___.               .___                 _             ___.
       /  _|               |   \               / \           / ._|
       \  \                | o_/              |   |          | |_.
       .\  \               | |                | o |          | | |
  The  |___/ociety for the |_|reservation of  |_|_|dventure  \___|ames.
				ISSUE # 6
        Edited by G. Kevin Wilson (whizzard SP@G
All email addresses are spamblocked -- replace the name of our magazine
with the traditional 'at' sign. 


	First off, thanks go out to Gareth Rees, who sent me the nifty
40-point gothic outline font now used in the title of SPAG.  I think it looks
pretty spiffy.
	Second, if you look in the Closing Comments section, you will find
the complete rules for the 1995 First Annual IF Tournament.  I'm running it
this year, and I'm pretty excited about it.  We've got some really nice
prizes (the list may not be complete) including a $100 cash prize donated by
Eileen Muller (the editor of XYZZYnews, see SPAG #3) and copies of Excalibur
(for Macintosh), Save Princeton, Leather Goddesses of Phobos, and Avalon.  I
hope to see a huge response.
	In the meantime, is there anything you'd like to see SPAG print?  If
so, just let me know.  As long as XYZZYnews isn't already doing it, I'll be
glad to include it.

				G. Kevin Wilson

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR--------------------------------------------------------

From: "Gareth Rees" 

Dear SPAG,

Every artistic pursuit, from poetry to architecture, gives rise to a
body of criticism and analysis.  This performs a service for the
consumers of that art form - it tells them what's interesting, what's
enjoyable, what's new (and what isn't) - helping them to be more
discriminating in their choice, and helping them to waste less time
searching for things that satisfy their taste.  SPAG serves this purpose

But criticism also has a function for the artists.  It explains their
art form to them, makes sense of old work and puts new work into context.
It tells them what works, what doesn't; it gives them an understanding
of the field so that they know what to react against and where the
opportunities for new work are.

It seems to me that the interactive fiction genre lacks good criticism
of the latter type, and that this is an unfortunate consequence of the
nature of the genre.  Because adventure games are puzzle-oriented and
because the kinds of people who play the games tend not to want the
puzzles spoiled for them, extant reviews (such as those in SPAG) and
serious discussions (such as Graham Nelson's "Art of the Adventure")
have tended to be very coy about saying *anything* specific about the
games under consideration.

I think this is an unsatisfactory state of affairs; I think criticism of
adventure games needs to get beyond the generalities and into specifics.
At the moment we have a state of affairs where we all have our own ideas
about which games are good and why, but we have no effective means of
communicating our separate understandings to each other.

I would like to see SPAG containing a few in-depth reviews, especially
if they contain major spoilers.

	[Well, Gareth.  I'm perfectly willing to help organize a body of
criticism geared to the author's needs.  I think the difficulty will be in
finding someone to write criticisms that involve such in-depth analysis.
SPAG, as policy, doesn't carry spoilers of the nature you are describing,
so it would have to be more of a thing, that could also
be put up on  Again, I can be the editor/coordinator, but the
writing will have to come from interested parties.  Anyone interested, drop
me a note. -GKW]

KEY TO SCORES AND REVIEWS----------------------------------------------------

Consider the following review header:

 NAME: Cutthroats                                PARSER: Infocom Standard
 AUTHOR: Infocom                                 PLOT: Two Seperate Paths
 EMAIL: ???                                      ATMOSPHERE: Well Done
 AVAILABILITY: LTOI 2                            WRITING: Good
 PUZZLES: Good                                   SUPPORTS: Infocom Ports
 CHARACTERS: Not Bad                             DIFFICULTY: Medium

	First, you'll notice that the score has been removed, and replaced
by one or two word ratings.  These are pretty arbitrary, and should allow
more freedom to the reviewers.  The EMAIL section is for the e-mail address
of the game author, not the reviewer.  AVAILABILITY will usually have either
Commercial ($price), Shareware ($price), or Freeware.  If the commercial
price varies in stores, then it will just say Commercial.  If it has been
released in the LTOI collection, this line should say so.  Lastly, if it is
available on, the line should add GMD.  (Demo) if it's a demo
version.  The body of the review hasn't changed.

When submitting reviews:  Try to fill in as much of this info as you can.
Also, scores are still desired along with the reviews, so send those along.
The scores will be used in the ratings section.  Authors may not rate or
review their own games.

SPAG accepts reviews of any length, letters to the editor, the occasional
interesting article on text adventures (no reprints please), and even just
ratings for your favorite game, if you don't have the time to do a full
review.  Please though, at least send me info for each game you have rated
equivalent to the review header for Cutthroats, above.  All accepted
materials will be headed by the submitter's name and e-mail address, unless
you request that they be withheld, or do not supply them, in which case the
header will read as "Anonymous."

NEW GAMES--------------------------------------------------------------------

	The big news in interactive fiction-land this month is _Theatre_.
I've gotten two, count 'em, two reviews on this real estate/horror/H.P.
Lovecraftian/Victorian romance tale.  It's definitely worth a look.  Details
on getting ahold of the game appear with the reviews.  Besides that, it's
my Pick of the Month.  What more praise do you need?


