___. .___ _ ___. / _| | \ / \ / ._| \ \ | o_/ | | | |_. .\ \ | | | o | | | | The |___/ociety for the |_|romotion of |_|_|dventure \___|ames. ISSUE #46 Edited by Jimmy Maher (maher SP@G grandecom.net) October 17, 2006 SPAG Website: http://www.sparkynet.com/spag SPAG #46 is copyright (c) 2006 by Jimmy Maher. Authors of reviews and articles retain the rights to their contributions. All email addresses are spamblocked -- replace the name of our magazine with the traditional 'at' sign. REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE ----------------------------------------------------- Attack of the Yeti Robot Zombies Dreadwine Eragon Escape from the Crazy Place Gilded The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters Off the Trolley Provenance Snatches Son of a... A Spot of Bother Time to Shine EDITORIAL------------------------------------------------------------------ Well, folks, the IF world's equivalent of the Venice, Cannes, and Sundance film festivals is on. Yes, the 12th annual Interactive Fiction Competition is in full swing. I awaited this year's competition with even more curiosity than usual, for a couple of reason. First, I was curious whether the recent beta release of Inform 7 and the recent offical exit of TADS 3 from beta status would generate excitement which would in turn lead to more games being entered. I was happy to see that there was indeed an uptick in submissions this year, from the 30-something games of the last few Comps to 43 this year. Secondly, I wanted to see what authors actually did with those systems. I shouldn't talk about this latter too much quite yet, as judging is still going on, but I will say that I am quite impressed and excited to find that games created with the new systems truly do seem to show a higher overall quality in some ways. (Standard disclaimer: It is of course still possible to do wonderful work with Inform 6, TADS 2, Adrift, Hugo, ALAN, etc., as is proven in this Comp and elsewhere.) It's interesting to compare the two important new development systems. Rather than being essentially different versions of the same philosophy, as they were in the days of TADS 2 and Inform 6, each has move in its own direction and now targets a slightly different author "market." By moving Inform 7 as far as possible from the notational style of conventional computer programming, Graham Nelson has attempted to create a more welcoming system for those who are better at or more interested in writing than programming. (I am not going to get into a discussion of whether writing with Inform 7 is really programming. Of course it is. Nor of whether the language is as efficient as Inform 6. Of course it isn't. Those who argue over these things are kind of missing the point of the system in my opinion.) I'm not sure there is anything one can do in Inform 7 that one cannot do in Inform 6 -- indeed, I am virtually sure there is not, as the Inform 7 compiler is really just an Inform 6 preprocessor -- but the new language nevertheless serves a valuable purpose in making that power more accessible and, just as importantly, in making it much easier to flesh out one's gameworld with complete descriptions of objects and scenery, etc. And then there is that wonderful IDE, which subtly and not so subtly encourages the writer to test and polish her game. TADS 3, on the other hand, is a very different beast. I hadn't spent much time looking at the system prior to its recent official release, but already was deeply impressed with its conversation model, which I feel gets us as close as we have yet come to answering the "NPC question" when in the hands of experts like Eric Eve or Mike Roberts himself. I downloaded the official release following its announcement, and was actually just as impressed with TADS 3 as I had been by my first exposure to Inform 7. The TADS 3 approach is radically different. While Inform 7 softens the programming blow through its natural language interface, TADS 3 embraces it wholeheartedly. It looks and acts like not just a programming language, but a thoroughly modern development environment. The TADS workbench included with the system is wonderful, and when I began to explore the language itself I began to realize that here we have an out of the box system with a far deeper simulation layer than anything we have seen in IF before. It doesn't coddle its prospective user. The language and even the IDE, with its watches and breakpoints and other technical debugging terms, is all business, and likely would be decidedly intimidating to the non-techie. And you know what? That's fine, because Inform 7 is there for them as perhaps the first ever really viable "IF creation without really (in the sense of semicolons and squiggly braces) programming" system. I suspect we will continue to see markedly fewer TADS 3 than Inform 7 games, but that those games that are released will push the envelope of sophistication more than most written with Inform 7. And so we have a system for writers and a system for techies. For someone like myself, like many of you caught somewhere in between, the choice comes down to personal preference and the needs of the project. If and when I finally start my long delayed IF dream work, I am leaning toward TADS 3 at this point, simply because it will be a simulation heavy work that I think would be more suitable for that environment. Both systems are wonderful, though, and another type of project would send me to Inform 7. It really is great to be spoiled for choice. IF development has come a heck of a long way in the past couple of years, and the community owes quite the debt of gratitude to Mike Roberts and Graham Nelson, as well as everyone who has helped them in big or small ways. It's good to be spoiled for choice. And I owe quite a thank you to the community as well. A week ago I had only six reviews for this issue, and it looked like my recent lucky run of fairly substantial issues was at an end. But you folks came through in response to my last minute plea, doubling my review count in just a few days. So, thanks to everyone who contributed to this issue. I think it's a pretty good one, and I hope you will agree. And now, on with the show. IF NEWS ------------------------------------------------------------------- THE ESCAPIST ON INFOCOM The excellent online gaming magazine The Escapist published an article on Infocom's company history a couple of months ago. For us fanatics in this community, it's pretty much the same old story, but it is interesting to see our favorite defunct computer game company getting such exposure in the (relatively) gaming mainstream press. The same magazine also recently published an article on the lost art of computer game feelies, with Infocom again mentioned prominently. http://www.escapistmagazine.com/issue/55/20 http://www.escapistmagazine.com/issue/62/12 INTROCOMP 2006 Jacqueline A. Lott's Introcomp 2006 is complete. Now here's hoping the winning authors manage to finish their epics and claim their prizes for once. Said winning authors were: 2nd Runner Up: Greg Boettcher with Nothing but Mazes 1st Runner Up: Stephan Granade with Child's Play 1st Place: Mordechai Shinefield with Southern Gothic http://www.xyzzynews.com/introcomp WEB-BASED IF FORUM A new forum for IF discussion was recently opened as an alternative to the Usenet groups. Whether it will survive I would say is very much an open question, but it does seem to still be seeing at least a little activity. If you want to see it not only survive but prosper, you know what to do. And if you are in the "Usenet or death!" crowd, you know what to do as well. And if you are like me, and just want to see IF being discussed SOMEWHERE, maybe you will want to just sit this particular battle out. http://www.intfiction.org/forum IF DREAMS David Cornelson has an ongoing request for IF based upon dreams. Submit your games to him, and he will post them on the IF Wiki page he has set up for the purpose. Three titles are available there already. http://www.ifwiki.org/index.php/IF_Dreams TADS 3 After literally years in beta, the latest and greatest iteration of Mike Roberts' TADS development system has seen its first stable release at last. This is exciting stuff, folks, a powerful new system with lots of new ideas and never before seen capabilities. Also wonderful to see is the documentation suite, which finally gives TADS an equivalent to the wonderful manuals Graham Nelson has always provided for Inform. Huge kudos for this are due to Eric Eve and many others. http://www.tads.org/tads3.htm FROBTADS 0.6 In honor of TADS 3's official exit from beta, Nikos Chantziaras has released the latest version of FrobTADS, his TADS 2 and 3 console mode interpreter and development environment for a variety of systems, including Unix, Linux, OS X, and Windows. http://www.tads.org/frobtads.htm BRIAN MORIARTY INTERVIEW The author of Infocom's Wishbringer, Trinity, and Beyond Zork as well as Lucasarts' Loom was recently interviewed by the website Adventure Classic Gaming. I was interested to see that Brian still likes to dabble in IF development, but doesn't feel his work is worthy of public release. Gee, I wonder how many members of the modern community might be interested in helping him out? http://www.adventureclassicgaming.com/index.php/site/interviews/212 CARDINAL POINTS Karl Parakenings has begun a new column for the eToychest website that will feature regular coverage of IF happenings. The very first edition features an interview with IF Comp organizer and Brass Lantern webmaster Stephan Granade. http://etoychest.