seems an excellent game for the beginning IF player, boasting several pages of a well written `Introduction to text adventures' as well as a short non-interactive demonstration and a useful explanation of the way the parser works. The parser itself, in common with all Inform games, is excellent. The puzzles, although they've mostly been seen before in various incarnations, are both logical and fair (again apart from the last few). There are also some nice little touches along the way, such as the system for reading the diary pages which you pick up along the way (a clever use of Inform's menu system), the adaptive on-line hints, and the fact that the game starts in verbose mode rather than brief. To summarize, _Theatre_ is far from perfect but is perfectly adequate with several enjoyable moments and a nice `polish' to it. It is a damn sight better than many shareware games out there, and it's free. Try it, you might like it. Akk! I can't believe I wrote that... FTP FileInform File (.z5) FTP FileSolution (Text)

There's A Hole In Your Bucket

From:
Audrey De Lisle <adelisle SP@G earthlnk.net> Review appeared in SPAG #15 -- October 11, 1998 NAME: There's a Hole In Your Bucket AUTHOR: Karen Tyers EMAIL: karvic SP@G tesco.net DATE: 1998 PARSER: PAW (Professional Adventure Writer) SUPPORTS: Spectrum and emulators AVAILABILITY: Adventure Workshop, 36 Grasmere Road, Royton, Oldham, Lancs, OL2 6SR, England Also: Adventure Probe Magazine, 52 Burford Road, Liverpool, L16 6AQ, England Other games may be had for C64 and Amiga, inquire of author. Price: A small fee for postage and handling to the Workshop or an optional donation to Adventure Probe magazine if emailed by Karen. Adventure Probe is a small, hand assembled magazine published by Karen Tyers. It contains reviews, hints and a walk-through each month. Most of the games are for the C64 or Amiga, but some are pc. Its listed price is two pounds sterling (in England). There is no provision for foreign money. The February issue has 50 pages, 6" x 8.5". For those in UK, there is a telephone help line and solutions can be downloaded. BUCKET is a charming small game based on a folk song, "I've Got A Hole In My Bucket, Dear Liza". The player first learns that his wife, Liza, wants some water to wash the windows and there is none. During his search for a water source and a bucket, he finds the duck pond is empty and the ducks are miserable. Blossom, the sow, is most unco-operative and the chickens are hungry. By frequent use of the LOOK command coupled with BEHIND, IN, or UNDER, the player's search is rewarded with objects leading to success in achieving this goal. Besides the farm area, there is a five room house. Liza does not contribute much, but is an npc. The only HELP is a reminder to follow the words in the song. Emulators: the Lunter Z80 emulator (registered) is used by the author with Win 95 and she reports that it works fine. OTOH, I use DOS and found that the Lunter emulator (shareware) did not work well with the pentium/60MHz, but does work well with a 486/30MHz. I downloaded the other pc emulator and it does work with the pentium, but not .z80 files. Of course, that may just be my pentium. I was playing with the PAW .z80 file and not with a .sna file. The author now has a proper .sna file ready. At some future time, she hopes to have pc versions written with Inform or TADS. The song: There's a hole in my bucket dear Liza, dear Liza. There's a hole im my bucket, dear Liza. Well, mend it dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry. Well, mend it dear Henry, mend it. With what shall I mend it, dear Liza? (etc). With some straw, dear Henry (etc) But the straw is too long, dear Liza, (etc) Well, cut it, dear Henry (etc) With what shall I cut it, dear Liza? (etc) With an axe, dear Henry (etc) But the axe is too blunt, dear Liza (etc) Well, sharpen it, dear Henry (etc) With what shall I sharpen it, dear Liza? (etc) With a stone, dear Henry (etc) But the stone is too dry, dear Liza (etc) Well, wet it, dear Henry (etc) With what shall I wet it, dear Liza? (etc) Try water, dear Henry (etc) In what shall I fetch it, dear Liza? (etc) In a bucket, dear Henry (etc) I prefer not to rate games. I enjoyed playing this one or would not offer a review. There were two 'hunt the verb' problems; one easily resolved, but the other could be a sticker. However, this could be a difference in culture, so Americans might have more trouble than others. I am not sure younger players with no experience with C64, RS Color Computers, Spectrum, etc, would be interested. These games do not resemble MYST, et al, but are great for older players.

There's a Snake in the Bathtub

From: Emily Short (emshort SP@G mindspring.com) Review appeared in
SPAG #45 -- July 17, 2006 TITLE: There's a Snake in the Bathtub AUTHOR: Edward Griffiths EMAIL: ? DATE: 2006 PARSER: Inform 6 SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: http://mirror.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/zcode/bathtub.z5 VERSION: Release 1 I came across this game largely by chance: it was announced in the usual "recent additions to the archive" post, but I don't think it was mentioned on rec.games.int-fiction or otherwise promoted to the community. So it may not have gotten much notice. Mild spoilers about the structure follow; if you want to avoid all contact, stop reading now, though I think I would have been glad to know these things, myself. The premise of the game is exactly as given in the title: you get home from a hot sticky day, ready for a nice long soak, only to find that the tub is occupied. From there, everything just gets increasingly surreal and out of hand, eventually requiring visits to alternative dimensions and so on. "Slice of life" this is not. There are a number of implementation details that add up to make things a bit frustrating. There's very little here by way of implicit action handling; everything has to be explicitly opened and closed for use, for instance. Disambiguation is sometimes inelegant. There is some mild verb guessing, too. You'll want to read the list of understood verbs (type HELP at the outset of the game), but even then, there is one important command where ATTACH FOO TO BAR works, but ATTACH BAR TO FOO gives a generic failure message, and it's not clear what's gone wrong. Moreover, there are inventory limits, and they do get in the way. A hint system is provided, but it doesn't cover nearly everything one might want hints about, and in most cases it only told me the things about the puzzle that I'd already worked out myself: my notes say "More of a taunt system than a hint system." Well, I was feeling cranky. There are also lots of low-level immersion-breakers (or possibly bugs): for instance, you can fill a bathtub with water, but this doesn't seem to affect the other contents of the bathtub in some of the ways you might expect. Sometimes it's possible to interact with creatures or objects even though they are technically untouchable at the moment. An action that broke an inventory item produced the change only some of the time, and I wasn't able to figure out why (though this turned out not to be game-critical). Likewise, many sensible actions aren't dealt with; you're not allowed to throw things at a certain object, even though that would be my first approach if I were in the same situation. Worst of all, there is an absolutely fiendish 100-move time limit on the whole game. I replayed and replayed, trying to optimize, but without any luck. I was only able to finish the game when -- quite belatedly -- I realized there was actually a way to disable the limit entirely. It might not hurt to have further hinting in the game about that possibility. For all that, "There's a Snake in the Bathtub" is not without charm. Much of the game revolves around defeating various malevolent figures, and it is generally quite rewarding when you finally succeed; in this respect the snake reminded me a little of the lobster in Gourmet. Many of the descriptions and events are fairly entertaining, and there's pleasure in the sheer absurdity of many of the solutions. I have less to say about this than I do about the game's flaws, because enumerating all the funny moments would ruin them -- but I did find enough here to keep me playing despite the detractions listed. In the end, then, this is an exuberant, slightly old-fashioned puzzle-fest, probably taking several hours to play without outside help. Some of those hours will be spent retracing your steps. Players in the mood for that kind of experience will enjoy this piece. Those looking for a strong story or a deeply implemented setting would be best advised to look elsewhere. "There's a Snake in the Bathtub" is not for the impatient -- though if you find yourself replaying endlessly to make that 100-move deadline, do consider ways to make the deadline go away. FTP FileZcode (.z5) game file

Threnody

From: Mike Harris (M.Harris SP@G spi-bpo.com) Review appeared in
SPAG #44 -- April 30, 2006 TITLE: Threnody AUTHOR: John Schiff EMAIL: john SP@G dopplerfx.com DATE: March 13, 2005 PARSER: TADS 2 SUPPORTS: HTML TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: http://mirror.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/springthing/2005/Threnody.zip VERSION: Release 1.0b Threnody bills itself as "a lighthearted, puzzle-rich fantasy game" and as such hits the mark. The backstory is a pedestrian "castle full of treasures" meme, with the mildly interesting twist that in addition to treasure “points” accumulated, each of the NPC’s has a "Catena" which must be located and destroyed to "release" the NPC, a tally of which scores in a parallel point system. The player must choose at the beginning whether the PC will be a warrior, wizard or thief, as well as the gender of the PC. While the former affects what options the PC has available to solve portions of the game, the purpose of the gender choice seems only for fleshing out the story thread. The verbiage is standard "fantasy 101" with the exception that objects’ and sometimes NPC’s descriptions contain horrible puns. The title NPC is a talking cat and is generally helpful as a guide but which purpose seems more to further the story than the game. I delight in both bad puns and cats; those not so enamored might find the game less charming. I prefer to be very methodical when playing IF, searching and examining everything in a room and solving as many puzzles as possible before moving on to the next room. This approach works poorly with Threnody. Those who prefer a brief visit to every accessible room before beginning any puzzle solving in earnest might find Threnody less frustrating. Firstly, objects that might aid in solving puzzles are often available; I did a lot of guessing. Secondly, many rooms and locations are empty, there as "place holders." Lastly, the game is full of objects that seem to be nothing more than red herrings. This leads us to bugs. It is possible to locate and destroy the Catenas of some NPC’s before encountering the NPC’s themselves. While the disappearance/destruction of the NPC should mean its absence when its location is eventually found, this is not always the case. Taking the Catenas to unusual locations to be destroyed will sometimes trigger the same bug. In any case, this bug allows the game to be put in an unwinnable state as the NPC can not be vanquished. I also stumbled upon a sequence of moves that "recreated" the Catena of one particular NPC, which I could then destroy repeatedly for points. In some cases there is more than one way to "beat" the NPC, but I found another bug involving engaging a NPC in a game of chance using an object found elsewhere. While defeating the NPC in the game of chance should achieve success, and the NPC states that you can take the (blank) because you’ve won, any attempt to actually do so results in the pre-defeat response. I found the "red herrings" to be frustrating as well. While they may not be true "red herrings" but have some purpose in solving puzzles when the PC is in a different iteration, their sheer number gets tedious – "open (blank) with (blank)"; "put (blank) on (blank)" is fun for the first thirty or forty tries but does start to pall once one gets into triple digits. Furthermore, while the PC’s carrying capacity is large it’s not unlimited. Three quarters of the way through the game I found that I was no longer able to pick up objects and had to decide which objects in my vast inventory to jettison, hoping that I would not rid myself of anything truly useful in the process. While some puzzles are ludicrously simple, some are so difficult that I had no recourse but to refer to the hints or the walkthrough. There is some trouble of the “guess the verb” variety but in many cases there seems to be no way to solve the puzzle except through brute force, trying every possible combination hoping that one works. Some minor squawks – default responses sometimes come up when the story would dictate otherwise. For example, upon entering a room there are often lavish descriptions of furnishings, floor etc., further examination of which elicits "you see nothing special about the (blank)" type responses, or directly contradictory responses – "The floor is made of large slabs of a dark, rough stone" after the description states something very different. The story emphasizes the importance of the Catenas to the NPC’s, but (with the exception of the title NPC) showing the catena to the NPC elicits a default "(NPC) is not impressed." And speaking of "guess the verb," during play I could often not recall the term "Catena" or names of NPC’s and more generic descriptions such as "man," "crystal" or "blue" were ineffective. In summary, while Threnody is a mildly entertaining diversion exactly as advertised, its flaws and generic storyline made it less than compelling. The optional graphics are very much like the game itself – workmanlike, well executed but ultimately unremarkable, and doing little to enhance the storyline. Once played through as one PC I had no desire to play more than a small amount with the PC in a different iteration, just enough to get a feel for that particular PC and some of the differences in puzzle solving. On a scale of 1 to 10 I would rate it a 5 for difficulty and an overall rating of 5.5 to 6. Zip file with HTML TADS 2 game file, multimedia resources, and walkthroughs

Till Death Makes A Monk-fish Out Of Me

From:
Jessica Knoch <jessicaknoch SP@G mindspring.com> Review appeared in SPAG #31 -- January 3, 2003 TITLE: Till Death Makes A Monk-fish Out Of Me AUTHOR: Jon Ingold and Mike Sousa EMAIL: jonnyingold SP@G netscape.net, mjsousa SP@G attbi.com DATE: September 2002 PARSER: TADS 2 SUPPORTS: TADS 2 interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2002/tads2/tildeath/tildeath.gam VERSION: Release 1.0 Heh. Great title. One of the neatest things about this game is the way the TADS is made to look like Inform, the way it used to look on my old interpreter no less. This is indeed very kewl. But on to the game! You play a scientist at some unspecified point in the future with a nifty device that allows people to transfer their consciousness to other people's bodies, apparently for a short time. You are going to use the device to vacation on the surface for a while (oh, you and your fellow scientists are at an underwater base, did I mention?) when something goes horribly wrong. The scene where something goes horribly wrong is actually sort of funny, and well-coded, and in general fun. For instance, there's an emergency switch to open the door and get out. If you try to pull it first, the game says "It's a push switch," and if you try to push it first, it says "It's a pull switch," just to make you take that extra turn. This is great. Normally, this sort of artificial time-wasting is not great, it's just annoying, but it works here because the game doesn't start until after you don't make it out of the first scene. Clear? Ah, there are some great moments in this game. The first two puzzles, involving getting out of where you wake up, are terrific and clever (and I solved them without hints). By the way, the hints come in three different levels of helpfulness, and are location-dependent, so that when you are in a certain room you get the hint for the puzzle it thinks you're working on. Not always the right one, but it does take into account what you have in your inventory, or at least it sure seems to. It's very cool, although (as I said) problematic. Come to think of it, I solved the next puzzle or two on my own also. Very well done. What's also fun about the game is that you, as the player, actually know more about your situation in some ways than the PC does. Then again, the PC knows what the machine was supposed to do and you, the player, do not. So it's kind of a trade-off. Still, the quirkiness and, well, I almost want to say naiveté of the PC are really very humorous. I lose the humor a bit when I suspect that the PC knows things about how the computer works that he isn't sharing, but with a few hints you can get by. The password and key puzzle from the latter section of the game is very very tricky, but quite novel and very good. By the way, when I was halfway through the puzzle I thought, "All right! What's 'dog' in French?" and typed "chien" without thinking much about it. When that didn't work, I spent five minutes trying to remember how on Earth you say "dog" in French (since I had it wrong). But as I said, the actual solution was terrific. Where does the game miss out? Well, there was the frustration of not being able to do something and not finding any hints, because I was going about the solution in the wrong way. I assumed I needed to re-enter a room to get something, when actually I needed to be in a different location to get what was in the room (thus the problem with location-based hints). And there are some spelling mistakes and punctuation quirks. At one point, the status line lists you as being "on on the trolley." And an item is "far to heavy" to pick up. There are also a few missing synonyms, like using "Rosalind" after she's in pieces. And it's tough, I know it's tough, to implement being in a location within a room by implementing it as a separate location (which is what seems to have happened with the metal drawers). It's tricky because there are basic things in the larger room that you want to be able to refer to from the smaller section of room. Let me clear things up: You are on a large drawer, pulled out from a wall of drawers, and the room description mentions both metal drawers and a ceiling. But from where you are you "don't see any ceiling here," nor the metal drawers. It's a bit misleading, but very forgivable. Anyway! For most of the game, the writing is either effective but not attention-getting, or startlingly funny. For instance, a metal plate sticks up from the ground "like a wafer in an ice cream," and later a particular item is sticking up "like a cocktail stick from a sausage." Those are attention-getting phrases, and while not smooth or sweet, they do bring a chuckle. I did feel pretty involved in the story, even if I didn't realize it until I was racing down the corridor on a metal gurney, being pursued by God knows what, and it occurred to me that I was pretty caught up in it. The best part was, I wasn't anxious or worried about being caught by the thing because of the overall light and amusing tone. Very impressive. There was one programming trick which, while I liked it at the time, caused me some puzzle-solving problems. If there was one particular object that the game wanted to draw your attention to, it would prevent you from examining other things by saying "Your eyes slide back to the ." That's pretty slick, and also effective because the player looks at whatever the thing is. The problem is, a line like that at the bottom of a room description makes me skim the room description faster, which means I missed critical objects that were listed and had no idea (for instance) that there was a hand scanner in the control room. My only other complaint would be that the ending is somewhat anticlimactic. I always like a good long ending that really wraps up all the loose ends, or just hits you over the head with them, and I wasn't really sure that the ending I got with Monk-Fish was the best one. I don't see what I could have done differently, but I still wonder. Overall, a very strong work with excellent writing and clever puzzles. Great job all around! FTP FileDirectory with TADS .gam file

