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Table of ContentsUncle Zebulon's Will Undertow Undo Unforgotten Unholy Grail Unnkulia Zero: The Search for Amanda Unnkulia One-Half: The Salesman Triumphant Unnkulian Underworld: The Unknown Unventure Unnkulian Unventure II: The Secret of Acme Unraveling God
Uncle Zebulon's WillFrom: Gareth Rees <Gareth.Rees SP@G cl.cam.ac.uk> Review appeared in SPAG #8 -- February 5, 1996 NAME: Uncle Zebulon's Will PARSER: TADS's usual AUTHOR: Magnus Olsson PLOT: Linear EMAIL: mol SP@G df.lth.se ATMOSPHERE: Good AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF Archive WRITING: Competent but dull PUZZLES: One great, rest pedestrian SUPPORTS: TADS ports CHARACTERS: OK (there's only one) DIFFICULTY: Easy My third favourite of the competition games, after "The One that Got Away" and "A Change in the Weather". I was reminded very strongly of Infocom's game "Hollywood Hijinx": there's a mysterious will, a hunt through a deserted house, and plenty of descriptions which are enlivened by references to my childhood memories of the place. I almost expected to find Uncle Zebulon still alive at the end, menaced by my evil cousin Hector. Perhaps the fabled city of "Cyr-Dhool" which I reach at the end of the game is some kind of reference to Liz Cyr-Jones, co-author of "Hollywood Hijinx"? The background to the game suggested a world in which magic takes the place of science and technology. (The genre is known as "elfpunk" and is exemplified by the novel "The Iron Dragon's Daughter" by Michael Swanwick.) This was very interesting, although it was perhaps too subtly done, and didn't seem as relevant to the game as it could have been. I wondered if the "train strikes" mentioned in the opening text (rather than, say, "magic carpet strikes") were evidence that the background wasn't part of the original design. Certainly the Greek mythology sits rather uneasily with either the elfpunk world in which the game starts or the generic-fantasy land in which it ends. I enjoy games where I have to sift through lots of information to find material that's relevant to the puzzle I'm working on, and "Uncle Zebulon's Will" was good in this respect: two letters, a torn note, a scroll and a poem on a bronze plate. There was a point where I wondered if I was going to have to replicate Zebulon's alchemy experiments (shades of "Christminster" here). But it quickly became apparent that most of the information was redundant, and from there on I found it an easy game to finish. The main impression I had of the game was that it was a very solid piece of work. There were no bugs, all the pieces of the plot fitted together smoothly, the hook at the start was intriguing, and the ending was good, though not as much of a surprise as it should perhaps have been. There were various aspects that disappointed. Apart from the one-object restriction, which was excellent despite needing a completely gratuitous demon to enforce it, the puzzles seemed a bit pedestrian. There are four objects hidden in obvious places and *two* puzzles involving collecting a set of related objects. The writing was very flat and lifeless, managing to be lengthy without being either vivid or humourous. Half a dozen descriptions have some variation on "This room has been ransacked by your greedy relatives". Magnus Olsson commented in rec.arts.int-fiction: I tried not to be too literary; the more flowery the prose, the more time one has to spend polishing it. I'm afraid that it shows; perhaps a bit more floweriness would have helped. And I was hoping for at least some people in the land of Vhyl to welcome me. Perhaps the sequel will reveal where they've all gone. TADS .gam file and description (.zip) (updated version) PC DOS Executable (.zip) (updated version) BinHexed Mac Executable (.hqx) (updated version) TADS source code (updated version) TADS .gam file and description (.zip) (competition version) Solution (Text)
UndertowFrom: Gareth Rees <gdr11 SP@G cl.cam.ac.uk> Review appeared in SPAG #8 -- February 5, 1996 NAME: Undertow PARSER: TADS's usual AUTHOR: Stephen Granade PLOT: Mystery EMAIL: sgranade SP@G phy.duke.edu ATMOSPHERE: Good AVAILABILITY: $10 requestware, IF Archive WRITING: So-so PUZZLES: Obscure SUPPORTS: TADS ports CHARACTERS: Don't convince DIFFICULTY: Hard This is a very ambitious work unfortunately let down by its implementation. Interactive fiction has to come to grips with characterisation and complex character interaction, but it has to do that while allowing suspension of disbelief and remaining interesting and playable. This kind of material was something I considered doing for the competition, but rejected because I didn't have time, and because in any case I don't know how to do it! So I think Stephen was very brave to tackle it. It's just a shame that the result isn't very good. The characters in "Undertow" don't seem to have the knowledge that they should have, based on what they've seen me do. For example, suppose I tell Carl that I have seen Thom's body in the water. Later on, I still get the exchange "What is it?" you ask him [Carl] en route. "Thom. We've found him dead." which was clearly written for the case when I hadn't seen Thom's body at all. The game lets me attack the other characters, but they don't seem to treat me any differently afterwards than they did before. Then there are perfectly sensible actions that are prevented for arbitrary and stupid reasons. The worst such problem I found was that I couldn't pick up Ashleigh's purse or get her gun! Surely no-one in such a situation -- a murdered man just discovered -- would leave a gun lying around on the deck for anyone to pick up? The game says that if I'm seen with a gun, then people will think I killed Thom. Well then, let me pick up the gun, and implement the other characters' suspicions! "Undertow" seems not to have been play-tested much (if at all), when in fact the mystery genre demands extremely rigorous testing. It's hard to be a detective when you get responses like > ask ashleigh about carl Carl is no longer here. > carl, tell me about ashleigh You can't reach that from the dinette bench. There are lots of little bugs, such as "The battery cover is closed, revealing a nine-volt battery," the consistent misspelling of "gauge" as "gague," and the way the "shape" in the water that looks like Thom's body is still present after Thom's body has been pulled out of the sea. There are also far too many objects: try typing "tell all about thom" in the Forecastle -- I counted 25 scenery objects in that one room alone! This clutter obscures rather than illuminates. There are basic problems with the way the story develops. After an extremely hectic opening, suddenly nothing else seems to happen until the boat explodes (a situation which reminds me of "Plundered Hearts"), and the player is left with no idea of what to do. There does seem to have been a lot of work put into this, but the task facing authors of this kind of game would seem to be greater still. "Undertow" was too ambitious for the competition, but I'd be intrigued to see what Stephen Granade could produce if he went back to the code without any deadlines or time constraints and tried to finish writing the game. (If you need another play-tester, e-mail me). TADS .gam File (updated version) TADS .gam File and instructions (competition version)