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=5180&Itemid=43 NON-COMP REVIEW PROJECT Peter Mattsson has this year taken over this very worthy endeavor from Greg Boettcher. It is an attempt to secure reviews of every game released outside of a competition during 2006. Non-competition games too often go under- covered, but their authors deserve feedback as well. Peter doesn't appear to have set up a website for the project yet, but you can reach him via email with inquires or reviews at peter.mattsson SP@G lineone.net. And while you're at it, send those reviews to SPAG too, and help both me and Peter out for the cost of just one bit of writing. SPRING THING 2007 Greg Boettcher will be running the annual Spring Thing competition again next year. Its rules are considerably different from those of the fall competition, and are designed both to encourage longer games and to discourage buggy, unpolished games. It's a great idea that deserves more attention and participation than it has gotten in years past, so please check it out and help to make it the ying to the IF Comp's yang that it could be. http://www.springthing.net/2007 GLULX GETS UNICODE Andrew Plotkin has updated his Glulx virtual machine specification to fully support unicode characters, at last making it the equal of the Z-Machine for developers working in languages other than English. The interpreters have already been updated. Go to the IF Archive to download your favorite. http://mirror.ifarchive.org/if-archive/programming/glulx/interpreters IF COMP 2006 And of course, the most urgent news of all is that the biggest event on the community's annual calendar is now in full swing. 43 hopeful contestents await your playing and judging this year. You only have until November 15, so get cracking. And see next quarter's SPAG for full coverage of the Comp, including interviews with the winning authors and as many reviews as I can get you folks to send me. http://www.ifcomp.org SPAG NEEDS YOU! So many deserving games are still waiting for reviews. If you have played or plan to play any of these, please think about setting aside an hour or two of your time to write up your impressions. You'll feel good afterward, I promise. SPAG 10 MOST WANTED LIST ======================== 1. IF Comp 2006 Games (any or some) 2. No Famous 3. 1893: A World's Fair Mystery 4. Final Selection 5. The Retreat 6. When in Rome, parts 1 and/or 2 7. Bronze 8. IntroComp 2006 Games (any, some, or all) 9. The Reliques of Tolti-Aph 10. An Escape to Remember KEY TO SCORES AND REVIEWS-------------------------------------------------- Consider the following review header: TITLE: Cutthroats AUTHOR: Infocom EMAIL: ??? DATE: September 1984 PARSER: Infocom Standard SUPPORTS: Z-code (Infocom/Inform) interpreters AVAILABILITY: LTOI 2 URL: Not available. VERSION: Release 23 When submitting reviews: Try to fill in as much of this info as you can. Authors may not review their own games. REVIEWS ------------------------------------------------------------------- From: Emily Short (emshort SP@G mindspring.com) NAME: Attack of the Yeti Robot Zombies AUTHOR: Oyvind Thorsby EMAIL: jthorsby SP@G broadpark.no DATE: August 27, 2006 PARSER: Inform 6 SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF Archive URL: http://mirror.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/zcode/AOTYRZ.z5 It would be hard to write a very long review of Attack of the Yeti Robot Zombies. This is a short game, and one that deliberately avoids depth of implementation: there aren't many objects in any given room; moreover, EXAMINE is disabled. What you see in the initial room description is all the information you get. This spareness is in service of an unusual goal: getting the player to play a timed game without restoring any saved files or undoing any moves. The announcement for AotYRZ explained that this was an "attempt to win on the first play" game, an unusual effect for IF. Since there's nothing to force the player to obey these restrictions, AotYRZ has to rely on player goodwill. Fortunately, the design of AotYRZ does support that kind of play. There are no puzzles you need to solve by repeated tinkering. The absence of EXAMINE actually helps here, since in any given situation you know you've seen everything you need to see; there's no chance that you've failed to look at an object that carries a critical clue. Even the puzzles I missed were, in retrospect, completely fair. AotYRZ is also a bit more forgiving than the description might imply. The puzzles all revolve around killing or avoiding bad guys (mostly the monsters of the title); the player character has a limited supply of ammunition, which he can use to circumvent puzzles when it looks like he's not going to be able to solve them in time. So it's not necessary to get everything right to survive the game. Solving a majority of the puzzles is enough. When played as intended, AotYRZ achieves a level of tension missing from most IF games. The structure works particularly well in action scenes: because my player character wasn't given the time to dawdle or the opportunity to examine things thoughtfully, the moments when I had to do something dangerous and flashy felt more cinematic than in other works. In other respects, this is pretty light-weight stuff. Right from the title we know the game doesn't take itself very seriously. The premise never gets any deeper than that; the setting is cartoonish; there's not much to the story, either. So while I was engaged with the technical challenge of getting through in a single play, I never felt that the stakes were very high if I failed. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: David Jones (drj SP@G pobox.com) Title: Dreadwine Author: Eric Eve E-mail: eric.eve SP@G hmc.ox.ac.uk Date: July 23, 2006 Parser: Inform 7 Supports: Z-code Availability: if-archive URL: http://mirror.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/mini- comps/mcdream/Dreadwine.zblorb Version: Release 1 / Serial number 060723 / Inform 7 build 3T38 (I6/v6.31 lib 6/10N) Dreadwine was the only entry in the first MC Dream mini-comp. David Cornelson, who organised the mini-comp, says "the premise of this mini-competition is to write a game that represents one of your most vivid dreams. The intent is to convey the emotion you felt that made the dream so remarkable.". Should Dreadwine be judged as a game or as a conveyor of the author's emotions? As a game it provides little of interest, few interesting interactions and a solution that is arbitrary and unsatisfying. As a vector for emotion it fares rather better. The central premise is that you have to escape the town in order to escape the rather unpleasant fate that appears to inevitably befall the town's occupants. Naturally your PC won't let you escape without also rescuing a key NPC. The dream, which is context that the player is aware of but not the PC, and the principal NPC, who is familiar to the PC (apparently) but not the player, are both used as devices to restrict movements, actions, and descriptions. That the dream provides an explanation for the abstraction and the surreal juxtapositions is nice, but more than that it's very nice that the author manages to turn this round and use the abstraction and the situations to reinforce the fact that one is playing in a dream. In a way the dream provides a solution to the problem of how to restrict what the PC can do. You're playing a dream, why should you be able to do everything that you can do in the real world? Many objects that would demand a more detailed description in another game have abbreviated descriptions appropriate to the dream setting: "There are other buildings round about, of course, but you are only vaguely aware of them". The restrictions imposed by the key NPC interfere with the gameplay more, but they reinforce the characters of both the PC and the key NPC and are therefore crucial in supporting the game's emotional content. An example that draws on both the dream and the key NPC: "No, you don’t want to go west, for you sense that it leads only to darkness and despair. [KEY NPC's NAME] tugs at your