Time -- All Things Come To an End

From:
C.E. Forman <ceforman SP@G worldnet.att.net> Review appeared in SPAG #11 -- September 16, 1997 NAME: Time -- All things come to an end AUTHOR: Andy Phillips EMAIL: pmyladp SP@G unix.ccc.nottingham.ac.uk DATE: October 1996 (Release 4) PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Version 8 ZIP Interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/infocom/tatctae.z8 [This review contains minor spoilers for the beginning of the game.] It would seem to me that 1995-1996 was the Year of the Time-Travel Game. Over the past 12 months, we've witnessed the appearance of "A Night at the Museum Forever", "Jigsaw", and "Lost New York", heard rumors of Jon Drukman's not-yet-released "Forward into the Past", and are now faced with "Time: All Things Come to an End." Yes, "Time" is another time-travel game (!), and a more believable one than "Museum", but not quite up to the levels of realism attained by Graham Nelson and Neil deMause. It is well-programmed, and for the most part well-written (though there are a surprising number of run-on sentences, considering the author is from the U.K.). I personally found the introduction rather hard to swallow. As the game began, a brilliant scientist (me) was in danger of having his temporal translocator research project shut down due to lack of progress. Within 20 turns, however, I'd figured out how to power the machine, taking advantage of an overhead lightning storm. Considering that the storm is described as "typical English weather", the notion of it taking YEARS to get around to considering lightning as a power source seems positively ludicrous! ("Great Scott!" as Dr. Emmitt Brown himself might put it.) To be fair, though, once you get the machine working and are whisked into a cyberpunk-like dystopian future (perhaps the direct consequences of your meddling with the timestream?), suspension of disbelief kicks in, and "Time" becomes an enjoyable and surprisingly playable work of I-F. This came as quite a surprise to me, because the game itself is very linear. It's a single-path story with little room for experimentation, puzzles requiring a great deal of note-taking and foresight, and plenty of opportunities to become irrevocably stuck. Normally I dislike stop-and-start gameplay. For some reason, though, this didn't make me hate it, even after a dozen or so setbacks. I can't quite explain why: The writing is good but not spectacular; The settings aren't all that inspired; Most of the individual puzzles are no more clever than the average game. Yet for some reason it was very, very fun for me to play, and discussions with other players led to the same conclusion. There's something about the *way* the puzzles are presented -- never gratuitous, but as part of the story, giving the sense of plot unfolding before the player; layered, interwoven with one another; with virtually all reasonable actions accounted for -- that makes one want to keep trying, even after dying countless horrible deaths. Just when you think you've finally gotten somewhere, "Time" tells you that you don't. But you're close, you just know it. Maybe one more try... Unfortunately, if you're weary of games that make you use information gained from past lives, there's nothing I can do to disguise the fact that "Time" is one of those games. But I found it to be so enjoyable that this so- called "design flaw" didn't even matter. I recommend that even crusaders for "realistic" I-F give this one a try. You might be pleasantly surprised. Just save often. From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G merle.acns.nwu.edu> Review appeared in SPAG #12 -- December 13, 1997 As a reviewer should, I took it upon myself to replay Andy Phillips' Time: All Things Come to an End before reviewing it, thereby to produce a transcript. The exercise, such as it was, afforded some insight: when the solutions to puzzles are so illogical or obscure that they stump me completely -- even when I've _already_ finished the game once -- something is gravely amiss. When getting through the first half of the thing, even after I remember the solutions to the puzzles, takes many, many tries because I forget stupid little items that prove essential much later on, it says nothing positive about a game. And when I am unable to keep a coherent transcript because of all the saving and restoring required to get through the every-move-accounted-for sections, well, the resulting review will be less than glowing. Trashing Andy Phillips has, admittedly, become a trend of late, so I will try to be as positive as possible in reviewing Time... To wit: somehow, for some reason, I plowed through this thing to begin with; it kept me interested enough to forgive its faults and push on to the end. I can't explain what it was now, and I certainly don't feel compelled to slog through games I genuinely dislike. But on some level, for me at least, Mr. Phillips did manage to craft a game that held my attention, and he deserves recognition for that. On, then, to the game. As has been pointed out, Time... is an example of a heavily linear game, meaning that fairly narrow sections of the thing are available at any given time -- and, moreover, past sections become unavailable once apparently disposed with. Handled well, this sort of game can tell an interesting story and keep the plot moving along with the game; handled poorly, it can be both frustrating and dull -- because the confines of the plot can keep the player in a small section of the game for a long time, with nothing to do but examine the same objects over and over and beat his head against the wall. More importantly, if not designed well, the player can lock himself out of winning the game without realizing it. And Time..., I'm sorry to say, is linear in just about the worst way a game can be. Things like manipulating the scenery, holding onto objects that seem fundamentally single-use, and obtaining objects with no apparent use -- all are required actions for unforeseeable later events. Players are advised never, NEVER, to assume an object has exhausted its usefulness, or to leave a game area -- for the first quarter or so of the game, you'll be doing that every few moves -- without taking absolutely everything that isn't nailed down. Except, of course, for those objects that get you killed if you keep carrying them past a certain point. And then there's the object that you break in one scene but pick up and use later, and the murder weapon that you are expected to take with you and use in an unforeseeable way, and, of course, the many puzzles that you must solve for no other reason than that there are some strange objects sitting around... I trust the problems are becoming apparent. There are many and various puzzles in Time... that require knowledge obtained by death. The most egregious of them involves an apartment where, let's see, failing to hide your means of getting into the apartment (since they are noticed by a search that begins only after you enter the apartment) and otherwise cover your tracks before anyone actually starts looking for you, failing to realize that the police are outside watching the apartment and will charge at the least sign you are there, failing to realize that the police will kill you if you are holding certain items when they get there, failing to realize that another person will kill you if you are holding certain different items when the police get there, and failing to disable an bomb that will kill the police when they get there, all result in death -- plus, of course, there are items to obtain while you're there, and the whole thing is time-sensitive. If this one section of the game didn't screen out quite a few would-be players, the IF world is more persistent than I realized. The problem with learning by death, quite aside from the realism issue ("I'd better drop the gun because I remember from the last time that the police will kill me if I'm holding it when they get here"), is that it makes a game less enjoyable; there's nothing like playing through a scene 50 times to make it unspeakably boring. The advantage of linearity is that the author can control the story he tells, but Mr. Phillips largely sacrifices that advantage by making the puzzles so obscure that the story does not exactly move along. How unfair are the puzzles in Time?... There are sections where the plot resembles an action movie and the puzzles require action-movie suspensions of disbelief, like, say, that no one notices you stealing a helicopter, that you can learn to pilot the helicopter instantly (well, that a reasonably with-it first grader can pilot a helicopter, I guess), that you can get into a second-floor apartment using the materials that come to hand -- and these, while a bit annoying, are part of the genre. But there are far worse moments -- for example, the instructions at one point are that you should "use the stasis field," which I found less than helpful. You miraculously sense that a statue is actually something completely different in disguise, with no hints to that effect. You wait seven turns in a location for the means of solving a puzzle to appear -- though it was there all along; you just hadn't "noticed" it. Other things are likewise hidden until you type certain sensory commands, and so on. The game is largely devoid of helpful hints, requires absurdly exact syntax in many cases -- notably, getting out of the map room, which required both a huge intuitive leap regarding the procedure and a game of guess-the-verb for the final action. Another puzzle involving a crate is looking for a certain verb that is, in truth, used fairly frequently in IF these days -- but not in the context you find it here. Magical/technologically advanced objects (the line between them is fairly blurry here) do things that could not possibly be foreseen -- the same object, even, will have several uses that have little in common. There is a time-paradox puzzle that, well, seems frankly absurd -- not only for the objects that cannot logically exist, but for the reactions to you by someone who, even accepting the paradoz, could not have encountered you before. (It also serves no real purpose in the game -- it provides information that could easily have been provided another way.) One puzzle requires such a ludicrous disregard of scale that when I saw it in the walkthrough, I assumed I had missed something important earlier on. And whenever you are under duress -- meaning that someone is about to kill you, which is the case virtually every moment -- objects in your backpack are unavailable on grounds that you have more important things to do than "fiddling with" whatever -- and inventory management before the scenes (requiring amazing foreknowledge of what you'll need) is, of course, necessary. And then, of course, there's the writing. There are worse sins than the occasional comma splice, but the writing here is littered with them -- e.g. "A fire burns in one corner of the room, its red glow is highly appropriate to the surroundings." The syntax of many room descriptions is so tortured that the idea doesn't come across, as in: "To the north of you is the vast expanse of the park's solitary lake, looking dull, a reflection of the dark sky and equally dark feeling about this whole place." Er, what? There is a genuine attempt here to provide atmosphere, but too often it produces results like these: A well-worn road running from west to east, with the park gates to the north. Some distance to the east, the street ends in a bricked up wall, while it opens up into some kind of large square to the west. The area is deserted, almost as if the inhabitants have given up on this terrible world. You are in what appears to be the central area of the town, market stalls lie abandoned and a few people hurriedly walk from one area to another, as if in a hopeless attempt to avoid this apparent centre of the evil. Most areas have been cordoned off, except for the seemingly important stone building to the south. Good writing usually tries to show the reader the scene and let him infer from there, rather than telling him outright what to feel or think; the scenes above might have been quite effective if they had included, say, descriptions of passers-by who walk by with their heads down without speaking to each other, or if the player had encountered someone who was clearly afraid of a certain building and nervous about speaking too loud. As it is, the atmosphere here becomes self-parodying, since evil and menace are so obvious and ubiquitous that they become unremarkable. ("And our weather report: partly cloudy, with an undercurrent of evil throughout the afternoon.") At times, the author lays off the brooding menace and dread, and the results are effective... The moonlight casts eerie shadows onto the buildings that surround the central courtyard. The western edge is dominated by a building seemingly still in use, but the Schloss is otherwise deserted. ...but those moments are, alas, all too few. In one region, you are given the message "Somewhere nearby someone screams with pain, you don't even want to imagine the horrors taking place in these depths" so often, with no variation, that it loses whatever power it had to shock. Ho-hum, more screams of pain. Now and again, the prose turns deep purple: The shocking handiwork of your murderous psychotic enemy is evident again, notably from the red marks left by the murderous tool on the man's neck. From the depths of the lifeless eyes seems to come a pleading for mercy which was coldly rejected by the smiling sadist responsible for this barbaric slaughter. The point of all this is not simply to make fun of the writing, tempting though that might be after slogging through a game worth of it, but to show that bad writing can reduce enjoyment of a game by wrecking the scene it tries to set. True, many readers will forgive excess -- but when you force a player to inhabit a small section of the game for a while, and hence encounter the same descriptions again and again, it behooves you as a writer to make those descriptions effective -- or, at least, not ridiculous. The "enemy" is an obvious example here; she is everywhere, her motivations are wildly unclear, and upon your every encounter with her, she spouts bad-guy lines from action movies that break whatever tension had been achieved. ("You fools, did you really think you could oppose the ultimate race?" "You know, I'm going to have to put a stop to your interferences.") Said by someone like John Malkovich, things like this are forgivable; as written text, no. So often did I stop to chuckle at this or that in Time...that the plot became rather uninvolving after a while. And a game this big needs to be involving -- the writing needs to be passable -- to keep the player's attention. It should be reiterated that there are enjoyable moments in Time... -- one scene involving assumption of another's identity does build up tension well (even if the situation is a bit oversimplified), and there is a genuinely clever, if not wholly logical, puzzle involving the repair and use of a strange machine. And the author is quite good at the principle of providing payoff for puzzles solved -- virtually every discovery rewards you with a good bit of text and more things to explore -- which helps in a game with lots of puzzles. The climax is suitably climactic (though unfairly difficult -- very time-sensitive and involving a thoroughly obscure riddle), and even the overwritten scenes have their interesting moments, notably the segment in London. On the whole, though, there is more to learn here about what can go wrong in a game than about what can go right. FTP FileInform file (.z8) FTP FileCommented stepwise solution (Text)

