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Table of Contents

The Warlord, the Princess, and the Bulldog WARP! Waystation The Weapon Wearing the Claw The Wedding When Help Collides! When in Rome 1: Accounting for Taste When in Rome 2: Far from Home Who Created That Monster? Whom the Telling Changed Winchester's Nightmare Windhall Chronicles: See Path To Fortune Winter Wonderland Wishbringer The Witness Words Of Power World Worlds Apart Wormhole: The Beginning Wumpus 2000

The Warlord, the Princess, and the Bulldog

From: Mike Snyder (wyndo SP@G Review appeared in
SPAG #44 -- April 30, 2006 TITLE: The Warlord, The Princess & The Bulldog AUTHOR: David Whyld EMAIL: dwhyld SP@G DATE: March 31, 2006 PARSER: Adrift SUPPORTS: Adrift Runner and GLK Adrift AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: VERSION: Version 1 It's not the next chapter in The Chronicles of Narnia (and if no other reviewer makes the same joke, I'll be surprised). David Whyld's Spring Thing 2006 entry, written in Adrift, reprises the exploits of mercenary bad-ass Stavros "The Bulldog" McGrogan in a sequel to his earlier A Spot of Bother. It's up to The Bulldog to sneak, fight, grunt, and puzzle-solve his way to victory against the evil Warlord, Baron Grishtak. At times, this is a contradiction. From the start, the goal is clear. I don't mean the goal of the story (which is also clear), but the goal of the game itself. Finish the three primary objectives with full health for a score boost, and pick up more points for solving puzzles rather than pushing past them with brute force. This opens the game to a variety of play styles, but that "best score" objective is the carrot dangling just beyond reach. The Bulldog loses life points when he fights, and without a clear idea of how to gain them back (let alone how many can *be* regained), my inclination was to avoid fights and slink about the castle solving puzzles, preserving every point of health possible. So much for being a bad-ass. Even though I enjoyed the game using this strategy, I might have enjoyed it more if I hadn't been aiming for a perfect game. In the end, it didn't matter. I didn't complete one of the three objectives, and I won with a score of only 80 and health of 90. The ending - and the death ending too, when I purposely let The Bulldog get pounced by The Tiger - was still satisfying. Things take a bit longer when you play for points. Instead of beating up the bad guys, I lured them into traps, tricked them into leaving, or simply avoided them entirely. When I stumbled into traps or lost health in unexpected ways, I opted to "undo" or "load" a prior save, so I could try another approach. This made the game tougher. To get it all right the first time, I would have needed to read the author's mind. The interesting thing is that this was just another way of playing the game. With a different objective - let The Bulldog fight enemies and bully his way past the tough parts - it doesn't require psychic powers. It's a fair system which rewards do-overs without making do-overs essential to win. I've mentioned "health points" several times. If you have visions of RPG stats and random dice-rolls - especially if you don't *like* those things - take heart. That's not how WPB works. Think of it as the antithesis of a scoring system. When you earn "score" points, it's for completing a task, reaching a milestone, or hitting some score-worthy trigger. These are things built into the game, and the points are set. If you play much IF, you've probably seen this in action. WPB has this *in addition to* its health point system. Points come off by making mistakes, or in other predetermined ways that involve alternate puzzle solutions. Sometimes, these mistakes (especially in facing enemies) can be repeated, but on the whole it's more like a credit system. The Bulldog is extended so many of these "mistake" points, and he spends them as necessary. The beauty is that making these mistakes usually gets The Bulldog past puzzles. For instance, there are several ways to pass the landmines near the beginning of the game. One way in particular saves The Bulldog from damage entirely. Other ways leave him only slightly scathed (or perhaps unharmed, but with the loss of something that might be the key to avoiding damage later). Of course, stepping into it (with persistence) solves the puzzle too, at the expense of a chunk of health. It's designed to be winnable, no matter how low your health becomes. The more damage The Bulldog takes, though, the fewer risks he can endure. Suppose this drops to a single remaining point. The game remains winnable, but every additional obstacle must be overcome with brains instead of brawn. This can become *very* difficult. Health can be recovered, but I never was quite sure how much. If I recall, I healed about 30. The Bulldog has suffered some prior to the start of the game, beginning with 63 health. Health of 100 is considered "full". It may be possible to recover more than 37, making it possible to take damage and still finish with full health. I never figured out the max. It's just as possible that every method in the game adds up only to a total of 37, meaning a perfect win requires a totally unharmed Bulldog. Maybe a better player than I - or Whyld himself - will say for sure. Really, it's a clever design. I can't think of a single puzzle that didn't have two or more solutions. The easier the solution, the fewer the points (and often, the more damage The Bulldog would take). Because my goal had me going after the toughest of each solution, I hit the built-in help often. After only a short ways into the game, I was requesting every hint available in every room. In a way, this became just another tool, like "undo". Instead of cheating, it seemed more like a part of the game. Some hints even felt more like puzzles to solve. Even *with* hints, it was often difficult to work out the best (most rewarding point-wise) solutions. Without them, though, I never would have. This all makes it difficult to say just how tough The Warlord, The Princess, and The Bulldog is. I solved many of the puzzles with easier solutions at first, costing The Bulldog only a few points of health. I would have finished faster - and possibly without so much reliance on hints - if I had just pressed forward from those points. I suppose it ranges from "challenging but not overly difficult" to "one step down from impossible", depending on what approach you take. Mine was more on the side of the latter. Whyld has done an excellent job of anticipating much of what players may try. The implementation level alone is amazing. Very little encountered in the game lacks first, second, even third-level implementation. If you look at scenery that has parts, you can look at those parts. You can often *interact* with those parts. If those parts have parts, they're probably implemented too. It pays to really inspect what's around. Even though much of it is optional, enough digging can bring up the keys to alternate puzzle solutions. The prose in WPB is dotted with amusing passages. Generally, Whyld isn't trying for real comedy - and if so, it probably wouldn't have worked here anyway. It's more the "ah ha, that was funny" kind of subdued but cliched humor you'd expect from a story in which the hero only grunts yet everybody understands what he means. When Baron Grishtak writes a letter to his ace henchman - subsequently obtained by The Bulldog - he admits that he "foolishly jotted down the access code to the master computer on the bottom of it." He goes on to encourage his henchman to destroy the letter after reading it, for that very reason. As to the presentation, the author held nothing back. My first fifteen minutes were spent just reading the introductory material - details about the game, additional commands, the intro, etc. The game font size can be adjusted via the command prompt. Screen-clearing at each room change can be turned on or off (personally, I liked it on - it was easier to quickly scroll up and reread room descriptions that way). Around four different fonts were used - one for room headers, one for the room description, the default font for most game messages, and a script-style font for letters and notes. It may sound like a hodgepodge, but it works well (if you're using the Adrift runner and your Windows-based computer has those fonts) and it set WPB apart from other games in terms of style. To now, it may seem as though I have no complaints about The Warlord, The Princess & The Bulldog. A big game, though, has more room for things to go wrong. None of these problems (in my play-through, anyway), were game-killing, but they ranged from mildly annoying to completely preventing (or, at times, *allowing*) certain solutions. My transcripts note quite a few typos - not surprising in a game of this size and complexity, but still minor dents in the proverbial finish. Weirder quirks included things like the non-working pendant (it worked once, but after a subsequent "undo" or "restore", shaking it didn't work even though it still had 3 charges); being able to enter the guards' training courtyard in a "they're gone" state, even though they shouldn't have been; a reference to a voodoo doll in the hints, which doesn't seem to be in the game (Adrift will usually respond to objects it knows, even in other places, and it didn't know that one); being able to break the panel in the sleeping quarters repeatedly; I didn't realize it at the time, but the "code to the master computer" is too long to work in either of the computers found later in the game; some available exits were unmarked on the map; some exits described in the text didn't work in the game; you can't "undo" to before a hint screen; I couldn't get "exit" to work (even though it was supposed to), when trying one of the codes; A seven-letter password scattered throughout the castle appears to have two fifth letters; it's possible to set the watch before winning, so that it goes off during the final scene; a few other miscellaneous quirks. As the game progressed, these things either became more common or more noticeable. Maybe it was the cumulative effect, but my faith in the game's internal consistency was shaken. If I felt at all guilty about reliance on hints, the feeling passed when I thought that maybe the game was broken just enough to *prevent* the solutions I needed for a perfect win. This may not be true. From my experience, the bugs that persist after beta testing are usually the bugs in sections that *aren't* vital - else they would have been worked out already. Nonetheless, it's a reminder: the better the polish, the higher the faith. Most of the design works great. The health point system contributes to alternate puzzle solutions, and alternate puzzle solutions are abundant. The hints, although cryptic at times, are helpful. Even so, a few specific parts left me cold. One very early puzzle (the one that avoids a loss of health - an easier but damaging alternate does exist) requires waiting a few turns after taking action. I was impressed that the game allowed the particular action, but I thought I had messed up - so I did an "undo". Speaking of "undo", you can unwittingly make a move that disables it, in what I can only describe as a prank perpetrated by the author. It's by no means a necessary (or even an obvious) move, but some players will try it. I found no way to re-enable it, aside from reverting to a prior save (or starting over). One obstacle requires that you lose everything in inventory. The hints describe a way to keep most of it, but it requires repeating an action (and it's even possible to undo a failure, repeat, and succeed the second or third time). As a Spring Thing entry, WPB is fittingly sized. My play-through - taking most puzzles the hard way and relying heavily on the built-in hints - was eight and a half hours. Despite the flaws, I enjoyed the time I spent with The Warlord, The Princess & The Bulldog. An incredible amount of effort was put into this game, and it really shows. A post-competition release could address the remaining problems, making it even more recommendable. My Spring Thing score: "9" Zip file containing ADRIFT game file


From: Stas Starkov <stas_ SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #30 -- September 20, 2002 NAME: WARP! AUTHOR: Dosius Software Co. and Richard Kelly EMAIL: None given DATE: 2002 PARSER: Inform Standard SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: VERSION: Release 2 Beginning of the game: You're on a space station. This is nothing special in itself, but for some reason, due to your body's genetics, your very presence is causing the station to become unstable. Stay aboard, and the station will explode. ... WARP! Usocon interactive fiction - a science fiction story (C)Copyright Dosius Software Co. and Richard Kelly, 2001-2002 Release 2 / Serial number 640101 / Inform v6.21 Library 6/10 Interpreter claims to support Z-Machine Specification 1.0 PC interpreter version F detected. Welcome to WARP! Try not to mess up too quickly. Bedroom This is a rather sparse bedroom. About the only thing here is your bed, which folds up into one of the floor tiles. Exits lead north, west and east. What should I do now (dare I ask)? Well? _ Looks like a jokey game, doesn't it? Well, the truth is: the game is implemented badly, and no joke can prettify the impression. More examples: What next? x bed [I don't see that here.] What should I do now (dare I ask)? Well? w Bathroom This is a modest bathroom with doorways leading east and southeast. You can see a sink and a toilet here. What next? x sink In the sink is a ring. What next? get ring Taken. What next? wear ring You can't wear that! What next? x ring What next? asdf I know your waist line has a bigger number than your IQ, but even you can do better than that. What next? _ I think comments are needless. I mention only one more thing -- instant-death rooms. Summary: An amateurish work. The premise is not bad, but not enough for a _game_. FTP FileZcode .z5 file FTP FileOriginal PC version (titled "Chaos In Space">


From: Julian Arnold <jools SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #9 -- June 11, 1996 NAME: Waystation PARSER: TADS standard AUTHOR: Stephen Granade PLOT: See below EMAIL: sgranade SP@G ATMOSPHERE: See below AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF Archive WRITING: See below PUZZLES: See below SUPPORTS: TADS run-time ports CHARACTERS: See below DIFFICULTY: See below URL: <> Needs TADS run-time (v2.2 or later), <> While driving home from work at night your car's engine dies. Stopping at the side of the road you get out to investigate (not because you have the slightest clue of what the problem is, but rather because that seems the thing to do). Moments later you are engulfed in blue light and pass out, awakening once more in a dungeon-like cell. The introduction to "Waystation" can be seen as analogous to the game as a whole-- rarely do you have a reason for your actions, other than that they seem like the right thing to do at the time-- objects are collected simply because they can be, and used by the same rationale. Your goal in the game is not revealed until over half-way through, so for the majority of the game you are reduced to moving purposelessly from location to location and solving seemingly arbitrary puzzles. It could be argued that you are exploring the environment, but the game-world is not rich or coherent enough for this to be a satisfactory explanation. Indeed, the game is a mish-mash of genres-- Granade has played with many ideas, but expanded on almost none of them. The introduction suggests alien abduction, but then you are transported to an all-too-human cell and seemingly left to rot there; after your escape you fetch up in an Orwellian world of barcoded and overalled workers, repressive armed guards, and unquestioning order; later, by way of the waystations of the title (interplanetary teleportation booths), you visit a garbage-dump planet, and a decaying, war-torn alien city (in which you find a Roman Catholic church untouched by the bombs which decimated the rest of the city-- shades of H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds"?). This hotch-potch of genres overflows into the local geography in places. For example, one building contains the worker's bathroom, the cafeteria, a strange museum-cum-library, an armoury, and a rather sensitive computer room all along the same corridor. The writing is quite good, the location decriptions are vivid and all the text is clear in it's meaning. However, a somewhat juvenile humour pervades the game, with the produce of the worker's cafeteria likened to school dinners and the not uncommon trap thrown in which unfairly kills the player after luring him into considering it a puzzle (the most obvious example being the slightly infamous exploding toilet "puzzle" early on in the game). Equally, the solutions to some puzzles verge on the ridiculous (passing the laser beams) or are only apparent with foreknowledge gained through previous failure (protecting yourself from the acid rain, escaping the ruined house, or using the viscous liquid). Also, there are a lot of red herrings, both portable objects and referrable-to, but useless, scenery objects. Used sparingly and carefully such red herrings can contribute to a game's atmosphere and "realism," but here they generally do neither, and the lack of a satisfactory container (such as, say, "Curses" rucksack) results in the need for annoying inventory management. In summary, though the game is not wholly disappointing, neither is it particularly gratifying or inspired. If you do not expect too much from it, in the way of a strong or developed plot, or detailed interactive NPCs (there are none) the game succeeds reasonably well as just that-- a game. The puzzles, many of which seem to exist for their own sake only, as I've mentioned before, are generally of medium difficulty, and do not noticeably differ in this respect throughout the game. Overall "Waystation" is a fun game, which perhaps offers as many lessons in how not to write IF as it does in how to write it. [This review was posted to, 5th April 1996.] FTP FileTADS .gam File (.zip) FTP FileSolution (Text)