UndoFrom: Magnus Olsson <mol SP@G df.lth.se> Review appeared in SPAG #7 -- October 14, 1995 Name: Undo Parser: TADS (hacked) Author: null dogmas (aka Neil DeMause) Plot: What plot? Email: neild SP@G echonyc.com Atmosphere: Weird Availability: F, IF Archive Writing: Adequate Puzzles: Very strange Supports: TADS ports Characters: Props Difficulty: Almost unplayable One pleasant fact about the competition entries is that several of the authors have not just aimed at writing "classic," Infocom-style games, but actually tried to renew the genre; to, despite the small format, produce something new and original. The author of this game has obviously tried very hard to come up with something original, and he or she has certainly succeeded, in the sense that this game is totally unlike any other piece of IF I've ever seen. In fact, I'm not even sure of what "Undo" really is - a game, an experiment in TADS programming, a parody of IF, a meta-game? Perhaps it's a little of each. Sometimes when playing it, I had the feeling of being the victim of a strange practical joke. In any case, the meta-game aspects are pretty obvious. This is a game about a game that has crashed just when you were about to win; only a few steps to your east, a "You have won" sign beckons enticingly. However, the way is blocked by a large hole that's just appeared in the ground, and as you explore this little world (just five rooms), you'll find that things have suddenly started to behave very strangely indeed. True to his (or her, but for simplicitly I'll be politically incorrect and use the masculine pronoun) pseudonym, the author has apparently tried to turn all the conventions of IF upside down. Doing this involves some wordplay, some self reference, and a lot of hacking of the TADS library. The results are of dubious quality. In turning everything upside down, the author seems to have totally dispensed with internal logic and consistency. The world consists of a number of locations and objects, only very weakly connected and all behaving in very odd ways. There is basically no way of deducing how things will work, which means that the only way of solving the game - at least the only way I found - is pure trial and error. Paradoxically, the fact that there are very few actions to try makes this process of trial and error more, rather than less, frustrating; trying to do a lot of things with no apparent effect and no sensible messages can be very irritating indeed. I played this game some time and got steadily more and more frustrated, getting nowhere, making some quite surprising discoveries about innoculous-looking objects, all of which turned out to be absolutely useless, and without getting a single point for my troubles. In desperation, I posted a plea for help on Usenet, and was kindly nudged in the correct direction; yet even with that help, some further trial and error was needed before I stumbled on a sequence of actions that actually won the game - but still without giving me any points. It seems as if there's only one real puzzle in the game. In retrospect, its solution has a certain weird logic to it, but you must probably have as twisted a mind as the author to be able to solve it by reasoning - sheer luck or trial and error seem far more likely methods. The solution only involves one room and two objects; all the rest has apprently been put in either just because they're neat ideas or as red herrings. The score (or rather, absence of score) seems to be a pure red herring; the game keeps telling you that you have zero points out of 86, but no action (not even winning the game) seems to increase it. All this is further aggravated by the fact that there seem to be a few genuine bugs in the program (for example, try taking the zero while carrying things, then putting it back in the swamp, or referring to it as "0" while carrying it) - but, of course, in this game you can never be sure whether the "bugs" are intentional or not. The author should certainly be credited for his creativity. Many of the items in the game are very neat ideas, when seen in isolation; perhaps they should be viewed as jokes. The recursive description of the writing in the self-referential room is clearly a logical joke (logic's equivalent of a word game?). There are also some quite conventional (I'm shocked!) verbal jokes: the bogus error messages in the dark room are very funny, while other jokes fall flat on the ground. However, when all these elements are just thrown together and presented as a game without any further explanation, the result is more frustrating than amusing. If there had been some hidden internal logic to be discovered it would have posed an intellectual challenge; but personally I don't find trying to solve puzzles that aren't there very challenging, especially when the only way forward seems to be trial and error; it just makes me feel like the author is pulling my leg. Had this been made into a "real" game (where there actually is a point to it all) it could have been a great success. As it is, perhaps the most appropriate characterization would be to call it an anti-game. To the prepared and not-too-weak-of-heart player I suppose it can be quite a kick, but unleashing it on the unsuspecting contest judges without a warning is cruel. TADS .gam File
UnforgottenFrom: Michael A Russo <mar2116 SP@G columbia.edu> Review appeared in SPAG #43 -- January 7, 2006 TITLE: Unforgotten AUTHOR: Quintin Pan EMAIL: expiation SP@G devils.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/ unforgotten/unforgotten.z5 VERSION: Release 1 Clearly, I haven't sufficiently internalized the tropes of adventure gaming: I was stymied for quite a while in the opening of Unforgotten, because after being told that my friend really didn't want anyone to break into his belongings and read his diary, my reaction was to respect his privacy. More the fool I. For much of the game, Unforgotten seems primarily about sticking one's nose into other people's business - the primary action is in unraveling the secrets of the family of the player's friend. Unfortunately, the contours of the central mystery - not its solution, simply the setup - are very unclear until relatively late in the game, and the author's penchant for twists make the story more confusing than it needs to be. Underneath the continual Big Reveals, there's an interesting story, but I felt like the thriller tropes wound up getting in the way of the interesting relationships. Unforgotten's beginning is probably its weakest section; after the rather forced searching of the friend's possessions, the player is thrust into a conversation which reveals some backstory, but leaves important concepts and facts unexplained. Then without warning, the setting abruptly shifts, without the player being aware of what exactly has happened. This middle section, which contains the meat of the game, is clearer, and the player has specific goals to work towards, but just when I felt like I had my bearings, an NPC - the aforementioned friend's sister - began launching into exposition whose relevance wasn't immediately clear. Soon after, the player is thrust into two vignettes, widely separated in time and space, which are likewise fairly disorienting, and cast everything that's come before into doubt. And then there's a final big twist at the end (albeit this last one is rather heavily choreographed). I do enjoy games which are one big meta-puzzle - Jon Ingold's corpus comes to mind - but here, the twists just sort of pile up on each other, yanking the player one way then the other. Eventually whiplash - and fatigue - set in. This is too bad, because the relationships between the three main characters - the player character, his friend, and the friend's sister - are interesting, and really drive most of the action. Foregrounding them a little more, keeping the friend around for a while longer so the player can form an attachment to him, and keeping the story more focused by more aggressively framing the problem which the player is attempting to solve, would have made for a stronger, sharper, more affecting game. The wall-to-wall twists make the proceedings feel contrived, and the game doesn't allow sufficient space for the repercussions of each individual revelation to play out, which really reduces their impact. Unforgotten does do a good job of integrating puzzles into what's a fairly plot- heavy game. The initial