Time to Shine

From: David Jones <drj SP@G pobox.com>
Review appeared in SPAG #46 -- October 17, 2006 Title: Time to Shine Author: Sophie Frühling E-mail: sfruehling SP@G aon.at Date: September 22, 2006 Parser: Inform 6 Supports: Z-code Availability: Freeware URL: http://creaturecomp.tripod.com/creature.zip Version: Release 1 / Serial number 060922 / Inform v6.31 Library 6/11 Time to Shine was the sole entry to David Fisher's CreatureComp. I'm unaware of the premise of the competition, but I assume it is one where the PC is a non-human creature. In this case the PC is a Caputman. Time to Shine takes place amidst a lot of humans. The way their behaviour and appearance is described does do a good job of making the PC seem very un-human but initially in a kind of vague odd way. This accentuates the chasm between the PC and the player. Normally this sort of thing gets in the way in a game, but here it's intended; part of what makes the game interesting is that the player has to investigate the PC by having the PC investigate the game's world, and thereby acquire an understanding of the PC. The various actions, and responses to inaction, cause the player to form an increasingly refined model of the PC as various hypotheses are entertained and rejected. The resulting form that the Caputman's take in this player's mind is deliberately comical; a light-hearted theme present throughout Time to Shine. Quite a large amount of the early game appears to be about exploring the PC's nature, so it's important that this be handled believably. The Caputman PC, it would seem, has little knowledge of human behavour, appearance, etc, and is suprised by certain aspects of their anatomy (their _feet_ for example). But Caputmans are apparently just as familiar with, for example, PVC as humans are. Is describing something in inches a convenience for me the player or a metric norm shared by Caputmans and humans alike? The game never provides answers for such questions. The writing is good, error free and occasionally knowingly self-referential: "A few dustbins help create an original urban back alley atmosphere". The author is milking a cliché here and plainly know that dustbins are not an original atmospheric device. Describing them as such serves only to heighten their importance, drawing the player to investigate them. As if I somehow wasn't going to EXAMINE everything I could see anyway. The writing has a good voice; it's funny without being overly comedic, and is consistent from beginning to end. The PC's motivations, to get a key NPC to fall in love with him, pretty much have to be taken as given. Whilst some attempt is made to establish these motivations and engage the player along the same lines, the attempts are a bit weak: "You could probably get in there unseen, but what good would that do? You need a plan to make your beloved love you." Do I? Oh, okay then. Similarly, one of the early puzzles revolves around acquiring an object (of apparent value), but in terms of the plot it's not really clear why the PC would want the object; the solution to this puzzle, whilst clued and fair, doesn't really seem sensible, though it does enrich the player's model of Caputmans. Only after solving the puzzle does the purpose of the object become clear; an NPC provides a blatant opportunity to fill-in some of the background and purpose behind this puzzle but that opportunity isn't exploited. In fact the NPC in question appears to be nothing more than a mysterious prop unti! l the puzzle is solved. The key NPC is never described concretely and this one of the reasons why I think the player fails to be as motivated as the PC. The following transcript fragment: X HER Words are failing you. Sadly, she doesn’t notice you. is typical. I assume the author is deliberately refraining from describing the beauty of this person, but I think it would help the player. Hmm, I did something innocuous but immediately am overcome with a sense of unwinnable state. I restart. On solving a relevant puzzle it becomes clear that I did achieve an unwinnable state (an accident of programming rather than deliberate design). Still, restarting was hardly any trouble at all. Oh, sudden death with an attempt at comedy that isn't quite convincing. Still, the action is only an UNDO away. One early location that is revisited later on changes materially, but the only purpose behing the change seems to be to make you solve another puzzle essentially isomorphic to the first one. Which is kinda annoying. The game is short, very linear, and has about 3 or 4 puzzles (depending on how you count). I expect most players will breeze through it in half-an-hour or so, I didn't use the hints. The ending feels rushed and a bit unsurprising; it left me feeling underwhelmed. To be honest I think some of the puzzles are reasonably solvable only because of the relatively few things available for the PC to do, so you'll pretty quickly hit upon the solution by trial and error. HINT (which is I used for the purposes of review) does indeed provide "cheap and easy hints", just as ABOUT avers. The whole thing, whilst being very small and very linear, is competently done. There are a few missing verbs, some synonyms for puzzle-solving actions might help the action flow a little more smoothly, but on the whole I get the impression that the author knows how to do all this stuff, she just didn't, either through constraints of time or laziness. ABOUT says that "this game hasn’t been tested by anyone at all, and it probably shows", but actually it doesn't really show. Sure, some of things I complain about would probably have be found and fixed by a bit of testing, but there's no mistakes with the text, all the puzzles work technically, and there's no glaring runtime-type bugs. It presents the level of polish and completeness of a playable game as opposed to one which is in dire need of debugging. Whilst Time to Shine is obviously deliberately short and frivolous it does leave me with good impressions about the author's ability. It would be possible to clean up Time to Shine a bit and thereby improve it, and this would probably be worthwhile for the more niggly things, but what I'd really like to see is the author having the confidence to produce more notable works. I think she's clearly capable of it. Zip containing Z-Code game file

Tinseltown Blues

From:
Eytan Zweig <eytanzw SP@G yahoo.com> Review appeared in SPAG #30 -- September 20, 2002 TITLE: Tinseltown Blues AUTHOR: Chip Hayes EMAIL: chiphayes SP@G attglobal.net DATE: June 2002 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-Machine interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/zcode/blues.z5 VERSION: Release 1.1 Tinseltown Blues is nothing more, and nothing less, than a competent puzzle game. It tells no story -- there is a plot, but that plot is deliberately paper-thin, and makes sure that it doesn't get in the way of the puzzles. The game itself has a simple, and well-tried goal: the scavenger hunt, where you must find objects that have been placed in totally arbitrary, but always hard to reach, locations. The nice thing about Tinseltown Blues is that it has no pretensions of being anything more than that -- it's a game, to be played and enjoyed, not anything more, and it knows it. While the game doesn't have a plot to speak of, it does have an interesting choice of location: Paramount Studios. The choice of a Hollywood studio, while obviously at least partially motivated by the fact that the game's author actually works there, is a nice touch -- where else would you expect to find office buildings side-by-side with mechanical reconstructions of Zork I? At times, however, the liberties that are taken with Paramount seem so strenuous -- all the NPCs have totally cartoonish names, and some geography seems to have been tampered with for the sake of the puzzles -- that I'm not sure the game wouldn't have worked better in a fictional studio. If there was more in the game that actually spoke of the real Paramount Studios I may have felt differently, but other than a reference pamphlet and some celebrity graves, there really wasn't anything there that had any particular resonance for me. That, however, is a minor quibble, since the real heart of the game is its puzzles. And, as far as puzzles go, it has some good ones. There are quite a few of them, most of them in medium difficulty -- not so easy as to not require any thought, but not hard enough to make me run to a walkthrough at any point (which was fortunate, since the walkthrough was written after I won the game, by myself). There are precious few guess-the-verb situations, and it is very rare to be in a situation in which you don't know what to do next -- it's usually a question of how. Some alternate solutions are available, though not to all puzzles. The puzzles aren't perfect -- there is one particular puzzle (the parrot), for instance, where it was very clear to me what I had to do, but not why it would help me -- I had to solve the puzzle in order to discover why I needed to solve it. It is also possible to lock yourself into an unwinnable state by missing certain events, but the time window given is so wide that it's very unlikely that this would happen, as long as you remember to wander around. The interface presented a couple of issues, however. The game features an item bulk system, where some items are too large to brought into certain places, or to be carried simultaneously. This works quite well as a way to narrow down the field of possible solutions to one or two of the puzzles. The problem is that there is also an item weight system -- carrying heavy items tires you, and gives annoying messages and even more annoying effects. There is absolutely no reason for this and it doesn't contribute anything to the game. There are some minor bugs -- a few typos, and one or two places where items give incorrect descriptions (one locked door has the deadbolt on the wrong side in the descriptions, though it functions correctly). None of them seriously impaired my enjoyment of the game. Tinseltown Blues is not an ambitious game, but what it does it does well, despite a few minor nitpicks. If you enjoy puzzles, and want some that won't have you pulling out your hair in frustration, I suggest trying it out. FTP FileZcode .z5 file FTP FileWalkthrough

To Hell In A Hamper

From: J. Robinson Wheeler <jrw SP@G jrwdigitalmedia.com> Review appeared in
SPAG #36 -- March 16, 2004 TITLE: To Hell In A Hamper AUTHOR: J.J. Guest EMAIL: jason_guest SP@G hotmail.com DATE: 2003 PARSER: ADRIFT SUPPORTS: ADRIFT interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/adrift/ToHellInAHamper.zip This is a short game with a good amount of wit and charm to it, and it shows that it is possible to make a one-room, one-puzzle (albeit a layered, Babel Fish type puzzle) game that's entertaining. The situation is that you are Professor Pettibone, eminent Victorian Balloonist, on his attempt to circle the world in a balloon. Your traveling companion has been replaced at the last minute by a Mr. Hubert Booby, a rather shady character with a suspiciously bulging overcoat. The puzzle of the game involves throwing enough weight out of the balloon to clear an erupting volcano, and you have to prise items one at a time (or sometimes, a half-dozen at a time) from Mr. Booby. I turned to the walkthrough rather soon, just to get the game moving, and relied on it a bit too much thereafter, worried that I was going to do something out of order and make the game unwinnable. In fact, the author was sometimes careful in this regard, and made it so that you couldn't toss some items you still needed over the side. (But some you could.) I had a few challenging guess-the-verb moments, including figuring out the syntax for throwing things overboard, and the rather dodgy necessity of using the non-standard verb 'MAKE' at a crucial late-game step. Having gotten that far, I decided to play the rest of the game without looking at the walkthrough, which turned out to be the one time I should have used it, because the ultimate turn of the game is a win/lose scenario. I typed "PULL ROPE" instead of "PULL GAS VALVE ROPE," and I lost. Since I hadn't saved the game, I had to start all over again and replay the whole thing just to see the winning outcome, which was irritating. There were a couple of spelling errors, including one in the concluding text of the winning scenario, and there were some odd tussles with the parser on occasion: > cut buttons [...] finally, with a great rending sound the coat bursts open, spilling a multitude of diverse objects onto the floor of the basket! These items consist of a large framed painting, an enormous carpetbag, a bundle of twigs, a boomerang, an ear-trumpet, a toy donkey and a sleeping Saint Bernard dog... > throw twigs out I'm afraid the meaning of your words escapes me. Could you possibly rephrase that? > get twigs Take what? > get bundle I pick up the smudge stick. > x it (the smudge stick) A bundle of cedar twigs and sprigs of sage bound together with coloured thread. [...] > throw twigs overboard I'm afraid the meaning of your words escapes me. Could you possibly rephrase that? > throw stick overboard I don't understand what you want me to do with the smudge stick. > throw stick I don't understand what you want me to do with the smudge stick. > throw smudge I'm afraid the meaning of your words escapes me. Could you possibly rephrase that? > throw smudge stick I toss the smudge stick over the side of the basket. After all I can't imagine what I might have needed it for... I enjoyed the pop-up introductory picture that set the scene. The dialogue of the game was very funny, as was the surprise of one of the last items to be revealed hidden about Mr. Booby's person. If I had run across this game in the Competition, I probably would have ranked it a 7 or an 8, depending on how charitable I was feeling. Overall, nicely done. FTP FileADRIFT .taf file and walkthrough