The Weapon

From: Stas Starkov <stas_ SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #26 -- September 26, 2001 NAME: The Weapon AUTHOR: Sean Barrett EMAIL: buzzard SP@G DATE: 2001 PARSER: Inform Standard SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: VERSION: Release 1 Surprisingly, the game's subtitle, "an Interactive Misdirection", is true enough. But this game offers additional err... misdirection. Well, the problem is -- you don't know who you really are until the very end. But that's the main idea (or call it the feature) of the game. "The Weapon" is strongly related to the outstanding game "Spider and Web" by Andrew Plotkin. Both games are heavily puzzle-oriented, but more than that -- they both have a lot of gadgetry in their puzzles, and you must work out how to use that gadgetry. I'm happy to add that the puzzles exist not just for sake of themselves -- they are based on the plot. In addition, both games' PCs know more than the player; you must explore not only surrounding world, but also yourself. Or at least you must care about what PC says. But there is a problem in "The Weapon" -- to follow the hints that reveal the PC, you must pay close attention to those hints. Strangely, the puzzles distract you from that, and I personally was not able to identify myself with the PC, because it was not far enough from a simple, boring cardboard stereotype. That's OK in most IF games, those with simple plots or those that are puzzle based (take "The Mulldoon Legacy" by Jon Ingold for example), but, as I noted above, after all "The Weapon" is a story with heavy plot, based on puzzles and self-discovery. "The Weapon" features the "most appropriate" conversation system: you type "talk" (or just "t") and the PC considers the current situation and says (in fact, more often just replies) what he/she thinks the most appropriate answer is. Ian Finley (and before that Adam Cadre in "Shrapnel") used this very technique in his game "Kaged". I found the effect weak then, but unlike "Kaged", in "The Weapon" there are several reasons why the author chose to use this conversation system. First, I think it's impossible (or very hard) to explain to the player "what's going on" in the game, since the PC is so far ahead of the player right from the start. Well, there _are_ alternative ways to show what's going on, but I don't think that cut-scenes or self-dialogues are more elegant methods for expressing the PC's thoughts. Second, as the author said, "you never need to TALK to win the game", but you need to in order to understand the story. Third, you can ask NPCs for things and order them to do things in the usual way, i.e. "Cheryl, open the door" or "ask Tom for a knife". Fourth, the PC's remarks are quite terse and seldom go very far from the NPC's questions -- and that lessens the "PC commands player" effect. Puzzles in the game are logical and mostly fair. But -- you can't solve some of them without seeing the death messages first. That's not very good, but with modern "UNDO" techniques you can reach the end of the game without much trouble. Overall, the majority of the puzzles are quite easy, because you can't do a lot in any particular moment of time, and that's good -- I was able to concentrate on the current puzzle for a long time. But there are no red herrings (well, the scenery "window" doesn't count), and I think that's bad -- red herrings add not only challenge for the player, but also a time to think about the situation aside from its puzzles. On the other hand, all the puzzles are well thought-out and sufficiently beta-tested. There are a lot of messages for the wrong moves of puzzle solving, and no technical bugs, as far as I can tell. To help you in puzzle solving, the author has added built-in hints. They consist of many levels (i.e. each puzzle has about 15 hints) and are well thought-out. But not everyone loves built-in hints -- they are far too easily accessible (I mean, you don't need even to connect to Internet) to prevent their use. There is only one NPC in "The Weapon", I think. But as in "Spider and Web", she is your enemy and you're trying to outsmart her. The NPC is fairly well implemented, but has little dynamism. She is not cardboard, but you can easily confuse her with it. The writing in the game was not easy for my lame English (I hope you don't forget that I'm Russian.) -- it was too heavy and had a lot of specific to science words. I was able to fully understand the story only after my fourth time reading one particular sentence -- a really rare situation for me. My English is lame, as I said -- let it not distract you from the game. But do note that. Also, the game supplies a newspaper -- the usual newspaper that describes recent news [events]. It helps to set the mood for the game. Overall, "The Weapon" is well implemented and has some good puzzles, but it is not _long_ enough to suck players into the game, I fear. The story is good and made me think about it after I finished the game. I almost forgot to say: "The Weapon" is a one room game. It is placed in the very far future and centers around the space war (or around post war events) with aliens (there are no laughs, it's serious). Not that this plot was never implemented before, but it's not bad for such a short story. This game is worth a look. SCORE: Atmosphere: 1.3 (not enough mind sucking) Game-play: 1.6 (mostly fair, but nothing outstanding) Writing: 1.2 (good, but not great -- for me) Plot: 1.3 (quite novel, but short) Wildcard: 1.4 (for gadgetry oriented puzzles; sci-fi story) Total: 6.8 (not bad) Characters: 1.1 (not very deep) Puzzles: 1.4 (good enough) From: Duncan Stevens <dnrb SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #26 -- September 26, 2001 I don't think a definitive taxonomy of IF puzzles has been written, but there have been gestures in that direction, and one of the better ones is in the recently released fourth edition of the Inform Designer's Manual. Graham Nelson doesn't so much describe the essence of good puzzles -- for the sensible reason, I suspect, that there's no unifying thread that distinguishes good puzzles -- as point out some of the more tiresome themes in puzzle creation (as well as some underexplored puzzle models). The themes are instantly recognizable to the seasoned IF player: Get-X-Use-X, locked-door (including variants involving guardians who want a particular object), maze, light-source, capacity-and-exhaustion, etc. It's probably an oversimplification to say that good puzzles are those that don't fit into the familiar categories, but I do think it's true that, for a puzzle to be genuinely memorable, it either needs to be outside the canon altogether or be a truly novel spin on the usual patterns. The puzzles in The Weapon are of both varieties, and for that reason they're, for the most part, satisfying to solve. You're in the middle of a war against an alien race, with a third race peripherally involved, and you're helping a superior officer figure out how to use a mysterious weapon -- except "helping" isn't quite the word, because you're interested in figuring out the weapon but not entirely interested in enabling the officer to succeed. Accordingly, the task is both to decipher the gadgetry and to mislead and misdirect the officer looking over your shoulder. Gadgetry-deciphering is a pretty familiar puzzle trope, but not with this sort of spin -- and, better, the tricks you come up with make sense, for the most part, and change to fit the situation. The gadgetry itself isn't particularly exciting, really, but the nature of the challenge demands some creative thinking -- how do you vary the tricks and misdirections to avoid going to the same well too many times, for instance? There are a few flies in the ointment. The puzzles aren't easy, and while for the most part they're logical, they also depend to some extent on visualization of things that aren't quite as well described as they could be. In other words, the puzzles make perfect sense if you visualize some key objects the way the author does -- but you might not, and the descriptions are a little too sparse to clue you in that you should be seeing the objects in question another way. There's a comprehensive hint system, to be sure, which helps fill in the gaps, but it's something of a drag to wrestle with puzzles and find, when you give up, that the solution was something that never crossed your mind because you "saw" the scene the wrong way. Another puzzle, while reasonably logical, suffers from guess-the-verb problems, and in several cases the game doesn't acknowledge guesses that are on the right track. These aren't mortal sins, though, and I'm willing to put up with some design flaws for the sake of some original ideas. The main NPC -- the officer -- is also well rendered; most of the puzzles hinge on observing her behavior or guessing at her reactions, and for the most part she functions logically. The relationship between the protagonist and the NPC isn't quite as well described and leaves a lot of questions unanswered -- why does the officer choose someone whom she clearly doesn't trust? Why does she seem to trust you at some times -- letting seemingly interesting developments pass with no comment -- but not at others? Still, most of the problems are relatively minor, and a little imagination can fill in the gaps, I suppose. There's also an interesting twist at one point that forces the player to reassess everything that's come before -- though the twist might have worked better if another recent game hadn't done something extremely similar. The best way to describe The Weapon, I think, is that the seams don't often show: library responses are rare, descriptions and logical responses are in ample supply, and most aspects of the game appear to have been thought through, quibbles about visualization aside. The HTMLized feelies enhance the feeling of professionalism, though there isn't a lot to them; they're not as slickly done as Infocom's feelies, but they're well designed and suggest that the author took more than the usual pains to set the scene. The puzzles may not be everyone's cup of tea, but on the whole it's likely that the player will be reacting to the puzzles themselves (and to the concept), not to inadequate implementation thereof. Admittedly, it's not a long game -- four puzzles, by my count, and I did find some flaws even in those four puzzles -- but the flaws aren't fundamental tragic flaws, and many probably wouldn't consider them flaws at all (or wouldn't encounter the same problems). The writing, similarly, is unspectacular but effective -- it's strictly functional, doesn't try for splashy effects or clever dialogue, and never gets in the way of the game. The experience is rarely spectacular but almost never outright disappointing. The Weapon is intelligently done, and done with care; it may not set the IF world on fire, but it doesn't do much wrong. FTP FileInform (.z5) game file and HTML feelies

Wearing The Claw

From: C.E. Forman <ceforman SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #10 -- February 4, 1997 NAME: Wearing the Claw AUTHOR: Paul O'Brian EMAIL: obrian SP@G colorado.EDU DATE: October 1996 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Inform Ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF Archive URL: VERSION: Version 1.0 Last but not least. I'm torn with this one. Using the changing hand as a marker for the player's progress is very imaginitive, but this doesn't quite mask the game's overall linearity. Still, there are enough red herrings to keep it from being immediately apparent, and there is a nice re-use of puzzles, building on the previous challenges, particularly with the enchanted coat. The author comments that the claw was inspired by the desire to create a game without a scoring system, as he feels scores make I-F feel too much like a game rather than a story. I'm not sure I agree entirely with the author's intentions here. I personally use the score as a means of reassuring myself that I haven't just botched the game entirely (though of course it's not 100% effective). The truth is, nearly every game I've seen to date has an optimum ending, the "real" ending to the game that closes the story as the author sees best. Scoring is the easiest of a very few ways to let the player know when that ending has been reached. If a game is designed in such a way as to allow plotting without score, that's wonderful, but otherwise I don't think I-F should be penalized for failing to comply with this standard. A lot of games use the scoring system effectively, even artistically. I sort of got off track there, didn't I? Well, it'll give us something more to debate. Overall, "Wearing the Claw" is a nice middle-of-the-road entry. From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #18 -- September 15, 1999 One of the nice things about fantasy IF is that it's so malleable; rarely will the player complain that he couldn't suspend his disbelief enough to allow the author's innovation to work, because just about anything goes. As such, the fantasy setting serves Paul O'Brian's Wearing the Claw well, as it allows the author to incorporate some interesting experiments with the feel of traditional IF--and while the result isn't flawless, it's certainly good enough to be worth a look. The main innovation at issue is the replacement of the traditional point-based scoring system with something that actually relates to the plot. Specifically: your mission is to rid your homeland of a curse that has turned people's body parts into animal parts, and your own left hand has turned into a wolf's paw. As you overcome significant obstacles in your quest, however, your hand turns more and more human (and, conversely, when you screw up or otherwise get farther away from your goal, the wolfish part of you grows). The changes, one way or the other, are marked by a "tingling" or an "itching" in your hand, and the effect--to keep the player on course without the artificiality of points as a reward--is accomplished nicely. There was one time, however, when my hand became more wolflike even though I had just made progress toward my goal--but it's a minor flaw in a well-conceived experiment. It's true that, since the game was released, other IF has been released with more dramatic revisions of the standard scoring system--Sunset over Savannah, Little Blue Men--and still other games have abolished scoring systems entirely, among them Spider and Web. To my knowledge, however, Wearing the Claw was the first to rid itself of points as an indication of progress, and the author deserves credit for that. The other innovation that the author mentions was to weave the puzzles seamlessly into the plot, rather than having soup-cans-in-the-pantry sort of puzzles that don't fit into the narrative. This, likewise, succeeds, though it should be noted that there aren't all that many puzzles, and what there is isn't all that tricky. Still, given how most IF--then and now--simply tosses out puzzles to solve, with the implicit promise that the game will bestow something useful or interesting as a reward for solving the puzzle, a game that consciously avoids that path is a welcome change. It should be noted, however, that such an approach probably wouldn't be possible in a significantly larger game; it's difficult to provide a predetermined reason for overcoming every obstacle, particularly things like locked doors, other than that you feel a strange compulsion to explore your surroundings as thoroughly as possible. It would, at least, be interesting to see a longer work of IF that attempted to do what Wearing the Claw does in this regard. As mentioned above, Wearing the Claw isn't all that difficult; there is one logical leap toward the end that takes some thought, but most of the game flows by rather quickly. This was an entry in the 1996 Interactive Fiction Competition, meaning that it had to be short enough to be finishable in two hours--and it does, in fact, fit well within that limit. Though what's here is of high quality, the game does seem to end just as it gets going, and the player may be left wishing for more to do. (The "amusing" list is quite extensive, though.) There are quite a few rooms and objects (in proportion to the size of the game, at least) that play no part in the plot, which helps the game seem larger than it is--but, that aside, this shouldn't take anyone very long to finish. The find-the-McGuffin fantasy setting itself is nothing new, though it does allow the author to work with some of the hoary IF tropes--and there are a few twists at the end that do test the player's expectations somewhat. Moreover, the writing is good enough to sustain the game even when the plot feels familiar: room descriptions are economical and vivid, though the style of the conversations owes more to Tolkien than to everyday parlance. (Sample from the protagonist's mother: "I fear for you, dear one, but perhaps you can find on your quest some means of restoring prosperity to our village, which has been too long poor.") It also helps that the plot is largely free of glaring inconsistencies or incongruities, hardly a given even in fantasy settings. Those who genuinely dislike fantasy probably won't make an exception for Wearing the Claw, as it doesn't really push the boundaries of fantasy all that much. As fantasy IF goes, however, it's both thoughtful and imaginative, and manages to entertain consistently--and for those who weren't around for the 1996 competition, it might be worth going back to check this one out. FTP FileInform File (.z5) (updated version) FTP FileInform File (.z5) (competition version)