journal-stealing sequence, for all my grumbling, is actually well-put together; depending on how exactly the player goes about it, there are a number of possible outcomes. There's a lot of fairly intuitive sneaking around, and except for that first sequence, the player usually knows precisely what he's working towards. I found one puzzle in particular to be shaky - lowering a doped pie to attack dogs on the end of a fishing rod feels far too slapsticky for the rest of the game, and LOWER PIE seemed a much more natural way of doing this than LOWER ROD - but otherwise the puzzles are well clued, even when the player doesn't necessarily know what he's meant to be doing. One sequence does remind me of a comment I made about Tough Beans, to the effect that too few games depict the player character reacting to events. There's a scene in Unforgotten where the player is controlling a little girl who, while hiding, overhears two soldiers talk about raping her mother - this strikes me as a rather traumatic event, but for all the game discloses, the girl reacts with stone-faced impassivity. I'm not lobbying for histrionics here, but any human being would be really upset in this situation, and the tension of perhaps calling attention to yourself could make for a more dramatically interesting scene. Still, Unforgotten does pay more attention to questions of character than do most games, and its narrative shortcomings are real but not fatal. Definitely worth a play. Zcode executable (.z5)
Unholy GrailFrom: Paul O'Brian <obrian SP@G colorado.edu> Review appeared in SPAG #13 -- February 5, 1998 NAME: Unholy Grail AUTHOR: Stuart Allen E-MAIL: sallen SP@G one.net.au DATE: 1997 PARSER: JACL standard SUPPORTS: JACL interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition97/jacl/grail VERSION: 1997 competition release Playing Unholy Grail puts me in mind of the old saw about the glass being half-full or half-empty. For each positive I can think of, a counterbalancing negative also comes to mind. While the prose creates sharp, clear, atmospheric images, it is also burdened with numerous grammar and spelling errors. While the game had an inventive plot, this same plot was punctuated with moments of tediousness, implausibility, and pure frustration. And while Grail is orders of magnitude better than Allen's 1996 entry "The Curse of Eldor," it still fails to realize both its own potential and that of its author. Allen has accomplished a noteworthy programming achievement: he has written his own IF engine, one which mimics much of the important functionality of the current front-runners Inform and TADS. Unfortunately, it still doesn't perform at the levels of either of these popular "standard" IF engines, and suffers greatly by comparison. Again, it's a yin and yang situation: a quality engine is written from scratch, but it's still a poor competitor to the dominant systems, marred by problems ranging from the complex (tortured disambiguation) to the amazingly simple (an inexplicably arbitrary pathname in the CONFIG file.) Still, Unholy Grail was the first 1997 competition game I played, and it wasn't an altogether inauspicious start. For one thing, it represents remarkable progress on the part of the author. Unholy Grail is not the fulfillment of Stuart Allen's promise, but it marks him as one to watch. With the improvements he's already made to his JACL engine it seems entirely plausible that it could one day match the quality of the current state of the art. Also, this game is one of the few conceptually complete pieces of IF I've seen in the "thriller" genre, a field which is in many ways well-suited to IF, but whose only significant representative has been "Border Zone," a quality game but one whose gimmick of real-time has often overshadowed discussion of its generic groundbreaking. Unholy Grail was uneven; some things were really very good, other things really not very good at all. I hope it's a marker of better things to come. Prose: I found the prose in Unholy Grail fairly difficult to read. Sentences seemed to string endlessly, clause following clause until I thought perhaps the author had asked Henry James to ghost-write. However, I also think that the lack of a status line and room name threw me out of my ingrained IF reading habits, the disorientation of which probably contributed to my difficulty in following the author's long narrative strands. Or it could just be my own denseness -- that's always a possibility. Despite the game's verbosity, though, strong images floated up to me out of the sea of words. I have a very distinct picture in my mind of the swivel chair and radar screen in the control room, of the battered hut whose floorboards parted to show the ground below, and of the elegant, elaborate hotel. The author clearly had done his homework, and was able to create a very convincing picture of the character's environment. I just had to read some of the sentences a few times before I felt sure I knew what they were saying. Plot: The most ringing endorsement of the plot I can give is this: after the two-hour judging period had expired, and I was only 75% through with the game, I spent another half-hour on it because I *needed* to know how it ended. I found the plot difficult to get into at first (see Puzzles), and needed to refer often to the science encyclopedia so I could have a basic clue of what the game was talking about, but once I understood, I was inexorably drawn in by the skillfully dropped hints and slowly unfolding drama. On the other hand (and there's always another hand when it comes to Unholy Grail), I found some things in the plot pretty difficult to believe. Small points like the layout of the complex were jarring: would the military really have a female officer share a bathroom with a male civilian? Certainly the PC's name ("Alex") is gendered ambiguously, but imagining the character as a male (as I did) drains the layout of some believability. Also, some larger points (such as the Rotenone) seemed only to serve as red herrings, but created major implausibilities in the plot: if I've determined that Rotenone is causing the fish deaths, how can it be true that they're being caused by something which in fact behaves entirely differently? For that matter, if my basic science encyclopedia tells me that Rotenone causes fish to drown, why do I blame it for cancer? Puzzles: For the first hour I played the game, I was absolutely stumped. Finally, I resorted to the hint system and learned that because an extra-long sentence in the room description of the lab, I had neglected to examine the lab bench as closely as I ought. Once I found the global positioner, I was off and running. Consequently, I struggled with this game a lot more than its puzzles may have merited. Most of the puzzles were fairly easy, when they didn't involve guessing the verb (Can't turn the drum. Can't move the drum. Can't push the drum. Can't pull the drum. Can't look under the drum. Oh, look *behind* the drum!), and some were quite satisfying (especially the filing cabinet.) However, one puzzle was amazingly tedious -- it basically involved typing "n" 20 times and "w" 20 times, then doing the opposite. Here's where a "swim to" verb would have been much appreciated! Technical: writing -- In addition to the stylistic factors I mentioned in "Prose", Unholy Grail was also plagued with grammar and spelling errors. Certainly there was some attention to proofreading, but one or two more passes were needed. coding -- Unfortunately this is where Grail stumbles the most. JACL does a good job of imitating mainstream systems (especially Inform) in many ways, but in other crucial areas it falls critically short. For example, the system lacks an "oops" verb. Also, its disambiguation is weak, a fact which caused a great deal of frustration for me as my reasonable answers to its reasonable questions kept