TOOKiE'S SONG

From:
J. Robinson Wheeler <jrw SP@G jrwdigitalmedia.com> Review appeared in SPAG #31 -- January 3, 2003 TITLE: TOOKiE'S SONG AUTHOR: Jessica Knoch EMAIL: jessicaknoch SP@G mindspring.com DATE: September 2002 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Zcode interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2002/zcode/tookie/tookie.z5 VERSION: Release 1.0 This game has the same relentlessly cheerful narrative tone that Laura Knauth's "Trapped in a One-Room Dilly" did. I don't know whether such a tone is good or bad on its own, but if the player happens to be in a surly mood when it comes belting out at him, it can be a bit much. However, I don't take off points for friendliness; I just thought I'd mention it. The first comment I'd like to make is a general one, but I'll use "Tookie" as an example. I think that authors need to exercise restraint when it comes to opening text. One brief paragraph will usually suffice, if carefully crafted. If you need more than that to get across all of the material you have imagined, perhaps what you need to do is start the game in a different place, and have the exposition unfold interactively. Here is the first third of "Tookie"'s opening text: It started out a normal enough Saturday... You slept in late and watched part of the ball game in between naps, until Tookie, your faithful hound, ran over with the leash and would not be refused. You set out on a walk through the neighborhood (fully intending to be back in time to see the last few minutes of the game), when you spotted a rather strange thing in the sky. By this point, I was already thinking to myself, "Gee, this could have been done as IF, instead of as a cutscene." I could have started the game plopped out on the couch, or whatever, and Tookie could have run in with the leash and nagged at me until I figured out that I needed to put the leash on his collar and take him outside. And then I could have been alerted something in the sky, perhaps by Tookie, and EXAMINEd it for myself. It continues: Before you could say "Golly, I wonder what that is," an alien spacecraft had landed and three beings that looked like giant cats in silver jumpsuits had hopped out, grabbed Tookie right off his leash, and hustled him back into their spaceship! A voice hissed out at you, "Perhaps if you're clever enough, you can have him back, earthling," and then the spacecraft jumped right into the ground, leaving nothing behind but a small hole and some scorch marks! Well, naturally enough, you started down the hole in pursuit of your dog! Man's best friend, and let's not forget this one is a purebred bloodhound, but the point is that no alien cat is going to steal your Tookie! The tunnel twisted and turned, but you followed it all the way down, slipping a bit at the end to find yourself here.... but where is here? See what I mean? This material also could have been part of the game. It might have been more fun, and more engaging of my interest. Although, if it had started that way, I might have ended up being disappointed with what I found down in the hole, which was a "collect the four gems" set-up, with multiple puzzles obstructing the path to each one. I can enjoy a good collect-the-gems game now and then. This one was not bad, although I was groaning a bit when I discovered that one of the puzzles was an algebra problem and another was a bowling match, even though I knew there would probably be a sensible solution to each of them. I was going to complain about the very first puzzle in the game, the acquisition of a ring of keys to the four locked doors, but I found out later on that the element I was going to complain about reappeared to more useful effect later in the game. Uh oh, thing-in-the-well won't let me touch the keys! I'd better figure out how to defeat it! Except, uh, I don't have anything to defeat it with. This turns out to be misdirection, and you can get the keys anyway, and the defeating of the thing in the well comes later on, for a different reason. Still, it kept me thinking along the wrong lines enough so that I went to the hints instead of solving it myself. I think that could have been designed a bit better, because the actual solution to the keys problem, and the in-game clues to solving it, were fairly original and clever, but I didn't appreciate it very much because I had to look up the answer. The game slightly confused me at one point, when I saw two rooms with holes in the wall, one of which had a gigantic aquarium tank, and I put a bowling ball through the hole in the wall upstairs from the tank, heard a smashing of glass, and returned to the tank to see that nothing had happened. I thought there was a bug, and I restarted, only to find out the bowling ball had shown up again in a completely different place, with no clue as to why. The in-game hints say that the aquarium is a completely useless bit of scenery -- so, er, why is it there? Just because the author had fun coding up a giant squid in a tank? I guess that's allowed. I guess. I had some gripes about the ring of keys, in that the game almost acted like it was smart enough to disambiguate automatically which one I meant -- I went south first, and the game took it upon itself to try the key for that door for me. But, for the other three doors, the process was more tedious. Once I have the key ring, the doors should just fling themselves open when I walk in the right direction. I want to point out two strange authorial choices that were irritating when they did not need to be. First: >x door You can't put your finger on it, but something about the large door in the wall makes you think of it as a "dropping" door. There is a row of colored leaves hanging from the top of the door. >x leaves See the row of icicles text. If you're going to bother to make a scenery object and give it a description, just put an actual description there. Especially when a) the reference is mimesis-breaking (mentioning game "text"), and b) the reference, if consulted, doesn't make any sense: >x icicles Cool, sharp, aloof. Each icicle looks to be about a handswidth long, perfectly symmetrical, and slightly bluish. I suppose that's to be expected. So the leaves are also cool, sharp, aloof, a handswidth long, perfectly symmetrical, and slightly bluish, as to be expected? The second example, similarly, shows the author taking the time to code a response that provides an unhelpful redirection, instead of being practical: >u The wide staircase curves around to enter the upstairs room on the north wall. Space Bar The walls here are decorated with black paint and pictures of stars and planets, which, coupled with the futuristic-looking tables and chairs scattered about and the bar, lead you to believe that what you are in is supposed to be, well, a space bar. The room is brightly lit, and all of the tables are empty of people, but there is a strange looking figure standing behind the bar. Finally, you can see the top of a curving staircase set in the north wall. >d There are two ways of going down from here: you may walk north to the spiral staircase, or enter the hole in the corner of the room. If I can go "UP" to get here, why can't I go "DOWN" to leave by the same staircase? You know where I want to go when I type that, because you put the code there to print this message. Maybe it's that you wanted to make sure I tried "ENTER HOLE" (which isn't actually an exit, either), because the response to that command provides a hint for a puzzle. Bad form. I had some gripes about the solution to Eddie's math problem. [Rob's answers have been changed to prevent the spoiler. --Paul] The problem was that I was saying "4" instead of "FOUR," but I think that the author could reasonably have accounted for this, sparing me trying a dozen different variations: >say 4 p.m. to eddie >say "4 p.m." to eddie >eddie, 4 p.m. >answer 4 p.m. to eddie >answer 4 pm to eddie >answer "4 pm" to eddie >answer "4" to eddie >answer 4 to eddie >eddie, 4 >say 4 >say "4" >say "4 P.M." My final gripe is that once the puzzle about Fred the bowling cat has been "solved," you shouldn't have to sit through all ten frames of a simulated bowling game. There really is no entertainment value to it, especially when it's padded out with [More] prompts for some kind of attempt at suspense. I can understand why coding this up was fun for the author, but the effect on the player is, unfortunately, tedium. >BOWL >G >G [repeat 7 more times] There is enthusiasm and energy to spare here, and some neat ideas. In the endgame, your "performance" is assessed, which I thought was amusing. Because I finished it after restarting, I took a few shortcuts (such as grabbing the key ring directly), and was marked off for this. Once again, I look forward to this brand-new author's next works, now that they've gotten this initial batch of IF ideas out of their system, and will have to dig a little deeper the next time. Also, "TOOKiE'S SONG"? What song? And why the lowercase i in "TOOKiE"? FTP FileDirectory with zcode .z5 file and walkthrough

Toonesia

From:
Magnus Olsson <mol SP@G df.lth.se> Review appeared in SPAG #7 -- October 14, 1995 Name: Toonesia Parser: TADS Author: Jacob Weinstein Plot: Linear Email: jweinste SP@G alcor.usc.edu Atmosphere: Excellent Availability: F, IF Archive Writing: Very Good Puzzles: Original and rewarding Supports: TADS ports Characters: Good, but a bit non-interactive Difficulty: Rather simple In this delightful little game you assume the persona of Elmo Fuld, millionare and hunter. When the game starts, it seems as if your eternal adversary, Bud Bunny (that rascally rabbit!), holds a distinct advantage: not only has he stolen your gun, but he's imprisoned you in a room without an exit. But don't despair: you're as resourceful as ever, and in this world the laws of nature are quite flexible... Does this sound familiar? It should, since this game is a loving re-creation of the world of classic cartoons (with the names slightly changed, probably for copyright reasons). During your adventures in Toonesia (don't worry, you do escape your doorless prison) you'll meet not only Bud Bunny but Dizzy Duck and other characters, and you'll end up in a number of typical cartoon situations, hauntingly familiar yet with certain new angles, situations posing problems that can only be solved by thinking in the slightly twisted way of a 'toon. This game may not be very profound, but it's clearly one of the most entertaining adventure games I've ever played. It's not very large and not very difficult (and comes with extensive online hints if you're stuck), the puzzles are all very much in character and have logical and satisfying solutions (possibly with one exception: the helmet problem seems a bit contrived), the ending is very appropriate, and above all it's funny. My only complaint is that the game seems to have been rushed out in a hurry (it was even released a week before the competition deadline), giving it a slightly unpolished feeling in places. The NPCs could be a bit more interactive, and there are a few inconsistencies (such as the Tazmanian (sic) Devil escaping through a tunnel that ends inside a locked cage - yet when you follow him, he's gone!). I found one quite serious bug: for some reason, the room description of the mesa reverses east and west, which made me quite frustrated when trying to escape, until I literally stumbled onto the solution by trial-and-error. These are relatively minor things, however. I hope that the author will step forward after the competition to accept our congratulations; with products of this quality, there's really no reason to be anonymous. From: Gareth Rees <Gareth.Rees SP@G cl.cam.ac.uk> Review appeared in SPAG #8 -- February 5, 1996 I enjoyed playing "Toonesia". It captures a good deal of the flavour of the cartoons it pastiches, and makes excellent use of the logic of the cartoon world it takes place in: I found all of the puzzles were solvable on the first attempt, and the majority were very good. There were problems with the descriptions (the directions on the mesa were reversed), and a few minor bugs (e.g., you could type "enter hole" from the mesa and get there directly, rather than messing about with the blindfold), but the main reason why I ranked "The One that Got Away" higher was because "Toonesia" seemed to lack energy. Palmer Davis wrote the following in the newsgroup rec.arts.int-fiction: The writing could use a bit more polish, but still manages to capture the spirit of Saturday morning. The NPCs don't, however -- if you encounter Daffy Duck or the Tasmanian Devil in a "real" cartoon, he'll be in your face until Porky Pig shows up for the fadeout, rather than just standing around like they do here. I agree entirely; the characters in "Toonesia" are too static, and the game is directed too much by the player's own wanderings to be a completely successful pastiche. In a typical cartoon, Bugs would appear right at the start and his running battle with Fudd would continue to the end, with Fudd setting traps for Bugs and Bugs always escaping and turning the tables. You can make an NPC more interesting by giving him or her a strong motivation and an ability to do things on his or her own initiative, not just in response to the player's actions. They are more interesting if they react to each other's actions as well as to the player's. And it helps a lot just to give them many different things that they can do. So in "Toonesia", the player should have had to make several attempts to deal with Bud, with interaction at each stage. The other characters should have had their own motivations and schemes which would either provide additional hindrances, or present opportunities for subversion by the player, or be just there for background. From: Walter Sandsquish <Sandsquish SP@G aol.com> Review appeared in SPAG #21 -- June 15, 2000 Each storytelling medium has its own strengths and weaknesses. Animated films, for instance, are wonderful at presenting frantic, surreal absurdities. And text-adventure games are, unfortunately, poor at creating and maintaining the pace of action in a story. Now, why, exactly, would I choose to point out that particular strength of animation in the same paragraph as that particular weakness of IF? Because "Toonesia" is a light, pleasant hodgepodge of Warner Bros. cartoons. And, while it effectively recreates the environment of a toon, solving its puzzles will wreck the rabid tempo of the cartoons it's paying homage to. Not that the puzzles are difficult. On the contrary, once you catch on to their theme, which should be obvious from the game's title, the conflicts in "Toonesia" are fairly simple, and entertaining, to resolve. Unfortunately, "Toonesia's" other major flaw is not inherent in the medium the author chose. While Weinstein did capture the essence of the Warner Bros. characters, he failed to make any of them very interactive. In the Warner Bros. world of hyperactive, clever, sarcastic characters, this just doesn't work. The most interactive one, Dizzy Duck, is also the most frustrating one. Oddly, Dizzy will react to Elmo's actions, but to nothing that Elmo, the player character, says to him! "Toonesia" is too short to have as many settings as it has. Weinstein shoveled the desert of Wylie Coyote and the Roadrunner, the woodlands of Bugs Bunny, and an abandoned jewel mine into this game. One of the settings, the mine, complete with a greedy Dizzy Duck, isn't even directly related to Elmo's goal, which is to kill the rabbit! And the ending, lifted directly from the Bugs Bunny short with a Wagner theme, jars the player. While the Wagner episode worked for the toon, because it was an unusual setting and an odd story-telling method for a series of shorts that are a little too similar to each other, it only emphasizes the mismatched environment of this game. Although the programming is fairly transparent, you should beware of one nasty bug. The description of the cliff walls from the Mesa will kill your player character if you pay attention to it. The east-west directions are reversed. Despite these weaknesses, "Toonesia" is still an agreeable game. The writing is solid, and, although the author's voice rarely comes out, when it does, it's funny. Try referring to the characters by their Warner Bros. counterparts' names and you'll discover a mildly, and amusingly, paranoid author denying any involvement in copyright infringement. FTP FileTADS .gam File

Tossed Into Space

From:
Stefan Jokisch <jokisc00 SP@G marvin.informatik.uni-dortmund.de> Review appeared in SPAG #4 -- March 2, 1995 NAME: Tossed Into Space PARSER: AGT AUTHOR: Graeme Cree PLOT: Non Linear EMAIL: ??? ATMOSPHERE: Not Bad AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF Archive WRITING: Not Bad PUZZLES: Simple SUPPORTS: AGT Ports CHARACTERS: Simple DIFFICULTY: Very Easy "Tossed Into Space" tells a slightly weird science fiction story: You are Dr. Schmidt, a saboteur who is trapped on the new colony of Alpha Centauri. Since the colonists (the Rob-&-Son family) refused to take you home to earth, you have waited for an opportunity to steal their space- ship "Jupiter 8". Finally, your time has come: The Rob-&-Son family is not at home and the Jupiter is only guarded by a robot. You have to get rid of the robot, refuel the ship, set the course data and lift off. Apparently, "Tossed Into Space" was written for beginners; the game is very short, simple and easy. All the player has to do is to perform the most basic exercises of text adventuring: bringing light to a dark room, wearing appropriate clothes in a cold place or unlocking an object with a key. Experienced players will solve 'Tossed Into Space' within an hour or less. In fact, this game is so short that I cannot say more without spoiling the entire game. Nevertheless, playing "Tossed Into Space" was fun. The story is amusing and the writing is all right as long as you don't mind a few spelling mistakes. The (AGT) parser is not comfortable, but satisfying. 'Tossed Into Space' is worth taking a look at, if you don't expect too much. [By the way, if you haven't guessed it yet, this game is a total Lost in Space parody, but then, you knew that, right? -GKW] FTP FileAGT files with PC executable runtime, Source and Walkthru (.zip)

Tough Beans

From: Mike Snyder <wyndo SP@G prowler-pro.com> Review appeared in
SPAG #43 -- January 7, 2006 TITLE: Tough Beans AUTHOR: Sara Dee EMAIL: saradee123 SP@G gmail.com DATE: October 1, 2005 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-Machine interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF Archive URL: http://www.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2005/zcode/toughbeans/ ToughBeans.z5 VERSION: Release 1 All in all, Tough Beans is a fine piece of work. It isn’t often where a person’s first game (assuming Sara Dee isn’t a pseudonym) is so polished and playable. “This is Sara Dee’s first game.” I kept thinking, though, that my entry last year was Sidney Merk’s first game, too. Why didn’t she say “…my first game” instead? Just semantics? Moving on. Tough Beans does a better job of describing a day where everything just goes wrong than does Son of a...(another entry in this year’s competition). The story hints at something deeper, which remained unexplored up to my 3-point ending. Was the early elevator scene a premonition of one possible ending (mishap with the firework)? Does Wendy have a mental illness, or some kind of tumor that’s causing her numbness and flashbacks, or is that just for narrative effect? What was her boyfriend’s motivation, beyond the obvious? The walkthrough claims there are five endings, with variations to each. Does that include the firework mishap? If not, then I found only one. I did identify a key decision early on (it’s pretty obvious – the game tells you it’s a key decision, more or less). I played briefly into each, and settled on just one. The puzzles aren’t complicated, but they aren’t always easy. For puzzle experts, this is probably perfect. The clues are usually just right. I made it to the coffee shop before feeling stuck enough to peek at the walkthrough. I felt guilty here, though, because I should have noticed what’s important after Rhoda broke her pen. Some of it may still walk the border between fair and unfair – the form goes unnoticed, for instance, even when looking right at the spot where it’s found. I guess if I visualize the scene, and consider what I might see walking up to my own desk – the orientation of it, and the angle of approach – I guess I can see how a form might remain unnoticed until further action is taken. I guess since it did work, and I found the form, then the puzzle worked. The bugs – what few there are – are minor. Looking at the kitchen table reports a bowl, but searching it states nothing is on the table – that kind of thing. Errors in the text are almost non-existent. The game succeeds very well as fiction, where the level of implementation is deep and the writing stands out as descriptive and emotional. It’s a story about breaking cycles and standing up for yourself. Some of that is obvious from a 3-point play-through, but the scoring hints in the walkthrough make it more clear. I couldn’t quite decide what the story was meant to achieve, though. Was it meant to be a poignant introspection into Wendy’s psyche? Should I have felt bad for her, or should I have resolved to be more assertive? Both? It wasn’t easy for me to recognize decision points aside from the early one, and it wasn’t easy to think like a weepy 22-year-old secretary. This game is going to hit the proverbial perfect note with some players, but I never quite connected with the PC. Fiction is less about writing main characters that are familiar to the audience – that’s a playground for stereotypes – and more about writing main characters that will become familiar to the audience. Games with a deemphasis on the PC’s identity avoid this almost entirely, except where the PC’s motivations are concerned. Whether or not Wendy is familiar to the author, she probably isn’t familiar to many of us. The game succeeds in making her real, but not (for me, anyway) in making her evolve. I think more can be learned in the unseen, alternate endings. It’s a shame the author didn’t include alternate walkthroughs, showing a ten-point ending. I’m curious about what other actions I might take as Wendy, and how this will reflect on those endings. My scoring scale fits Tough Beans in somewhere between 8 and 9, so I have based it at 8.5. I think it’s a great game even though I couldn’t connect with the protagonist, and I think it’s going to do very well in the competition. It deserves a +0.5 skew for great writing and a convincing game world. Unofficial score: 9.0. Zcode executable (.z5) Walkthrough