The Wedding

From: Duncan Stevens a.k.a. Second April <dns361 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #12 -- December 13, 1997 NAME: The Wedding AUTHOR: Neil Brown E-MAIL: Not available DATE: 1996 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Inform interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 4 Genuinely character-driven IF, as in stories whose plot and puzzles revolve around interacting with people rather than manipulating objects, is extraordinarily difficult to realize. Infocom's mysteries are some of the best attempts at this, but many of the characters even in those feel mechanical; it is all too obvious that there is a short list of keywords with appropriate responses. Neil Brown's The Wedding is not, admittedly, a fully character-driven game, but it does have that element -- and it illustrates just how difficult a goal it is to accomplish, even on a limited scale. On the whole, there are many good things about The Wedding -- but the moments that require interaction with the various NPCs simply fall flat. This is not to say that they are bad NPCs; they manage to be relatively realistic, to respond to an adequate variety of prompts, and even supply a modicum of humor. But, as so often happens, the puzzles involving them, though well-imagined, feel painfully artificial; they reduce the people to robots who will wait 100 turns for the next line of dialogue, say, or who don't notice notable events going on around them because they're not told to. One puzzle in The Wedding, in fact, requires that a character ask you a randomized question, you wander away surreptitiously and find out the answer, and then wander back and answer the question as if it were one conversation. Now, there is an attempt at realism here, in that the game mocks you if you try to find out the answer on the spot -- but it trades one silliness for another, in effect, in reducing character interactions to videotapes that can be stopped and returned to at will. The above is a minor absurdity, but there are more significant ones as well -- for instance, a certain character will (and must) follow you at a certain point, but not before then, and there is no logical explanation to the change. Another character's responses to you depend on your having discovered a certain fact about that character, regardless of what you do. The security guard positioned by the front door is so remarkably dense that it troubles him not a bit that you come out of that door repeatedly; he simply refuses to allow you back in. Again, it should be said that these and other flaws in "The Wedding" illustrate the difficulty of coding realistic people more than any inadequacy on the part of the author; simple move-the-objects games are far less taxing. But when it comes to realism (and let's face it, the major charm of character-driven games is that they can approximate real life in some measure), there are snags aplenty. It may be a side effect of building a game around characters rather than objects that there are quite a few plot holes, some of them acknowledged by the author in the end credits; one of the main things that puzzled me was why someone buried something obviously worthless. The plot of The Wedding is apparently simple: your school chum Malcolm, due to be married, has disappeared, and you have been called in to help out -- but, because of family tensions, your mission is secret, so secret that you have to figure out alternative ways of getting into the house because the guard hasn't been authorized to let you in. (My question: if you're such a good friend of this Malcolm fellow and you're invited to the wedding, why do you have to sneak into the house?) After a few elementary clues about what's going on, you commence solving puzzles in classic "here's a nail, so I'll go look for a hammer" style; you have a series of puzzles to solve because they're there, and some are not obviously puzzles at all. (A surly teenager won't say anything to you? Isn't that just a fact of life, not something to worry about?) Some of the puzzles are rather clever and involve use of household gadgetry that, while not wildly inventive in terms of common sense, requires some steps that few works of IF bother with. (Put another way: The Wedding is situated so firmly in the realm of everyday life that it takes some mental adjustment to solve such down-to earth puzzles.) One hidden item requires an annoyingly exact command to find, though, and it's possible to bog down and not realize what's holding you back, and another mechanical puzzle requires something of an intuitive leap for the proper verb -- but, by and large, the puzzles are fairly good. Trouble is, as noted, they use the NPCs in ways that make them little better than props. The gameplay is likewise a bit uneven -- lots and lots of useless scenery, for instance (for which you get "that's not something you need to refer to..." messages, mostly), and some illogicalities, like a supermarket bag that can hold anything and everything, including a spade. (There is one character who wants a certain food item -- but once you bring the food, you can drop it on the floor and he'll never pick it up, or you can eat it yourself without any protest from him.) The Wedding has the usual Inform benefits, along with a very limited hint menu (plus other limited sources of hints worked into the game), and there are plenty of synonyms for most words -- and the game itself is wide enough that there are at least a few puzzles to work on at any given moment. (One puzzle (the dungeon problem) that seems to cry out "I have more than one solution!" does not, though -- maybe in a later release?) Dialogue is a bit clumsy as well -- "yes" in response to a direct question doesn't work; you must type "answer yes" or "say yes to" whoever, somewhat grating in a game where you learn many things from the various characters. The writing is mostly good, though it has rough spots -- there are some things in room descriptions that perhaps shouldn't be. For instance, when you first reach the front hall, you get this: The great entrance hall of D'Arcy manor evokes a twinge of jealousy within you -- the grand wooden polished floors and staircase, the expensive chandelier hanging from the high ceiling, the priceless Compton painting hanging on a wall. Why can't you inherit something like this? Leaving aside feelings of bitterness... Fine. Well-written, realistic. Except that you probably shouldn't feel it the tenth or eleventh time you enter the room -- I mean, you've probably seen hardwood floors before. Most of the room descriptions are well done -- descriptive, but controlled -- though I wasn't sure whether this one was supposed to be straightforward or sarcastic: This room offers refuge from the tastelessness that seems to prevail around the rest of the house. Framed pictures of famous film actresses, Garland, Dietrich, Midler and Streisand in particular, hang proudly on the sky-blue walls, alongside two extra-large pink and red ribbons. The abundance of style extends to the curtains, the most attractive you have ever seen. If only the rest of the house, to the south, had been decorated as well as this. Me, I never saw Bette Midler and Barbra Streisand posters as the epitome of good taste -- nor, for that matter, huge pink and red ribbons -- but perhaps it's just me. (If this is supposed to be ironic, it's not well done.) These are quibbles, though, because the writing here is generally solid and effective -- reasonably atmospheric and genuinely funny. When you confront one character late in the game, you get this: "Okay, muggins," you say, "spill the beans, squeak, start talking, loosen your tongue..." Then you realise that you are getting carried away, and drop the tough cop act. Not laugh-out-loud hilarious, but amusing nonetheless. There are many such moments -- the game is littered with Easter eggs, some of which are pointed out in a "fun stuff" file available when the gane is done -- that illustrate real interest in making the game enjoyable. (A television has 8 different channels, all with 10-15 randomized funny scenes depending on the channel -- the soap opera channel is one of the best, I think.) Brown has a feel for compact but effective room descriptions, as in the following: Considering the high technology that has gone into guarding this area, the cellar is surprisingly lo-tech. One very dull fluorescent tube casts gloomy light over the brick walls. The air is damp; cobwebs line the ceiling. A tunnel disappears off into the darkness to the northeast, and a set of stone steps lead east up to the passageway. For a concept like The Wedding to work, it needs good writing -- there are few things duller than trying to interact with badly written characters, or inhabiting a small game environment where the author hasn't bothered to make the locations interesting or believable. And the writing here is easily good enough to keep the player involved and prevent the game from becoming tedious even when nothing is going on, puzzle-wise, though a few too many of the rooms break the description by inserting your thoughts or reactions. There are many genuinely funny moments, as noted, and the whole thing is mercifully free from signs of taking itself seriously. There is much to like about The Wedding, in short, and its shortcomings are more due to the difficulty of its undertaking than to poor writing or programming; there are enough clever puzzles and humorous asides for the game to be involving despite the shortcomings in the plot and setup. Despite its flaws, The Wedding is a solid entry in the IF library. FTP FileInform file (.z5) FTP FileInform source code (.zip) FTP FileStepwise solution (Text)

When Help Collides!