sleeve, urging you to turn round and go some other way.". Now, in terms of gameplay this is the just the "you can't do that because I haven't implemented the entire universe" response, but the immersive spell remains unbroken by the way the author has married the reponse to the situation. The town has a drab sullen atmosphere suffused with a sense of forboding. The author writes very well and manages to create his dream with economical English that is interesting and evocative. I feel like I shouldn't have to say this is a review, but the author's writing is error free. The author, in ABOUT, mentions "one literary influence that will be immediately apparent to a great many players", well, it wasn't apparent to me, maybe I'm just less well read than most game players. In what to me was a bit of flashback to playing City of Secrets, the town is "populated" with randomly generated NPCs that pop up in the various street location from time to time. Here, as in CoS, it does a good job of providing a bit of background colour. This isn't a very big game (half an hour of play would typically be enough), and there doesn't appear to be much to do. I found it a bit of a frustrating experience struggling to find what little there is to do, because it's never entirely clear when you exhausted a line of investigation. What is implemented is implemented well. I reached two endings, one is obviously unsatisfying, but the other doesn't leave me very satisified either. Whilst wondering if there are more endings I rediscover the ABOUT text which proclaims that there are two endings. With the hindsight of having found them both it's now clear that the ABOUT text also more or less tells you how to finish the game. You seem to get an extra 10 minutes in bed in one of the endings, so that must be a good thing. Given that there appears to be little to do it would be nice if more verbs were implemented. If only because frustrated players, like me, are likely to try lots of things. I think Dreadwine is well worth dipping into just for the emotional content. I was left wanting more, partly because the endings have no real resolution and partly because Dreadwine make it clear that the author could do it so well. In many ways I think Dreadwine could quite plausibly form the introductory chapter of a much larger game, in that sense I was reminded of the opening of Trinity. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: Stephen Bond (stephenbond SP@G ireland.com) Title: Eragon Author: Anonymous E-mail: ??? Date: July 2005 Parser: Inform 6 Supports: Zcode Interpreters Availability: Free, available on official Eragon site URL: http://www.alagaesia.com/game/ Version: 1 One kind of r*if post I hate (one of many) is the "IF reference at dingbats.com!" variety, where I'm meant to be grateful because some badly-drawn comic strip has mentioned a grue on panel 3, or some blog has posted an "amusing" "satirical" IF transcript, which has all your favourite commands, from >XYZZY to >FROTZ LANTERN, but never my favourite command, which is >QUIT. As you might gather, I'm never excited by this kind of exposure; it invariably tends to reinforce old stereotypes about the form, playing to a gallery that associates IF with dungeon crawls, treasure hunts, mazes and magic words. In the unlikely event that anyone's interest is piqued by such stuff, they'll come to r*if expecting more of the same. A recent example of mainstream IF exposure is Eragon, a zcode dungeon crawl apparently based on a book of the same name by Christopher Paolini (and because it's hosted on his official site with no other attribution, he'll have to take the blame for the game as well). Eragon takes its game design cues from the homebrewed BASIC Zork knock-offs that padded out coverdisks in the 80s, and so, true to form, we have a maze, we have parser problems, we have guess-the-verb for every puzzle, we have laughably static NPCs, and we have bad, bad writing. "A bundle lays wrapped at his feet", we are told early on, and further occurrences of the same error reveal that the writer really does think "to lay" means "to lie". He splices pleonasms together with commas, writing "to the east stands a crude tent, the source of the singing comes from within it" instead of "the singing comes from a crude tent to the east." In fact, the prose is littered with so many grammatical, spelling and formatting errors that I can begin to appreciate why the novel took a year in the writing, and two years in the editing. That said, I hope the game was written by some deluded fanboy and not by Paolini himself. If this is anything like the published novel, then I'm amazed it ever got out of the slushpile. Eragon's setting and story are the miserable third pressings of Tolkien, with the ancient dwarf stronghold Khazad-Dûm -- sorry, "Farthen Dûr" -- coming under attack by orcs -- sorry, "Urgals". It's the kind of place where all the proper names suffer from Klingonitis, being peppered with glottal stops and random diacriticals. The exception is the incongruous "Angela", an unmoving herbalist who is clearly supposed to be a bit of a character, but just repeats the same screen-long infodump every time I talk to her. The PC is entirely without character and the dungeon is entirely without atmosphere, a state not helped by the presence of rooms called "Maze M3" and "Hallway H19". "The northern wall appears to be a mycologist's dream!" we are told at one stage, which is an odd coincidence, because the rest of the game is a proctologist's dream. As a game, Eragon is less than worthless, but I suppose the real issue is whether it's likely to encourage new people to check out the IF community. On balance, I don't think I'd like r*if to be overrun with consumers of EFP, but Eragon offers little danger of that. There are no links to the IF community on the site, and no credit is given to the development system, only to some mysterious and unnamed "open source technology". The Inform banner has been hacked away from the start, but the undocumented >SCRIPT ON reveals the game to have been written in Inform 6.3. (This also reveals the game to have been released in debug mode, so that I can solve one puzzle with >PURLOIN -- my other favourite command.) Given the number of default responses left in, a chunk of the game's text is actually by Graham Nelson; but rather than acknowledge a debt, the game prefers to hide the competition. A dishonest strategy, but no doubt the only profitable one when you've got such a duff product! =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: Mike Harris (M.Harris SP@G spi-bpo.com) TITLE: Escape From the Crazy Place AUTHOR: JJ Guest EMAIL: jason.guest SP@G gmail.com DATE: August 14, 2006 PARSER: HTML TADS 2 AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF Archive URL: http://mirror.ifarchive.org/if-archive/games/tads/Escape.zip JJ Guest writes, “I began writing Escape from the Crazy Place when I was thirteen years old, and have now finally finished it, aged thirty-six. In spite of this I still haven't the slightest idea of what it's about.” And how. I can only imagine that the vast stretch of time was spent on the technical details of adapting the game to the parser, as the admittedly bug-free play reads like something written by a 13 year old. The game opens with an NPC hamburger vending clown named Donald McRonald who eventually “takes two fingers and stuffs them up your nostrils for a joke,” and it deteriorates from there. The play, the “puzzles” (such as they are) and the illustrations are simple, sophomoric and pointless. If this sort of humor is your cup of tea, have at it; it’s the only thing Escape From the Crazy Place has going for it. If on the other hand you find it as irritating and unfunny as I do, you’d be well advised to give it a pass. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: DJ Hastings (dj.hastings SP@G centurytel.net) TITLE: Gilded AUTHOR: "A. Hazard" EMAIL: gilded SP@G darkluna.com DATE: October 1, 2005 PARSER: TADS2 SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF Archive URL: http://mirror.ifarchive.org/if- archive/games/competition2005/tads2/gilded/gilded.gam VERSION: 0.9 Gilded has an interesting idea for a PC: you play a fey with the ability to shapeshift and create things. The game opens as you listen to the plans of several locals to go on a treasure hunt, and you end up joining them. I thought the game did a good job of guiding me through the introduction while giving me reasonable freedom of action. But once I got outside with the party and ready to set out, the game seemed to give up and say, "OK, it's your turn to guide things along for a while." The party got outside, and we were all ready to set off and find the treasure. So I tried to set off- and the game told me that I was "not quite finished playing" with my companions. I tried out my special powers (more on them below), but my companions seemed to pretty much ignore them. I tried talking to my companions, which didn't seem to get anywhere, and I tried thinking about stuff, which revealed that I was as empty-headed as they were. So I went to the walkthrough, found out what I was supposed to do next, and scratched my head and wondered how I was supposed to think of that. It looks like the author intended me to find it by accident while playing around, but that didn't happen with me. For pretty much the rest of the game, I didn't see any indication of what I was supposed to be doing. I couldn't see any motivation for my character to stick around at that point, let alone do the things he has to do to advance the game. And often it was unclear what those things were. Because of this, I ended up using the walkthrough for nearly the whole thing. Even after I finished, I wasn't sure exactly what was going on. I got the basic idea of the plot (I think), but most of it still confused me when I got done. I had the feeling that there was a story going on, but that the author had forgotten to tell me about it. Although the story was unclear to me, the writing itself was clear enough. I didn't notice any spelling or grammar errors, and the various places in the game were well described. I particularly enjoyed the dialog between characters, which takes place mostly in the beginning of the game. Some of it was quite funny, and it sounded "real" to me, helping give a bit of character to the NPCs. Another area where the author did well is in the amount of stuff he implemented. You can pick flowers, climb trees, drink from fountains, and catch falling petals. I spent most of the game just following the walkthrough, but during the time I was poking around I found a lot of stuff to do. Of course, that made it even harder to figure out what needed to be done, but the problem was with the lack of direction, not the deep implementation. Well, I said I'd get to discussing the player's powers eventually, so I'll take them each in turn: The creation ability: Although your character is supposedly able to create anything out of nothing, the help text said that I should stick to things appropriate to a fairy tale setting. So I started by trying "create sword", and got a blank line as a response. A little later on, an NPC mentioned that we needed provisions, so I tried "crate food", and was given a generic failure response. I tried creating various weapons, armor, treasures, clothes, and equipment, and all I got for my trouble was a single gold coin. Altogether, I counted five different ways to fail to create something, including "I don't know that word" and a bug ("do you mean the , the , or the ?"). Now, I understand that the author couldn't add responses for everything I could think of creating, and I don't expect him to. But when the game tells me that I can create anything, it's setting expectations that it can't possibly fulfill. In my opinion, it would have been far better to limit the PC's ability rather than pretending that he could do things he really couldn't. For example, if the game had said "you can create weather effects," then the author could have focused on weather and implemented it much better. Speaking of weather, you are able to create various weather effects- rain, lightning, etc. This is probably your most useful ability in the game, but I didn't figure out that I could do it until I went to the walkthrough. A more thorough description of what one can do with the creation ability would help the game a lot. As it was, using the creation ability felt like a poorly done ask/tell conversation: keep typing in guesses until something works. The shapeshifting ability: The PC's other ability is the power to shapeshift into three forms: a dragon, a bird, and a human. However, the dragon form is too taxing to use until the Right Moment, which doesn't come until the endgame, so for most of the game you really only have two forms to change between. The problem is, your bird form seems to be completely unnecessary. That's not to say that you can't do things as a bird that you couldn't as a man- you can fly and peck NPCs, for example. But these actions did not seem to be particularly helpful for solving any problems that I ran across. As far as I could tell, the bird form was just there to play with if I felt like it, and was more or less irrelevant to the game. Now, when I play a game that gives me superpowers of some kind, I expect that I'll be using them to advance the game. I want to use my abilities in various clever (or even clumsy) ways to get around obstacles that I face. And if I don't get to, I feel somewhat cheated by the author- and often a little sorry for him, because he went to all the work of implementing the special power for nothing. Unfortunately, Gilded made me feel that way. When I first read about the shapeshifting ability I eagerly anticipated challenges that would require me to use my various forms together in order to prevail. But there weren't any. Although the shapeshifting had a lot of potential, it was, from my perspective, completely wasted. Conclusion: The lack of motivation or direction makes it very difficult to figure out what to do in this game, and the PC's special powers only add to the problem. I really like the premise, and the author has good writing skills, but it will take a lot more to make this a good game. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: Jimmy Maher (maher SP@G grandecom.net) TITLE: The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters AUTHOR: Jefferson Rabb EMAIL: jr SP@G inch.com DATE: 2006 PARSER: Inform 6 SUPPORTS: Z-Code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Free; playable online URL: http://www.randomhouse.com/bantamdell/glassbooks/gamesite/index.html Here we have another example of what seems to be a growing trend: the use of IF to promote a traditional novel. In this case the book in question is The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by Gordon Dahlquist, which appears to be a fairly typical Victorian steampunk fantasy, a genre that is hot on the heels of Tolkienesque fantasy for the award of most overused of the past decade. We actually get two separate games, one chronicling the adventures of a jilted young ingenue named Celeste Temple as she investigates the activities of her erhwhile fiancee, and the other following a killer for hire named Cardinal Chang. Both stories dovetail together at the end in a way that could have been clever in the hands of someone with a bit more of a clue. I am afraid, though, that most of what Stephen Bond discussed in his review of Eragon in this very issue applies here as well. I hardly know where to begin describing all the problems with these games, so I'll walk you through the first part of Celeste Temple's adventure to give you an idea of the sort of experience you are in for should you try these out: To begin with, the Inform banner text has been removed, just as it was for Eragon. It's interesting that both authors can't seem to manage to code the most straightforward interactions, yet both become experts when it is time to file the virtual serial numbers off their creations. Nowhere on the Glass Books website or in the games themselves is credit given to Graham Nelson, Matthew Russotto (whose ZPlet Java interpreter is used), or anyone else who made the games possible. This is not illegal, of course, but it is decidedly rude and unethical in my book. Then again, given the quality of the games, perhaps Mr. Nelson and everyone else would just as soon not be associated. The comically sparse description of the opening room (which is of course my bedroom, as it must be in all really bad games) describes the shades being drawn. A quick check reveals them to be unimplemented, but that's kind of an esoteric example, right? Let's try another room. One room over is my Aunt Agathe's sleeping room, in which the game informs me there is a night table with a newspaper upon it. Let's examine the table. "You can't see any such thing." Oh, no. It looks like this game is not worth receiving the benefit of any doubts. At least the newspaper works. Going back to my starting location, I realize that the game states, "In your hands, you hold a letter," seemingly within the room description. I decide to experiment. I return to Aunt Agathe's room and drop said letter, then return to my starting location again. Sure enough: "In your hands, you hold a letter." Sigh. Next room over, more of the same. In the room description: "On the table next to the mirror is a pocketbook. You open the bag and find 5 gold coins and a hairpin tucked in the change pocket." I'll let you guess what happens if I repeat the previous experiment. This just continues. The author doesn't seem to have a clue how to describe much of