From: "Magnus Olsson" 

NAME: Balances				PARSER: Inform
AUTHOR: Graham Nelson			EMAIL: nelson SP@G
ATMOSPHERE: Nostalgic, slightly surrealistic
PUZZLES: Some old friends, some quite original ones
AVAILABILITY: GMD, Freeware		SUPPORTS: Infocom ports
WRITING: Very good, rather minimalistic	PLOT: Simple, non-linear
CHARACTERS: Few and sketchy		DIFFICULTY: Below average

It is an interesting fact that one of the most talked-about adventure
games of 1994, and certainly the one that caused the most controversy,
was, according to its author, not intended as a game at all, but just
as a demo.  Despite this fact, the game/demo did not only become quite
popular, but the debate about whether its puzzles are in any way
"unfair" or "illogical" reached enormous proprtions, degenerating into
the first big flamewar of (a Usenet newgroup
devoted to the art of writing adventure games).  I have seen several
people writing very kindly about this game, ranking it among their
favourite pieces of IF; it was recently included on the companion disk
of XYZZYnews; many people have expressed disbelief in the author's
claim that the game is just a demo.  [Had our esteemed editor been in
the habit of putting more varied headlines over reviews than just the
name of the game, this review may have been titled "The Game That
Wasn't", or perhaps "The Little Demo That Could" :-)]

The game in question is "Balances" and the author is Graham Nelson, of
"Inform" and "Curses" fame. 

If this game is "nothing but a demo", then it is certainly one of the
most ambitious and playable demos ever written; the fact that so many
people played it as a game, never noticed the demo aspect, started
criticizing it as any other game, and seemed to have difficulty
believing the author when he told them it was just a demo, makes a
very clear point.  On the other hand, some aspects of the game, which
would be serious flaws had it been intended as a game, are quite
natural in a demo, at least in retrospect - but we're of course all
blessed with 20/20 hindsight.  Be that as it may: game or demo,
"Balances" is in many ways a very attractive piece of IF, with great

Any Infocom fan is bound to recognize the setting of "Balances": it
takes place in the same universe as the "Enchanter" trilogy, as a kind
of epilogue to "Spellbreaker".  Not only that, but the user interface
is almost identical to those games; spells are cast in the same way,
and you'll recognize some of the spells, and even some objects.
Indeed, the opening words reflect this: "This transcript is not from
the Enchanter trilogy, but it does show most of the usual things you
can do in those stories..."

If the universe, interface, and general look and feel of "Balances"
are almost identical to Infocom games, then "Balances" is considerably
less detailed: there aren't many objects, there are very few
locations, and neither the object nor room descriptions are very long.
This is, of course, quite in line with the game being a demo: if you
are going to demonstrate that you can implement certain advanced
features of Infocom games, then you don't want to spend too much time
designing or describing the rooms and objects that are the necessary
framework for those features.  Still, however, the author has taken
the time to create a coherent, consistent world, albeit a tiny one.
The whole game has a sketchy character to it, but that is sketchy in
the sense of a sketch by a great artist: Leonardo's sketches are still
considered great art.  The prose is sparse, but of high quality;
despite the small amount of text, the author manages to create a very
pervasive atmosphere of nostalgia (a feeling of nostalgia for the golden
days of magic before the Change, when seen from the perspective of the
protagonist; from the perspective of the player, the nostalgia is for
the golden days of Infocom), more than a little surrealistic, of a
dreamlike quality that gets a twist in the very concluding paragraph. 

The puzzles are of varying quality, most of them rather easy. Some are
familiar to all Infocom players (how do you open a locked door without
a key in "Enchanter"?), while others are quite novel and innovative.
The "lleps" spell in particular is perhaps alone worth the effort to
download this game.  Some puzzles have been criticized for seeming to
require exhaustive exploration of all possible actions - this,
however, is only natural for a demo, where you're really expected to
try all possibilities just to see what happens.  It is maybe
unfortunate that a critical puzzle hinges on a pun that may be easily
overlooked, but once you've got it, it's quite delightful as puns go.
Perhaps the most notable feature of the puzzles - one which elevates
this game high above the level of ordinary demos, and even of many
serious games - is that many (though not all) of the puzzles not only
advance the plot, but actually act to reinforce the mood of the game.
I'm referring primarily to the puzzles involving balances - the
constant repetition throughout the game of the concept of "balance" in
various forms enhances its dreamlike quality quite a bit.

If the prose and puzzles are of a quality (though not quantity)
comparable to the very best of IF, then the playability aspects of the
game are more "demo-like".  According to the author, the game (being a
demo) didn't go through any playtesting; this notwithstanding, its
more playable than, say, most AGT games, but the parser and vocabulary
are not quite up to Nelson's usual standards. The lack of synonyms had
me playing the rather more disagreeable game of "hunt the word" for
quite some time.  Another aspect of the game that lowers playability
is the complicated way spells are cast: you must memorize the spell
before casting it, you can only cast it once before having to
re-memorize it, and you can only keep four or five spells in your
memory at once.  Of course, Graham Nelson can't really be blamed for
this, since he copied the system from "Enchanter"; still, in a game
like this, where you really have to cast a _lot_ of spells (and the
demo aspect makes you want to try out all possible and impossible
spell combinations just to see what happens) you tire very rapidly of
this rather pointless complication.  I can only urge current and
future IF authors _not_ to use this spellcasting system in their
games, but try to find something more convenient, or, if they really
want to make spellcasting hard, something novel, innovative and less

To summarize, is "Balances" really a game or a demo?  I'm not certain
of the answer, or even if this choice of categories is the appropriate
one.  As a demo, "Balances" has achieved a state of almost
unbelievable sophistication; as a game, it is very enjoyable but rather
sketchy and not quite as playable as one might wish.

Perhaps instead "Balances" should simply be regarded as a piece of
interactive literature.  As such, it is original and very charming;
the dreamlike, nostalgic mood is quite memorable - "Balances" is very
small and quickly played through, but the mood and the images are
likely to stay with you for a long time.  Finally, let me just quote
one line which might be destined to become a classic quotation of IF;
a line that nicely exemplifies the surreal quality of this game:

"Tiny in the blue sky, a tortoise flaps across the sun".