From: Cedric Knight <cknight SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #31 -- January 3, 2003 TITLE: When Help Collides! (including 'Parched Mesa', 'Level 50' and 'Bleach of Etiquette') AUTHOR: J. D. Berry EMAIL: jdberry SP@G PARSER: modified Inform AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF Archive DATE: September 2002 (Comp02 entry) SUPPORTS: Z-machine (interpreter-sensitive) URL: VERSION: Release 1 Suggested "Cheese Rating" according to Emily Short's system: Monterey Jack, from a parodied book In an earlier and much briefer review, I claimed "When Help Collides!" (WHC) "does several new things and does them well". That judgement holds up after another two hours of playing, and yet somehow the game finished a middling eighteenth of the 38 pieces in Comp02, owing to what I surmise are its relative inaccessibility and novelty, and to questions over whether much of it is Interactive Fiction at all. So the more reviews the better. Several reviewers even apparently gave up in bafflement, convinced that they had no interest in discovering the internal logic of the game, and thus missing the varied entertainment on offer. Perhaps this isn't that surprising given the avalanche of an opening, where the player has to accept two truly surreal premises before starting play. The first premise on its own is only moderately amusing, an absurd behind-the-scenes explanation of what goes on in interactive fiction, involving a metafictional ghost-in-the-machine very similar to that used in the same Comp's better-received "Janitor" and perhaps reminiscent of the demon painter inhabiting cameras in Discworld. In this case, it is supposed that when a player types "help" in a game, some gremlin (man? woman? robot?) is charged with receiving the summons, travelling to the location of the character who asked for help in the game world and dispensing appropriate hints. Even this interpolation is more than the game itself states, but it is in fact a logical extension of the "game world" idea which accounts for the way a particular piece of software responds to typed commands. Supposedly an aim of IF is to make us forget the game is a piece of software -- what if the "help module ship" were itself also a character in that world, however "meta"? Were it merely an interactive fiction in-joke, however, I would have rated "When Help Collides!" down for not being relevant to any wider audience. The actual premise relates to just such a wider audience, although one that is mostly disjoint with the IF community: what if the space traversed by help modules is the same as that used for "self-help" personal advice? Including an external topic to spoof was a good move, and popular psychology books are a good choice, being pretty easy to send up, as Alistair Beaton does in his _Little Book of Complete Bollocks_, which consists of tips such as "Do not be afraid of death. Death is merely a continuance of life, only without the breathing. Eat lots of spinach." How would we feel if the hints for a game were similarly impractical, trite or counter-productive? Not a thought that is likely to ever occur to most players except in a dream, but the first "Act" of this game shows us anyway. So the scenario for this section is an example of genuine surrealist humour in IF, a form which has existed since "Colossal Cave", but which usually nowadays gives way to some kind of realism or simple abstraction. The title, incidentally, would appear to allude to the 1951 B-movie "When Worlds Collide", concerning a dramatic escape from a doomed Earth, and also perhaps to the nuttiness of _Worlds in Collision_, the bizarrely popular pseudo-historical theories of Immanuel Velikovsky, himself a psychoanalyst. The story of "When Help Collides!" begins with an explosive crisis, the "collision" between the two ideas previously mentioned, overwhelming not just the player character, but also the player. The first line of a new game, shown on its own in a blank screen without a prompt, reads: Amid the mangled virtual-ware littering this sector, your "Best Help" trophy stands defiantly. It has survived the crash. This line is hard to make sense of, particularly without even the blurb supplied for Comp02 ("Self-Help rams Game-Help. Accident or deliberate consciousness insinuation?") to provide context. Just enough information is given in the next line to clue the first command before the titles and a second collision. The player is supposed to accept all this before reading: Stunned twice in a matter of milliseconds--that's just not right. This also describes the typical feelings of the player pretty well. One problem with starting a piece on a high note like this is that it is impossible to keep the action going at such an extreme pitch for any length of time, and so we down to some kind of intelligible stability at various times. The torrent of one-sentence paragraphs begins to overwhelm. Nevertheless, invention and entertainment keep coming throughout "When Help Collides!", although it lacks any conventional dramatic structure. It also lacks a conventional game structure. Many players got the impression from the accompanying files that "When Help Collides!" consists of four completely unrelated sub-games of equal status; it would indeed be difficult to play all four within a two-hour time limit. The actual structure is as follows. Halfway through "When Help Collides!", on entering a scene on a "wagon" (a metaphor made physical), the narrative path diverges almost randomly into three. Each of these three paths leads to one of the "outer" games, so that a single pass through the game would consist of "When Help Collides!", plus one of "Parched Mesa", "Level 50" or "Bleach of Etiquette" -- it should be much more possible to complete this combination within the two-hour judging period. The idea that competition judges could each be judging an entirely separate game without realising it is itself amusing. Each sub-game (fortunately mostly too easy too need a help system) has two or three endings, the obscure optimal one involving a promised "transformation" with the help of some counsellor figure. The optimal endings of two also see the return of an object from Act I, while the third is unexpected, hinting at yet another level to the game. Unfortunately, the author seems to have committed a tactical error which helped confuse players. Instead of having "When Help Collides!" segue into the appropriated sub-game, a non-player character provides a password to be used after a restart. The reasons for this could have been partly technical (to overcome the problems of a single game file with four distinct banners and command sets), partly practical (to ensure the player has a fixed game position to return to without having to repeat the first section again, although this could have been ensured by insisting on a save), and partly aesthetic (to allow the judges to see the richness of invention in other endings). The actual effect of including the codes in the accompanying walkthrough was that players would indeed play the sections in any order, and were therefore less likely to understand the links between them. One other factor that might have made WHC (that is, the game as a whole) less popular was needing to learn a whole new command set to play. This applies particularly to the "Bleach of Etiquette" sub-game, and the second "wagon" section of "When Help Collides!". In both cases, the standard IF world model and language which principally centres on manipulating physical objects is dispensed with as irrelevant, and replaced with new ad-hoc actions. The effect of these actions is clued, but use of "undo" should not be regarded as cheating when getting to grips with them. Attempting a different interface for a game has in the past has usually been seen as a good thing, provided it works (Zarf's "The Space Under The Window" comes to mind), and it strikes me that the same standard should apply here. The button-pushing in the "wagon" scene is, in fact, not much more confusing than in many other games where the object is to discover the workings of some piece of machinery, but here usual verbs such as "put" are more clearly useless, and the only interesting command remaining is "examine". Amid all this, minor innovations, such as use of asterisks or brackets to denote the thoughts of the player character, go almost unnoticed. In the first Act, we see relevant "help" topics and irrelevant content, producing gags like: A barbaric, hulking figure looks up and asks, "What's 'alignment'?" >press help "We're all aligned to the same source. But somewhere along the line, some of us bend and twist, becoming quite unlike what our creator had in mind. Then the labelling begins: Chaotic-evil, lawful-neutral, etc... Unless we recognize that we're all in this together, we cannot truly become one with the source. That poisoned-scimitar-wielding dark elf? Give him a hug. Be surprised at what you might find." The second Act is less predictable and funnier, throwing in even more elements and further literalizing the metaphors and psychological constructs. Incidentally, the author warns that the game "works best with WinFrotz and JZip interpreters", and on others (including most Linux terps and Windows Frotz 2002) there is a subtle bug, as Andrew Plotkin noted in his review. This bug doesn't stop progress, but removes a lot of the fun of dealing with "manifestations". The game can then take one of three paths, each of which relates to a genre of interactive fiction, and each of which has an associated subgame supposedly typical of that genre. These paths are best described by the game itself as "Western", "Eastern" and "Fantasy", with Fantasy being the default, naturally enough. This review will give most attention to the "Eastern" path as that is the one that received most comment on r.g.i-f. Fantasy path -- Zarenzo the Black and "Level 50" ------------------------------------------------ "My name is Zarenzo the Black, and I'm a necromancer. Every waking moment claims the need for power and control. The ends always justify the means. But when I saw myself in the mirror this morning, saw what I had become--the skull cap, the impractical black robes, the horde of undead oustide [sic] my window--I realized this has to stop. It just has to stop. I am powerless over necromancy." The final sentence is the punchline, quite rightly -- here we have a thoroughly evil character doing the equivalent of the "Twelve Steps" of Alcoholics Anonymous (although Necromancers Anonymous appears to only have six -- perhaps the Dark Arts allow one to skip the others). It's quite a nice idea -- instead of playing a hero, or forced to play an evil PC, here we learn about an evil character and have a chance to change him. The actual "help" we provide him is rather too glib to plausibly make any difference, but the scenery is well-implemented (other than that bug) and fun to play with: A tiny fear peeps in your ear. "I'm not finished with you, yet. Just you wait, you fu..." It disappears from view before it can finish its rant. Once through this scenario, we receive the password to Act III, the fantasy subgame "Level 50." This subgame introduces the innovative elements of its scenario more gently and explicitly than the WHC frame story does: the PC is not Megnax the Fighter in some fantasy world, but Jerry Dorkman playing Megnax in some Dungeons and Dragons convention. As with "You Are Here" in Comp01, this extra fictional level makes merely cosmetic changes to the story, but allows the author to comment, via the PC, on its weaknesses; you can get away with a lot when writing a spoof. Several comments are (I think, accurate) observations about the kind of weak jokes prevalent among people with high-level D&D characters, such as an aside about fantasy shopkeepers. Although this is the only outright comedy among the sub-games, it is self-conscious in its silliness. When sent to Limbo to bring Law to Chaos, >knock on grey door "A tinny voice calls out from behind the door. 'Can you come back tomorrow? It's been total chaos in here, today. Thanks much.'" Note here the extra set of quotes, as this is the dungeon master speaking. We're allowed only the occasional command that works on the interposing mezzanine reality: >smell dungeon master (The Phish T-shirt is warning enough.) As the help system is disabled, we do have a character, Xila the Bard, who will sing about your inventory to the tune of a Billy Joel song, but these hints are themselves rather obscure. Some obviously unwinnable situations are also notable. Western path -- Winston Puckett and "Parched Mesa" -------------------------------------------------- Here, Act II of WHC takes its humour from imagined mannerisms and world-view of the Frontier rather than the moral "alignment" of the character: Puckett is venal, whereas the other two are thoroughly evil. Another Act III follows. "Parched Mesa", is subtitled "a classic western", yet something's gone a bit awry, as if this is another collision with an unexpected genre -- the dead seem to have swapped places with the living. This cross-genre aspect may be the real innovation here, rather than any old "unreliable narrator" stuff. Sparse implementation in the one mode (such as self-conscious room descriptions like "The place is as you remember it--with a dearth of furnishings yet a wealth of love.") is complemented with a fairly full set of standard responses ("Can't go thataway, pardner.") in the other. There's even an alternative banner title shown when you start a transcript. This disconcerting mismatch and other imperfections (infodump from an anachronistic NPC with three separate roles, an old-fashioned room-too-scary-to-remain-in) can, maybe unintentionally, heighten effects such as the sub-optimal ending. Eastern Path -- Nebusan Sedonkawa and "Bleach of Etiquette" ----------------------------------------------------------- Berry's irony is at its finest in dealing with the spiritual progress of Nebusan, as when the vicious Yakuza encounters Step 3 of his recovery programme. This leads on to "Bleach of Etiquette", which I shall refer to as "Breach" -- there's nothing essentially racist in the little pronunciation joke, but it gives the wrong impression of a game that deals with Japanese culture at least without deliberate ignorance. Similarly, characterisation of the PC an albino also seemed a little forced and unnecessary. There are questions as to whether "Breach" is really interactive fiction, but the first point to make is that it is at least _fiction_, in plot, setting, characterisation and dialogue. I do not know enough about the secret world of the geisha to judge whether the game is really true-to-life, but regardless of whether it is or not, it manages to _feel_ authentic and exotic with its minimal descriptions, code names, and oddly-phrased language. (The one small element of fantasy does not necessarily undermine this; it could be dismissed as an idiosyncratic way of viewing or describing things.) It is commendable that the social status of the protagonist, Demetoria, is quickly established relative to the NPCs -- higher than some, lower than others -- thus adding realism to her struggle. We might ask whether we are somehow complicit in her oppression, but the player is probably quick to decide that co-operating is the likely to be her best opportunity, compared to what I imagined was her peasant background. The puzzle here is in finding whatever desperate strategy uses Demetoria's limited assets to achieve victory in her test; thinking in character, and exploration and discovery of hidden elements of the game world help in this fun challenge, which is a marker that this is not only IF, but good IF. "Breach" resembles Papillon's underrated "One Week" (LoTechComp 2001) where a young woman tries to juggle all kinds of pressures leading up to an exam; both have a limited user interface that underlines real social constraints faced by the character and feel more than a "Choose Your Own Adventure" game. However, "Breach" differs in having only one important outcome to worry about, but many elements necessary to achieve it. Geishas are not prostitutes, and need to protect their reputation. Certainty about exactly what favours geisha might do for the people who pay for their company eludes me. Fortunately, discretion is assured here by an assortment of well-chosen euphemisms, the most explicit of which is "Fade to sack." The world depicted in Arthur Golden's "Memoirs of a Geisha" suggests that this last euphemism is a bit too blatant, unless we are dealing with the lower orders of geisha. Conceivably, Demetoria is very fond of some of her clients, but in a way the only important consideration is how fond they are of her. They are a mixed bunch, providing a lot of the game's interest. The only stereotype among them is Vidoru, the electronics company president, who could do with a little more characterisation. His presence somehow suggested to me a setting in the early 1970s, when geisha culture was in decline, although a later reference to Churchill pins it firmly in 1951-5. Of particular interest among the other NPCs is the woman Chizumi, whose interest in Demetoria is less to promote equality of sexual orientations than a way of showing the extraordinary desirability of the geisha character. To tell the story of this geisha's week using the conventional IF game model and interface would, I think, be cumbersome and threaten to dilute the interesting NPC encounters with large amounts of detail. Commands for wearing make-up might take up half the game . So instead of relating to the world primarily through a language of physical objects and maps, "Breach" focuses more realistically on use of time (a limited resource) and higher-level actions. "Breach" is even modestly subtitled "An agenda planner", but I feel that excising the trivia of maps and object puzzles is something of a liberation for character- and plot-based IF. In effect, commands are entered in batches of seven, and each turn consumes about three hours, with a game consisting of 41 turns. This arouses suspicion that "Breach" is not properly IF for two reasons. Firstly, a command once entered in the batch cannot be altered on the basis of a previous one, as if the PC lacks free will. To this I answer that appointment-keeping is a realistic constraint in the absence of major catastrophe, and that there are still frequent opportunities to learn from the game, plan, and interact. (In actual fact, "undo" (x7) becomes very useful when playing to win.) Secondly, that there is only one really significant verb, "book", showing a paucity of range of action. However, that same verb is used to cover diverse actions from harp practice to asking for maths tuition, plus later unexpected actions. Some actions ("research", "counsel") could have come under "book" but arbitrarily do not. The PC does in fact increase her powers during the game, and several times I typed "i" absent-mindedly, rather than "when all" which gives the closest thing to an inventory. I will admit that after all the game world features and rules have been discovered, the combinatorial possibilities of action are not large, and there may be one or more attempts to solve the game mechanically as a single puzzle. The innovations in "Breach" are technically accomplished, and use (or abuse?) the Inform grammar and model in an interesting new way. I would hope some of the new elements will influence future game development somehow. So overall the Comp release of WHC may lack a little polish, but is too easily written off as a confusing mess. A little persistence more than pays off, and the game is much less pretentious than this review might suggest. "When Help Collides!" is among the strongest pieces to come from any recent IF competition, playing with expectations like nothing else for years. FTP FileDirectory with zcode .z8 file, readme, and feelies in MS Word .doc format

When in Rome 1: Accounting for Taste

From: Paul Lee <bainespal SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #49 -- August 18, 2007 TITLE: When in Rome 1: Accounting for Taste AUTHOR: Emily Short E-MAIL: emshort SP@G DATE: April 30, 2006 PARSER: Inform 7 SUPPORTS: Z-Machine interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: VERSION: Release 2 The first episode in a stated five, this little game was designed to be playable in approximately fifteen minutes. Although it isn't the only very short example of interactive fiction out there, it has a more complete feel and takes itself more seriously than the few others of a comparable length that I have played in my very limited experience. The plot is amazingly detailed for such a short game, moving the player through the scenes rapidly. The game throws the player into the first of two puzzles as soon as play begins; following are two brief scenes where the player can pass the time in conversation before the end-game puzzle (and then a brief intro to the next episode). This makes the beginning and ending feel somewhat like bookends even though the plot is left dangling for part two to pick up. The puzzles are basically well-implemented; they give the player pause but have fairly obvious solutions and are satisfying to solve. Few, if any, objects are implemented that aren't either NPCs or used in a puzzle, and this is a good thing in the regard that this points the player's attention to the problem at hand, but not in the regard that it doesn't allow for multiple solutions. This is partially made up for by the fact that both puzzles differ from play to play according to randomized elements, and one of them requires different objects depending on those elements, adding perhaps some replayability. There are no serious or obvious bugs, but I did run into a few responses that were not implemented correctly (exceptions to rules and the like). Perhaps surprisingly, both puzzles can end lethally. The writing is clever but very condensed. Not many scenery objects can be examined, but the terse room descriptions don't even mention many. The prose reveals the setting more than the descriptions alone. Although the plot is serious in nature, the tone is light and humorous. The writing is probably the aspect of the game that more than anything else makes it seem so full and satisfying with so little, though the game would be empty without the puzzles. On the whole, I found the gameplay experience to be slightly similar to the experience of reading a prose comedy short story written expertly but whimsically; both are sparing on their writing, getting to the point quickly and concluding abruptly (I'm thinking specifically of "The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" by Mark Twain). All this goes to show that works of humorous interactive fiction can still score on the literature scale, even ones that are very short in length and have puzzles. From: Molly G. <rosygirl5657 SP@G> The When in Rome series, by Emily Short, was written, mostly, to show off the new programming language Inform 7. If this game (and the other games written to show off Inform 7, available on the Inform website) is any indication, then Inform 7 should go far. Writing/Technical A The game begins, innocently enough, in Central Park, and only gets better from there. The writing in the game is truly superb, with crisp dialogue and funny situations. The NPCs are also superb, with a lot of nuances to make them seem truly real. My only problem with the technical side as such is that I felt there were places where it seemed sloppilly coded(example from beginning: saying GIRL, SEARCH [SPOILER] worked, but not ASK GIRL TO SEARCH [SPOILER]), but these examples are few and don't detract from the game. Puzzles B+ The puzzles in this game can be quite a brain teaser, with a tricky puzzle at the end that is a kissing cousin to those "logic grid" puzzles you sometimes see in magazines. Unfortunately, due to the length of the game (but more on that later), there can be said to be only two (maybe three) puzzles in the entire game. That said, this is a case of quality over quantity, as the game still packs a mean punch of puzzly goodness. Storyline B Although writing and story may sound the same, there are cases when good writing gets attached to a simply gad-awful story, and vice versa (I feel The Apocalypse Clock, from the 2006 IF Comp, proves the former point quite nicely). This is not the case with this game. I won't spoil the plot for you, but let's just say if you like detective fiction, or science fiction, you definitely don't want to miss this game. Doubly so if you like both. Unfortunately, this brings up a problem I mentioned briefly above, namely: it's short. The author advertises as a lunchtime game, and boy does she mean it. Fortunately the sequel to this game has already been released, and hopefully the author will write more. Still, the "To Be Continued" at the end can be a downer for those who were just getting into the odd events depicted. Overall A- The game, if I may mix my scoring metaphors, loses some points for shortness, but makes up for it in sheer quality. The game can be completed in about 15 minutes and is worth every nanosecond of your time. Blorbed Z-Code game file