anything in Inform outside of his room descriptions. Major plot events, transient actions, entrances and exits, it's all right. there. in. the. damn. room. descriptions. Exploring a bit further, I encounter Marie the maid. Examining her tells me, "Marie is a country girl, aged 25 like Miss Temple, but without her education or sophistication." Remember, I am Miss Temple. These bizarre lapses into third person will continue throughout the game. Soon enough the really big problems set in. The Inform parser has been tortured in horrible ways, leading to constant guess the verb issues. These games are the first I have seen with random, instant death rooms in literally years, a situation made all the more frustruting by the fact that they are only playable online and thus cannot be saved. (Well, the clever can of course extract the Z-Code by looking at the website's source, but I assume that isn't an offically encouraged thing to do.) And then there's the writing. The website credits one Jefferson Rabb with programming the games. I really, really hope this means he also wrote the text based on Mr. Dahlquist's book, and not that he only did the programming (such as it is) and Mr. Dahlquist did the writing. If a published author really wrote some of this... oh, my. Perish the thought. I played Celeste Temple's adventure first, then trudged gamely on to Cardinal Chang's game. I was amazed to find that this one is even worse. There is a fairly detailed plot meant to unfold here, but the problem is that it only makes sense if one explores in exactly the order the author intended. If not, everything is scrambled until one finishes the game and can analyze it all to figure out which way it was supposed to go. The fundamental problem is again that Mr. Rabb doesn't seem to know how to code anything but room descriptions, which kind of limits one's storytelling options. Also odd and disconcerting about this one is its obsession with violence. You know how IF is sometimes praised for emphasizing non-violent problem-solving? Well, you can throw that out when you play Cardinal Chang's adventure. When considering whether to use cleverness or mayhem, know that violence is the answer to this one in almost every case. I am currently playing and reviewing the games from IF Comp 2006. Everyone complains about the number of unfinished, buggy games in the Comp, but I have made it almost halfway through the games so far and have found only a few as bad as these. That is not a commendation of the Comp, my friends, but a condemnation of these games. Still, every game deserves at least one positive comment, so here goes: The debugging verbs have been left turned on. This means that when one runs headlong into a guess the verb puzzle, or experiences one too many sudden, pointless deaths, one can happily "purloin" and "tree" one's way to victory. And the website surrounding the games is quite pretty and probably took way more time to create than the Z-Code files embedded within did. Oh, and at one time you could win a free copy of Dahlquist's book if you finished either or both adventures, but the contest period has unfortunately expired. Of course, whether you would want the book if it features writing and plotting anything like these games is very much an open question. One of the reasons these games frustrate me so much is because what they are trying to do could theoretically be such a winner for everyone. I feel like readers of genre literature, searching for immersion as they are, are a great untapped market for IF. A promotion like this one, done well and with just a link somewhere to "more games like this," could, affiliated as it is with a big novel published by Random House, bring many new people into the IF fold. If the website creators' IF coding chops aren't up to snuff, many in the community would likely be willing to help just for the opportunity of promoting IF. As it is, though, readers who try these abominations out are only likely to run screaming from any further suggestion of IF. And really, why can't the creators give a little bit of credit to those whose tools they use? =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: DJ Hastings (dj.hastings SP@G centurytel.net) TITLE: Off The Trolley AUTHOR: Krisztian Kaldi EMAIL: krisztian.kaldi SP@G tie.hu DATE: October 1, 2005 PARSER: TADS2 SUPPORTS: TADS interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF Archive URL: http://mirror.ifarchive.org/if- archive/games/competition2005/tads2/offthetrolley/offthetrolley.gam VERSION: Release 1 Huh? That was my first comment upon reading the opening text of Off the Trolley,and not coincidentally it was also my final comment after the game was finished. The game gave me an overall goal to accomplish early on, but even after finishing I can't figure out why I would want to accomplish it. (Or, for that matter, why the character I was playing would want to do so.) I considered insanity, but there didn't seem to be any indications that my character was insane. And *I* feel perfectly normal. So I'm guessing that there was some reason the PC wanted to do what he did, and the author just forgot to tell me about it. Basically, you play the part of an old trolley driver on his last day of work, who decides to crash the trolley into one of the buildings along his route. When I first started the game and saw that I got to be a trolley driver, I was expecting it to be pretty dull. But to my surprise, I actually enjoyed operating the trolley. The author gave me a variety of things to do without letting anything get over-complicated. On the whole, the trolley was a nicely designed toy, and I had fun playing with it. The puzzles were all related to operating the trolley, and none of them felt like they were "tacked on". They also had reasonable solutions that stayed pretty close to real life. I like this design, where the author gives me an interesting toy and spends the entire game having me play with it. Of course, this depends on the toy being an interesting one, but since the trolley was, the game worked for me. The PC was also well done. The game really got me to feel like a quiet old trolley driver going through the same scenery I'd seen for decades. I actually think I identified with the PC in this game more than any other in the competition. That was part of what made the conclusion so confusing; I felt like I knew the character (at least a little), and couldn't figure out why on earth he would want to crash his trolley or destroy the building. There were a number of minor problems- a few grammar errors, an awkward phrasing or two, a couple of bad words (which dropped my score for the game by a point), and a couple of very mild "guess-the-verb" and "guess-the-noun" problems. But the only major problem I saw was the lack of motivation for the PC, and all of these problems should be fairly easy to fix. In spite of needing some polish and a few bug fixes, Off the Trolley is a well done game. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: Jim Aikin (midiguru23 SP@G sbcglobal.net) TITLE: Provenance AUTHOR: Corey W. Arnett EMAIL: coreywarnett SP@G hotmail.com DATE: July 4, 2006 PARSER: Adrift Generator 4.00 AVAILABILITY: Freeware URL: http://www3.telus.net/coreyarnett/ VERSION: 1.12.16 (10 Feb. 2006) I take it as axiomatic that interactive fiction is an entirely new art form. It bears, perhaps, the same relation to conventional fiction that film bears to theatre. Or possibly that's too grandiose a comparison. One difficulty we face in nurturing this new medium is that, because the community of enthusiasts is tiny and the forums through which new works can be discussed are few and unknown to the public at large, every new work that's released gets tossed into the common pool with all of the existing works, to sink or swim as best it can. The lack of stratification or hierarchy in the marketplace (using the term in a broad sense) puts a burden on novice authors. Where is the interested novice to get feedback and tutelage from more experienced authors, without being discouraged by scathing criticism? How are we to be fair and helpful when discussing the weaknesses of what can only be called student works? I started thinking about this after I spent a couple of hours wandering around in Provenance. Cory Arnett's first game is precisely a student work. The author shows promise, and I hope he'll work hard to hone his skills and release a more polished, thoughtful game, or several of them. Provenance itself, however, is unlikely to attract many players, or hold their attention for very long. The strength of the game lies in the touches of creepy, ominous atmosphere and in the grandeur of the scenery at certain locations. Its shortcomings are just as easily listed: The model world is thin, the story is incoherent, and the code is buggy. As the story opens you're