From: "Anonymous" 

 NAME: Beyond the Tesseract                      PARSER: 2 Word Syntax
 AUTHOR: David Lo                                PLOT: Science Fact
 EMAIL: ???                                      ATMOSPHERE: Creepy
 AVAILABILITY: GMD                               WRITING: Good, but short
 PUZZLES: Great                                  SUPPORTS: IBM
 CHARACTERS: Strange, inhuman                    DIFFICULTY: Hard*

Taken from the docs:

  You have reached the final part of your mission.  You have gained access
  to the complex, and all but the last procedure has been performed.  Now
  comes a time of waiting, in which you must search for the hidden 12-word
  message that will aid you at the final step.  But what choice will you
  make when that time comes?

  The scenario for the adventure is meant to be vague.  Once the adventure
has been completed, the scenario will hopefully become clear.


Vague is the word for it!  At first glance the world is 4 rooms large, but
don't worry, soon you'll be popping your stack and collapsing universes,
looking for those key words.  Also, you'll have a dream, read an IF book 
and have fun trying to get the improbability.

I personally found this game hard...but that's because I'm in 8th grade and
haven't had physics or quantum mathematics.  These are the refrences the 
author lists for this game.

    The Beauty of Fractals.
    The Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought.
    The Fractal Geometry of Nature.
    Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid.
    The Heritage Illustrated Dictionary Of the English Language.
    Mathematics: The New Golden Age.
    The New Lexicon Webster's Dictionary, Encyclopedic Edition.
    The Penguin Dictionary of Science, Fifth Edition.
    Roget's International Thesaurus.
    The Science of Fractal Images.
    The VNR Concise Encyclopedia of Mathematics.
    The World of M.C. Escher.

Ummmm....I've heard of Escher ;).   My favorite part was the dream where if
you think, an idea will become an object, but then the hypothesis will come
and you'll have to prove it.  When in the interactive book, you'll find a
machine that doesn't work.  Now while you would think from what this game has
been like so far, some heavy mechanical skills would come in handy.  Nope.
    The charecters are not human, except the Professor, but he's in the
dream.  There's a plant that would really like some fluid....could you please
fit it in my klein bottle?  And of course the party of numerals!  Don't
worry.  They won't hurt you.  In fact, nothing will.  You can't die or get
stuck in this game.
    The game plays exactly like a Scott Adams game.  Room descriptions are
short and to the point.  He does describe objects better than Mr. Adams
though.  That brings up another point: VERBS.  You'll be doing a lot of
popping and _y_ing. Yes, _y_ is a verb in this game.
    Over all this is a fun game that could take a long time to play, or a
very short time to delete.  Let it grow on you, and if you're really stuck,
there's a solution on

P.S. The game also comes with a great philosophy on adventure games.  Check
it out!

             /  '            /  '
           /   '|          /   '|
        */----'---------*/    ' |
       '|    '  |      '|    '  |
      ' |   '   |     ' |   '   |
     '  |  '   /*----'--|--'---/*
    '   | '  /  '   '   | '  /  '
   '    |' /   '   '    |' /   '
  '    /*/----'---'----/*/    '
 '   /  '    '   '   /  '    '
'  /   '|   '   '  /   '|   '
*/----'----'----*/    ' |  '
|    '  | '     |    '  | '
|   '   |'      |   '   |'
|  '   /*-------|--'---/*
| '  /          | '  /
|' /            |' /


From: "Julian Arnold" 

 NAME: A Fable                                   PARSER: Poor
 AUTHOR: Stan Heller                             PLOT: I couldn't find one
 EMAIL: Unknown                                  ATMOSPHERE: Kafka-esque
 AVAILABILITY: Freeware, GMD                     WRITING: Reasonable
 PUZZLES: Virtually nonexistant                  SUPPORTS: AGT
 CHARACTERS: Non-interactive                     DIFFICULTY: Couldn't say

Well, what can I say?  In _A Fable_, a game originally written in 1985 by one
Stan Heller, and apparently rewritten three years ago by David Malmberg and
Mark Welch with AGT 1.35, you guide the actions of Max, a somewhat confused
man.  Unlike most IF _A Fable_ uses the third person (ie, `Max feels suddenly
like a huge cloud has lifted him up and taken him away').  This adds to the
detached, dreamlike atmosphere which the author has attempted to create.  The
introduction tells how Max has gone for an evening stroll through his
neighbourhood in order to `find himself'. Wrapped in self-obsession he is
unaware as his world rapidly disappears, and Max soon finds himself in a
strange place, enveloped in fog.

Apart from a few foggy areas each location (there are apparently only fifteen
so the game is mercifully short) is a one or two paragraph scene reminiscent
in style, but without the content, of some of Kafka's shortest works.  They
are apparently unrelated to each other, except that each seems as pointless
and pretentious as the other.  In most of these locations there is one item
which you can manipulate, but to what end I could not say.

The only puzzle which I could find (and I quit with a score of 70/75)
involved unlocking a lock with a key...  Wow!  Admittedly the key was hidden,
but very obviously.  The score seems to go up for no reason (maybe for moving
to a new location) and also goes down for no reason.

I guess Max is wandering around his own mind and each location is meant to
reveal something to him about himself, but if this is the case it hasn't
worked. Oh, this is silly.  Even four paragraphs is too long a review for
this.  Unless I have missed something crucial this game is utter drivel. 
Don't bother.


From: "J. J. Farmer" 

 NAME: Plague Planet                             PARSER: Fair
 AUTHOR: Philip Hawthorne                        PLOT: Linear
 EMAIL: ???                                      ATMOSPHERE: Very Good
 AVAILABILITY: Shareware (BBC Micro),            WRITING: Very Good
               Commercial (Archimedies)          SUPPORTS: BBC Micro,
 PUZZLES: Excellent                                        Acorn Archimedies
 CHARACTERS: Rather Shallow                      DIFFICULTY: Hard

Let me start by saying this: Plague Planet is a BIG game.  Lots of locations,
hundreds of puzzles, thousands of hours of fun for all the family, and at a
very reasonable price.  Which is rather useful, since you will have to employ
somebody to make your food, walk the dog, clean the house, etc., the moment
you buy it.  Why?  Because this game is so addictive you won't be able to
tear yourself away from it.