When in Rome 2: Far from Home

From: Paul Lee <bainespal SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #49 -- August 18, 2007 TITLE: When in Rome 2: Far from Home AUTHOR: Emily Short E-MAIL: emshort SP@G DATE: April 30, 2006 PARSER: Inform 7 SUPPORTS: Z-Machine interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: VERSION: Release 1 The second "When in Rome" episode, "Far from Home," differs from the previous installment in that it is basically one puzzle. There is no advancement of the story line to speak of, and there are few implemented details not pertaining to the puzzle in the interest of brevity. A brief prologue and a short epilogue are included before and after this puzzle, but the prologue is little more than a formality (though it does seem to have an Easter-egg off sorts). The epilogue sets the stage for the next game and hints at plot development. This one puzzle, then, is what the game should primarily be judged on. It occurs all in one room, which makes this episode significantly less terse and more condensed than the previous game. The puzzle is mostly an analysis sort, where you must decide which of several possibilities is correct based on observations of certain characteristics. Those characteristics and the correct outcome are randomized for each play, making the game playable several times through before it exhausts itself, if one feels inclined to do so. There are several layers of complexity one must work through, including all the steps required to observe, some basic gadget manipulating, and humorous (or annoying) obstacles thrown in. I found the puzzle to be rather difficult. Although I usually enjoy a good puzzle, the categorizing and logical elimination required to solve this one didn't really suite me. The first time I played through the entire puzzle, I lost at the end, getting the unsatisfactory outcome. The same thing happened the second time I tried, and in the end, the only way I was able to finish was by resorting to UNDO every time I got the bad ending and guessing again. This caused even more frustration because I thought that I had reduced the possibilities down to two that might have been right; but it turned out neither were, and the correct solution didn't make sense to me. Complaints and frustration aside, the short game was enjoyable even to me. The kind of player best suited for this work would be the serious puzzler who isn't afraid to write things down on paper to help crack the puzzle if necessary. Still, even people preferring plot development to puzzles won't have to rough it out too long; there are hints, and it doesn't take long to get to the final bad outcome. And if you get there you can always cheat like I did and guess until you get it right. Blorbed Z-Code game file

Who Created That Monster?

From: Chris Molloy Wischer <breathingmeat SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #39 -- January 7, 2005 TITLE: Who Created That Monster? AUTHOR: N. B. Horvath EMAIL: nbhorvath7 SP@G DATE: October 2004 PARSER: TADS2 standard SUPPORTS: TADS2 interpreters AVAILABILITY: IF Archive URL: VERSION: Release 1 (Competition version) Who Created That Monster is a satire memorable for its effectively nightmarish vision of Iraq in the not-too-distant future. It contrasts an ultra-capitalist state installed by the post-war administration against a highly regulatory security system, which fails to control the ongoing terrorist problem. Horvath's Iraq is populated by passers-by acting out strangely polite little interactions, politicians both weird and terrible, conspiracy theorists, guards and of course the aforementioned terrorists. Some of the NPCs are extraordinarily eccentric, which adds to the bewildering and somewhat unsettling atmosphere of the game. The plot, in which an investigative journalist delves into the dirty past of Western involvement in Saddam's activities, isn't really up to much, and the central mystery seems to have a completely arbitrary solution within the confines of the game world. Some of the writing is rather peculiar, with bits and pieces of geography, history and speculation showing up as non-sequiturs, sometimes in room descriptions and sometimes out of thin air. The programming incorporates a number of imaginative solutions to some long-established problems. For example, there is plenty of combat, which under normal circumstances would create an ever-increasing abundance of corpse objects, cluttering the map and causing parser problems. WCTM quietly steps around the problem by equipping the characters with weapons which transform their victims into fleeting clouds of smoke. The first few times it seems odd and slightly silly, but it does fit nicely into the almost surreal style of the game. However, the combat system is my main complaint about the game. Terrorists pop up like dwarves, becoming progressively more difficult to kill. Faced with the possibility of getting killed by some unlucky dice rolls, I very quickly went for the walkthrough in order to get the game finished before the combat became too threatening. Unless a game is specifically about defeating monsters and levelling up, I really do not appreciate combat which has the same overall effect as random deathrooms. _Who Created That Monster_ is an intriguing jumble with an effective setting; I gave it 7 out of 10. FTP FileDirectory with .gam TADS2 file and walkthrough

Whom the Telling Changed

From: Felix Plesoianu <felixp7 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #43 -- January 7, 2006 TITLE: Whom the Telling Changed AUTHOR: Aaron A. Reed EMAIL: aaron SP@G DATE: March 13, 2005 PARSER: Inform Standard SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF Archive and author's site URL: VERSION: Release 2 I don't normally review interactive fiction because I'm very picky, not to mention an awful puzzle solver, and I'd rather not be unfair as well. Often, I would type quit as the first and only command in a game. Especially when the work announces itself as experimental. Not this time around. Whom the Telling Changed begins so... relaxed. You're a prominent member of a shepherd tribe in the ancient times. Every full moon, everyone gathers to hear a tale of even more ancient times. Only, tonight the telling will change the fate of the tribe, and it's up to you to get it right. The tension, virtually inexistent at first, builds up in perfect gradation. You can't miss the climax, it's obvious. Right at the beginning I thought I was facing a guess-the-noun situation but the vagueness was in fact intentional. At first, I didn't know what I was supposed to do, either, but it became clear soon enough, thanks to the well- placed characters, and by that time I was already hooked, anyway. Speaking of nouns, the writing uses few but effective words, and some of them are keywords; typing one of these by itself performs the most obvious action for it at the time, usually ask about. The full command works just as well. This system showed its strength as the story proper began. My, I love conversation-based games. It's just that sometimes these are too subtle for me. Again, not this time around. I really liked how the game decided to convey important information when I didn't ask about it (here's that command again). My reactions were probably inappropriate at times, but Telling... weaved them gracefully into the story. Not that I had many reasons to react: through most of the second part, the only required command is z. Which was so much the best, as I didn't quite agree with the player character's views. Not everything's perfect, of course. At one point, I was told I speak too much, though I had been silent for most of the time (as another character later confirmed). At the peak, it finally saw the opportunity to alter the course of the story, as the author had promised, but choosing the right keyword for the desired effect required a bit of guesswork; and until the very end, I wasn't sure I actually made a difference. But the story came out the way I wanted, so I guess the game works as intended after all. Telling... is a short, but fresh and satisfactory experience. Play it to the end, read the afterword, then play it again. You'll have a big (and pleasant, I hope) surprise. I know I liked it, and I'm waiting for more games in the same vein. Zcode executable (.z5) Original Spring Thing 2005 competition release with walkthrough

Winchester's Nightmare

From: Duncan Stevens <dnrb SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #22 -- September 15, 2000 TITLE: Winchester's Nightmare AUTHOR: Nick Montfort E-MAIL: nickm SP@G DATE: 1999 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-machine interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 2 I confess I hadn't heard anyone argue that the various bits of shorthand that IFers have become accustomed to--one-letter compass directions, Z, X, G, and such--inhibit realism, but Winchester's Nightmare is a game built, among other things, on that thesis. Beyond that, the game emphasizes the exploratory aspect of its world to the point where you can go very far indeed without encountering any puzzles as such. The result isn't exactly a roaring success, though it has some interesting moments. You're Sarah Winchester, wife of the gun manufacturing mogul, and you're struggling, in terms more figurative than literal, with your conscience and your family's legacy: specifically, you're wandering two parallel landscapes, one of them relatively pristine and one, it seems, scarred by a more violent age. The wandering is the high point of the game, really, since the author avoids making judgments for you: to what extent the "after" landscape represents progress or decay, to what extent you're complicit, and to what extent you can do anything about them are all left fairly vague. The images are evocative, and the contrasts often done rather subtly--compare this: Sarah is at this island's edge. The wooden platform she stands upon runs out from eastern bank, into the Great River, at the brink of New City's cluster of buildings. with this: Sarah is at this island's edge. Concrete runs out from eastern bank, into the Great River, at the brink of New City's cluster of high-rises. A few rusted pieces of rebar jut out, dimly lit from nearby streetlamps. South along the water is the entrance to a warehouse. Here, things look like they've taken a turn for the worse, but not everywhere: some locations move from deserted and bleak to populated and thriving, suggesting that the game isn't interested in simplistic judgments. The game's world is full of locations freighted with symbolic significance--a church, a government complex, an oil field, an armory, a university--but, again, the game doesn't take it upon itself to connect the dots. In that respect, Winchester's Nightmare is almost akin to a painting that incorporates two scenes side by side: there's much to be observed in the contrasts, and hypothesizing about the significance for the central character of each aspect of the paintings. Cut-scenes of sorts, involving characters who appear, say something cryptic to you, and disappear again, heighten the disjointed feel, but the whole thing, given some thought, rewards analysis. As interactive fiction, however, Winchester's Nightmare isn't quite as successful. For one thing, the author has replaced the > prompt with "Sarah decides to," again presumably in the service of realism; it's not quite as confining as the disabled abbreviations, but it's still jarring, and, more importantly, it reduces the comfort level for the experienced IF player. It's true that, from a strictly literary sense, the > and the various abbreviations mutilate the flow of the narrative a bit; the transcript doesn't read nearly as well that way. But the flow of the story in the player's mind--the feeling of immersion that's produced when the player can do what comes naturally (and for veteran players, X and G do come naturally) without thinking about the mundane details of having to type in commands to prod the program to output text--is lost. Others may not feel this way, of course, but the danger of the approach adopted by Winchester's Nightmare is that it lets form get in the way of content, and risks dragging the player out of the story every time the game reminds him or her that one-letter commands aren't allowed. A separate but just as damaging problem with the painting aspect is that you don't have much more interaction with the game's world than someone viewing a painting; there are a few simple objects, and you can examine most things, but there's very little that you can manipulate in any real way. I suppose that's inherent in what the author is trying to do-this is supposed to be a dream landscape-but still, when you wander through room after room that doesn't permit any action more dynamic than EXAMINE, it's easy to feel more like a spectator than a participant. The real problem, though, is that the game has to go somewhere after you've been wandering around, and the author's way of making it go somewhere is pretty difficult to figure out; moreover, even once you've figured out the basic contours of what you're trying to do, actually doing it is much more difficult than it should be, and you're likely to be reduced to wandering through the game looking for random objects, exploratory mood utterly shot. (You do need to gather some objects, and there's not a lot of rhyme or reason to where you find them.) You may get lucky and hit on the puzzle solutions immediately, but if you don't, the game's strongest point--the complexity of its setting, and the number of rooms that are there simply to fill out the landscape--becomes a major nuisance, since you'll be wandering through dozens of rooms that aren't useful for puzzle-solving purposes. It would have been better, in other words, if this particular story had abandoned puzzles entirely, or at least minimized their difficulty; having to turn to object-hunting, after spending so much time just absorbing your surroundings, is a major wrench. In a way, the puzzles that you solve aren't otherwise inconsistent with the feel of the game: they're heavily steeped in symbolism and they involve somewhat nonlinear thinking. Moreover, it would arguably be a lesser game with no conflicts to overcome, and puzzles are probably the best (and only) of creating real conflict in IF. The trick, here, is to give the player a sense of conflict without impeding the flow of the story, and it doesn't really work here; perhaps, if you had a strong hint early on in the game about what you're supposed to be doing and how you 're to go about it, the player could combine his or her exploration with puzzle-solving in the first place. There are lots of good ideas floating around in Winchester's Nightmare, including some rather intriguing ones about ways to explore the psychology of the PC. (Even if the game doesn't supply much of the content outright--again, you have to fill in a lot of blanks--the character of Sarah is far from simple.) They're hampered, however, by some unfortunate game design choices, and the end result works better from a purely literary standpoint than as interactive fiction--an experiment worth trying, perhaps, but not all that satisfying for the player. FTP FileInform .z8 file