in your carriage, riding through a forest. Night is falling and winter closing in. Shortly you reach a Victorian manor house, and a sinister-looking trail of blood droplets on the front walk leads you up to the door. As you explore the house and grounds, various momentary incidents hint that All Is Not Well. In the end, sad to say, these glimpses turn out to be a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. The effect of the brooding atmosphere is undercut by bits of florid over-writing. Consider this, from the intro: "The sun has breached the horizon and its fervent intensity warms the land.... Only the sound of your horse's hooves break up the monotonous silence that permeates through the solitude." Note the grammatical error: "sound" is singular, so the verb should be "breaks up." Also, in this passage the sun is rising. A few sentences later, it's setting. The game fails to follow through consistently with the gloomy spell cast by winter: When you enter the garden of the manor house, you'll find roses and wisteria in bloom, as well as ripe tomatoes and strawberries. Curiously, you can pick eight varieties of vegetable in the garden (counting strawberries as a vegetable), but they have nothing to do with solving the game. The player character's goal is not initially clear, but the game turns out to be a treasure hunt. Most players will probably find, before long, a handy list of the things we're supposed to collect. Finding the key that will get you into the house is more challenging, however. I feel this puzzle is borderline unfair, because it requires that you examine scenery objects three deep. Without giving spoilers, you have to 'x abc', then when you notice a mention of def in the description of abc, 'x def', and finally 'x ghi' based on an object mentioned in the description of def. This is borderline unfair because many of the scenery objects mentioned in the room descriptions can't be examined at all. By the time the location of the key is reached, the average player may have wearied of examining things and gotten lazy. But if you're not lazy -- if you meticulously examine everything in sight, as you need to in order to get on -- you'll most likely get annoyed by how thin the model world is. I certainly did. Once you're inside the house, the scenery is a bit more varied. I found one way to get killed (without notice), and there's one extremely boring character I could attempt to talk to. This character wanders from room to room under the control of a random number generator, but does not respond in any way when you ask him questions to which he might be supposed to know the answers. I did find two topics he'd give brief, uninformative replies to. The author's enthusiasm for Victorian furniture quickly begins to seem obsessive. Various pieces are described in ways that include their precise measurements and the methods used to produce those beautiful wood finishes. Consider, for example, this description of the bathtub: "An amazing display of Victorian decorating taken to the ultimate limit, the cast iron bath tub has been painted a sea foam green on the outside with a scene of four sea fairies riding sailfish on large rolling waves. The inside of the tub has been painted white. Four gold plated claw feet support the tub." You can't sit in the tub, and you can't examine the sea fairies, the sailfish, or the claw feet. Ah, well -- it's certainly pretty. The writing of room descriptions appears to have been done at different times, or at least with insufficient thought as to how various descriptions relate to one another. In the upstairs hall we're told that the master bedroom, to the south, "dominates most of the upstairs." But when we enter the master bedroom we're told this: "Although called the master bedroom this room is no larger than the other small bedrooms. It is cramped, yet cozy." So much for dominating the upstairs. In a similar gaffe, a character (who never appears onstage and has nothing to do with the process of winning the game) is referred to in one document as Jacob, and in a different document as Jonathan. There are numerous minor bugs in the printouts. At one spot a sentence breaks off in the middle. At another a room exit is not mentioned in the "can't go" message, which usually lists all of the available exits. At a third spot, the NPC (okay, he's the butler) entered and said something that seemed urgent, but when I tried to ask him about it, the game reported, "The butler is not here." Things that don't exist if you try to examine them can occasionally be used, for example by putting other things inside them. The most significant bugs seem to be caused by the author's assumption that the player would perform certain actions in a given order. For instance, there's a locked box, to which you'll sooner or later find the key, in a certain location. When I unlocked it while going through the game on my own, it was empty. Or at least, no contents appeared; the verb 'search' is not implemented, so I couldn't search the box, only examine it. When I reached the same box using the walkthrough, I had just performed an action that caused a brief cut-scene -- and NOW the box had some objects in it. Even the walkthrough is buggy. The first time a certain map is mentioned is when you're told to drop it. Apparently the butler is supposed to give it to you ... but there's a bug in the software that somehow prevented him from doing so. And without the map, you can't win the game. The dramatic setup for the treasure hunt is contained in a Last Will & Testament, which you'll probably find before too long. This document contradicts itself with respect to the structure of the family that lives (or lived) in the house, and it contains, as far as I could see, no information that you actually need in order to win the game, until you reach the final codicil. All that legal boilerplate is numbingly irrelevant. Later there's a long and fairly sensible description of alchemy -- but again, it seems to be irrelevant to winning the game. At a couple of spots, the author seems to have been unable to figure out how to move the player back to the house from a remote location, so he simply puts the player character to sleep and has him or her wake up again in the master bedroom. No explanation of these transitions is ever offered. The final phase of the game involves negotiating a very large maze. Fortunately, the automatic map generator in Adrift makes short work of what would otherwise be an extremely tedious process. When you reach the center of the maze and perform the actions you've been instructed (in a certain document) to perform, the final result is simply, "You win!!!" That's it -- no marching band, no sun bursting through the clouds, no hearty congratulatory handshake from the Vice President of Adventure Gaming Virtuosity. It's a letdown, but rather in keeping with the game as a whole, I'd have to say. Arnett is capable of moments of startling vision, and he clearly wants to engage readers by using evocative materials. (Those drops of blood are far from the only glimpses of savagery in Provenance.) In his next game I hope he'll trim the number of rooms in half, implement more verbs and scenery, invent more puzzles that aren't simply keys and locked doors, integrate the story elements a lot more firmly into the game scenario, give us a few NPCs with meat on their bones, and arm-twist a few beta-testers to put the screws to his code. That's all it would take, really. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: DJ Hastings (dj.hastings SP@G centurytel.net) TITLE: Snatches AUTHOR: Gregory Weir EMAIL: Gregory.Weir SP@G gmail.com DATE: October 1, 2005 PARSER: Infocom Standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF Archive URL: http://mirror.ifarchive.org/if- archive/games/competition2005/zcode/snatches/snatches.z5 VERSION: Release 1 Snatches is a horror story about a creature that is stalking and attacking people in and around an old house. During the game you switch perspectives frequently, although you play each character only once. This is because the perspective switch usually occurs when the "shadow" bumps off your current character. Because of this, most of the game is pretty linear. In fact, Snatches could probably be better described as an "interactive story" until the very end, when there are multiple endings available based on your actions. There are clues here and there in the main story that may help with the endgame, but no real puzzles until the end. I actually think that this is a problem with the game. By the time I got to the endgame, I was used to doing fairly obvious things and watching the story unfold. So when I hit the puzzley bit, it felt like an interruption. I didn't *want* to do anything clever at that point; I just wanted to finish the story! I found a couple of the