getting the response "The sentence you typed was incomplete." The system also overuses Graham Nelson's famous "You can't see any such thing," applying it to sentences whose nouns are examinable and manipulable in other contexts. In addition to these general systemic problems, Grail itself had a number of particular bugs which I've reported to the author in a separate email. From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G merle.acns.nwu.edu> Review appeared in SPAG #14 -- May 17, 1998 I was unable to play Stuart Allen's Unholy Grail during the competition, because it wouldn't run on my computer and I didn't have game-playing access to another one until after the deadline. Such are the problems, I guess, with building a language and runtime from the ground up. At any rate, though I wasn't able to cast an official vote, I did find Unholy Grail, once I managed to play it, a reasonably solid entry. The JACL engine, for its part, was fairly good; I had read that it was slow in its past incarnations, but I had no problems with it. The major problem, to my mind, was that the game only allowed one save position, meaning that I had to consider my moves extra-carefully before saving the game. This is one feature which, I hope, will change in the future. The gameplay was otherwise solid, as far as I can tell; there were no crashes and no gameplay-complicating bugs. There was a disambiguation problem with the liquids and the slides--I don't recall the exact words right now--but TADS is just as vulnerable to those. The game itself is intriguing. You play a scientist who has been investigating disproportionate deaths of marine life, and your time is nearly up with no solution at hand. Your mission is to find out the truth before the military commanders at the nearby base send you home--and if you don't think the presence of the military is important, you clearly haven't been watching enough movies. It isn't clear why you haven't gotten around beforehand to doing what you do--your actions seem more common sense than a daring discovery--but once you get off the ground, as it were, the plot moves along nicely. It does take a while for that to happen, though, as the game is crammed with red herrings and it isn't initially apparent just where to start. There are a few problems with the playing quality of Unholy Grail. At one point, you must spend about 80 turns traveling to and from a place, which seems rather excessive; there must be a way to allow the player to travel there instantaneously while still requiring that the player have the requisite knowledge for the puzzle. It is even possible that the player will get to the right spot and realize he's forgotten an item, though that does require some stupidity on the player's part. The nature of the plot requires some suspensions of disbelief, and the ending fits oddly with the rest of the story. On the other hand, though, there are some nicely done touches, notably a chemistry experiment of sorts that you undertake: it's done with few needless complications and the actions are well coded. One stray detail you run across in the course of figuring out the mystery is particularly well done, and in general the game built the tension well. Though there are some glitches, they're blips on a generally sound story. Even though it invokes lots of science-thriller cliches-- isolated research team, a traitor trying to sabotage things, dramatic showdowns, hubristic villains--Unholy Grail remains consistently likeable. The puzzles are a large part of it; those in the endgame are particularly good, I think, and the microscope problem was rewarding to figure out. Most of the puzzles weren't so hard that they slowed the story down, which was certainly welcome. And I didn't notice any problems with the writing--no grammar problems--and it built the story up reasonably well. The real problem with Unholy Grail in its current form is that it lacks a hook--the player can spend a long time wandering around picking up objects before he realizes what to do. Future releases might eliminate some of the useless objects and work in an interesting/mysterious/suspicious development early on that might lead the player in, rather than forcing him to make the first--somewhat obscure--discovery on his own. Further development on this game might also develop the character of your lab partner a bit more--as it is, we don't see much of her initially, and the nature of the player's relationship with her is unclear. (No, no, not that kind of relationship. Just how the partnership has worked, or not worked.) On the whole, then, Unholy Grail is reasonably diverting, and certainly worth the download and playing time. Directory with game files
Unnkulia Zero: The Search for AmandaFrom: Audrey A. DeLisle <rad SP@G crl.com> Review appeared in SPAG #1 -- May 15, 1994 NAME: Unnkulian Unventure 0 PARSER: TADS AUTHOR: Adventions PLOT: Excellent EMAIL: ??? ATMOSPHERE: Humorous AVAILABILITY: IF Archive C25 WRITING: Excellent PUZZLES: - SUPPORTS: TADS Ports CHARACTERS: Fair DIFFICULTY: - Unnkulian Zero is the latest in the Unnkulian series. It is fairly long and not as easy as the earlier games. The puzzles are logical and funny. You can get diverted from the proper path. You must search for 'The Lost Amanda', the King's daughter who was kidnapped. You will encounter a monk as in the other games. I was 'stuck' in two places, but other players may not be. I enjoyed playing it. From: Lars Jodal <email@example.com> Review appeared in SPAG #12 -- December 13, 1997 Adventions has decided to make their games freeware. Since this should spur well-deserved interest in Unnkulia Zero (and since I just finished said game a few hours ago) a review seems due. The game once more brings us to the landscape known from Unnkulian Underworld, but this time back in the days of yore when the Valley King ruled. The king's betrothed Amanda has been kidnapped by the evil unnkulians, and you, the king's most trusted warrior, is given the task of finding her. Unnkulia Zero adds immensely to the universe set up in Unnkuliuan Underworld I and II, clarifying and expanding on old myths as well as providing new ones. Compared to most other adventure games Unnkulia Zero is very rich in text and has detailed descriptions of almost everything mentioned in the game. The plot may be a bit linear at points, but not more than should be expected when one wants a coherent plot. The puzzles in the game are generally tough but in most cases fair. A few of the puzzles cannot be said to be logical, though. At least they require the special unnkulian logic that in many cases turns things upside down. The player is adviced to read carefully, since the text contains many clues and subtleties. The weakest point of the game is that even the careful player can end up in a no-win situation without knowing it. Some objects may simply be overlooked until it is too late, others can too easily be lost during the game. In at least one situation you have to give up some objects at a time when you cannot be 100% sure of what will be needed later in the game. All in all Unnkulia Zero is a remarkable game that was fully worth the money when it was commercial and which is a must now that it is free! From: Lars Jodal <joedal SP@G inet.uni2.dk> Review appeared in SPAG #14 -- May 17, 1998 From time to time a review in SPAG has been followed by another review of the same game because the second reviewer disagreed with the first reviewer or felt that some aspects needed more comments. This time not only the review is about the same game, also the reviewer is the same person (although I am sending this from another email address). The first review (in SPAG #12) was done a bit hastily in the middle of the night after I had finally finished Unnkulia Zero. The deadline for SPAG was passed, but I hoped to get it through to tell the IF world about the