Winter Wonderland

From: Duncan Stevens <dns361 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #19 -- January 14, 2000 TITLE: Winter Wonderland AUTHOR: Laura A. Knauth E-MAIL: Laura.Knauth SP@G DATE: 1999 PARSER: Inform standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 1 Laura Knauth's Winter Wonderland is unfortunately named--it brings to mind a horrible, insipid song, for one thing--but also accurately named; the genre is fairy-tale, and "wonderland" is the best way to describe the game's gentle, nonthreatening world. Players who don't mind things like dryads and fairies will find much to enjoy in Winter Wonderland; players who do, however, are advised to steer clear. The premise should tell the potential player all he or she needs to know about Winter Wonderland: you're a little girl sent into town to buy a single candle so that your family will have something to put on its tree. You'd really like to buy some shoes for your sickly younger brother Sander, but your family's too poor to afford shoes for both of you. Along the way, you stumble into a magical realm replete with the aforementioned dryads and fairies and other things of that ilk. While everything is quite well done, about as well done as it can be, the nature of the game--where is HTML-TADS when it's needed? we need wailing strings and chiming bells here--is such that it's the ultimate in Not Everyone's Cup of Tea. The puzzles (for there are quite a few of them in the magical realm) aren't anything special, on the whole; they are more akin to artificial roadblocks (bad) than problems seamlessly integrated into the story (good). Most of them boil down to doors to unlock in order to obtain objects that will unlock other doors; the saving grace is that the writing is plentiful and quite good. Some of the doors, to be sure, are unlocked in creative ways, but by and large the puzzles are just puzzles, and there's nothing unifying the puzzle-solving in any meaningful way. It's a shame, and it's a little strange, since the game takes care to develop the framing story--but then dumps you in the magic forest, and you're to assume that if you wander around and solve a bunch of puzzles, things will be all right in the end. Winter Wonderland has a lot of company there, of course, in Infocom's games among others--but IF has been moving away from that model in recent years. It is also worth noting that one puzzle toward the latter stages of the game is simply poorly implemented (and the hints, helpful elsewhere, are no help here), and my enjoyment of the game as a whole waned as I struggled with the poor implementation, I fear. Other than that, however, the game is very solidly implemented; there are no alternate solutions, as far as I know, but the given solutions are reasonably well clued and logical (though a few rely on effects that could not have been anticipated), and there are no major bugs. As noted, the writing is plentiful and generally good enough to overcome the flaws in the puzzles, though there is rather a lot of it; the tendency here is toward more details rather than less. That's not so inconsistent with the overall feel of fantasy, though, where big splashy descriptions are more or less acceptable (whereas real-world-type settings are better served by just a few sentences to bring out the salient details). The main problem with the writing is that there are a few too many adjectives and adverbs, even given the setting, and some of the descriptions are a bit overwritten; the initial paragraph setting the scene (think movie voice-over) is an example: In a far off land, there lies a little village nestled in a snowy mountainscape. As the townsfolk joyously prepare for the coming winter solstice, a young girl living with her family in a humble hut at the outskirts of town gains no comfort in the festivities. Her closest companion, her younger brother Sander Bales, has fallen seriously ill with a fever and can barely lift his head from the bed upon which he lies. Young Gretchen could hardly have suspected that such circumstances would cause the fanciful events that were to occur upon this solstice eve. "Nestled," "joyously," "humble," "seriously," "young" twice, "fanciful", etc. There are also some grammar problems (though the sheer amount of text tends to obscure them), but on the whole the writing is reasonably good. It's just--well, depending on your mood, it might come across as saccharine. Or it might come across as charming. Similar is the dryad who speaks in verse; it's reasonably competent verse, but it verges on being a little much. Perhaps the best way to describe Winter Wonderland is that it fits very snugly within its genre, namely earnest and occasionally heart-tugging fairy tale, and does very little to push that genre's boundaries. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, especially since that in particular is ground less trodden than some areas of IF (et tu, trapped-in-the-research- lab?), but it does require that the reader accept the conventions of the genre and put aside even the remotest vestige of cynicism. Any work of fiction that deals with the holiday-time struggles of a poor family whose youngest child is sick is already toeing the self-parody line; Winter Wonderland does about as well as any game could to avoid crossing the line. Winter Wonderland is also one of the few genuinely child-friendly games since Infocom left the scene, and it's far more bearable for adults than, say, Seastalker--but very few games are universally accessible to and enjoyable by both children and adults, and this is not one of them. I, personally, enjoyed Winter Wonderland quite a bit; perhaps I was in the right mood. But while it's well-crafted IF in most respects, it's not the sort of thing that will necessarily appeal even to all fans of well-crafted IF. For my part, I gave it an 8 in this year's competition. FTP FileDirectory with Inform .z5 file and settings information


From: Graeme Cree <72630.304 SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #5 -- April 19, 1995 NAME: Wishbringer: The Magick Stone of Dreams GAMEPLAY: Infocom Standard AUTHOR: Brian Moriarty PLOT: Pretty Good EMAIL: ? ATMOSPHERE: Very Good AVAILABILITY: LTOI 2 WRITING: Very Good PUZZLES: Average SUPPORTS: Infocom Ports CHARACTERS: Above Average DIFFICULTY: Introductory Although it's not widely realized, Wishbringer takes place in the Zork/Enchanter universe. The Festeron Town Library, where the Legend of Wishbringer book is checked out from is also the source of some of the documention found in the Zork Trilogy. In Wishbringer, you begin as a mail clerk in the Festeron Post Office, who is sent to deliver a letter to the Magick Shoppe at the other end of town. When you get there, you discover that the shop owners' cat is being held by the Evil One in exchange for the magick Wishbringer stone. When you leave the Shoppe you discover that the old woman has slipped you the stone, and that the town of Festeron has changed into a dark caricature of itself called Witchville. As you explore, you find that the former items and occupants of the town have transformed into twisted alter egos of themselves (the effect is much like that of classic Star Trek's "Mirror, Mirror" episode). Your mission is to defeat the Evil One and your boss, Mr. Crisp, and to transform the town back into Festeron, with the help of the Wishbringer stone, some friendly platypii, and your own raw wits. Wishbringer's puzzles are generally very easy, and most of them have multiple solutions, being solvable either through reasoning, or using the Wishbringer stone to wish for some sort of aid. But if you rely too much on the wishes, you may fail to acquire items that you may need to solve later puzzles. In online conferences author Brian Moriarty has said that because of this, the moral of the story is that frivolous wishing can be a bad thing. The atmosphere wavers between being comic and sinister, and is difficult to classify. At times it seems almost as though it is trying to be a children's game, what with having the plot revolve around a kidnapped cat, and supplying such fanciful images as talking platypii, and disembodied boots that patrol the town. Wishbringer was one of the 5 older titles chosen to be reissued in a bare bones Solid Gold edition with onscreen hints. This was probably purely to extend its marketing cycle, as it is one of the Infocom games that least needed onscreen hints. Indeed, the "wish for advice" function of the Wishbringer stone already partially fullfilled this role. Since the Solid Gold editions had greatly reduced documentation, the Legend of Wishbringer book was deleted from the packaging and incorporated into the program itself, appearing as a storybook in your starting inventory. Wishbringer was also one of the books chosen to be novelised in Avon's Infocom books series. The novelization of Wishbringer, written by Craig Shaw Gardner, author of the Batman Returns novelization (among others) deals with a different transformation of the town, and a different postman named Simon, who deals with the problem in a different way than in the game. Though very well written in points, and one of Avon's better Infocom books, the plot is not always completely consistent. For example, at one point we are told that the Evil One needed to physically acquire the stone to make the transformation permanent, and that if no one had it that that it would be temporary. Later, we are told contrarily the Magick Shoppe owner must herself possess the stone in order to prevent the transformation from being permanent. Since she had voluntarily let the stone out of her possession in the first place, this makes her look either very stupid, or very confused, or both. Wishbringer is generally a very fondly remembered game, even by those who feel moved to apologize for the ease of the puzzles. From: Magnus Olsson <mol SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #6 -- July 26, 1995 As a postal clerk in the small seaside town of Festeron, your only problem, apart from the occasional angry poodle, is your even angrier boss, Mr. Crisp. When he tells you to take a special-delivery letter to the Magick Shoppe right outside town, you have no idea that this errand will throw you right into the middle of a life-or-death struggle between good and evil, or that your idyllic, maybe a little boring life will be turned into a nightmarish parody of itself... This is the beginning of _Wishbringer_, one of Infocom's "introductory" games. That label has led people to dismiss it as a trifle, or as aimed at a juvenile audience. It is true that the game is a little smaller, a little easier, a little less complex than Infocom's "big" games. It is also a little nicer to the player (it's very hard to get killed, and at some places you get warned to save your game before attempting some dangerous action). To draw the conclusion that the game is in any way inferior to other games would be a big mistake, however. In fact, I regard this game as one of Infocom's very best products: a small-scale masterpiece. The puzzles may be easy, but they're original and innovative. The game may be less complex than, say, Zork, but complexity is not necessarily a virtue by itself. It may be aimed at a juvenile audience - but aren't most computer games? What I like the best about this game is that it works with small means. There are no horrible monsters, no monstrously evil super-villains - but the transformation of idyllic Festeron into a distorted, evil mirror image of itself is far more effective; at least the first time I played it, it managed to fill me with a fundamental, existential dread that is much worse than any fear for monsters or evil wizards. Still, the game never becomes gothic or macabre; the genre is horror-comedy, and the balance between horror and humour is nicely kept. The humour never becomes facetious or intrudes on the plot, but derives mainly from the sheer absurdity of the situation; the horror aspects never degenerate into empty fireworks or become so terrible as to stop the humour from working. All the time, you have this anxiety and feeling of threat at the back of, but it never gets bad enough to keep you from enjoying yourself - it's more like watching 'Twin Peaks' than 'Aliens^3'. The game also has great charm, not only in its loving attention to detail, but also in its references to other Infocom games (how many people have seen the family life of grues and lived to tell about it?). Add to this engaging and memorable NPC's (the most memorable being, perhaps, something as improbable-sounding as the mailbox from Zork 1), a set of very clever (though simple) puzzles (the video game and the blurry room are expecially noteworthy), excellent writing, and some breathtaking cliffhangers, and you get a very good game indeed. A nice touch is that the major puzzles have alternative solutions; the Wishbringer of the title turns out to be an object in the game, and with that in your possession you can wish for various things, such as darkness, rain, or flight. I managed to find the "scientific" solutions to all puzzles; however, for beginning players it may be nice to have a way around difficult problems - and of course it adds variation to the game. The endgame, finally, is everything it should be: brief, not too difficult, suitably climactic (though not flashy) - and it also manages to provide a surprise at the very end, when you thought everything was nicely wound up. My only major complaint is that it is quite easy at some places to get the game into an insolvable state, without noticing that until much later; this lowers the gameplay score slightly, though the puzzles are sufficiently simple that it's not too difficult to start over again. All in all, this is a very enjoyable little game, as well as an excellent piece of writing. As an introduction to Infocom, or to IF in general, it is superb; for experienced adventurers it provides a delightful diversion from the complexities of games such as Curses and Spellbreaker. FTP FileSolution (Text)

The Witness

From: Stephen Granade <sgranade SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #1 -- May 15, 1994 NAME: The Witness PARSER: Infocom Standard AUTHOR: Stu Galley PLOT: Solve a Murder EMAIL: UNKNOWN ATMOSPHERE: VERY GOOD AVAILABILITY: LTOI 1 WRITING: Good PUZZLES: Not Bad SUPPORTS: Infocom Ports CHARACTERS: Good DIFFICULTY: Rather Easy The year, 1938. The place, Los Angeles. A wealthy but paranoid man has asked you, a police detective, for protection. But despite everything you do, the man is killed. Can you find who killed Freeman Linder? The Witness was Infocom's second detective adventure; its parser contains many of the commands now standard to this genre. The writing is the weakest part of the game; many times I felt as if Stu Galley had simply lifted whole chunks of clever responses from Deadline, the first Infocom detective adventure. The plot is well-laid out, though linear in nature. The characters is where the game shines. There are really only three to deal with, one of whom you can discount almost from the first of the game. However, those two remaining NPCs are quite alive and feisty. I gave my wildcard points for the feel of both the game overall and the characters. The Witness is available (where else?) in The Lost Treasures of Infocom 1, available from Activision. The repackaging is flawed, but at least it is available. The Witness is a good medium-difficulty detective game. After you finish Moonmist, work on The Witness, then Deadline, as they become progressively harder. From: Brian Reilly <reillyb SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #3 -- October 26, 1994 Who killed Freeman Linder? You came to his house to protect him from an unknown threat, but he has been murdered nonetheless. In Witness, you take the role of a 1930s police detective and must find out what caused Linder's demise. Question the suspects and search the Linder estate for clues that will bring you closer to the truth. Witness was Infocom's second mystery game, and is nowhere near as difficult as Deadline. The plot flows quickly, and it is rather easy to stumble upon the guilty party. However, Witness does a great job at capturing the feel of the 1930s. This is achieved partly from the writing, but more so by the characters. The NPCs are interesting and provide the player with entertainment after all the puzzles have been solved. Witness is easy compared to many of Infocom's other titles, but it is still enjoyable. Witness can be found in LTOI 1, and serves as an excellent introduction to interactive mystery to gamers. From: Bozzie <edharel SP@G> Review appeared in SPAG #9 -- June 11, 1996 NAME: The Witness PARSER:Infocom AUTHOR:Stu Galley PLOT:30's mystery EMAIL:??? ATMOSPHERE:Very Good AVAILABILITY:LTOI 1, Mystery Col. WRITING:Good PUZZLES:Few, but well done. SUPPORTS:Infocom ports. CHARACHTERS:Excellent DIFFICULTY:EASY/MEDIUM You've been hired by Freeman Linder, a businessman who is scared for his life. After you arrive to his home, he tells you his story, just before he is shot. Now you've got a murder to solve, before its too late. This is an excellent game. But then, as it was the first game I ever played, more then 10 years ago, I may be somewhat partial to it. It features one of the most coherent, realistic mysteries, and possibly one of the most consistent stories all together. Mr. Galley worked hard on this one and it shows. There are no plot holes, and the game makes complete sense. That is one of the vital things about a mystery, and even more so an interactive one, where you have to consider every possible storyline, and every tangent you can take. [For example, try not going to the house one time and see what happens]. He also is careful to place clues in the writing. You could just follow the "obvious" beginning path and get at least 2 clues without examining or questioning anybody. Another important step is having good, believable characters, and this is where Mr. Galley truly shines. The characters here are as believable as they have ever been in text adventures. They lie, bluff, change their minds and more. They move around with reasons, and will keep in mind you (The detective) when considering their actions. I'll admit, I fell in love with Monica, despite her calling me a masher consistently. I would, however, have liked at least one more character to have had. Three is never a good number to pick when making mystery suspects. I would have liked someone from Mr. Linder's business, for example. Still, I won't be too choosy. The puzzles in this game are standard mystery type. You question the mystery suspects. You read the prose carefully for clues. You spy on characters and their actions. You try to search every room and examine every evidence you find, with Sgt. Duffy by your side to help assist when you need his help. The atmosphere is well done, if sometimes overly cliched. But, for some reason, I think Mr. Galley may have wanted that effect. You were watching an old 30's mystery movie, not conducting a criminal investigation. Still, while most people think that it has the atmosphere of the Maltese Falcon, I would tend to think it was more like the Charlie Chan movies. You weren't heading off everywhere to look for clues, just remaining in a somewhat restricted area, questioning people. FTP FileSolution (Text)