The Tower of the Elepant

From: David Jones <drj SP@G pobox.com> Review appeared in
SPAG #47 -- January 16, 2007 TITLE: The Tower of the Elephant AUTHOR: Tor Andersson E-MAIL: tor.andersson SP@G gmail.com DATE: October 1, 2006 Parser: Inform 7 Supports: Z-code Availability: IF-archive URL: http://mirror.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2006/zcode/tower/The%20Tower%20of%20the%20Elephant.zblorb Version: Release 1 / Serial number 060922 / Inform 7 build 3Z95 (I6/v6.31 lib 6/11N) "I have seen no guards. The walls would be easy to climb. Why has not somebody stolen this secret gem?" the game begins (well almost). Indeed, why not? It's the perfect excuse to begin an adventure game. The game, it turns out, is based on the Conan story by Robert E. Howard. You get to play the part of Conan the Barbarian as he goes to the Elephant Tower of Yara the priest to steal the source of his magic, the Elephant's Heart jewel. I've never read any of the Conan stories, though I am vaguely familiar with style. The writing is a real treat, vivid and undemanding. Like pulp fiction should be. Most of the writing is Howard's, though Andersson has done a very competent job of taking the words from their original linear format and embedding them into a text adventure. The Tower of the Elephant is well implemented, with close to no outright bugs, and is generally polished. I think the game could definitely benefit from implementing a few more scenery nouns. In a literary adaptation this is, of course, a tricky business; how far should Andersson go in adding new descriptions? Well, at least as far as the coping, the sward, the shrubbery (these examples from the first few locations). In the Infocom era, this would have gone without a mention, but these days I think people expect a bit more. In a way though, I find it quite refreshing; it focuses the mind on the essentials. The same complaint exists in the domain of verbs. Obvious manipulations of implemented objects are not always implemented. You have a sword but you cannot draw nor wield it. The following extract concerning a jewel is typical (There are lots of jewels in this game. Some of them you can take, some of them you cannot): >> x stone A great round jewel, clear as crimson crystal. >> look through stone You find nothing of interest. As someone who was not familiar with the story I would say that the game sometimes fails to mark "the way forward" with sufficient clues. This is mostly only a problem early on when room descriptions fail to describe available exits. Really, I quibble because a player isn't likely to forget which way the tower is (unless they are deliberately wasting time trying lots of different things out like I was), and it's a sufficiently small game that it's never a huge problem anyway. Also, the EXITS command is implemented. Epistemic object naming comes into play. An NPC thief is referred to as thief until you learn his name (optional), thence he is referred to using his name. Managing the player's knowledge is always a bit tricky, and later on the game falters when you meet Yag-kosha. Yag-kosha never directly introduces himself directly, indeed at one point he addresses Yag-kosha as if talking to someone else, but the game immediately refers to Yag-kosha and apparently assumes you know the referent. I did briefly wonder whether in Yag-kosha's language "Yag- kosha" was a pronoun that could be used to refer to self and others equally (like some uses of "we" in English). One of the puzzles, the spider combat, I found annoying. Of the many things that a player could try only a few are implemented. Not implementing DODGE and PARRY seems reasonable enough, at least the game is clear on that matter, but there are some actions that the game describes, but which cannot be executed voluntarily. For example at one point the game says (in response to my not doing anything positive in attacking the spider) "You leap high, and the spider passes beneath you, wheels and charges back", but I cannot JUMP OVER SPIDER; I can JUMP, but I get the library response. The required actions are not particular hard to guess, but they're not particularly well clued either. The combat scene is on a timer (eventually the spider _will_ kill you), so I suspect most players will be restoring many times before they defeat the spider. Contrast this with the spider combat in Tales of the Traveling Swordsman where the actions are better clued (in fact, the clueing is progressive), and the game isn't quite so cruel at killing the player off. It turns out there are solutions to the game that avoid the entire spider combat, so maybe it doesn't matter if I found it hard? Well, that would be a more reasonable defense if it was possible to escape from the spider. It's not as far as I can tell, and I can't really see why. The game exhibits other branches as well (aside from the optional spider), in fact the more I play the game the more options and variation I find. Somehow though this variation is presented poorly. It's almost as if the game is trying to hide the fact that multiple solutions whilst letting players discover a solution that's natural to them. It's hard to say what's going on without getting spoilery, but consider the spider combat. Because of the way its arranged it's entirely likely that players that discover the spider combat will not discover the alternate path, and won't even be aware that there is one. Similarly, players that discover the alternate path will probably not discover the spider combat. A similar situation exists with the thief. It's cool that the game admits multiple solutions so some players will naturally discover one way and some players will naturally discover another, but I think most players will not realise that they have the option. Tower of the Elephant is quite a short game, but exploring the alternate solutions provides a fair amount of replay value; and I encourage all players to do that so that Andersson's coding isn't wasted on you. The game has a cruel moment (possibly more than one). If you penetrate the secrets of the tower sufficiently but then leave before settling some business then you can wind up in an unwinnable state, confronting an all too mighty Yara, without it being clear and beyond the reach of undo. This is probably a bug more than intentional. Because of a slight clumsiness in the conversation it's perhaps a little bit easy to stumble into accidentally. Overall I find the game engaging. Conan, the PC, is a man of action and the writing encourages you to take action; it's compelling. The situations are vivid and unusual. When I wasn't frustrated by the puzzles I enjoyed them. NPCs are well characterized and sometimes surprising. Conversation (relying heavily on Eric Eve's extensions I suspect) mostly works well with an ASK / TELL interface with explicitly listed topics. There are perhaps a few too many precious materials around --- once Conan gets to the tower everything is made of ivory, topaz, gold, sapphire --- but I guess that's just the in style when you're an all powerful priest. I feel that a small amount of repair work on this game --- clueing one or puzzles a bit more, not trapping Conan in the room with the spider, a few bug fixes --- would remove the flaws and allow what I think is quite a good game to shine through. Blorbed Z-code game file Walkthrough (plain text)

Tales of the Traveling Swordsman

From: Jimmy Maher <maher SP@G grandecom.net> Review appeared in
SPAG #48 -- May 2, 2007 TITLE: Tales of the Traveling Swordsman AUTHOR: Mike Snyder E-MAIL: wyndo SP@G prowler-pro.com DATE: October 1, 2006 PARSER: Hugo SUPPORTS: Hugo interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF-Archive URL: http://mirror.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2006/hugo/tales_ts Tales of the Traveling Swordsman is one of several games from the 2006 Competition that I returned to recently for another look. I enjoyed my second play-through just as much as my first, even though the game is not the sort that generally most excites me. You see, Tales very much wants to tell you a story -- one particular story. It is very linear, and implemented just deeply enough to get you through that story. And it is a fantasy game, not my favorite genre of IF or literature. The fact that someone like me, who is generally interested by more simulation-oriented, open-ended IF set anywhere BUT a world of magic and fantasy, finds the game so appealing is a testimony I think to just how well it operates within its chosen restrictions. The game casts you as the eponymous swordsman, an adventurer who roams the land in search of villains to vanquish and fair maidens to rescue. It proceeds through three linear episodes to a suitably exciting climax; then comes a wonderful little denouement that casts everything that happened before in an entirely different light and really makes the game for me. The writing fairly charges along with lots of swashbuckling vigor right from the opening lines: "Thick blades of grass at hip level part and bend with your long strides. Onward you go, one hand on your broadsword's sheath, the other clutching a scrap of parchment, and your water flask dangling from the opposite hip. The town of Homesdale is now a morning's journey behind you." Mr. Snyder also takes modest advantage of Hugo's multimedia capabilities to display some nicely-done scrollwork chapter titles that add to the atmosphere. I hate to always refer to games by name-dropping books and other games, but in this case I can't resist. In the book department, this reminds me of a Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser story with a rather less roguish protagonist; in the game department, of a less aggressively silly Eric the Unready. It does have plenty of puzzles, but they are quite straightforward and likely to stump you just long enough to make them satisfying. You won't find any brain-twisters here to derail the story, and that's a good thing. In fact, you won't find any of the things you might be used to seeing in next-generation titles by the likes of Emily Short and Eric Eve, or even the author's own 2005 Competition entry Distress. So why do I want to give this one such an excellent review? In short, because the atmosphere is just so darn innocent and fun... and because at the end, when you realize what you have really been experiencing, it manages to be both very funny (especially the bit about the cat!), and poignant, a reminder -- for me, anyway -- of childhood summers that seemed to go on forever. Without the epilogue, it would be a competent but unexceptional little piece of lightweight fantasy. With it, though, it rises to mingle with the cream of the 2006 crop. I can't think of a better choice for the 2006 XYZZY award for best story. I could happily go on for several more paragraphs, but to do that I would have to spoil the central surprise about which I've possibly already said too much. I have to say, though, that a huge source of confusion for me as I was playing the first time, the fact that I couldn't seem to TALK to anyone, gets explained. In fact, I realized on my second play-through that there was no sound at all in the story, and, again, when you get to the end yourself you will understand why. I'm not sure if I'm quite happy with the point of view switch that happens inside the epilogue, as it felt a bit jarring to suddenly be somebody else after going all through the game through behind another set of eyes, but I'm also not sure if the real situation could have been communicated quite so economically if this hadn't been done. The overall level of polish is excellent, bugs seem well-nigh nonexistent, and a play-through will take no more than a couple of hours at the outside. So go to it, and if you have any heart at all prepare to laugh and even be a little bit moved. FTP FileHugo game file FTP FileGraphics resources FTP FileConfiguration file for those using the Gargoyle interpreter FTP FileWalkthrough in PDF format FTP FileAuthor's notes in plain text