game, specifically that it had been released as freeware. The review did get through, but it was less thorough than the game deserved. So, I'll use the possibilites of IF and do a ... >RESTART Background: The unnkulian universe was created along with the first UU game, "Unnkulian Underworld: The Unknown Unventure" (UU1), by D. A. Leary. This was a game with tongue firmly planted in cheek, at the same time writing in the good-old-style of games like "Colossal Cave" and making fun of most of the traditional conventions. Leary's excellent writing abilities ensured that the game was not just a simple parody but instead a very funny game taking place in a universe of its own. UU1 was followed by David M. Baggett's "Unnkulian Underworld II: The Secret of Acme" (UU2), Leary's "Unnkulia Onehalf: The Salesman Triumphant" (Onehalf), and then Leary's "Unnkulia Zero: The Search for Amanda" (Zero). Finally Baggett wrote "The Legend Lives" (Legend). Originally UU1 and UU2 was released as shareware titles, Onehalf as freeware, Zero as a commercial game, and Legend as freeware. But few people bothered register the shareware games and even fewer people would spend money on actually _buying_ a game. Now Baggett & Leary (together known as Adventions) have done us all a favour we don't really deserve: They have given all their games out for free. The URL above points to a file containing the .gam files for _all_ games released by Adventions. This includes the above-mentioned games as well as Leary's "Horror of Rylvania" and Baggett's remake of the original Adventure: "Colossal Caves Revisited". The games are full versions, patched only to remove any mention of payment. What more could we ask for? Beware that the file is rather large, about 1.1 MB. This review is based on the commercial version 1.2 of Zero, which seems to be the same as the free version 1.0G contained in the file. The story: The Valley King is furious and desperate. The Unnkulians have kidnapped his beloved Amanda! He sends you, his most trusted warrior, out to find her. This won't be an easy task ... During your search you will have to face a giant snake, the Valley Patrol, a salesman from Acme, and your fear of heights. To complete your task you will also have to travel in time, shut down a nuclear reactor, and possibly learn more about the ways of Duhda. Last but not least you must match wits with Wowsa Willy, the great magician of the old days! The game is rich in many ways. The writing is very good and imaginative. Spelling errors and typos are nonexistent. Each location has a description of typically 5-10 lines of text that gives a vivid impression of the place (in my mind I still have detailed pictures of very large parts of the Unnkulian world). Much attention has been paid to details. You can examine almost everything mentioned in the text, and the descriptions are not just run-of-the-mill "this looks like an ordinary <object> to me". Unnkulia Zero adds immensely to the world established in UU1 and UU2. UU1 and UU2 took place in different locations but with Zero these locations are linked together. The opening of Zero takes place in the same locations as UU1 (and Onehalf), and later the player may see a bit of the landscape from UU2. I am impressed at Leary's ability to use the same locations as starting point for several games and then let the stories evolve in different ways that makes it natural that some locations of one game cannot be accessed from another. Had I only played one of these games I probably wouldn't even notice that I was being restricted from some areas - every game has its boundaries and most of the boundaries in these games feel natural. But the landscape is far from the only thing that links the games together. Right from the beginning (i.e., UU1) hints of a greater scheme showed up from time to time, and Zero adds immensely to this game world. Taking place in the days of lore, when the Valley King ruled, it lets us know about the time that was the past in UU1 and UU2. Old myths are expanded on, ambiguities are resolved, and new myths are presented. Even the Amanda mentioned in the game's title is no newcomer: Her name was found on an old table in UU1 and in the bark of an oak tree in UU2. With a game world given such consideration it should come as no surprise that Leary has chosen to let the player's character be a fixed one. In the game's own words: You're a hulking Valley Warrior, one of the fittest of the Valley King's soldiers. This may annoy people who want to think themself directly into the story but it allows for more details in the description of the player character. For instance, the player character of Zero suffers from vertigo, a weakness the person playing the game may not share. In fact, Leary makes a vitue of necessity and lets the text comment on the player character from time to time: You're standing outside the Valley King's forest retreat. It's a simple hut where His Regalness sheds the trappings of modern civilization and gets back to nature. You don't entirely understand his thinking; you're a warrior, not a philosopher. But he is, after all, the king. Paths wind through the woods to the north, west, and northeast. The hut is to the south. Through the trees to the west, you can see sunlight glinting off the waters of Lake Draounheer. The game has several NPCs. Some are simply obstacles (e.g., the snake), others take active part in the fate of our hero (e.g., the nymph). None of the NPCs are pure cardboard, but they generally have their own things to do and aren't up to long talks or developed interaction. In a way the most interesting NPC is someone who strictly speaking is not a character in the game: Wowsa Willy. You never gets to meet or see Wowsa Willy, but you will visit Willy's tower, find a book written by Willy, and possibly hear from Willy himself. An example: You're deep in the heart of the swamp now, in a dismal clearing of quicksand and mire. A gentle old willow tree hangs over the clearing, vine-covered branches dipping low. The only safe path is back to the east. Without warning, your feet sink into the muck. You try to move, but can't. You're sinking in the quicksand - and you don't have much time left! >examine wand The wand is a thin piece of wood, quite light and flexible. You can barely make out tiny letters down the side that read 'Wowsa Willy's Wishing Wand - Works When Waved.' >wave wand "Cretin!" a voice booms. "Bother me not with such petty wishes! Escape from the sand yourself!" How our hero escapes the bog is another story... This brings us to the puzzles. From a puzzle-solving point the game is hard, in its own words "dam tuff (7 out of 10)". [*] I am not very good at solving adventure game puzzles myself and got stuck several times. The puzzles are generally logical and interesting. They are integrated in the plot and not just added as an afterthought. Players that explore their surroundings are in many cases rewarded by small hints to the puzzles, especially if they can read between the lines. The puzzles range from find-the-key (although to find the key you will have to solve another, more interesting, puzzle) to complicated and original puzzles. In between are some variations over old puzzles, like how to deal with the monk (also met in UU1 and UU2) or how to cross the Stoll Bridge. Most of the variations include new twists, and none are direct lift-offs. [*] The spelling reflects the way Acme describes its products in the UU games. People who played UU1 and UU2 and grew tired of the "cheez" jokes can relax: Zero is almost cheez-free. In a few cases "logical" is not the right word for the puzzles. I cannot decide if this is to be considered bad or not. The world of the UU games has always had its own rules, and although not logical the puzzles are consistent with the game setting. The most "nonlogical" puzzle is related to the burial mound, and since