Words Of Power

From: Emily Short <emshort SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #33 -- June 25, 2003 TITLE: Words of Power AUTHOR: Stark Springs EMAIL: (I wasn't able to find one listed) DATE: 2002 PARSER: Glulxe SUPPORTS: Glulxe interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF archive. URL: VERSION: 4 My initial reaction to this game was, to say the least, mixed. It is a Glulx work, with a complicated UI, pictures, and (though I couldn't hear it on my computer) sound: clearly a lot of effort had gone into the production. On the other hand, one of the first things I encountered was a talking cat. My natural allergy to excessively cute cliches kicked in, and I set the game aside for a time. Eventually I came back to it, and I'm glad I did. Stark Springs' game is ambitiously packaged. It comes with two pdf files of background material, which represent reading matter you find during the course of the game; only a password (learned in-game) can unlock them. Considering that there's quite a lot of this material, I appreciated the chance to read that material in the pdf format rather than from the game screen. Having the huge amount to read early in the game reminded me, negatively, of a similar effect at the beginning of Fort Aegea, where I didn't care for it. All the same, having a pdf worked in Springs' favor: I knew that I could always come back and refer to the file later if necessary, and it was also possible to skim it without reading everything, so that I knew roughly what I was going to be in for later. The massive infodump is still not my favorite way of revealing backstory, but if there had to be an infodump, this is as good a way as any. Besides the pdf files, there's a complex graphical interface. Along the right side of the screen is the conversation menu; along the top, the status bar; and along the bottom, buttons representing the Words of Power. The text color and background are frequently changed, a la Photopia, to suggest changes in setting and atmosphere. All this UI gadgetry could have been confusing, but, on the whole, I didn't find it so. The conversation menu looked perhaps a bit awkward crammed into a narrow space where all the sentences had to wrap -- I think I would have designed that differently, and perhaps put the power buttons on the right and the conversation menu at the bottom of the screen -- but I found that I quickly got used to the effect. The conversation menu was also decorated with an illustration of whichever NPC you're talking to, a bit like Fallacy Of Dawn. In a game with a fair number of NPCs, this is quite useful, because it provides a visual hook in addition to the NPC's name to help the player remember who everyone is. Speaking of the conversation menu, conversation in the game uses a technique similar to some I've used myself: the player is allowed to choose a piece of dialogue from the menu, or else to change the topic of conversation to something else. Important bits of dialogue can be repeated ("Tell me again what you know about the forest..."), and the topics available to switch to are listed in the menu as well. I found this fairly effective and easy to use, except that there were a number of times when I would have liked to be able to talk about something that wasn't available: for one NPC I met repeatedly during the game, it would have been nice if additional conversation items had appeared over the course of the plot so that I could have discussed more of my discoveries with him. But it's always a challenge to provide what the player will experience as "enough" conversation in a game, and I understand the limitations that might have prevented Springs from adding more. As for the Words of Power mentioned in the title: Springs has invented a magic system based on combining elements to construct a complete spell. The elements can be verbs, nouns, or modifiers, and they are all represented as buttons at the bottom of the screen, so that there's no need to memorize the vocabulary. This gives the player a nice range of action, using a syntax that is not much different from the standard command structure used to communicate with an IF game in the first place. It's easy to work out new combinations to suit new occasions. As a concept, such magic is more sensible than the spellcasting system of Enchanter and its followers, and it lends itself more readily to exploration or invention by the player. There are a few flaws. I would have liked to see a more interesting treatment of the effects of failure when the magic was cast incorrectly or on the wrong thing; a few inventive messages here would both have helped teach the player how to use the magic correctly, and provided some local color. But even so, I didn't find it particularly difficult to learn to use the Words. In fact, I would have liked to see a larger selection of them -- the system has more potential than this game actually exercised, I think. The number of words available befits a relatively short game (as this is), but I would have enjoyed playing with the combinations even more. The setting is something of a mixed bag. Examining objects tended to reveal no more than was already in the room description. For instance: Stone Road When the path leads you out of the tree cluster, the scene in front of you seems unreal and it takes you a few moments to figure why. A large plain stretches to the west, but you can see no horizon line, only a hazy band, far far away, of a darker blue than the sky. The sun, huge and orange like a basketball hangs low in the sky. A neglected road, paved with round, irregular stones and overgrown with grass makes its way from north to south and its both ends are lost in the same haze that replaces the horizon line. The cat ambles along. >x road The road is paved with round stones and looks neglected. There's nothing to be seen here that we haven't seen already, and I was initially disappointed by the effect. As I played on, I got used to it: this is not a heavily puzzle-centric game, and obsessively examining everything is not the point. Ultimately the game succeeds in teaching the player what sort of interaction is required by politely discouraging fruitless kinds of action. Speaking of the descriptions, the writing is somewhat unpolished in spots -- the sentence that begins "A neglected road" goes on a bit too long, while the phrase "its both ends" seems a bit unidiomatic. For all that, if you look past the form of the writing to the content itself, that content is fairly evocative. Here is a fantasy game (sort of -- there's magic, and a talking cat), but it is set on a planet built like a science fiction planet, with a different diameter and a more distant sun. The effect, an impression of great age and distance, is both beautiful and melancholy. In fact, the whole map of the game is built on the same massive scale, with locations that encompass entire ruined cities and forests. Some elements of the story are a little too familiar, perhaps -- the race of forest-dwellers and the race of miners smacks of Tolkien, and other pieces of the backstory ring a little too familiar -- but not all of them. So on the whole the setting could have been more sharply imagined and better described, but there were enough intriguing elements to keep me engaged. I found that I liked it best if I mentally translated the descriptions into a kind of cinematic treatment, with many desolate landscape shots. The story likewise turns out to be more interesting than I originally anticipated; it takes several bends without ever ceasing to make perfect sense, and it also manages finally to fuse the story and the puzzle system into a bit of in-character decision-making of the kind I like best, where the player has the power to make a critical decision based on the puzzle-solving skills and plot knowledge she's picked up. It's a technique I associate with really great game design, and though the effect here isn't quite as powerful as the effect of a similar juncture in Spider and Web, it's still in excellent company. Despite some early apprehension, I also found the game extremely playable. The story controls the pacing: I was never stuck at any point, and those few times when I found myself even slightly at a loss soon resolved themselves. There's enough for the player to do that the effect doesn't feel completely linear and closed off, too -- and this is not an easy balance to strike. The final verdict, then: this is a pretty good game in several ways. If it had been sharpened a little on a couple of fronts -- the magic system deepened, the characters given a bit more edge and complexity, the writing polished -- it could perhaps have been a great game. As it is, it falls shy of great, even occasionally slips into mediocre, but there is still plenty to make it worth playing. I liked the magic system quite a lot, and liked the way the UI helped the player with it; if there were to be a sequel or another game using this system, I would be interested in playing it. I have even forgiven the presence of the talking cat. FTP FileGlulx game file and feelies FTP FileGlulx game file (no sound version) and feelies


From: Magnus Olsson <mol SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #4 -- March 2, 1995 NAME: World PARSER: Limited AUTHOR: Doug Mcdonald PLOT: Simple but non-linear EMAIL: ??? ATMOSPHERE: Superb AVAILABILITY: IF Archive, F WRITING: Very good PUZZLES: Fairly standard, much treasure-hunting and exploration SUPPORTS: Unix, DOS, VMS, etc (C source included) CHARACTERS: Few, simple DIFFICULTY: Below average Five and a half years ago, when I first got full access to the Internet, one of the first things I did was to look for FTP sites with interesting software. Finding the Usenet source archives on uunet was marvellous; finding the source to a large adventure game there was even more exciting. I downloaded the game, tried it on my Unix workstation, and liked it so much that I brought it home and compiled it on my PC at home. The game was called "World" and was _huge_; due to its sheer size, I never completed it (I got stuck about 75% through, put it aside for a few days, and never got about to complete it), but it made a lasting impression. When writing these reviews for SPAG, I couldn't resist the impulse to dust off my old copy of "World" to see if it's lost any of its attraction over the years; to my joy, it hadn't. "World" is a game in the tradition of the old mainframe adventures like Colossal Cave and Zork/Dungeon. This means that it's a big game (several hundred locations), with a heavy emphasis on treasure-hunting and exploration. Unlike those games, however, the author has managed to create a much more coherent world - which doesn't stop it from also being a world that is very varied and offers a lot of surprises. The story is simple: you, being a lowly latrine orderly on a starship that's just landed on an alien planet, have volunteered to explore it on foot. By collecting alien artifacts and specimens of interesting wildlife, you hope to earn a (long overdue) promotion. The planet soon turns out to have quite a few surprises in store for you... While the plot may not be that great, what makes this game memorable is the outstanding atmosphere. Somehow, the author manages to make a world which is quite improbable when you think about it, and which is filled with quite a few of the cliches of Sci-Fi, seem very convincing. You not only get the feeling that "you're there", you experience that elusive feeling that is the very essence of science fiction - the sense of wonder. The writing is very good, with lots of long, very graphic descriptions of a weird and wonderful, alien world. The mainframe tradition is noticeable in that the author doesn't shy away from using long descriptions - fortunately without falling into the trap of excessive verbosity or overuse of purple prose. Unfortunately, the parser and vocabulary aren't quite up to the standard of the writing, reducing playability and leading to a few "guess the verb" situations. Still, it's not worse than your typical AGT parser, and since most puzzles don't require any advanced manipulation of objects you can get along quite well. Also, some slight misses (which would surely have been found by more extensive playtesting) detract somewhat from the overall impression. As an adventure _game_, "World" isn't very remarkable; it does stand out, however, in the way its author manages to give credibility, texture and atmosphere to a totally alien world. FTP FileAmiga (.lha) FTP FilePC Executable (.zip) FTP FileSolution (Text)