The plot is nothing if not unoriginal: you are a peaceful farmer on the
agrarian planet of Azura when a spaceship lands in your field.  And
that's pretty much all you know when you start the game.

Like many excellent games, however, you are left to discover the objective
for yourself.  In fact, you actually create the objective whilst you are
trying to do this.  I'm not spoiling the plot too much if I tell you: like
a prize idiot, you break into the spaceship, releasing the plague virus that
was contained within and condemning every man, woman and child (including
yourself) on the planet to death.

The puzzles in the game are, almost without exception, solvable with nothing
more than the objects to hand and a little logical thinking.  There are a
couple of mazes, but hints to the paths through them are lying around, and
there is no need to fall back on the old "drop an object in every location"

Many puzzles are a joy to solve.  I particularly enjoyed learning to fly
the spaceship and satisfying the talking door unhappy with its position
in life.  And the sheer number of puzzles means that there is a tremendous
variety, ranging from variations on traditional ones (a key in a lock on the
opposite side of a locked door), to completely original conundrums.

There is only one "what on earth is the author thinking of" puzzle; the
meaning of the initials "BMUS".  Just think of a certain American science
fiction serial...

As for the other characters in the game - well, there aren't all that
many.  A few robots, a few animals, a few religious maniacs who will kill
you on sight, and one miner with a severe flatulance problem.  They don't have
a wide variety of things to say, but there are various reasons why you can't
spend much time talking to them, anyway.

The atmosphere generated by this game is simply wonderful.  The descriptions
are verbose without being longwinded, and the problems fit into it all
perfectly - none are "glued on".  You could almost believe you are there,
sneaking into a mine on the planet Zanthor, evading a Yillis Gorf on the
planet Aquaria, meeting an "old friend" on the planet Arboreta.

All in all, this game is simply marvellously addictive and amazingly
enjoyable.  If you can find a copy, snap it up at once...


From: "J. J. Farmer" 

 NAME: Scapeghost                                PARSER: Very Good
 AUTHORS: Level 9 Computing                      PLOT: Linear
 EMAIL: ???                                      ATMOSPHERE: Excellent
 AVAILABILITY: Commercial                        WRITING: Good
 PUZZLES: Poor (part 1), Very Good (parts 2 & 3)
 SUPPORTS: Amiga, Amstrad CPC, PCW, Apple II, Atari ST, XE, 800XL, BBC Master,
           Enhanced (sideways or shadow RAM) BBC Micro, Commodore 64 or 128,
           IBM PC, Apple Mac, Spectrum +2 or +3, MSX 64k, Spectrum 48k or 128k
 CHARACTERS: Excellent                           DIFFICULTY: Moderate-Low

Let's start at the beginning: Alan Chance was a cop.  Alan Chance was
infiltrating a drug gang.  Someone (or something) tipped off the gang.  Alan
Chance got killed, his partner Sarah was taken hostage and his ex-colleagues
think it's all because of his own stupidity.

But all is not lost.  Alan Chance has returned as a ghost and, with the aid
of an adventure game-player intrepid enough to actually locate and purchase
a copy of this game, has three nights to rescue Sarah and bring the criminals
to justice.

Scapeghost was the last game Level 9 wrote before they withdrew from the
adventure market, and evidence of their previous experience is obvious.  The
parser understands pretty much anything you type in; you can use the command
"FIND" or "GO TO" to take you to any object in the game, and you can order
around characters in the standard fashion (e.g. "JOE, RUN TO MY GRAVE, WAIT
FOR ANDY, FIND THE WATCH, GET IT, FIND ME"), although whether they actually
do it is another thing.

Like most of the later Level 9 games, Scapeghost is split into three
parts; in this case, the three nights on which the game takes place.  However,
unlike many of the previous games, they can be played in any order.  I'm
not really all that keen on this; the parts follow each other in a logical
and chronological manner, and later parts do all but give you the solutions
to puzzles in previous parts.  I exercised restraint and played through the
parts in order.

The first part, November Graveyard, is probably the weakest.  You start the
game by waking up at your funeral just before dusk.  There are four characters
in the graveyard at this point (a workman, a supervisor, a detective and a
crowd of mourners), and valuable information can be gained from following
them around.

Then night falls and you are introduced to the first of your fellow
sufferers - Joe Danby used to be a publican, but he's stuck in the graveyard
now because his place "doesn't serve spirits"; groans all round.  He'll
take you on a guided tour of the graveyard and introduce you to most of the
residents.  It doesn't take you long to deduce that each one of them has
a problem, and if you solve it for them they'll help you.

It's all rather routine and there are some awful puns along the way.  The
climax of this part involves coordinating your small army of ghosts in
a final effort to delay the drug gang while you wait for part two.

As I said, this part has a good atmosphere but it's pretty much all been
done before.  There is only really one innovative puzzle, which I won't
go into detail about because I don't want to spoil it for anyone.  It
took me about a day to complete this part.

The location descriptions are very terse; some versions include graphics,
and these help to get the true feel of the locations.  I had the BBC Master
version, and whilst the graphics were in an ultra low-res mode, with
the BBC's normal complement of 8 colours not really helping, they were
of surprisingly good quality and quite atmospheric.  The back of the box
shows some screen shots from the Atari ST version, and these are of
near-photographic quality.  On the other hand, they would put the best
pictures on the box...