I solved that puzzle without any help we see that nonlogical doesn't have to mean impossible or unfair. Unfair puzzles or not, the game is not without problems: Even the careful player may end up in a no-win situation without knowing it. Very few puzzles can be screwed up without giving the player proper notice, but some objects can be overlooked or lost. The most likely object to be overlooked is the jade figurine, which is to be found rather early in the game (and I ain't gonna tell you more!). Other objects are too easily lost. At one place in the game the player will have to give up some objects. There are lots of objects to spare in the game, but as an apparently useless object can turn out to be very handy it is impossible to be 100% sure _which_ objects can be spared. This is quite serious, especially since some objects can be lost a long time before the player realizes they were essential. The plot of the game is well developed, and the story unfolds without forcing itself on the player. Some puzzles have to be solved in a particular order, but that is only natural if we are to expect a coherent plot. In most parts of the story several independent puzzles can be considered at a time. Although non-linear on the way the adventure has one ending. One might think that the games title gives the ending away right from the start, but one is in for a surprise. The ending is satisfying but not in the way that is expected. To sum up, I consider Unnkulia Zero an ought-to-be classic. The game does have its faults but they are few and heavily outweighed by the positive things to be said. Getting hints may be a problem, because so few people have played it (yet!) and Adventions are not going to give hints any more. My advice to players in need of a hint: Try rec.games.int-fiction. There are quite a few people out there, and maybe one of them can help you. If that fails, mail me. I am not very good at giving subtle hints, but I do know the game well. In any case, don't rush for hints right away. The game is rich enough to reward those who take the time on it. The bottom line can be copied from my original review: All in all Unnkulia Zero is a remarkable game that was fully worth the money when it was commercial and which is a must now that is is free! From: Valentine Kopteltsev <uux SP@G mailru.com> Review appeared in SPAG #30 -- September 20, 2002 -- as part of a Review Package As I played through more games in the Unnkulian series, I got the growing impression both of the major game authors, Mr. Leary and Mr. Baggett, influenced each other, so that their approaches to game design became closer (if you read the previous review, you'd know what I mean). Unnkulia 0, for instance, is much less "linear" than Unnkulia 1, the previous game by Mr. Leary -- although the central goal of the game still is defined at the very start, the sub-goals don't stand out as clearly. The plot was much deeper than in Unnkulia 1, though its main idea seemed somewhat moot to me. The atmosphere, however, remained as light-hearted as in Mr. Leary's previous work, including the recurring theme -- this time, those are references to the "powerful wizard" Wowsa Willy. Puzzlewise, the game left me with ambiguous feelings: on one hand, the author clearly made a serious effort to make it more challenging for the player; on the other hand, this effort partly resulted in a much larger possibility to make it unwinnable without warning than in any of the previous games of the series. Plus, a couple of puzzles seemed to be loaned directly from Unnkulia 2. Since I doubt Mr. Leary hadn't got enough fantasy and skill to create good puzzles (as he had proven the opposite too often), I considered this to be an in-joke I didn't understand. But it wasn't of a benefit to the game, anyway. And a note for maze-haters: Unnkulia 0 contains two pseudo-maze puzzles - mostly for the purposes of mocking the universal maze-abhorrence, it seems. All in all, I'd say this work organically fits into the Unnkulian universe, providing lots of background for it, but doesn't introduce (m)any groundbreaking ideas. Because of this, it probably would be wise to try out one of the previous games first; chances are high that, if you don't like them, you won't enjoy Unnkulia 0, either (and vice versa). SUMMARY: PLOT: Very solid ATMOSPHERE: (Sometimes inappropriately) light-hearted WRITING: Not very different from Unnkulia 1 GAMEPLAY: Nothing unusual BONUSES: Provides lots of background, funny references to other Unnkulian games, as well as ADVENTURE CHARACTERS: See the comment for WRITING PUZZLES: Fine for the most part - the quibbles are listed in the review DIFFICULTY: The game's statement to be 7 out of 10 seems to be true TADS .gam file, bundled with other Adventions games (.zip) TADS .gam file, bundled with other Adventions games (.tar.gz) Atari-ST (.arc) MacIntosh MacBinary (.sit.bin) IBM (.zip) TADS .gam File (.tar.Z) Solution (text)
Unnkulia One-Half: The Salesman TriumphantFrom: Audrey A. DeLisle <rad SP@G crl.com> Review appeared in SPAG #1 -- May 15, 1994 NAME: Unnkulia One-Half PARSER: TADS AUTHOR: D.A. Leary PLOT: Excellent EMAIL: ??? ATMOSPHERE: Humorous AVAILABILITY: IF Archive Freeware WRITING: Excellent PUZZLES: Logical & Not Hard SUPPORTS: TADS Ports CHARACTERS: Good DIFFICULTY: Easy This is a short game. You find enough objects of value to please the Innkeeper. The puzzles are logical and not hard. There are some extra features that can be used to win, but are not necessary. I enjoyed playing this game. From: Valentine Kopteltsev <uux SP@G mailru.com> Review appeared in SPAG #30 -- September 20, 2002 -- as part of a Review Package This game, in which you play, for a change, on the "bad" side -- an Acme salesman -- has been created as sort of an "appetizer" for Unnkulia 0; thus, it isn't either hard or deep. It was like in a circus -- the spotlights went on, the main comedian entered the lit circle in the arena, and the performance began -- now, who wouldn't enjoy a clown's show? Well, *I* didn't. As the story progressed, and the PC got his prescribed portion of kicks and socks, I noticed that, instead of laughing, I started to feel pity for the poor guy. Sure, an Acme salesman isn't the most pleasant person to deal with, and an intellectual giant he isn't, either -- but not giving him even a single chance just seemed unfair to me. To put it simply -- few things in IF are more terrible than a game author who doesn't like his own PC at all, no matter how bad this PC is. (Again, that's entirely my personal point of view -- regarding both what's worst in IF, and whether the author of this game really doesn't like his PC). Fortunately for Unnkulia 1/2, Mr. Leary's sense of humour (which, admittedly, remains up to the mark) finds other outlets than derision of the PC, so that the game had its enjoyable moments, after all. (For example, try referring to the fabled Bicorn of Radeekal with "goat"). And that's pretty much all I can say about the game -- in all other respects, it's not outstanding; if you like Unnkulia in general, and aren't as over-sensible as myself ;), you're probably going to enjoy it. One final warning, though: like in other Unnkulian games, you sometimes can get yourself killed without warning; however, *unlike* in other Unnkulian games, you can't undo your last action after doing that (I don't know the reason why this feature has been removed from Unnkulia 1/2, but I remember it being an unpleasant surprise when I played it); thus, "save early, save often". SUMMARY: PLOT: Boils down to a treasure hunt ATMOSPHERE: Clownery WRITING: Unnkulian standard GAMEPLAY: Doesn't differ much from ADVENTURE BONUSES: Clever embedding into the Unnkulian universe CHARACTERS: Unnkulian standard PUZZLES: Not very challenging, but some are nice DIFFICULTY: Modestly describes itself as being trivial (2 out of 10) TADS .gam file, bundled with other Adventions games (.zip) TADS .gam file, bundled with other Adventions games (.tar.gz) TADS .gam file & associated files (.tar.Z) PC Executable (.zip) Macintosh MacBinary (.sit.bin) Atari-ST (.arc) Solution (Text)