less optimal (but more easily accessible) endings and then quit. If the final segment had been similar to the rest of the game, I would have enjoyed Snatches far more. That's not to imply that I didn't enjoy it. On the contrary, I really liked viewing various events through multiple sets of eyes, and piecing the story together as I gained more information. I particularly enjoyed playing as the family dog and seeing his perspective on things. Even though I knew that each of my characters would get killed eventually, the author managed to keep me interested in them and their story. I thought that the story itself was reasonably interesting and creative, although I haven't really read any horror fiction, so it could be completely hackneyed and I wouldn't know it. :) In my opinion, it was well told using the character switching. The game had a number of bugs, mostly small inconsistencies in the text of the game. These appeared to be caused by making assumptions about what the player would do. For example, one cutscene describes a character's gun going off when she drops it. When I played the character, I had fired the gun until it was empty, but the cutscene still described it going off when it was dropped. This sort of thing could have been ironed out with a little more testing (and probably should have been). There were also a few typos and at least one programming error. But none of the errors I saw had any real effect on gameplay, and they were infrequent enough not to spoil the story. On the whole, I had fun with this game in spite of its problems, and look forward to seeing what else Mr. Weir will come up with. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: DJ Hastings (dj.hastings SP@G centurytel.net) TITLE: Son of a... AUTHOR: C.S. Woodrow EMAIL: ??? DATE: October 1, 2005 PARSER: Infocom Standard SUPPORTS: Z-code interpreters AVAILABILITY: Freeware; IF Archive URL: http://mirror.ifarchive.org/if- archive/games/competition2005/zcode/soa/SOA.z5 VERSION: Release 1 SOA is a puzzle game without much plot to speak of. You're stranded on a deserted highway and have to find a way to get back to civilization. All of the puzzles are well integrated with the story; none of them felt artificial to me. The solutions, too, were for the most part things that I might reasonably try in the same situation. None of the puzzles made me say "cool!" when I solved them, but none of them seemed tedious or boring either. I mentioned that the solutions to the puzzles were things I might reasonably try, and that leads me to the game's main problem: I *did* think up the correct answer to all but one of the puzzles on my own, but I often couldn't manage to get the game to understand what I meant. In some cases the game failed to understand reasonable phrasings of a command (and the phrase it *did* understand didn't quite make sense). In others, the game recognized the alternate phrasings that I tried but gave a generic failure message, with no indication that the correct action was slightly different, leading me to believe that my solution was wrong. I ended up going to the walkthrough on about half of the puzzles only to find that I had already tried the correct solution, but with the wrong words. The writing is clear and very funny in several places, although there were quite a few grammar errors sprinkled throughout. The game would also be fairly easy without the problem mentioned in the previous paragraph. I'm generally not good at solving puzzles, but I thought up the answers to nearly all the puzzles on my own. If the author releases an updated version with some of the problems fixed, it could make an excellent game to help introduce new players to IF. On the whole, SOA just needs a few good rounds of testing to become a solid little game. =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: Valentine Kopteltsev (uux SP@G mail.ru) Title: A Spot Of Bother Author: David Whyld E-mail: dwhyld SP@G gmail.com Date: December 24, 2005 Parser: ADRIFT Supports: ADRIFT interpreters Availability: Freeware URL: http://www.shadowvault.net/spotofbother.taf Version: 4.0 In the former Soviet Union, a corny phrase was very popular -- "a city of contrasts". Journalists loved to use it in their feature articles about various towns of Western Europe and the USA, setting off the lustre of the city centres and villa districts against the misery of the slummy outskirts, letting the readers make their own conclusions about the reasons for such an inequality. Since then, this cliche has somewhat fallen into disuse, at least in Russia -- I suspect to a no small degree because our own towns developed pretty much in the same direction. However, as I played A Spot Of Bother, I couldn't help myself thinking of it again; if I had to describe the game using a single word, I'd choose "uneven". The undoubtedly most brilliant part of the game are its characters. The exaggeratedly tough PC, Stavros McGrogan aka The Bulldog, the eccentric Mrs. Moog he needs to rescue, her no less extravagant, albeit in a different manner, husband, and the mean Sergeant Twiddles, Bulldog's immediate superior, who isn't even a real character in the game, and only appears in cut-scenes -- all of them are depicted with great care and love, and made me smile more than once. I'm not getting in much more detail now, but it's not because the characters don't deserve it -- I just don't want to spoil the fun for other players. We fairly often talk about puzzle-oriented IF and plot-oriented IF; in my opinion, A Spot Of Bother doesn't fall in any of these categories. I'd rather call it a character-driven game, and I think it's quite unique in its way. Now, please don't start showering me with insufficient IF-literacy accusations (although they probably are condign). I know there are enough games built around characters out there (the most widely-known examples probably are Emily Short's Galatea, and Best Of Three), but they all (or, at least the ones I have encountered) are more or less experimental works exploring character interaction, without any real plot or setting. It's entirely different with ASoB: in respect to layout, it's a fairly traditional text adventure, but all the nominally present game elements seem to serve but one purpose -- grotesquely setting off the PC's and NPC's personalities. The plot, for instance, is in itself a quite standard save-the-world business: the old lady who's the head of the British Nuclear Research Facility, Mrs. Moog, has fainted in her cottage, and you have to get her out, because a nuclear reactor is going to explode, and she's the only person competent enough to shut it down. However, this story is just ideally suited to comically emphasize the PC's toughness, and Mrs. Moogs nuttiness. The effect is supported by luminous writing; a few "glosses" could send a reader less phlegmathic than the author of this review down to the floor cringing with laughter. All this, as well as the understanding of the secondary role of the plot, helps not to pay any attention to a few stretching points. But now we get to the "slummy outskirts" or, to be more precise, the "poor relatives" of the game -- the puzzles. They also are here mostly in order to accentuate what an oddball Mrs. Moog is (according to the game story, she's paranoid about security, and has set up several quite fiendish traps against burglars in her house; the puzzles as such consist in overcoming these traps). However, making the puzzles weird enough to fit with Mrs. Moog's eccentric nature, yet fun to solve for a much less eccentric average player at the same time seemed to be a task the author wasn't entirely up to. Thus, the player has to do enough reading the author's (or Mrs. Moog's?) mind, be very pedantical about examining each and every item in each and every room in order not to miss something crucial, and formulate her/his commands very carefully. One example illustrating the remark about command wording (not adopted from the game): imagine you get to a room whose description goes like this: Foothills Here, the doleful monotonity of the planes gives way to rocky terrain. The latter is doubtlessly much more picturesque; unfortunately, it also makes your further progress to the south impossible -- at least if you don't employ the shaggy, stocky skewbald pony grazing nearby as a transport facility. > SOUTH You can't pass there afoot. > GET ON PONY You can't get on the pony. > CLIMB PONY You can't climb the pony. > CLIMB ON PONY You can't climb the pony. > RIDE PONY No, I don't understand that. Try something else. > EMPLOY PONY No, I don't understand that. Try something else. > CLAMBER ON PONY What a lucky guess!, you think to yourself, as you climb onto the pony, and make yourself ready to continue your way to the south. Of course, A Spot Of Bother features built-in hints, but they aren't completely