Although the quality of the location descriptions is rather poor, all of
the other text is truly excellent.  It more than makes up for the other

Part Two, Haunted House, sees you with enhanced abilities, and you can now
leave the graveyard.  Your previous squad of helpers has melted into the
darkness, with only Joe Danby remaining to aid you in your quest to
investigate the gang's old hideout.

The puzzles in this part are really excellent.  You must use your ghostly
abilities to piece together your final moments, and to assemble a body
of evidence.  All of this can be solved by pure logical thought.  There's
still nothing too testing, but it's all good fun.

In part three you can finally get to grips with the criminals - but they're
trying to get to grips with you too, and force a priest to attempt an
exorcism.  After your exploits in part two, the police are making their
way to the gang's new hideout - with lights flashing and sirens
blaring.  A surprise assault it won't be.

Although it initially seems that you are left to develop your own strategy
to bring them to justice, the instructions actually tell you what to do,
which is a mite disappointing.

The atmospheric touches in this part are excellent.  It's worth playing the
part through once just to sit and watch the gang's poker game.  The puzzles
are once again very original, and in some parts hilarious.  Yet again,
though, there's nothing overly difficult.

Scapeghost is a truly classic game let down by a poor first part and some
very brief location descriptions.  Another review (in the magazine "The Micro
User") said that it contained "real brain-teasers", and left the impression
that it was rather difficult.  I personally found it very easy - I finished
it in three days, which is the quickest I've completed any game, but maybe
I was lucky.

Availability is probably rather low - it was released in 1989, and
when I purchased my copy three years ago Level 9's supplies of all their
BBC games were running very low (sold out of all but three), and it's a
fair bet that a similar situation exists for the other formats.  However,
if you do see a copy anywhere, snap it up at once.  You won't be


From: "Donna Mccreary Rodriguez" 

 NAME:   Sir Ramic Hobbs and the High Level Gorilla
						 PARSER:  AGT
 AUTHOR: Gil Williamson				 PLOT:  Slightly linear
 EMAIL: ???					 ATMOSPHERE:  Whimisical
 AVAILABILITY:  GMD (,  F              WRITING:  Good
 PUZZLES:  Clever; logical                       SUPPORTS:  AGT ports
 CHARACTERS:   Whimsical; "punny" names          DIFFICULTY:  Easy

You, the main character, are Sir Ramic Hobbs, Knight Errant.  You have
made a pledge to rescue Princess Anne de Pea from the clutches of the
High Level Gorilla, who resides in the Pleasure Dome of the kingdom of
Trassch Khan.   Corny, yes......but really a  light, fun little game with no
pretenses except to entertain the player and present some interesting
puzzles.  Gil Williamson, the author, says that---having spent days lost in
the caverns of Zork--he wants to make no unfair demands on the player, and he
is true to his word.  In case you get stuck, there is a solution file zipped

Try this one.  In my download from GMD there was no information about 
registering the game and no contact info on the author, so I suppose 
it's a gift.


From: "Gareth Rees" 

  NAME: Theatre                           PARSER: Inform's usual
  AUTHOR: Brendon Wyber                   PLOT: destroy the evil
  EMAIL: cctr120 SP@G, brendon SP@G
					  ATMOSPHERE: Lovecraft horror
  AVAILABILITY: Freeware, GMD             WRITING: good spelling, no style
  PUZZLES: good                           SUPPORTS: Infocom ports
  CHARACTERS: not convincing              DIFFICULTY: easy

[This review contains some plot details, but spoils no puzzles.]

The introduction to "Theatre" explains that you are an estate agent,
trying to sell an old run-down theatre in a slum area of town.  It is
late in the evening, and you're in a hurry to see off the buyer and set
out to the opera, when you remember that you left your pager in the
basement.  After collecting it, you discover that your car has been
stolen, and a nasty thug turns up to make sure that you don't wander
off.  It looks as though you're going to have to spend the night in the
theatre unless you can find a phone and call the police.

You have to play through the above.  It takes a minimum of about ten
turns, but it feels very forced because the game won't allow you to
explore until you have finished the opening, and the "You can't do that
yet, because that would be contrary to the plot" messages come thick and
fast.  Perhaps the author could have found a more natural way to
restrict access to the rest of the theatre until the opening was

After the opening, the game becomes much wider.  You explore the haunted
theatre, at first in search of a way out, and then in search of magical
items necessary to thwart a certain evil power.  You find yourself
collecting the scattered pages of the 1898 journal of Eric Morris, the
man who drew the architects' plans for the theatre, which gradually
reveal a tantalising story of how he fell in love with Elizabeth, a
mysterious and beautiful woman who persuaded him to alter the plans in
nefarious ways.

My first impressions were very favourable.  The developing plot was
intriguing, and the atmosphere well-judged.  I imagined that the focus
would be on some tragic and melodramatic incident in the history of the
theatre (perhaps, I speculated wildly, this would be a jealous rivalry
between two leading actors over a woman, or a spurned prima donna who
killed herself).  The puzzles were logical and not over-hard, and the
programming was excellent: almost everything I tried produced an
intelligent response, and there were never any problems guessing verbs.
The developing journal entries kept me interested in looking around for

If anything lets the game down, it's the quality of the prose, which
feels as though it has been very hastily written, without much attention
to grammar.  There are few memorable or vivid descriptions, and lots of
clumsy phrasing.  This is a particular problem with the journal entries,
which have an unfortunate Adrian Mole tone.