Unnkulian Underworld: The Unknown UnventureFrom: Audrey A. DeLisle <rad SP@G crl.com> Review appeared in SPAG #1 -- May 15, 1994 NAME: Unnkulian Unventure 1 PARSER: TADS AUTHOR: D.A. Leary PLOT: Excellent EMAIL: ??? ATMOSPHERE: Humorous AVAILABILITY: IF Archive S10 WRITING: Excellent PUZZLES: Logical & Amusing SUPPORTS: TADS Ports CHARACTERS: Good DIFFICULTY: - Unnkulian Unventure starts you on the path to being a hero. The Orb has been stolen and you must return it. You journey through caverns, up mountains and into a chasm. The puzzles are logical and usually amusing. A monk is waiting to help you at one place. I enjoyed playing this game. From: Toni Cortes <toni SP@G ac.upc.es> Review appeared in SPAG #2 -- September 26, 1994 Unnkulian Unventure starts you on the path to being a hero. The Orb has been stolen and you must return it. You journey through caverns, up mountains and into a chasm. A monk is waiting to help you at one place. (Copied from SPAG1 rad SP@G crl.com) I enjoyed the game, especially the first 200 points (out of 400). In this first part the puzzles are very logical and well designed. In the second part there are some puzzles in which I didn't find any logic at all. The writing is quite well done and gives the reader a good description of what is going on. The plot gives the player a lot of freedom and lots of things can be done in parallel. The characters that appear are simple and don't allow much interaction with them, I wish they were a bit more active. Lastly, there is lots of humour in this game. It may get a bit repetitive, but humour is an important part of the game. From: Valentine Kopteltsev <uux SP@G mailru.com> Review appeared in SPAG #30 -- September 20, 2002 -- as part of a Review Package Well, considering the aforesaid, we're dealing with a practically flawless game here;). Seriously, Unnkulia 1 has everything a text adventure needs to be successful: a nice setting, a memorable player character, good puzzles... Admitted, it's not as deep as most of its successors -- but for what it lacks in depth, it makes up in bright humour, and vividness of descriptions, with "all the recurring themes of the Unnkulian games established here, from Duhdhism and the obligatory fried egg puzzle to the Acme Corporation and its vastly inferior products" (sorry for the quotation from Carl Muckenhoupt's review in Baf's Guide, but you simply couldn't put it better -- except that funny reincarnations of the Bridge Troll from ADVENTURE, the obligatory presence of a bar/lounge, and a couple more things probably should be added to the list of recurring themes). One trick David Leary used to make his player character appear more realistic was especially amusing for me: you see, the game begins with the death of the man whose slave the PC has been. It must be said the hero doesn't like his late master, Kuulest, too much. On the other hand, Kuulest was the centre of his world for quite a long time. And thus, during the course of the game, the former slave keeps recalling his master on every appropriate, and sometimes less appropriate, occasion, referring to Kuulest with words derivative of "geeze" (as in, "The old geezebreath sure won't need it anymore, so it's yours now.") These reminiscences form yet another recurring theme -- this time, not for the whole series but for the game -- which helps the overall atmosphere a lot. Likewise, the NPCs are worthy of praise: they're probably not the most advanced ones, in that they don't carry out complex scripts, nor are they burdened by an AI; no, they've been implemented under the usage of but the basic animation techniques - which hasn't kept them from being vivid, and characterized nicely (the way one of them suddenly becomes interested in his fingernails when being asked for help still makes me smile when I think of it). The only thing one could complain about in Unnkulia 1 is, it's somewhat straightforward. Somewhere in the beginning of the game, you get your task -- to save the world by doing this and that -- then, you go and do it, and that's about it. The whole layout of the game, plot- and puzzle-wise, seems to insist on the principle formulated by Michael Roberts in his TADS Manual: "Filling in the details of the plot can proceed by 'working backwards' from the overall goal
to the major sub-goals, then backwards to the smaller goals that must be reached for each sub-goal, and so on." OK, that's not a bad thing in itself -- I'm aware it's to a very large extent a matter of personal taste whether you prefer more or less "goal-oriented" plots/puzzles/ games; thus, I'm just expressing my own opinion here. And one final observation: you know, the whole time I've been playing Unnkulia 1 I had a funny feeling the game reminded me of something. This feeling remained latent until recently, as I was reading a book that was part of the Myth series by Robert Lynn Asprin, and came across a reference to ACME corporation. At this moment, everything suddenly slid into place: I realized that, coincidentally or not, the mood in Unnkulia 1 was very reminiscent of the Asprin's humorous works' style (not that it's a rip-off, mind you). Again, it's entirely a matter of personal preferences whether to see it as a 'good' or a 'bad' thing; for me, however, it was as wonderful as meeting an old pal somewhere you didn't expect to see him. SUMMARY: PLOT: Rather straightforward "save the world" ATMOSPHERE: Wonderfully Asprinish WRITING: Vivid and humorous GAMEPLAY: Goal-oriented, a bit linear BONUSES: Rich setting with many Easter eggs, references to "old geezer Kuulest" CHARACTERS: Non-exceptional, but nice PUZZLES: Not that hard, but fun to solve DIFFICULTY: Claims to be (and probably is) handleable (5 out of 10) TADS .gam file, bundled with other Adventions games (.zip) TADS .gam file, bundled with other Adventions games (.tar.gz) TADS .gam File (.tar.Z) PC Executable (.zip) Macintosh MacBinary (.sit.bin) Atari-ST (.arc) Solution (text)
Unnkulian Unventure II: The Secret of AcmeFrom: Audrey A. DeLisle <rad SP@G crl.com> Review appeared in SPAG #1 -- May 15, 1994 NAME: Unnkulian Unventure 2 PARSER: TADS AUTHOR: Dave Baggett PLOT: Good EMAIL: ??? ATMOSPHERE: Humorous AVAILABILITY: IF Archive S10 WRITING: Excellent PUZZLES: - SUPPORTS: TADS Ports CHARACTERS: Fair DIFFICULTY: - This is the continuation of your life as a hero. I would rate it higher, but the plot is a bit jerky and there is one 'fatal' error. There is a computer and you must know the password before the game tells you. That means you must have someone or a walk-through tell you. In general, it is still amusing, but not as good as UU1 and not as involved. I won't say what the object is because that is part of the plot. From: Valentine Kopteltsev <uux SP@G mailru.com> Review appeared in SPAG #30 -- September 20, 2002 -- as part of a Review Package When I started playing Unnkulia 2, my first impression was, I was dipped into the world of Unnkulia 1 again -- which surely wasn't much of a surprise. However, this was the case of the first impression that's deceptive: the longer I played it, the more I got the feeling Unnkulia 1 and 2 were quite different. I admit I had to mull over a lot before I could get at the roots of this difference, but I think I found the answer. The thing is, David Leary's goal seemed to be the creation of a *game* that'd be fun to play; by contrast, David Baggett seemed to be trying to create a *world* that'd be fun to explore. Thus, in Unnkulia 1, you're given a goal to work towards practically at the very start; in Unnkulia 2, you are set out into your yard without any particular goal. Well, closer to the end you'll receive some sort of hint