Worlds Apart

From: Duncan Stevens <dnrb SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #21 -- June 15, 2000 TITLE: Worlds Apart AUTHOR: Suzanne Britton E-MAIL: tril SP@G DATE: 1999 PARSER: TADS standard SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware (IF Archive) URL: VERSION: Release 2 A variety of adjectives could well be applied to Suzanne Britton's Worlds Apart, but the main one that comes to mind is "rich." Rich in story, rich in characterization, rich in description, and generally rich in details of every kind--there's nothing thin or underdone about Worlds Apart. Whether any given player enjoys the story depends on the player, of course, perhaps even more so than in most IF: the plot depends on abstractions to an unusual extent, and keeping up with it requires a certain openness to unusual ways of information processing. Still, this is one story that rewards persistence on the player's part, and those who don't make the effort are missing something special. What's going on is--well, figuring out what's going on is one of the game's few real puzzles, so it won't be revealed here, but suffice it to say that almost no information is given to you initially. The process of discovering who and where you are and what you're doing there is rather deliberate; there's a lot of information to glean over the course of the story, but very little of it is available initially, which makes the game somewhat less immediately accessible than it might be. Contributing to this problem is the world you inhabit, which may fairly be described as alien; there are plenty of unfamiliar names and terms scattered here and there, and while they all eventually either get explained or become obvious, a player could be forgiven for finding the learning curve a bit steep at first. There's an upside to all the strangeness, however, that comes as the story develops: the player's imagination is freed to an extent it might not be if all the quantities were initially known. The flora and fauna you discover, for example, are given primary characteristics, but mostly the details are left for the player's mind to fill in. Dan Schmidt's For a Change did something similar (though to a much greater extent, of course, since the level of abstraction there was much higher), and in many ways it's a liberating experience to be encouraged to fill in relevant sensory details for yourself. Paralleling this are the verbs that you use to interact with other characters and with the environment, verbs which either aren't standard-IF at all or are used in highly unusual ways; the player is forced to put together his or her own images of how those verbs work. The plot, for its own part, has its own logic, which, like everything else, may not be initially apparent; themes that seem quite sensible after they're encountered a few times may simply be baffling the first time or two they appear. There's an adaptive hint system that fills in most of the gaps (though not all), and while Worlds Apart is far from puzzle-oriented, it's likely that most players will end up using the hints at least once or twice. It's not so much that the puzzles are hard as that they require being on the author's wavelength. One that initially stumped me involved applying recently learned knowledge, and while I recognized immediately what to do, I didn't manage to supply the proper verb for quite a while. (It wasn't a verb that I, or anyone else, had ever encountered before, and while the game gave me an obvious clue, I tried to convey the action through more conventional verbs.) This isn't, I hasten to add, a bad thing. The world of Worlds Apart is all the more immersive for its strangeness. But it's not impossible that some might find it frustrating. One of the greatest strengths of Worlds Apart is its cast of characters. True, you don't interact with them in especially complex ways; many of the interactions amount to cut-scenes, and much of the rest of it is ASK/TELL--but these are impressively complex characters. There isn't a thoroughgoing hero or villain among them; all have their faults and virtues, and while some are more likeable than others, none are there merely to be loved or loathed. Better still, their various personalities aren't merely identifying features ("here comes X, and he's going to display his character trait so that we don't confuse him with Y")--the plot depends on those personalities, and understanding the characters mean understanding why the plot unfolds the way it does. They also have some fairly complex relationships with each other, and much of what you learn about them you pick up secondhand, adding to the complexity. Better still, there's one character whose motivations and true nature are almost entirely open to interpretation (or so it seemed to me), and how the player chooses to perceive that character's actions may, or may not, shape how he or she views the rest of the story. There's no special technical wizardry that I could discern behind the character development--just good writing and lots and lots of ASK/TELL topics--but they come alive, arguably more so than in any work of IF in memory. And if some remain a bit opaque at the end of the story, well, it adds to the aura of mystery. The writing is uniformly excellent: it's full of details, as noted, but generally the descriptions aren't so long that they become ponderous. Typical of this economical approach is this passage: You have come to a secluded glade, half-sheltered from the elements by the many trees extending their branches out over the clearing. One of these in particular catches your eye, a gentle giant of a ch'nuka whose boughs stretch wide in every direction. Once, it might have shaded this place on its own, but now it shows signs of failing health--some of the branches are almost bare, and decaying leaves surround the trunk in piles and litter the clearing, although it feels like summer, and the other vegetation here is thriving. All the details necessary to set the scene are here--tree, leaves, vegetation--but the author also manages to convey the feel of the setting, and the tree that dominates the glade also dominates your impression of the place. The decay of the ch'nuka is more important than the continued vitality of the surrounding vegetation, and so it dominates the description; had the author chosen to give the other vegetation more attention, the extent to which this particular tree affects your perception of the scene would be lost. Moreover, the contrast between the dying tree and the thriving vegetation wouldn't work as well if it were explicitly pointed out; leaving the reader to draw the contrast and wonder about it works much better. Here, and elsewhere, the author eschews a camcorder approach for a more subjective, intuitive account--the aspect of the scene that draws your attention not only is described in more detail, but also colors your overall view of the setting. The author's writing skills are particularly apparent late in the game, when there's a Wishbringeresque transformation of your surroundings; not only are the changed features of the landscape vividly rendered, but every scene is emotionally charged in ways similar to the above. Worlds Apart is not a flawless effort (as opposed, of course, to all those flawless works of IF out there). There are some questionable game design choices--at one point, for instance, you happen across a book with a great deal of information that becomes pertinent to a certain task, or series of tasks. Unfortunately, you can't take the book with you when you're carrying out the tasks (logically, given the nature of the assignment), and you may end up having to retrace your steps to consult the book that you couldn't take with you. The worldbuilding that the inclusion of the book accomplishes is outstanding--thorough and plausible--but the frustration aspect threatens to yank the player out of an otherwise immersive scene. The progress of the story sometimes depends too much on wandering around and eventually noticing that something has changed in an unforeseeable way, and while that encourages frequent re-exploration, it may prove frustrating to the player who wants the story to keep moving. The hint system fills in the gaps most of the time, but there are a few gaps. And the end is a bit abrupt; there's a reference to a possible sequel, but it's disappointing to leave the game's world with so much unresolved. There is much to like about Worlds Apart, in the end--in quantity and quality, the detail that went into the worldbuilding is unmatched in any work of IF in recent memory, and it's unlikely that any player will catch all, or even most, of the story on the first try. If it's a little inaccessible at first, that comes with the territory--i.e., introducing the player into a highly complex and well-developed world--and it's hardly a fatal flaw. In its interactivity and in the quality of its storytelling, Worlds Apart is a remarkable accomplishment. FTP FileTADS .gam file FTP FileMacintosh version FTP FilePC Executable

Wormhole: The Beginning

From: Cthulhu <patrickc SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #11 -- September 16, 1997 NAME: Wormhole: The Beginning AUTHOR: Philip Dearmore EMAIL: morbeus SP@G DATE: 1995 PARSER: TADS SUPPORTS: TADS ports AVAILABILITY: Free but "discontinued" URL: Wormhole: The Beginning is the "introductory" game from Neotext. According to its web page, it has been "discontinued." Well, what can I say? It's a game that succeeds very well despite its massive flaws. It's annoying and frustrating, hobbled by cliches and a completely substandard parser. On the other hand the plot is so compelling, so interesting, that I simply couldn't stop playing this game. It's the middle of the night. Your friend George Edfry, who lives in Virginia, wakes you up with a phone call. The description of the phone call, BTW, has got to be THE funniest moments in any game outside of the Space Quest series. So you go to his house. Morning. The game begins. You've left your keys in the ignition of your Honda after locking your door and exiting the car. Excuse me, but how the heck is that possible? Never mind, since that's the setup for one of the game's most interesting puzzle. There are also George's car and, for a sinister bit of foreshadowing, an unexplained Lincoln parked outside of his house. You can interact with neither of these cars in any way whatsoever. The author put in a brilliant surprise when I looked under the welcome mat, and... I won't even dream of telling you! You soon get to a puzzle where, to progress any further, you have to deal with a hostile guard dog in exactly the same way that you dealt with the poodle in Wishbringer. Well, that was the opening game. Soon you will be discovering the fiendishly clever plot and brilliant surprises. It soon becomes obvious that one of George's experiments have gone horribly wrong. Food stains on carpets are replaced by blood as you progress. You will discover a rift into another dimension. And, eventually, you will find George himself in a state that came as a complete surprise to me. Fun, eh? Yep. but this game has serious flaws. There's a chimney that you can enter, shades of Curses, but you can't do anything in it! There's a flashlight in the game that works the same whether it's turned on or not. In short, the coding is awful. Nowhere is this more evident than in a room with a pool of mercury in it. Try ENTER THE POOL, GO IN THE POOL, JUMP IN THE POOL, and JUMP ON THE POOL -- three of them give a "you can't do that" message. You cannot put anything in the pool. You cannot put anything on the pool. You cannot look in it or under it. You can't drink it. And, even though it's specifically called a "reflection pool", it's utterly impossible to shine the flashlight on it. Towards the end the game has your character say a line (about moon-stones, for those who know) when he could not possibly know what he's talking about. And the final puzzle, that of finding the last moonstone, has got to be the most stupid and illogical one I've ever played because it requires George to be a moron almost beyond comprehension. I'm looking forward to playing Neosoft's second game, Urban Cleanup. Wormhole has promise. Perhaps Urban Cleanup will realize it. FTP FileTADS .gam file and DOS Executable

Wumpus 2000

From: Jimmy Maher <maher SP@G> Review appeared in
SPAG #41 -- July 15, 2005 TITLE: Wumpus 2000 AUTHOR: Muffy St. Bernard EMAIL: muffysb SP@G DATE: November 2004 PARSER: Inform SUPPORTS: Z-code ports AVAILABILITY: Freeware, IF Archive URL: VERSION: Release 1 Wumpus 2000 is a rather bold amalgamation of everything the average member of the IF community hates the most. We have hunger daemons, randomized combat, and arbitrary death. Best of all, the whole game is a gigantic five-level maze. Don't move on to the next review just yet, though. There are some interesting things going on here. As its name would imply, Wumpus 2000 is an homage to the early '70's IF progenitor Hunt the Wumpus. However, Wumpus 2000 adds to Hunt the Wumpus at least a suggestion of a plot and more interactive elements, thus changing its form from an elaborate logical puzzle to a full-blown, if rather unusual, text adventure. The player is a newspaper reporter whose expose has angered the wrong people, resulting in her being deposited into a monster-infested toxic waste dump below her city. The objective is simple survival and, ultimately, escape. To do this, the player must explore a 5-level, 100 room dungeon which is randomly generated for each game, building up equipment and experience in preparation for her showdown with the game's ultimate foe, the wumpus itself. In classic dungeon crawl style, the monsters and challenges get steadily tougher as one progresses, but the rewards -- in the form of more powerful weapons, and treasures which can add to the player's score upon escape -- also increase. You will also have the opportunity to get physically stronger in a couple of different ways, a nice stand-in for the conventional RPG experience level trope. Taking advantage of these opportunities is essential if you are to have any hope of defeating the tougher monsters on level 3 and below. Yet the heart of Wumpus 2000 remains mapping. There has been considerable discussion on the IF newsgroups about potential alternatives to the traditional compass style of navigation. Wumpus 2000 is interesting in this regard, for it dispenses with directions altogether. Rooms are numbered from 1 to 100, with rooms 1 through 20 on level 1, 21 through 40 on level 2, etc. Exits from each room are listed not with their direction but with their destination. For instance, the exits from the first room of my game looked like this at the beginning: Exit 1 corkscrews toward an unexplored room. Exit 2 corkscrews toward an unexplored room. Exit 3 corkscrews toward an unexplored room. After I had explored a bit, they looked like this: Exit 1 corkscrews toward room 1 (A vast, rough chamber.) Exit 2 corkscrews toward room 17 (A vast, rough chamber.) Exit 3 corkscrews toward room 18 (A vast, rough chamber.) Mapping this is not really that difficult, although it does require a slightly different frame of mind. One must stop thinking directionally and start thinking solely in terms of connections. Deeper in the dungeon, things start to get a bit more complicated. You will encounter steep slopes upon which you can lose your footing, rushing water which can sweep you away in undesired directions, and other such obstacles. Things get really tough in the bottom couple of levels, when you run into things like this: Exit 1 corkscrews toward a familiar part of this room. Exit 2 corkscrews toward an unexplored part of this room. Exit 3 corkscrews toward a familiar part of this room. Exit 4 rises steeply toward room 85 (A vast, dark chamber.) As you can see, there are now multiple locations located in the "same" room. Mapping this sort of thing requires some real ingenuity, as well as resorting to the old standby of dropping items about the place and hoping no wandering monsters carry them off. For the truly masochistic, there is an option to turn off the room numbers altogether throughout the dungeon. Needless to say, I didn't partake. Other than exploring and mapping, you will spend your time collecting and experimenting with a variety of useful and not so useful items, fighting monsters, and slowly building up your character. There really are no traditional set-piece puzzles. The game is completely simulation oriented, with it challenges all arising organically from the environment. I would say its gameplay has as much in common with Nethack and its cousins as it does with traditional narrative IF. Dungeons and Dragons tropes get pretty unbearable pretty quickly for me, but the game's saving grace is that it never takes itself particularly seriously. Monsters are silly and fun, and you will even find some very humorous little notes left by the dungeon's earlier (doomed) explorers. It isn't the sort of thing I usually enjoy, but I had quite a good time with Wumpus 2000 for the first few hours. I found it fairly challenging, but not ridiculously so like, say, Nethack, and figuring out how things worked and reading the game's humorous little descriptions and asides was a lot of fun. Eventually, though, things got simultaneously more difficult and tedious, and I started to cheat, making copious use of the UNDO command. The presence of UNDO destroys much of the challenge in a game like this, for virtually any combat can now be won by UNDOING anytime the result in a given turn is unfavorable to your character. I'm frankly rather surprised that the author didn't disable it, although I'm not disappointed. I seriously doubt I would have ever completed the game without it. Even with UNDO, winning the game for me involved some more extensive cheating. I found myself on the last level of the dungeon, having killed the dreaded wumpus, with two of the three keys I needed to make my final escape. Naturally, I couldn't find the third. In the end, I hacked into the object tree to find that last elusive key and win the game. Sometimes a man must do what a man must do... The prospective player should be aware that there are a few bugs to be found. The worst of these is that doing an INVENTORY while holding the gem pouch you find on one of the later levels will crash the game with an illegal opcode. Perhaps another release will be forthcoming to correct this issue, and a few other more minor niggles. For me, the problem with a game like this is that increased challenge just feels like increased tedium. At some point it all becomes work rather than fun, and then I either give up or cheat. I suspect that many other IF players are, like me, looking for something fundamentally different in their computer entertainment than that which Wumpus 2000 provides, and so I am not surprised that there has been virtually no discussion of this game in the community since its release. Still, if you think you might enjoy a heaping dose of RPG-style simulation and old-school mapping puzzles to go with a little bit of narrative, give Wumpus 2000 a try. It really does do what it does very well, and I don't know of any other modern parser-based game quite like it. FTP FileZcode .z5 file FTP FileInform source code
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