However, the game becomes weaker as it progresses.  The early sections
are original and interesting, but there comes a point where the game
loses its atmosphere and becomes a standard fantasy set in
H. P. Lovecraft's "Cthulhu" mythos.  A couple of scenes (the monster in
the library and the rats in the tunnels) feel as though they could have
been lifted straight out of Infocom's game "Lurking Horror", also based
on Lovecraft's books.  The interesting exploration eventually comes to
an end with the disappointing realisation that this has been a simple
treasure hunting exercise: you have to find a collection of colour-coded
jewels of power and leave them in the correct place.

The author explained to me that because of time constraints, he hadn't
been able to spend as much time on the ending as he would have liked.
"Theatre" certainly feels as though it reached a certain point and then
was finished off in a desperate rush.  There are many loose ends: for
example, it is hinted that there is a cellular phone in the theatre, but
this never materialises.  Some of the closing scenes are very
unfortunate: for example, the appearance of Elizabeth near the end
completely spoils the characterisation of her that was established
through the journal.  It's very disappointing that there is no real
attempt to link the plot with the potentially interesting milieu of
early twentieth century theatre.

I don't want to sound too negative.  "Theatre" is excellent when
considered only as an adventure game, with good puzzles and superb
game-play.  I felt that it lacked the consistency and prose that would
have made it a good piece of fiction too.  But then I feel the same way
about "Zork".

"Theatre" is a medium-length game written using the "Inform" compiler.
The version 5 story file is available by anonymous FTP at
.  It runs on all
manner of computers; fetch the following file to find out how:
.  The
game includes hints which appear as needed.  These are nicely judged,
and don't give too much away.

From: "Julian Arnold" 

 NAME: Theatre                                   PARSER: Excellent
 AUTHOR: Brendon Wyber                           PLOT: Not too original
 EMAIL: cctr120 SP@G, brendon SP@G
						 ATMOSPHERE: Inconsistant
 AVAILABILITY: Freeware, GMD                     WRITING: Good
 PUZZLES: Mostly logical and intuitive but unoriginal
                                                 SUPPORTS: Inform
 CHARACTERS: Very few and limited                DIFFICULTY: Easy-medium
In this game you are a property agent who, having just shown some clients
around a decrepit theatre, are annoyed to realise that you left your
electronic pager in the old building.  The game begins as you re-enter the
theatre with a view to retrieving this object before meeting friends at the
opera.  Suffice to say things do not go quite as planned.

_Theatre_ is very distinctly split into the traditional opening, mid-game and
end-game.  Indeed, the three sections seemed rather too distinct from each
other, lending a rather disjointed feel to the game.  Also contributing to
the feeling of disjointedness is the atmosphere, which changes about half way
through from ghostly psychological horror to semi-Lovecraftian `icky' horror,
more reliant on physical revulsion than a sense of `something's wrong'.  This
is a shame, as it reminds the player too much of _The Lurking Horror_ which
is the better game.  The opening is nice 'n easy for beginners with plenty of
advice in case you don't know what to do next.  This may be frustrating for
more experienced players as it is very linear.  The middle game opens up
more, with several well thought out but familiar puzzles open to the player
at once.  However, as mentioned above, there is a sudden change of direction
in the atmosphere and style of the game, which was not to this reviewer's
tastes. The end-game is where _Theatre_ really falls down though, with a
short sequence of ill- or un- explained puzzles which, once finally solved,
leave the player with an unsatisfactory ending and a bitter aftertaste.

Hmm, the previous paragraph gives the impression that I didn't like
_Theatre_.  This is not true, there are many good points to recommend the
game.  For a start it seems an excellent game for the beginning IF player,
boasting several pages of a well written `Introduction to text adventures' as
well as a short non-interactive demonstration and a useful explanation of the
way the parser works.  The parser itself, in common with all Inform games, is
excellent.  The puzzles, although they've mostly been seen before in various
incarnations, are both logical and fair (again apart from the last few). 
There are also some nice little touches along the way, such as the system for
reading the diary pages which you pick up along the way (a clever use of
Informs menu system), the adaptive on-line hints, and the fact that the game
starts in verbose mode rather than brief.

To summarize, _Theatre_ is far from perfect but is perfectly adequate with
several enjoyable moments and a nice `polish' to it.  It is a damn sight
better than many shareware games out there, and it's free.  Try it, you might
like it.  Akk!  I can't believe I wrote that...


From: "Magnus Olsson" 

NAME: Wishbringer			PARSER: Infocom
AUTHOR: Brian Moriarty 			PLOT: Non-linear
EMAIL: ???				ATMOSPHERE: Horror-comedy
AVAILABILITY: LTOI2			PUZZLES: Innovative but not difficult
WRITING: Excellent			SUPPORTS: Infocom ports
CHARACTERS: Vivid			DIFFICULTY: Below average

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 Peak' than

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

READER'S SCOREBOARD----------------------------------------------------------


	A   - Runs on Amigas.
	AP  - Runs on Apple IIs.
	GS  - Runs on Apple IIGS.
	AR  - Runs on Archimedes Acorns.
	C   - Commercial, no fixed price.
	C30 - Commercial, with a fixed price of $30.
	F   - Freeware.
	GMD - Available on
	I   - Runs on IBM compatibles.
	M   - Runs on Macs.
	S20 - Shareware, registration costs $20.
	64  - Runs on Commodore 64s.
	TAD - Written with TADS.  This means it can run on:
                AmigaDOS, NeXT and PC, Atari ST/TT/Falcon, DECstation
                (MIPS) Unix Patchlevel 1 and 2, IBM, IBM RT, Linux, Apple
                Macintosh, SGI Iris/Indigo running Irix, Sun 4 (Sparc)
                running SunOS or Solaris 2, Sun 3, OS/2, and even a 386+
                protected mode version.
        AGT - Available for IBM, Mac, Amiga, and Atari ST.  This does not
                include games made with the Master's edition.
	ADVSYS - Available for PC and Macintosh only, or so my sources tell
                 me.  (Source code available as well.  So it can be ported
		 to other computers.)
        INF - Infocom or Inform game.  These games will run on:
                Atari ST, Amiga, Apple Macintosh, IBM, Unix, VMS, Apple II,
                Apple IIGS, C64, TSR-80, and Archimedes Acorn.  There may be
                other computers on which it runs as well.