thorough, and don't give away the final solution. Thus, although one can't deny they are a great help in overcoming the "read the author's mind" and "examine everything" issues, they're still pretty ineffective against the too strict phrasing requirements. Whatever, after a long but unsuccessful fight with the prototype of my pony example, I resorted to a walkthrough I dug up in the Internet for the rest of the game, and never regretted doing so afterwards. Finally, there are a few things that anything but adorn a game with such ambitions. I mean minor glitches -- room descriptions unaware of state changes they should be sensitive to, items mentioned in the descriptions yet inaccessible for manipulations, that kind of things. There are a bit too many of them, especially considering this is the fourth release of the game. For instance, there is an official cheat (!) for one of the puzzles, because the appropriate section of the game sometimes doesn't work as it should for uncertain reasons. To be fair, I think the problem lies not on the part of the game itself but on the part of the interpreter, although it doesn't really matter from the player's point of view. To put it short, I think you're going to have a great time in the company of The Bulldog, Mrs. Moog, and Sergeant Twiddles. Just don't fix on the puzzles too much. SNATS (Score Not Affecting The Scoreboard): PLOT: Grunt (meaning "ideal for setting off the characters' personalities") (1.1) ATMOSPHERE: Grunt (one of the game's main attractions) (1.7) WRITING: Grunt (cool) (1.7) GAMEPLAY: Grunt (well, uneven) (1.0) BONUSES: Grunt (the troupe) (1.1) TOTAL: 6.6 CHARACTERS: Grunt (they're what this game exists for) (1.9) PUZZLES: Frown (I've seen better) (1.0) DIFFICULTY: Grunt (pretty easy -- once you use a walkthrough;) (7 out of 10) =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-= From: David Jones (drj SP@G pobox.com) Title: Time to Shine Author: Sophie Frühling E-mail: sfruehling SP@G aon.at Date: September 22, 2006 Parser: Inform 6 Supports: Z-code Availability: Freeware URL: http://creaturecomp.tripod.com/creature.zip Version: Release 1 / Serial number 060922 / Inform v6.31 Library 6/11 Time to Shine was the sole entry to David Fisher's CreatureComp. I'm unaware of the premise of the competition, but I assume it is one where the PC is a non-human creature. In this case the PC is a Caputman. Time to Shine takes place amidst a lot of humans. The way their behaviour and appearance is described does do a good job of making the PC seem very un-human but initially in a kind of vague odd way. This accentuates the chasm between the PC and the player. Normally this sort of thing gets in the way in a game, but here it's intended; part of what makes the game interesting is that the player has to investigate the PC by having the PC investigate the game's world, and thereby acquire an understanding of the PC. The various actions, and responses to inaction, cause the player to form an increasingly refined model of the PC as various hypotheses are entertained and rejected. The resulting form that the Caputman's take in this player's mind is deliberately comical; a light-hearted theme present throughout Time to Shine. Quite a large amount of the early game appears to be about exploring the PC's nature, so it's important that this be handled believably. The Caputman PC, it would seem, has little knowledge of human behavour, appearance, etc, and is suprised by certain aspects of their anatomy (their _feet_ for example). But Caputmans are apparently just as familiar with, for example, PVC as humans are. Is describing something in inches a convenience for me the player or a metric norm shared by Caputmans and humans alike? The game never provides answers for such questions. The writing is good, error free and occasionally knowingly self-referential: "A few dustbins help create an original urban back alley atmosphere". The author is milking a cliché here and plainly know that dustbins are not an original atmospheric device. Describing them as such serves only to heighten their importance, drawing the player to investigate them. As if I somehow wasn't going to EXAMINE everything I could see anyway. The writing has a good voice; it's funny without being overly comedic, and is consistent from beginning to end. The PC's motivations, to get a key NPC to fall in love with him, pretty much have to be taken as given. Whilst some attempt is made to establish these motivations and engage the player along the same lines, the attempts are a bit weak: "You could probably get in there unseen, but what good would that do? You need a plan to make your beloved love you." Do I? Oh, okay then. Similarly, one of the early puzzles revolves around acquiring an object (of apparent value), but in terms of the plot it's not really clear why the PC would want the object; the solution to this puzzle, whilst clued and fair, doesn't really seem sensible, though it does enrich the player's model of Caputmans. Only after solving the puzzle does the purpose of the object become clear; an NPC provides a blatant opportunity to fill-in some of the background and purpose behind this puzzle but that opportunity isn't exploited. In fact the NPC in question appears to be nothing more than a mysterious prop unti! l the puzzle is solved. The key NPC is never described concretely and this one of the reasons why I think the player fails to be as motivated as the PC. The following transcript fragment: X HER Words are failing you. Sadly, she doesn’t notice you. is typical. I assume the author is deliberately refraining from describing the beauty of this person, but I think it would help the player. Hmm, I did something innocuous but immediately am overcome with a sense of unwinnable state. I restart. On solving a relevant puzzle it becomes clear that I did achieve an unwinnable state (an accident of programming rather than deliberate design). Still, restarting was hardly any trouble at all. Oh, sudden death with an attempt at comedy that isn't quite convincing. Still, the action is only an UNDO away. One early location that is revisited later on changes materially, but the only purpose behing the change seems to be to make you solve another puzzle essentially isomorphic to the first one. Which is kinda annoying. The game is short, very linear, and has about 3 or 4 puzzles (depending on how you count). I expect most players will breeze through it in half-an-hour or so, I didn't use the hints. The ending feels rushed and a bit unsurprising; it left me feeling underwhelmed. To be honest I think some of the puzzles are reasonably solvable only because of the relatively few things available for the PC to do, so you'll pretty quickly hit upon the solution by trial and error. HINT (which is I used for the purposes of review) does indeed provide "cheap and easy hints", just as ABOUT avers. The whole thing, whilst being very small and very linear, is competently done. There are a few missing verbs, some synonyms for puzzle-solving actions might help the action flow a little more smoothly, but on the whole I get the impression that the author knows how to do all this stuff, she just didn't, either through constraints of time or laziness. ABOUT says that "this game hasn’t been tested by anyone at all, and it probably shows", but actually it doesn't really show. Sure, some of things I complain about would probably have be found and fixed by a bit of testing, but there's no mistakes with the text, all the puzzles work technically, and there's no glaring runtime-type bugs. It presents the level of polish and completeness of a playable game as opposed to one which is in dire need of debugging. Whilst Time to Shine is obviously deliberately short and frivolous it does leave me with good impressions about the author's ability. It would be possible to clean up Time to Shine a bit and thereby improve it, and this would probably be worthwhile for the more niggly things, but what I'd really like to see is the author having the confidence to produce more notable works. I think she's clearly capable of it. SUBMISSION POLICY --------------------------------------------------------- SPAG is a non-paying fanzine specializing in reviews of text adventure games, a.k.a. Interactive Fiction. This includes the classic Infocom games and similar games, but also some graphic adventures where the primary player-game communication is text based. Any and all text-based games are eligible for review, though if a game has been reviewed three times in SPAG, no further reviews of it will be accepted unless they are extraordinarily original and/or insightful. SPAG reviews should be free of spoilers, with the exception of reviews submitted to SPAG Specifics, where spoilers are allowed in the service of in-depth discussion. 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