what to do, but you still won't know what's *really* going on until you make the final move. Hence, your stimulus not to give up and to keep playing here is the exploration of the game world. This might appear like a rather meagre motivation, but the author put enough effort into the setting to make such "exploring for the sake of exploring" an entertaining pastime. The game impresses by plentiful, maybe even excessive scenery, lots of interesting things to do, and loads of... OK, looks like we're in for another diversion. ;) It's been said Unnkulia 2 contains loads of red herrings; to me, however, that doesn't seem true. You see, a red herring is something the author puts into his game for the sole purpose of misleading the player. For instance, let's think of a game taking place in an underground station. Say, a locked trophy case containing a magic wand, that stands amidst the platform, and for which no key exists in the game, clearly is a red herring. However, a fully functional control gate is not -- it's rather a well-implemented scenery object, and remains such one even if there is no need for the player to ever pass through it. Similarly, all the "red herrings" (maybe with very few exceptions) in Unnkulia 2 turn out to be scenery objects, which give the setting even more depth. And one more difference between the two Unnkulias, which probably also results from the dissimilar approaches used by their authors: Unnkulia 1 can be mapped out much easier than Unnkulia 2. The latter resembles Zork a bit, in that it sometimes provides a sudden shortcut between locations that seemed to be on the opposite ends of the map. Such a layout makes the place appear more "tight" -- the single locations hang together much better. The humorous aspect of the game isn't as obvious as in Unnkulia 1, where the jokes virtually are hurled at the player; here, they are hidden in object descriptions and responses. Unnkulia 2 presents a more restrained style than its predecessor - which doesn't mean it's any less funny. One of my favorite moments: somewhere in the game, you arrive... On Top of Dawg Rock, West of the River Here you are, on top of Dawg Rock. This would sure impress the climbers, you think to yourself. Too bad no one's around to notice. But no matter. The striking beauty of Dawg Rock and the landscape below make standing up here alone a great joy. <SKIPPED> The rocks become trickier here, and consequently the only ways to go are east, back to the bridge, and down, which I would highly advise against. > (Naturally, the first thing I tried was...) > DOWN I told you, I advise against it. Must I always nag? The puzzles in Unnkulia 2 were very hard for me -- to a large degree because the game wouldn't offer a direction to go; even the built-in "hint machine" didn't always help. Also, there were three rather large mazes. Since, as mentioned above, I've got nothing against mazes as such, and because I'm so fond of Unnkulian games, I'd say Mr. Baggett was on the verge of overdoing it in Unnkulia 2; someone less (or more ;) biased probably would say he passed this verge by far. Still, the puzzles were well-designed and satisfying to solve. But with all these nice features, the game would fall apart because of its rather loose construction -- if it wasn't for the plot. At first, you probably wouldn't see much of it, for the reasons described above. You'd keep playing because of that feeling there's something interesting waiting for you around the corner. Gosh, I've played enough games (and read enough books, for that matter) that used exactly this device -- and many of them turned out to be a let-down. But not Unnkulia 2 -- the final twist of the plot nicely tied up all the loose ends that cropped up during the game, and secured the whole structure, like a keystone of an arch. Great it was, just great. SUMMARY: PLOT: Probably appears to give more freedom to the player than it does in reality ATMOSPHERE: Certainly present WRITING: More restrained than in Unnkulia 1, but not less humorous GAMEPLAY: Almost totally undirected BONUSES: Generous setting with LOTS of Easter eggs CHARACTERS: Not as vivid as in Unnkulia 1 PUZZLES: Well-designed, but a bit illogical sometimes DIFFICULTY: Claims to be 7 out of 10 (to me, it seemed more like 10 out of 10) TADS .gam file, bundled with other Adventions games (.zip) TADS .gam file, bundled with other Adventions games (.tar.gz) TADS .gam File (.tar.Z) PC Executable(.zip) Macintosh MacBinary (.sit.bin) Atari-ST (.arc) Solution (text)
Unraveling GodFrom: Edward Lacey <edwardalacey SP@G hotmail.com> Review appeared in SPAG #31 -- January 3, 2003 TITLE: Unraveling God AUTHOR: Todd Watson EMAIL: jillandtodd SP@G earthlink.net DATE: September 2002 PARSER: ADRIFT SUPPORTS: ADRIFT runtime AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: ftp://ftp.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/competition2002/adrift/unravel/unravel.taf VERSION: 1.0 Like a number of the other competition entries, Unraveling God is heavily story-based; in fact it contains essentially no puzzles at all. This is more than compensated for by an original plot and a generally high quality of writing that depicts the game's characters very effectively. The author also deserves credit for attempting to discuss the science behind the plot; while this isn't done totally convincingly, it places the scientific aspects of the game well above the "this works this way because I say so" style of explanation that characterises some science-fiction. The narrative jumps back and forth through time in a manner apparently inspired by Photopia, although the player controls a single character throughout and most of the game takes place in a single set of locations. The first of these differences was, for me, welcome, and I found it easy to empathise with the character, but the second difference is the cause of a couple of problems. While I didn't notice any inconsistencies in the text for the different time periods, the shifts aren't quite handled perfectly; for example, it's possible to get a phone call in one time period that should have been received in another. I would also note that the ADRIFT parser used by the game is not the best. However, these relatively minor criticisms would not on their own have prevented me giving the game more than the four points I awarded it. My real problem was with the game's endings. It was obvious that there was a right choice and there was a wrong choice. First, I tried the right choice, and got more or less the ending I'd expected. But the ending that followed the wrong choice was really quite shocking -- not because, as I'd expected, my decision would cause great harm, but because its final sentences as I read them seemed to suggest that my decision had essentially been irrelevant. This seemed both to undermine the key idea of the plot and made me feel angry that I was expected to regard what now seemed a needless sacrifice as the "right choice". Arousing strong feelings in the player would generally not be a bad thing, but in this case it felt that the game was trying to promote a particular moral/theological argument, and this left a bitter taste in my mouth that was reflected in my score. The author afterwards explained to me that my interpretation of the ending wasn't what he'd intended at all, and perhaps the lesson can be drawn from this that the reader of any text shouldn't attach too much weight to its final sentences. Looking back, I may note that I would not have reacted as I did if the game had not been so successful at making me sympathise with my character. Indeed, that the game appeared to me to support a worldview that, it turned out, was actually very different from that of the author is testament to his creativity. I look forward to playing any of the author's future offerings. My Rating: 4 Directory with ADRIFT .taf file and walkthrough