 Name		       Avg Sc  Chr  Puz  # Sc  Rlvt Ish       Notes:
 ====                  ======  ===  ===  ====  ========       ======
Adv. of Eliz. Highe     3.1    0.8  0.3    1     5      F_AGT
Another...No Beer	2.5    0.1  1.0    1     4      S10_IBM_GMD
Arthur: Excalibur	8.6    1.8  1.7    1     4	C_INF
Balances		6.6    1.0  1.2    1     6      F_INF_GMD
Ballyhoo		7.0    1.8  1.6    2	 4	C_INF
Beyond Zork		8.0    1.6  2.0    2	 5	C_INF
Border Zone		6.1    1.1  1.4    2	 4	C_INF
Bureaucracy		8.4    2.0  1.8    2	 5	C_INF
Castaway		1.1    0.0  0.4    1     5      F_IBM_GMD
Cosmoserve		8.7    1.3  1.4    2     5      F_AGT_GMD
Curses			8.3    1.3  1.7    6     2	F_INF_GMD
Cutthroats		6.3    1.4  1.2    4	 1	C_INF
Crypt v2.0		5.0    1.0  1.5    1     3	S12_IBM_GMD
Deadline		7.2		   2	 x	C_INF
Deep Space Drifter	5.5	    1.4    1     3      S15_TAD_GMD
Detective		0.7    0.0  0.0    2     4-5    F_AGT_GMD
Ditch Day Drifter	7.1    1.2  1.6	   1     2      F_TAD_GMD
Dungeon Adventure	6.8    1.3  1.6    1     4	F_SEE REVIEW Issue #4
Dungeon of Dunjin       7.0    1.0  1.5    1     3      S20_IBM_MAC_GMD
Electrabot		0.7    0.0  0.0    1     5      F_AGT_GMD
Enchanter		7.0    0.8  1.3	   4     2	C_INF
Enhanced		N/A		   0	 2      S10_TAD_GMD
Fable, A		2.0    0.2  0.1    1     6      F_AGT_GMD
Great Archaelog. Race	6.5    1.0  1.5    1     3      S20_TAD_GMD
Hitchhiker's Guide	8.2    1.6  1.8    4     5	C_INF
Hollywood Hijinx	5.5		   2	 x	C_INF
Horror30.Zip		3.6    0.0  0.9    1	 3	S20_IBM_GMD
Horror of Rylvania	7.7		   1     1	C20_TAD_GMD (Demo)
Humbug			7.4		   1	 x	S10_GMD (Uncertain)
Infidel 		6.9		   5     1-2	C_INF
Jacaranda Jim		7.0		   1	 x	S10_GMD (Uncertain)
Jeweled Arena, The	8.0    1.5  1.5    1     x      ?
John's Fire Witch	7.0    1.1  1.5    2     4	S6_TADS_GMD
Journey			6.9    1.3  0.8    1     5      C_INF
Klaustrophobia		7.3    1.3  1.4    3     1	S15_AGT_GMD
Leather Goddesses	8.0    1.6  1.7    3	 4	C_INF
The Legend Lives!	8.2    0.8  1.5    1     5      F_TADS_GMD
Lurking Horror, The	6.9    1.4  1.2    4     1,3	C_INF
Magic.Zip		4.5    0.5  0.5    1     3      S20_IBM_GMD
Mind Forever Voyaging	8.4    1.5  0.3    3	 5	C_INF
Moonmist		5.8	           4     1	C_INF
Mop & Murder		4.9    0.5  1.0    1	 4-5	F_AGT_GMD
Multidimen. Thief	5.3    0.4  1.0    2     2      S?/F_AGT_GMD
Nord and Bert		3.9		   2	 4	C_INF
Odieus': Flingshot	3.2    0.4  0.7    1     5      F_INF_GMD
One Hand Clapping	7.1    1.1  1.3    2     5	F_ADVSYS_GMD
Planetfall		7.1		   3	 4	C_INF
Plundered Hearts 	7.9    1.2  1.2    1	 4	C_INF
Sanity Claus		9.0	           1     1	S10_AGT_GMD
Save Princeton		5.6		   1	 x	S10_TAD_GMD
Seastalker		5.4		   2	 4	C_INF
Shades of Grey		7.8    1.2  1.5    2	 1-2	F_AGT_GMD
Sherlock		8.5    1.5  1.8    1	 4	C_INF
Shogun			7.1    1.5  0.5    1     4      C_INF
Sir Ramic Hobbs		5.0    1.0  1.5    1     6      F_AGT_GMD
Sorceror		7.3    0.6  1.6	   4	 2	C_INF
South American Trek	0.9    0.2  0.5    1     5      ?_IBM_GMD
Space Aliens...Cardigan 1.6    0.5  0.4    3     3      S60_AGT_GMD
Spellbreaker		8.1    1.2  1.8	   3	 2	C_INF
Starcross		7.2	           4     1	C_INF
Stationfall		7.5    1.6  1.5    3	 5	C_INF
Suspect			5.9		   1	 x	C_INF
Suspended		7.0		   1	 x	C_INF
Theatre			5.4    0.5  0.8    1     6      F_INF_GMD
Tossed into Space	3.9    0.6  0.2    1     4      F_AGT_GMD
Treasure.Zip		N/A		   0     3	S20_IBM_GMD
Trinity			8.8    1.4  1.7    6     1-2	C_INF
Unnkulian One-Half	7.0    1.3  1.7    4     1	F_TAD_GMD
Unnkulian Unventure 1	8.0    1.3  1.7    3     1-2	S10_TAD_GMD
Unnkulian Unventure 2	7.2    1.4  1.5    3     1	S10_TAD_GMD
Unnkulian Zero  	9.0 	           1     1	C25_TAD_GMD (Demo)
Waystation		8.0    1.2  1.5    1     x      F_TAD_GMD
Wishbringer		7.5    1.3  1.2    3	 5-6	C_INF
Witness, The		7.0    1.7  1.2    3     1,3	C_INF
World			6.9    1.0  1.4    1     4	F_SEE REVIEW Issue #4
Zork 0			6.5    1.1  2.0	   1	 x	C_INF
Zork 1			5.9    0.6  1.5	   6	 1-2	C_INF
Zork 2			6.7    0.8  1.6	   4	 1-2	C_INF
Zork 3			6.0    0.6  1.4	   4	 1-2	C_INF