The Town Dragon

From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G merle.acns.nwu.edu> Review appeared in
SPAG #14 -- May 17, 1998 NAME: Town Dragon AUTHOR: David Cornelson E-MAIL: dcornelson SP@G placet.com DATE: 1997 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Inform interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition97/inform/tdragon/tdragon.z5 VERSION: Release 2 A fantasy quest with a reasonably innovative spirit, Town Dragon is well-intentioned but plagued by gameplay problems. Several of the puzzles are painfully obscure, and others rely on examining things that the game doesn't do much to bring to your attention--and others require learning by death. A "story" file that the author provides is virtually essential to understanding what's going on--not a bad idea, and the story is nice, but it would be good to have it integrated into the game a bit better. The writing is competent, but overly terse at points when it would be nice to have some thorough desrciption (for example, in a dragon's cave). Despite the technical problems, the underlying story is fairly effective, as IF fantasy stories go. There is a damsel in distress, but rather than striding to her rescue, you let others volunteer while you collect treasure--an amusing send-up of the brave selfless hero. (Moreover, those that do volunteer are comically stupid, and get carried off by the dragon in amusing ways.) Even then, the plot isn't quite what it seems, and though the central motif feels lifted from the Chronicles of Narnia, it works well enough here to keep the player involved. The best thing about Town Dragon is that, particularly in light of its fantasy setting, it doesn't reliably go where the player's expecting; some of the subversions work better than others (a maid who speaks Valley-Girl style--"ya know?"), there are signs of originality here that belie "another fantasy game" complaints. And some of the writing is quite good--there's a transformation scene that's drawn out over about 20 moves and works very well. This, in short, is a good effort that needed some testing. There isn't enough in Town Dragon as it stands to overcome the technical problems, but the author shows some promise; some more Inform experience might yield a solid game. From: Francesco Bova <fbova SP@G pangea.ca> Review appeared in SPAG #22 -- September 15, 2000 The Annual Interactive Fiction Competition has added some notable titles to the annals of the greatest works of IF ever. There are games like Sunset over Savannah, Photopia, and Babel which are just as popular today as when they were first entered in the competition. These classic games notwithstanding, however, the annual competition is typically a place where new authors can experiment with new game ideas and programming languages on a small scale with a guarantee of roughly 20 reviews (at least that's been the norm of late). The Town Dragon by David Cornelson is a traditional fantasy game from way back in the 1997 IF Competition that features a veritable plethora of fantasy clichés surrounding dragons, kidnapped daughters, and corruption. It is apparently a first time game for the author, one that unfortunately suffers from a few game design mistakes that undermine the well-intentioned plot and puzzles. The goal of the game at first glance seems fairly simple and straightforward: you must kill the town dragon and save the distressed damsel, in this case the mayor's daughter. And, as is typical, recovering the mayor's daughter is a bit more complex than walking in through the front cave entrance and demanding her return. The problem here is that even with a fairly small map, it's very difficult to get focused on where you should be heading. There isn't much linearity in the game, which is typically a good thing (in fact you can enter the dragon's lair without facing any obstacles if you really want to) but this lack of focus, and more specifically a lack of "markers" to guide you, is actually a detriment to this particular gaming experience. I found myself halfway through the game with a short inventory list of items and no idea what to do next. The puzzles are not easy or logical (although there was a nice bit with some mirrors) and there often is no incentive for doing certain things that are apparently fundamental in obtaining a successful outcome. Unfortunately, the game just doesn't proceed either intuitively or reasonably from one section to the next. You know you have to save the mayor's daughter, you just have no idea by what means you should save her. The game has a fairly small time limit that's set up in a novel enough way. You begin the game standing in a line of "volunteers" where one of you has to put your foot forward to rescue the girl. The unlucky volunteer who elects to save her will get killed by the dragon in roughly seventy-five moves or so, after which the mayor spirits you back from wherever you are to stand in the center of town with the rest of the volunteers so that another volunteer can be chosen. Being whisked away while you're in the middle of puzzling something out (like let's say the mapping of one of the game's 2 mazes) was especially frustrating, and broke up the flow of my thought process on many occasions. This happens about 3 times after which you are automatically chosen as the volunteer and you have roughly seventy moves or so before the dragon comes after you. There are a few ways to prolong the dragon's assault, but time really is of the essence here. You want to waste as little of it as possible. I got the impression while playing The Town Dragon that the author put this piece together in relatively little time (which is true of many pieces released during the annual competition). The writing is not the greatest I've seen in a piece of IF, with many grammatical and spelling errors (although, I believe these have been corrected in later versions of the game). There seems to also be a problem with the way the words flow, and the scenery descriptions seem disjointed in their structure. Here is an example of a typical room description: South Road This road enters the town to the north and leads to a cavern to the south. There are rising cliffs on either side of you. It is rumored that a dragon resides in the cavern. Not a big deal, but both pieces relating to the cavern could have been put together I think. The author does incorporate a good sense of humor in a few places however, and a typical mimesis-breaking technique that the author puts to good use occurs when the player tries to head in a direction where there is no possible exit. Here was a typical (albeit longer) example. >ne You found a secret passage!!! [Your score has just gone up by one hundred points.] >Full You have so far scored 120 out of a possible 140, in 48 turns A group of interactive fiction auditors appear and begin tallying up your adventures. "According to our records, you were to have found a secret passage at some point and time. Hmmm...", one of them peruses various documents and looks up at you, "Nope. It was a hoax performed by the author.", and they all look at each other shaking their heads. "You'll have to return the 100 points given to you under false pretenses." The auditors gather up their paperwork and walk away....with of course, your extra 100 points, earning you the rank of Dragon Snack. [Your score has just gone down by one hundred points.] This leads to a little brevity and also a little relief, as it's fairly obvious that the author never intended the game to be taken too seriously. Unfortunately, it also accentuates some of the problems with the game. There are a few secret directional pathways to be found, and the constant comments you receive about "not being able to read the description sceneries properly" when moving in an inappropriate direction provides the player with some negative reinforcement when it comes to trying alternate pathways. There are similar problems with alternative solutions to some of the easier puzzles. Why is it a certain NPC will accept payment in one type of currency, but not in a more expensive type of currency? Why is it physical deformities or important articles of clothing that should be immediately visible on certain characters take repeated searching attempts to discover? I had actually deemed the game unwinnable until I read another review of the game in SPAG and realized that there was a built-in walkthrough I could use if I wanted to. Having given up hope of ever solving the game on my own, I used the walkthrough and I'm glad I did. In my opinion, the game is unwinnable without it, and the intuitive leaps the author requires the player to make are very unreasonable. Here's an example of some of the "intuitive leaps" the game's puzzles depend on: The player realizing that people like to take naps after they eat; the player looking up something in a newspaper without knowing why, when the actual action of reading the newspaper gives no clue that there's something relevant inside it; non-standard Inform actions that have to be initiated without any idea why. It's a real pity too, because through all the jumble, there is a pretty good story in there somewhere and some of the puzzles could be rated top notch, provided they were clued a little better. Unfortunately, as it stands, the guess-what-the-author's thinking routine gets a little frustrating by about halfway through the game and if it wasn't for the built-in walkthrough, I don't know if I would have wanted to finish it. I'm sorry to say that as a result, The Town Dragon is not recommendable. FTP FileInform file (.z5)

Trading Punches

From: David Whyld <me SP@G dwhyld.plus.com> Review appeared in
SPAG #39 -- January 7, 2005 TITLE: Trading Punches AUTHOR: Mike Snyder, writing as Sidney Merk EMAIL: sidneymerk SP@G hotmail.com DATE: October 2004 PARSER: Hugo SUPPORTS: Hugo interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2004/hugo/trading/trading.hex VERSION: 1.6 To begin with I was quite impressed with Trading Punches. The opening graphic gave it a very professional look that is rare in text adventures these days and it seemed like I might be onto a real winner here. It was also one of the first games I played in this year's Comp, which was also a positive thing: finding a game of professional quality so early. Then the game started and I became less and less impressed with it the more I played. Which isn't to say this is a poorly written game. It isn't. The location descriptions are lengthy and nice for the most part, even if a little overly excessive in their use of the language. This piece from the first location was a classic example of excessive: Colorful peacrows relinquish their places in the few nearby elmpine trees, flying then across the open expanse, beyond the cabin, over the hills and away to regions unknown. Others arrive from the west, stopping for a moment to rest in the same few elmpines before continuing on a similar migratory route across the estate. While interesting to read, it was too flowery for my tastes and I found myself wishing for a shorter and to the point description. But that's probably just me. The storyline itself seems like a well-thought-out one for the most part. A race known as the Sheeears seem to have taken over the world and the human race are living uneasily alongside them. Your father is some kind of ambassador of the humans with their dealings with the aliens and this is a role you seem to assume later in the game. It's hardly a new or original idea but it was nicely done and could have made for a very interesting game, instead of a very frustrating one. What quickly rid me of my initial feeling of being impressed with the game is the way it practically forces you along the path it wants you to take. Take, for example, the prologue to the game. You and your brother Thyras are on a river bank. Thyras is throwing stones across the river. On the bridge are your father and uncle deep in discussion about some topic or other. The whole point of the prologue is to reach the stage where a creature known as a dactyl attacks your father, but the way this is reached is so poorly done you'll probably be aching to attack your father just to hurry matters on a little. You have to find some rocks and skip them across the river with Thyras. Several times. Simply waiting around doesn't do the trick and neither are you able to talk to any of the characters (or not in a way that I discovered anyway). You just have to follow a series of set actions which doesn't make for a very interesting game. Strangely enough, throwing the stones across the river doesn't do the trick; you have to skip them. Apparently your father and uncle don't want to start speaking in front of someone who throws stones instead... This being forced along a set path seemed to bog down the rest of the game (or as far as I reached in the two hour time limit anyway) and while Trading Punches had started off looking as though it might be a modern classic, the feeling I had when I stopped playing was that the writer, unfortunately, had become more concerned with the minor details than the big picture. The second part of the game involves wandering around a lot of very similar locations and filling several different glasses from several different punch bowls then giving the drinks to several different people. As far as puzzles go, this was a desperately dull one and without the walkthrough to help me I'd have just quit at that stage. I quit before too much longer anyway, as my initial favourable impression of the game had become somewhat lost and I was seriously struggling to keep my enthusiasm. Sometimes, even an interesting storyline and a compelling writing style just can't compete with mind-numbingly tedious puzzles. Despite my misgivings, I think I'll probably return to Trading Punches again at some point in the future as there's an interesting game here. But it's one I suspect will require a considerable amount of patience to get through. FTP File.hex Hugo file (updated version) and readme FTP FileHugo source code FTP FileDirectory with .hex Hugo file (competition version), readmes, and resource files

Transfer

From:
Duncan Stevens <dnrb SP@G starpower.net> Review appeared in SPAG #23 -- December 29, 2000 TITLE: Transfer AUTHOR: Tod Levi E-MAIL: jessical SP@G ix.netcom.com DATE: 2000 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2000/inform/transfer/transfer.z5 VERSION: Release 9 Tod Levi's Transfer is straight-up science fiction with few real surprises--the setting (research lab) and plot (experiment goes awry) are well-used, and the execution incorporates most of conventional science fiction's strong points and drawbacks. Still, it's entertaining enough, and there are a few creative twists among all the familiarity. You and the rest of your research team are trying to perfect transfer of consciousness between entities, including across species--but the head of the team seems to be dying. Mayhem ensues when the transferring technology gets used and it appears that someone on the premises, naturally, is up to no good. Most of the mayhem, actually, is your doing--the other characters in Transfer are largely bumps on logs. Not only is there minimal interaction with them, but they don't appear to notice much of the havoc you wreak; evading their notice could have been a puzzle in itself in several cases, but the game doesn't take that opportunity. (Which makes the one instance when you're told not to wander around in plain sight a little confusing--it's not necessarily apparent why the characters who were blind and deaf a moment before would be so alert now.) Worse still, the few things that they know about don't appear to change much, if at all, over the course of the game--they don't comment on the latest development, no matter how bizarre or noteworthy, or even take notice of something fairly obvious that' s going on right at that moment. To be sure, the characters are important in the plot, and the plot is quite complex--but interacting with them is rarely rewarding. The main strength of Transfer is the gadget itself, and the variety of ways you put it to use; the game could plausibly be considered an extended riff on the central idea of identity-switching, in that the idea gets used in unexpected (and occasionally hilarious) ways. The element of the story that revolves around the machine is sufficiently convoluted that one question in the hints late in the game is, essentially, "Huh?"--but the story is sufficiently well crafted that the complexity doesn't feel gratuitous. In this respect, Transfer is classic science fiction: the gadgetry is intricate and fun to play with and it leads the story in all sorts of unexpected places, often steamrolling right over the characters, who end up (naturally) pretty flat. The presumption, in other words, is that the player is more interested in playing with the gadget than in plausible character interactions. The puzzles are entertaining, if sometimes difficult--at various points, the game leaves you wandering around the research complex with no clear cues as to what you're supposed to be trying to do next. The most egregious such example involves one point when you're apparently supposed to intuit that because two separate documents mentioned the same date, you're supposed to find out more about that date, thereby to advance the plot. Fortunately, there's a comprehensive hint system that helps bridge the gaps, and on the whole the puzzles make sense once the necessary inferences are supplied. (Meaning that the inferences aren't illogical, they're just obscure.) Also, the game doesn't become unwinnable without warning, according to the author' s notes, and as far as I can tell it never becomes unwinnable at all (aside from death, which doesn't happen all that often)--there are virtually no meaningful time limits, and no resources that you can waste. At times this strains realism, of course--even when you're somewhere that you shouldn't be, you don't need to rush to get your business done because no one's going to interrupt you--and it takes the edge off any tension that might have been produced. But for fairness and ease of play, it certainly works. The writing, for its part, is competent, though it tends toward the laconic: not only are there no exclamation points, but the game never, as far as I remember, imputes any sort of emotion to you, even when the emotion (e.g., fear when you're apparently about to die) seems pretty obvious. The emphasis is more on conveying what's going on than dazzling you with picturesque or evocative settings, though, and from that perspective, things work fine, writing-wise--there are no errors that I noticed, and the relevant information is always there. Likewise, the technical aspect is strong: the various transfers are handled well, and your interactions with the world in your various incarnations all made sense, as far as I remember. The only real game design problem I encountered was that something could be done in one move that I assumed would take two, meaning that a puzzle solution was a total surprise to me when I gave up and looked at the hints. That's a product of my expectations more than a design flaw, though, and it certainly wasn't a glaring weakness. Transfer isn't particularly revolutionary, but it's one of the better examples of its genre (a very crowded genre)--it brings more creativity to the table than many of its fellows. While unabashed puzzlefests usually aren't my thing, I enjoyed this one enough to give it a 9. FTP FileDirectory with Inform .z5 file & walkthrough (competition version)

Trapped In a One-Room Dilly

From:
Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G merle.acns.nwu.edu> Review appeared in SPAG #17 -- May 10, 1999 NAME: Trapped in a One Room Dilly AUTHOR: Laura Knauth E-MAIL: Laura.Knauth SP@G asu.edu DATE: 1998 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition98/inform/dilly/dilly.z5 VERSION: Release 1 Laura Knauth's Trapped in a One Room Dilly is virtually the antithesis of her Travels in the Land of Erden from the 1997 competition--where that game was sprawling and filled with plot, Dilly is tight, focused, and almost devoid of plot. But while this is probably a better game than that one was, it has some deficiencies even as one-room games go. From the outset, Dilly more or less declares that it is forgoing plot: the initial room description states that "ou have no idea how you came to be in this room or what you were doing just before." You therefore commence solving puzzles that eventually allow you to get out of the room--the title adjective "trapped" rightly suggests that being in this room is a problem. What is missing, however, is a sense of direction--you fiddle with the objects at hand, which eventually lead you to a way out, but not in a way that could remotely have been foreseen when you started fiddling. (Whereas at the beginning of Enlightenment, say, the entire concept is apparent from the beginning, and the challenge is using the materials at hand to solve the problem.) Dilly is therefore a fundamentally different sort of one-room game than Enlightenment, or In the Spotlight, or Persistence of Memory--and while that's not a bad thing, it's a little less plausible than more unified one-location games. As in, someone had to put together this bizarre room full of objects that, suitably manipulated, allow you to get out; why did they do that? To give Dilly credit, one of the wittiest parts of the game is a bookshelf full of made-up plots that could answer that question--alien abduction, government experiments, etc.--but making a joke of it only underlines the point: stories that could make sense of such a premise require a strange, contrived plot, with the situation engineered by some malign intelligent entity. Dilly works better, in short, when considered as a set of puzzles thrown into one room, rather than as a piece of a story that happens to fall within one location. The mechanics of Dilly are not quite as elegant as they might be. The room is evidently _crammed_ with stuff to play with--and though that isn't bad, as such, the relative sparseness of Enlightenment suggests that it needn't be that way. Very few objects in Dilly have multiple uses, or uses beyond the obvious; there just happen to be a lot of objects thrown into one room. Dilly could work as a two- or three-room game without losing its flavor, so to speak; other games, where the story or the atmosphere are tied into the one-room conceit, would not. (Such as, say, Enlightenment or Persistence of Memory.) Dilly might also be a little less confusing if it were more spread out; there are so many knobs to turn and buttons to push in that one room description that it is easy to lose something in the shuffle. Still, let me be clear: Dilly is a well-done example of a one-room game. There are some inventive puzzles, particularly involving the physical properties of common objects you run across and components you can take out of larger objects. One change-the-environment puzzle could be clued a little better, but it's a good puzzle nonetheless. There are several points where you destroy or damage objects rather than simply working with them, which I found somehow refreshing: it meant thinking outside the lines, never a bad thing. (Of course, it can break mimesis to require destructive actions in some contexts--homes, public places, etc.--but this is not a setting where such actions would be a problem.) Even the more artificial puzzles--a dartboard that requires a certain number of points scored, a "myriad" puzzle--are reasonably well-crafted; the latter has some unusual patterns, the former adeptly uses the "practice" dynamic also seen in Edifice. And there are nice extras--there is a slot machine, and you can play it using coins you find, though as far as I can tell it is impossible to win anything. There are plenty of nice touches that help to alleviate the sense that the author has grafted together a set of puzzles that didn't fit in other games. It's not clear what Dilly contributes to the genre of one-room games. The author ruminated about the possibility of a full-length one-room game, which may yet be possible--but, I would venture to say, not the way Dilly does it, not with a room full of stuff and no guidance given the player. Much of the relevant material should be hidden at first to avoid discouraging the player; more importantly, objects should be involved in more than one puzzle each. Moreover, goals and motivations should change during the game, to break up the monotony of staying in one room the entire time. Nevertheless, this is an intriguing effort, and I gave it an 8 in this year's competition. From: Paul O'Brian <obrian SP@G colorado.edu> Review appeared in SPAG #17 -- May 10, 1999 OK, probably the first thing I should confess is that I'm not hip enough to know what a "dilly" is. My handy dictionary suggests that it means "something remarkable of its kind" -- their example is "a dilly of a movie." Somehow I don't think that's what's meant here. So, judging from context, I'm going to assume that "dilly" means "relatively enjoyable puzzle game with good coding and writing, but a few guess-the-verb problems and sometimes not enough synonyms implemented." If this is what dilly really means, then Trapped In A One-Room Dilly has the most accurate title of any game in the 1998 competition. Like many others in this year's competition, Dilly is very puzzle-oriented. Perhaps what we're seeing this year is a bit of a backlash against the periodically swelling outcries for "puzzleless IF." If backlash it is, I don't think that's entirely a bad thing. Sometimes because literature has so much more cultural capital than puzzles, we can get into a mindset which tries to shun puzzles in favor of an elusive brand of literary merit. Don't get me wrong -- I myself am much more interested in IF for its literary qualities than its puzzles, but I also think it's important to remember that (for some of us, anyway) there is also a pleasure in puzzle-solving, the "crossword" part of IF as opposed to the "narrative" part. I believe that interactive fiction can cover a very wide spectrum indeed, but that there will always be a place for puzzle-oriented IF on that spectrum, and I'll probably always enjoy a really well-done puzzle game. Dilly is the closest I've seen yet in this competition to that lofty standard, but before I talk about the things it does right, I have to take one step back and talk about a game from last year. The author of Dilly entered a game in last year's competition called Travels in the Land of Erden. Ironically, these two games could not be more different. Erden was a sprawling, gigantic game with an enormous map, any number of subplots, and a generally broad scope. When reviewing that game, I wrote about the benefits of focus, and suggested that "if the author had concentrated her energies on a game perhaps a quarter of the size of this one, she would have had time for much more extensive proofing and beta-testing, and the result might have been a tight, polished gem rather than the rough and gangly work she submitted." Well, when I'm right, I'm right. Dilly benefits enormously from having a much tighter focus than Erden. The game narrows its scope to (as you might have guessed from the title) one room, and the room is a really *interesting* room, full of enough gadgets and gewgaws to keep me busy for two hours. At no time in Dilly did I lack for something to figure out, look at, or do. The game crams about 10 puzzles into this one room, but it didn't feel particularly strained to me. In fact, Dilly makes a sly gibe about its lack of plot by including a bookshelf full of books whose plots are plausible explanations for your situation (Intelligence testing, alien abduction, the bomb shelter of a wealthy wacko, etc.). The puzzles are generally creative and fun, and all of the coding and writing is technically proficient. Well, almost all. The only times I ran into trouble with Dilly were when I was close enough to the solution of a puzzle that I should have received some slight confirmation, but the game didn't provide it. For example, at one point in the game something is ticking and vibrating. If you listen closely to this object, you can hear it ticking. However, if you touch it "you feel nothing unusual." This is one of those instances where after I found out what was happening, I felt cheated. If I'm that close, I want at least a little nudge. In another instance, I had more of a guess-the-verb problem -- the game wants you to tie two things together with a rope, as in "TIE FROG TO LOG." (That's not really what you're tying, but I'm trying to avoid the spoiler here.) However, if you first "TIE ROPE TO LOG" you get a message along the lines of "That's useless." If I had tried "TIE ROPE TO FROG" first, the game would have picked up on what I meant to do, but I didn't make that lucky guess. I don't like to be put in the position of making lucky guesses. Nonetheless, these are relatively minor problems, easy to fix. They didn't stop me from enjoying my time in the one-room... whatever it was. Rating: 8.5 FTP FileInform file (.z5)

Travels in the Land of Erden

From:
Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G merle.acns.nwu.edu> Review appeared in SPAG #14 -- May 17, 1998 NAME: Travels in the Land of Erden AUTHOR: Laura Knauth E-MAIL: Laura.Knauth SP@G asu.edu DATE: 1997 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Inform interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition97/inform/erden/erden.z8 VERSION: Release 1 Travels in the Land of Erden is situated firmly within the tradition of expansive heroic fantasy quests--and, to give it credit, it inhabits that genre much more consistently than any other game in this year's competition. (Yes, I do consider that a compliment. I like heroic expansive fantasy quests. Done well, they have a certain charm.) Though the gameplay has some problems, Erden is an enjoyable old-style fantasy quest, too long for the competition but enjoyable in its own right. The plot is notable because it changes abruptly midstream--you start out pursuing a dragon, but are told that the dragon has taken a coffee break or some such thing and that your new brief is to track down a lost jewel. You don't seem to mind this--dragons are irritating things anyway--and, truth to tell, it doesn't exactly affect the way you go about the game, since you were only nominally pursuing the dragon and you only nominally pursue the jewel. (I should note, though, that there are several sources of information scattered around, some in the form of characters and one an Encyclopedia Frobozzica-type book, which do help make sense of things.) What _does_ happen is that you confront a whole bunch of puzzles, which eventually lead to the goal, and whether it's a dragon or a jewel makes little difference. Truth to tell, having a plot that is actually sustained over the course of the game here would be difficult, because this is a fairly long game, far longer than the average competition entry. The game design is somewhat wide: much of the territory is available at the outset, and figuring out exactly where to start is something of a challenge, since there's lots of area to explore and lots of objects to pick up. Even so, the exploration is well-done and feels convincing, particularly a series of caves in the endgame; disparage fantasy quests if you like, but this author put plenty of thought and effort into making the scenery come alive. (At some key moments, the author rewards solved puzzles with more territory to explore; I wanted that to happen more often, but when it does happen, it works.) With a clearer hook, something to push the player into the plot, this would be a very effective story. There are some clunky moments, gameplay-wise, though many have been cleaned up since the first release. Most of the problems are mechanical, though--the game is well-designed and avoids closing off in unguessable ways, for the most part. In fact, it's virtually impossible, unless you do something very stupid indeed, to render the game unwinnable--most resources can be replaced, and there are no time limits. There is one notable exception, a problem that still needs to be cleaned up--one alternate solution to a puzzle that the walkthrough suggests does not work (at least, not as far as I can tell), and if you make that solution necessary, as it stands, you're in trouble. That aside, though (and I'm sure it'll get fixed), Erden is a reasonably player-friendly game. (Moreover, there are some nice code tricks--the author seems to have added a "windy" attribute for rooms, for one thing, and a landscape transformation is thoroughly done.) There are many nice things about Erden--the gypsy who looks into a crystal ball to determine whether you've attacked or hurt anyone is a hackneyed but nice touch. The writing is quite skillful, and there's plenty of it--most rooms are thoroughly described, there are very few grammar problems, and there's even a modicum of atmosphere, particularly in the pirate-ship sequence. (Erden is proof positive that well-written fantasy can still be absorbing.) I enjoyed the setting on the island, and locations I might ordinarily consider gratuitous were well-written enough that I didn't, in fact, think that. And even though it gave rise to one of the more frustratingly coded puzzles, the spell you cast is genuinely breathtaking, and the author should get due credit for the idea. (And for the subtle effect after the spell has worn off. Very few games follow logical effects that way.) I enjoyed the puzzle in the dragon's cave--though figuring out the proper syntax was, as usual, a challenge, and the required action for getting there was a bit obscure. Finally, the on-screen mapping works _very_ well indeed, and often helps considerably. Given the level of antipathy to fantasy quests of this nature in the IF community, I suppose Erden isn't for everyone; though there is much to enjoy about it, it doesn't push the fantasy-game envelope appreciably. But nor does it simply invoke fantasy cliches, and there's nothing lazy about the setting (whereas laziness characterizes the bulk of inferior fantasy games)--and while the plot could stand to be better integrated into the story, there are enough clever puzzles to keep this entertaining. Those that skip Erden because of its genre might be missing something--and, if nothing else, the author shows some promise. FTP FileInform file and solution (.zip) (updated version) FTP FileDirectory with Inform .z8 file and solution (competition version)

Treasure

From:
Audrey DeLisle <rad SP@G crl.com> Review appeared in SPAG #11 -- September 16, 1997 NAME: Treasure AUTHOR: James L. Dean EMAIL: jdean SP@G lsuhsc.edu PARSER: none really SUPPORTS: IBM PC AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: http://colbleep.ocs.lsuhsc.edu/Treasure.html (Java version) HISTORY: This game was written in 1980 and revised in 1987. It is based on an article in BYTE 7/79 by Roger Chaffee. The game has been compiled to play, but the BASIC file is in the zip. The BASIC file explains the algorithm used and has instructions to change the treasures and guardians. PARSER: The reason I say there is not really a parser is that the commands are limited to one letter: C = carry (get); L = leave (drop); P = points (score); R = repeat; I = Inventory; Q = Quit and the directions are N,S,E,W,U,D in the simple game, adding F (Forward), B (backward) in the expanded game. If you try to type something else, a help screen appears. This would be a good game for a child who can read a little or to be played with an adult to read the brief room descriptions and let the child input commands. The object is to find and return all the 15 treasures and pass through every room (100) in the fewest number of moves, but there is no comparison. You are asked for a game number, so perhaps you can get the same game again. This allows the game to be played over and over with different locations and it might generate a comparison for future games. Those who abhor treasure hunts or expect to 'save' and 'restore' should avoid it. Each treasure is guarded by a monster and the weapons must be found to vanquish each. The guardians do nothing. You are safe. You cannot die. Well, if you do, the game will resurrect you with no loss. You do nothing. If you have the correct weapon, C will work. There are two hazards: a pirate will steal your treasure if you don't return it to the Entrance soon enough and an ill wind will blow you to a random location. Neither is a serious problem. The treasure will be found somewhere and you can get oriented quickly. It is not possible to write a solution since each game is different. You can choose variations--limit to 3d, accept another dimension, etc. In the simplest version, the directions are N,S,E,W,U,D and there are few surprises. This is the one I played. I think the more advanced versions might be more fun, but might take longer. I finished the one game I played in about four hours. I decided a chart of directions was more useful than a typical map. I scored 100 points.

Trinity

From:
Matthew Amster <mamster SP@G u.washington.edu> Review appeared in SPAG #1 -- May 15, 1994 NAME: Trinity PARSER: Later Infocom AUTHOR: Brian Moriarty PLOT: Excellent EMAIL: ??? ATMOSPHERE: Engrossing AVAILABILITY: LTOI 2 WRITING: Excellent PUZZLES: Logical & Satisfying SUPPORTS: Infocom Ports CHARACTERS: Somewhat Weak DIFFICULTY: Medium Trinity is among the most popular of the classic Infocom games. After hearing friends and netters discussing their uniformly wonderful experiences with Trinity, I finally decided to give it a try myself. The game opens at London's Kensington Gardens, and quickly takes off from there into a fantasy world of nuclear mushrooms, giant children, and intelligent magpies. The anti-nuclear message of the game is clear but never overbearing. The parser is as brilliant as one would expect from Infocom; it is nearly impossible to produce an unexpected response. Most nouns have plenty of synonyms, and the player is never stumped by how to phrase a command. Trinity's map is similarly user-friendly, with no tricky surprises and few "can't-get-there-from-heres." But the game's strongest suit is its puzzles, which outdo what I've seen in any other game. All are logical and satisfying (except one...but you figure it out). The endgame is somewhat difficult, but not overly so, and it ties up loose ends very well. Trinity has something for everyone: it's not too hard for novices, but is well-suited for experienced adventurers as well. It is exciting, engrossing, well-written, and, unlike too many other works of interactive fiction, lives up to the hype. From: Molley the Mage <mollems SP@G WKUVX1.WKU.EDU> Review appeared in SPAG #2 -- September 26, 1994 And now, the cream of the crop, my ALL-TIME-NUMBER-ONE IF game... Trinity is, without a doubt, the best IF game I've ever played. I've been through it again and again just to read the text, which is something I cannot say about any other game except for AMFV and Curses. (Which right away lets you know that this game is in elite company!) I can't really describe the plot without writing a vast essay, but suffice to say that you're an American on vacation in London when World War III interrupts the daily routine -- specifically, the city gets nuked. You, however, survive the devastation, with the help of a magical portal and a strange voice inside your head. Through the portal you will discover a world of wonder unlike anything you've ever seen in interactive fiction. The plot revolves around the stages of development and construction of the atomic weapons used to destroy you in the game's opening. Eventually, if you are clever and utilize all of your brain cells to their utmost, you might get the chance to go back in time and change history for the better. The ending of this game is in my opinion truly spectacular, a fitting reward for the amount of work you'll have to put in. I was truly satisfied with myself after completing this game. There is one non-intuitive puzzle, which I solved by pure luck, but by and large the puzzles are very well constructed and quite logical. They are also not so difficult as to seriously impede your progress through the story, which is the real emphasis of the game, but not so easy as to make you feel as though you are wasting your time. A perfectly balanced challenge. If you can at all get this game in the original packaging, do so. There are no game-critical items to be found therein, but the sundial is one of the neatest props Infocom ever put out. (Mine still adorns my windowsill.) In short, if you play one IF game in your life, you would not go wrong if you make it this one. Highest recommendation. FTP FileSolution (text)