The Top Three:

	A game is not eligible for the Top Three unless it has
received at least three ratings from different readers.  This is to ensure a
more democratic and accurate depiction of the best games.

 1. Trinity		8.8	6 votes
 2. Mind Forevr Voyagn. 8.4	3 votes
 3. Curses		8.3	6 votes


Editor's Picks of the Month:

	My pick of the month, as you may remember, is _Theatre_.  Theatre is
a fun, short game.  It uses some interesting techniques, and contains more
plot and characterization that most other IF games put together.  While I
agree with my two reviewers that the ending was a let down, I still have to
compare Theatre with other IF works and state that it shines in comparison.
Seldom, when exploring the if-archive, will you come across such a gem.
Just for the sake of convenience, I reproduce the info on where to get it

From: "Gareth Rees" 
   "Theatre" is a medium-length game written using the "Inform" compiler.
The version 5 story file is available by anonymous FTP at
.  It runs on all
manner of computers; fetch the following file to find out how:
.  The
game includes hints which appear as needed.  These are nicely judged,
and don't give too much away.


	There are no advertisements this month.  Remember, they're free, take
advantage of them.

CLOSING REMARKS--------------------------------------------------------------

      Announcing the First Annual Text Adventure Authorship Competition

	This idea has been bandied about on r.a.i-f for awhile, so I am
making it a reality.  The original concept of the contest was to get more
Inform source code out in the public domain.  However, the TADS authors
wanted to play too, so a category was added for them.  Here is my own
personal vision for the contest.

	"This competition is to inspire IF authors to write something,
however small, and make it available for people to play.  IF as a hobby
cannot survive unless there are people out there writing and playing it.
Hopefully, some of the people who enter the competition will enjoy it, and
decide to write more on their own."

	Anyways, here are the rules (I mean, the rule.)

	The Rule:  The text adventure you enter must be winnable in under
two hours.  Judges will be asked to rate it after playing for that long.

	That's the main point of the competition.  You don't have to enter
something really long to have a chance at winning, because you aren't allowed
to.  That way we get more entries.

	The rule is not debatable.  It's the only rule, and it's not very

	Now, to enter, simply write a game, using either the TADS authorship
system, or the Inform authorship system.  The two groups will be judged
seperately.  Once you have your game, put anything that comes to mind with it
(that's related to the game) such as maps, files, hints,
walkthroughs, source code, whatever and .zip it.  I know some folks may have
trouble with .zips, but I'm here to help.  If someone needs their game zipped
or needs a game unzipped, just email me, and we'll work out something.  You
cannot enter a game in both categories by porting it over to the other
development language.

	Upload your .zip file to:

	The deadline to do this is Midnight on the last day of August.
	(That's midnight in Germany obviously.  Plan ahead, upload a day
	early.  I doubt I'll disqualify slightly late entries anyway.)

	If you want your entry to be anonymous, then leave your name off it
and email me that it's your entry.  I advise a secret command that pops up
the author and copyright message.

	Which reminds me.  All entries MUST be freeware or public domain.  So
don't enter a game you've worked on for 2 years if you don't want to give it


	The judging will be a 'People's Choice Awards' type deal for the
most part.  There may be a few prizes that are just awarded by the person who
donated them to whichever game they liked best, but not many.  In general,
everyone is able to vote.  All you have to do is play every game in the TADS
and/or Inform category (which will be sorted out on the 1st of September)
and then choose your three favorite games, in no particular order, for
that category (or both categories, if you've played them all.)  Email me
your votes at whizzard SP@G  The games with the most votes in
each category will win.  The winners will have their pick of prizes available
in a draft sort of thing.  If there are conflicts between the TADS/Inform
choices, a coin flip will decide the matter, with the loser choosing another
prize, if there is one.

	The deadline for submitting votes is September 30.  Prizes will be
awarded the next day.

	The Prizes So Far Include:

	$100.00 cash, donated by Eileen Mullin
	1 free copy of Avalon (upon its completion), donated by me.
	One free registration for Save Princeton, donated by Jacob Weinstein.
	"Castles and Kingdoms: An electrifying compendium of 15 BASIC
           adventures you can type in to your Commodore 64" by Bob Liddil,
	   donated by Gareth Rees.
	1 year subscription to the printed version of XYZZYnews, donated by
	   Eileen Mullin
	"Arthur: The Quest for Excalibur" for the Mac, complete with box,
	   etc., donated by Jacob Weinstein.
	An autographed copy of my first novel, if and when it's
	   published--for a winner who feels like taking a big gamble,
	   donated by Jacob Weinstein.

	More might be donated as we go along.  If you have something you
want to donate, email me with details.

	Good luck, now get out there and write!


	   Thank you for helping to keep text adventures alive!

Click here for a printable, plain text version of this issue.