Triune

From:
Duncan Stevens <dnrb SP@G starpower.net> Review appeared in SPAG #27 -- January 4, 2002 TITLE: Triune AUTHOR: Papillon E-MAIL: papillon_hentai SP@G bigfoot.com DATE: 2001 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: http://www.geocities.com/amethystphoenix/triune.html VERSION: Release 2 Triune, by Papillon, begins arrestingly: This time, something snapped. You've seen the danger signs before: the stains on his shirt, the slur of his voice, the smell of his breath, the blood on his fists. He needs to hit something, hit it again and again until it breaks. When he's like this, he destroys the possessions that cost him the most to obtain. Whatever's left that still holds value, still holds meaning, still holds his place in this world. You are almost all he has left. You remember fleeing up the stairs, scrambling awkardly on teenage hands and knees in your haste, the thin fabric of your skirt not enough to shield you from the incipient carpet burns. You ran on bare feet down the hall to the bathroom, locking the door behind you, trusting in the spirit of propriety to keep your father from following you here, your last refuge. Because if he finds you, he's going to kill you. Okay, wow. We have here a hell of a premise -- not a cheery one, no, but it's pretty damn compelling. Almost instantly, I cared about the character and about getting her out of this particular tight spot. Unfortunately, this particular tight spot wasn't really the focus of the game; the PC promptly jumps into a fantasy world with lots of stock stuff like unicorns and castles and princes and stuff, which, initially, I found disappointing -- if I have a real-life conflict, I want to do something about it, not just think about something else. To be fair, however, the fantasy world is more interesting than it initially appears, and it's also related on many levels to the real world. Specifically, the violence that appeared to be imminent in the real world is present, in equally disturbing forms, in the fantasy world, and some of the responses to the violence parallel (in the long term, anyway) what the character might do back in the real world. It's also worth noting that some of the responses are more than a little violent in their own right -- there's a fight-fire-with-fire aspect to the puzzle-solving. Still, the abrupt transition at the beginning of the game sacrificed the game's hook, which is a shame because it was a fairly good hook. The gameplay isn't as smooth as it might be. The author entered a CYOA-style game in the 2000 competition, and while Triune has a fully equipped parser, I was occasionally reminded of the previous game. The action has a way of happening in big chunks -- you do something that, sometimes foreseeably and sometimes not, leads to an important scene, but the scene flows by without any further chance for interaction, almost as if I'd chosen menu option 1 and now had no further opportunity to affect the scene. There's something to be said, of course, for not giving an illusion of interactivity if you're not going to provide any freedom; if what's going to happen is going to happen, there's a case to be made for not taunting the player with the mistaken impression that he or she can do anything about it. But that just raises the question -- why, in those scenes, are those results so inevitable from an early point? Can't the point of no return be pushed back? There's also the larger logical difficulty that the suboptimal endings address only the endpoints in the fantasy world and make no attempt to resolve the more immediate crisis in the real world. (Arguably, that's why they're suboptimal, but the suggestions in the ending texts about why those aren't the best endings don't cite that as a specific problem.) Beyond that, the game's logic takes some twists and turns -- you're likely to figure out before long that fantasy logic doesn't really apply, but it's not exactly clear what logic does apply. This is partly the product of the genre-jump; the player knows very well what his or her motivation in the real world is, but has no idea what he or she is supposed to be doing in this fantasy world, and to the extent that it's not "do the usual fantasy things," things are a little bewildering. In fact, this appears to be deliberate -- twice, you get sent on quests by folks you meet, and each time completing the quest leads to an ending which the game clearly considers suboptimal; the clues that you should deviate from the quest in the precise way called for by the game, while present, are a little subtle. On a third occasion, a character makes you an offer, but accepting it leads to another suboptimal ending, so you're supposed to reject it and solve a puzzle that's hinted at in one room description (but which, natch, you have no independent reason to solve). The story that ultimately emerges from all this is thoughtful and at times powerful, but for me, it emerged mostly because the walkthrough said to do this or that at certain times, not because of my understanding of where things were supposed to go. There are some more gameplay problems. At one point, you're imprisoned, and you effectively get out of your imprisonment before your captors' eyes without much of a protest. Lots of characters don't know much about things that they should know about (or, at least, there's no obvious reason for their ignorance). One puzzle solution doesn't initially work but does later, and while there's a reason for the change, it's easy to miss. Perhaps most importantly, it's largely impossible to put the game in an unwinnable state, except by wasting a certain resource too soon -- and while resource-wasting is something that most IFers know to avoid, it's not quite as obviously stupid as throwing possessions over a cliff, and warnings might have been appropriate. About that story: it's been called feminist-liberationist and such things, and while that's not entirely inaccurate, I'm not sure it captures the spirit. One of the suboptimal endings (and arguably another as well), after all, is pretty close to a feminist utopia, and yet your character doesn't seem wholly content. The game does label each of the suboptimal endings with a female role generally seen as limiting by feminism, but that just made things all the more puzzling for me, as the labels didn't seem to fit what had actually happened in two of the three cases. To be precise, the labels described what your character has become, but not in an all-encompassing way -- your life as described in the ending text was far from completely subsumed with/described by the label, so it didn't seem quite fair to give those paths the conventional feminist spin: "you live that role to the hilt and feel you're missing something." That the other suboptimal ending is entirely consistent with that same conventional feminist spin also suggests that the author didn't set out to comment on feminism either (i.e., the game didn't seem to be saying that there's more to these roles than canonical feminism lets on). To add to the confusion, a few important characters who take steps that track archetypical feminist liberation have thereby caused a good deal of damage in the game's world -- is that unfortunate but necessary, or does it mean that pursuing those goals is destructive, or something in between (e.g., they pursued legitimate goals in foolish and destructive ways)? Multiple interpretations are possible; my main impression was that the game needed to get its theoretical house in order. I should add, however, that a game with lots of ideas but which doesn't manage to keep all its ideas straight beats a game with no ideas every time, in my book, and I did enjoy trying to follow the conceptual bouncing ball (even if I had to do it through the walkthrough a few times). The ending in the comp version elicited some protests; there was a parser trick of sorts which closely resembled a similar trick from the 1996 competition, but which worked much better the first time. (Mostly because the nature of the 1996 game in question was sort of silly and gonzo, and the trick in question, I think, lends itself better to such a game.) At any rate, the post-comp release changes the ending significantly, but while it's certainly an improvement, I was still rather unsatisfied -- not only does the new ending strain credulity a bit (and assume away a lot of things), but it seems unrelated to everything that's come before (one flaw that the original ending, if nothing else, managed to avoid). The point is that, despite my initial reservations, what went on in the fantasy world ended up being sufficiently interesting that an ending that seemed divorced from the rest of game felt anticlimactic, tacked on. Oddly, this is largely a negative review of a game which I mostly enjoyed -- it's well written, has some vividly rendered scenes, and some compelling characters. As often happens, however, its strengths lay in the ideas below the surface and in the questions it posed, and the game itself (particularly the implementation) didn't quite live up to those ideas. Triune could have been better than it was; as it stood, I enjoyed it enough that I gave it a 7. FTP FileDirectory with TADS .gam file, solution, and .jpg "feelies"

Tryst of Fate

From:
Tony Baechler <baechler SP@G primenet.com> Review appeared in SPAG #11 -- September 16, 1997 NAME: Tryst of Fate AUTHOR: G. M. Zagurski AVAILABILITY: freeware IF Archive EMAIL: gmzagur SP@G qnet.com DATE: April 1997 PARSER: Inform PLATFORMS: Infocom VERSION: 104 970331 URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/infocom/tryst104.z5 For the most part, I really enjoyed this game. I thought that the writing was quite well done and at some points I was really drawn into the story. It would have rated higher but it had no online help, no hints, no walkthrough, and all I would get with help is the author's email address. Also, there were some rough edges, one being that I had to type single words when mentioning the word to open the door and talking to the horse. But, when answering the riddles, I had to use the say command. It would have been better if the author would have stayed consistent. But, I would not have guessed that the author spent so long creating the game based on the fine writing and the fact that the game worked as I would expect. It did feel a little odd in an old west setting since I would not expect a text adventure game to have anything to do with horses and ghost towns and mines. But, even so, it was still presented very well and I liked it. Also, a definite plus was that it was not that difficult, but there are many things that I would not have been able to guess because of the inconsistencies mentioned previously. I thought that the idea of gum ball transformation was neat and I kept hoping to find some more gum to take me to other places. An amazing amount of things could have been put into the game if one actually would have enough time and willingness to program them. The only real major disappointment I had was at the very end. It did not abruptly come to a stop but more text (and more of an end game in general) would have been nice. It is like I had come all that way and done so much and all I got was a gold watch and a thanks for helping out. I was also hoping to find more information about the woman that George seemed to like so much that helped to open doors, among other things. Too bad there were no new gum balls in his factory and I had to make my own. I could see a little bit of Zork, a small part of Trinity and some Colossal Cave in this game. FTP FileInform file (.z5) FTP FileStepwise Solution (Text) FTP FileSolution (Text)

Tube Trouble

From:
Gareth Rees <Gareth.Rees SP@G cl.cam.ac.uk> Review appeared in SPAG #8 -- February 5, 1996 NAME: Tube Trouble PARSER: Inform's usual AUTHOR: Richard Tucker PLOT: Linear, short EMAIL: rit10 SP@G cl.cam.ac.uk ATMOSPHERE: Claustrophobic AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF Archive WRITING: Good PUZZLES: Good, very complex SUPPORTS: Inform ports CHARACTERS: Not interactive enough DIFFICULTY: Hard I played this game on a BBC micro several years ago, and I was impressed by the neatness and complexity of the puzzle: I had a feeling of going round and round on a complex Heath-Robinson mechanism that I had to nudge a little bit each time it went round until finally I could step off where I wanted. I did my to best to capture this feeling in the opening sequence of "Christminster". From: Palmer Davis <palmer SP@G ansoft.com> Review appeared in SPAG #8 -- February 5, 1996 Not as sketchy as _Toyshop_, and not as pedestrian as _Library_, this entry still falls prey to the major shortcomings of both games, to lesser degrees. You are stuck inside the London Underground, and must find a way to extract food from a run-down old vending machine in a tube station. Unlike _Toyshop_, _Tube_'s rather laconic style succeeds in much the same fashion as _Enchanter_ at making the setting seem real. Much of the tube station is left to the player's imagination to fill in, but the setting is familiar enough, and the handful of words carefully enough chosen to evoke the appropriate image from the player. Likewise, the vending machine looks and works just like you'd expect. Of course, relying on a shared experiential context to fill in atmosphere is hazardous; players in rural areas who do not normally encounter urban mass transit stations may not have enough background to provide the needed imagery. Unfortunately, the limited vocabulary and amount of interaction with the NPCs (one of whom enters and then promptly vanishes before you can interact with her at all!) turns a good portion of the puzzle into a guessing game. This entry may have been an attempt at the "sudden" IF concept described in Whizzard's Supplement #1, but the reduced set of possibilities that the author implemented jars the player out of the tenuous sense of immersion that the writing creates. Keeping words, locations, and objects to a minimum works if done correctly; restricting the player's actions without providing a reason why (beyond "I don't understand ____ as a verb") doesn't. No help at all was provided, and the author didn't include a walkthrough, so I still haven't seen a fairly sizeable portion of the game. Combined with the rather circumscribed nature of reality and the generally unexciting goal, that fact has kept me from wanting to return to finish the game. Authors of future entries that don't implement help systems might want to keep that in mind and at least provide a walkthrough. BOTTOM LINE: Tightly written, but misses the train. FTP FileInform file (.z5) (updated version) FTP FileInform file (.z5) (competition version) FTP FileStepwise solution (Text)

2112

From:
Graeme Cree <72630.304 SP@G CompuServe.COM> Review appeared in SPAG #11 -- September 16, 1997 NAME: 2112 AUTHOR: Anonymous EMAIL: ? DATE: Some time after Rush released the song of the same name PARSER: Extremely poor SUPPORTS: IBM AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/pc/2112.zip I should have been warned by Chris Forman's review of Zanfar in Spag #8, in which he points out that one author's trick to draw attention to a game is to give it a name that places it last in the alphabet, so that a person will always see it when doing a dir command. I downloaded 2112 for similar reasons; it is the first one listed in the games/pc library at ftp.ifarchive.org. I kept seeing it every time I went there, had never heard a word about it from anyone, and thought I would check it out. Silly me. 2112 is based on a song by the rock group Rush. It takes place in the typical Orwellian anti-utopian future. Since criticizing big government is not as fashionable now as in Orwell's day, this government is run by Priests. The game begins with you finding a guitar by the riverside, and taking this ancient relic of a forgotten time to the Priests, who confiscate it since music is outlawed. To retaliate and let off a little steam, you go on a minor killing spree, shooting the Priests, blowing up their computer (a la Captain Kirk!), and making your getaway before the government is overthrown by space aliens who destroy the city (possibly blowing away a few cops along the way, although this is not required). As a rock song, this is the sort of thing that could inspire parental protests at the record company. The I-F player however would be better advised to protest the quality of the game. The parser is almost worthless; two words only, and no synonyms. The puzzles are strictly "guess the word" and "struggle with the parser". Actions are intended to be taken in a specific order. Altering the order can make the game very confusing. One example: after you have surrended the guitar, you are supposed to go to your home where you will have a dream in which you see an old friend at the prison who aids you in finding materials you need to win the game. You will have this regardless of whether or not you have already seen him and gotten the aid. People can talk to you (and even kill you) after they are already dead, unless you have done everything in the right order. In some areas, you can still hear humming from the computer after you have destroyed it; in others you can't. There is a serious error at the end. Destroying the computer is also supposed to destroy the electric fence, opening up a way of escape. However if you arrive at the fence on the turn that it is shorted out, the new passageway you need will not be opened up at all, even though you can see the fence shorting out. Only if you are elsewhere on that turn will you be able to get through the fence. At least they can say that no playtesters were harmed during the making of this game. The atmosphere is heavily cliched, with lines like: "...policemen of the state lurk in the shadows. I hope you are conforming!" I personally think that the best treatments of the anti-utopian future since Orwell were done by Patrick McGoohan in "The Prisoner" and Terry Gilliam in "Brazil." This one comes across as more laughable than sinister, and presumably exists only so that we can shoot up the town (the real point of the game) without feeling guilty about it. There are some things to like about the game, however. At key points the game gives you a few bars of music from the PC speaker which help to set the mood. The game was not written with TADS, AGT, or one of the other kits, but programmed from scratch, which is of course much harder to do. I confess that I'm not a Rush fan, and if I were I might enjoy the game more. At a couple of points in the game, stanzas from the 2112 song are used in conversations by the characters, making the game look like a little like a Musical (which is something I've never seen in a text game before). Still, the negatives far outweighed the positives. Rush fans might want to play the game anyway, but others are advised to give it a miss. FTP FilePC executable
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