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The \__/ociety for the |_|reservation of ||  ||dventure \___/ames

                          ISSUE # 4

    Edited by G. Kevin Wilson (whizzard@uclink.berkeley.edu)
      HTML Version Edited by Scott Reilly (wsr@cs.cmu.edu)

                        March 3, 1995

Let your mind drift a moment. Some soft music would be appropriate, perhaps Jimmy Buffett, Three Dog Night, or Beethoven. The swells of the music rise and fall. You find yourself aboard a three-masted schooner, cresting the waves in grand majesty. The roar of the water beneath the hull of the ship is relaxing, and strips away your worldly cares. Breathe in the salty spray that mists before the ship, and grip the old wooden deck with your bare toes. Your snug sailor's uniform warms you somewhat, the good, rough pants slightly damp from the salty spray, but they can't quite remove all the chill of the season. It is refreshing, rather than uncomfortable. Grip the rough, salty ropes, and pull with all your might. The high whisper of silk alerts you to the raising of the small sail just above you. You wrap the rope around a nearby wooden peg and make it fast. All in a day's work.

There, now pop back with me to reality, if you don't mind the interruption. I'm sure you're curious what the heck that was all about. Well, it represents a tiny little reader exercise for those of you who like to write. I would like you to transport, in 150 words or less, the reader to a place of your choosing. No explanations or apologies for quality are allowed, I just want the little 'breather'. Don't neccessarily use my 'breather' as a model. There are lots of ways to write such a thing, and any of them are just fine to use. There are no particular rewards for doing this exercise, except a bit of mental wrestling, and seeing it in print if it's among the better ones I receive. More likely, it'll be among the ONLY ones I receive. :) So, if you're the slightest bit writer oriented, give it a try. Some quick hints:

1.) Effective use of at least 4 senses helps quite a bit.

2.) Second person point of view removes distance from between the reader and the setting.

3.) Short and powerful, rather than long and droning.

And, well, if you haven't noticed, this is remarkably similar to a room description in a text adventure. Surprise. Now you only need about another 199 to go for your first game. :)

				G. Kevin Wilson


Consider the following review header:

 NAME: Cutthroats          PARSER: Infocom Standard
 AUTHOR: Infocom           PLOT: Two Seperate Paths
 EMAIL: ???                ATMOSPHERE: Well Done
 PUZZLES: Good             SUPPORTS: Infocom Ports
 CHARACTERS: Not Bad       IFFICULTY: 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 ftp.gmd.de, 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, in which case the header will read as "Anonymous."

This issue brings text adventure fans several great new TADS games to play. Veritas, Waystation, and John's Fire Witch are all among the ones that I know of. They are all available for anonymous FTP on ftp.gmd.de, in the appropriate game directories. John's Fire Witch in particular has received rave reviews, even though it is a short game.

[Speaking of appropriate game directories, check out my Whizzard's Guide to Text Adventures, which should be following this issue sometime in the near future.]

From: "Magnus Olsson" (mol@df.lth.se)
NAME: Another Lifeless Planet And Me With No Beer
				  PARSER: Pathetic
AUTHOR: Dennis Drew		  PLOT: Not very original
EMAIL: ???			  ATMOSPHERE: Absent
PUZZLES: Standard, uninteresting  SUPPORTS: IBM
One of the most important skills shareware authors have to learn, at least if they expect to earn any money, is that of promoting their products - it's a tough world out there, tons of shareware gets published every year, and if you don't promote your program it's not very like to get noticed.

Dennis Drew, the author of this particular game, seems to have learned his lesson well in this regard. Not only the accompanying documentation, but also the starting - and ending - screens of the game itself are full of superlatives describing how interesting, fun, high-quality, professional, and generally amazing it is - as are all of Mr. Drew's programs; one of the documentation files is a catalog listing his entire "astounding software line"; "from heavy-duty business programs to incredibly enjoyable games", all described in terms such as "incredible", "astounding" and "terrific".

According to the docs, one of his programs was rated by COMPUTE Magazine as "One of the World's Best 101 Programs". I haven't tried that program, but from my experience of this game, as well as of my other sample of his products (included in the distribution was Compu-Nerd, "a highly professional and technical program designed to discover the age-old question, 'Am I a nerd?'", which after asking me some rather leading questions proceeded to feed me a few screenfuls of platitudes like "You are one of the millions of people who have found word processing to be an incredibly valuable comptuer function", and then rated me as a "Minor Nerd" - thanks a lot!), I can only conclude that Drew is right: it _is_ incredible.

But back to the subject of this review: the game, which starts with the friendly greeting "WELCOME to another one of my incredibly interesting and logical adventure games". Does it live up to the great expectations the author goes to such lengths to build up? Unfortunately, any user naive enough to take Drew's documentation at face value is bound to be disappointed. The situation was aptly described 2000 years ago by Horace: "The mountains are in labour; an absurd little mouse is born".

This doesn't mean that the game is a failure. Indeed, had it been written in 1979 or so, for the PET or TRS-80 or some other early home computer, it would probably have been a great game. After all, there are quite long room descriptions, a graphic picture for every room (character graphics with the incredible resolution of 15*15 or so), and colour (a particularly tasteful colour scheme in light blue, dark blue, yellow, green, and bright magenta)!

However, the game was actually written in 1989 for MS-DOS, so we'll have to apply slightly different standards of greatness.

Even by those, more modern standards, the game has a few points to recommend it. The plot may not be very original - you're stranded on an alien planet and have to find a way home - but at least the concept's been proven in hundreds of other games. Just as the author claims, the game really _is_ logical, in the sense that (in Drew's own words) "everything (...) has a logical and understandable purpose behind it". The author clearly knows how to write (i.e. his spelling as well as his grammar are quite flawless). There are even some jokes thrown in - rather a lot of them, actually.

Of course, every silver lining has a cloud within it, and the above doesn't quite suffice to make this game as great as the author claims. In fact, it doesn't suffice to make it good, or even worth the time it takes to download it.

To start with, the parser is absolutely pathetic - clearly the worst parser I've ever seen in a non-freeware game. It's not only strictly limited to two-word sentences, but its vocabulary is extremely limited as well. There are no adjectives, which explains the fact that the first object you encounter is a "small-stone", that can't be referred to as just "stone". What's even worse is that the parser doesn't understand _anything_ that you can't do in the current game state, so, for example, if you try to go north in a room where the only exit is south, you get the message "I do not understand that. Is that logical?" (of course, the latter question must be rhetorical, since it can only be answered with a resounding "no").

Also, the prose being grammatically correct doesn't make it good, or even interesting. Even though the genre is the cheapest kind of space opera (complete with icky monsters and blaster-wielding aliens) which usually gives lots of opportunities for atmosphere and excitement, both these elements are conspicuous only by their absense. The attempts at humour don't improve things; at their best, the jokes aren't very funny (and, no, Virginia, telling four variations on the same bad joke in the first thirty rooms isn't four times as funny as telling it once). At their worst -- well, let me just quote the response you get when you try to walk north from the initial location, to see what is blocking your way:

"Trivia question:  Do you know what this is?      8P

That's the head of a dead astronaut laying on its side with its tongue
hanging out.  That's what you look like after a really giant, huge,
icky, nasty-looking monster standing there munched the rest of you!!

Have a nice day.      ;)     <---that's a wink and a grin!

                      (munch munch munch munch....)  <---- sound effects"
So for "Another Lifeless Planet And Me With No Beer" - do I have to continue? I'll just conclude by saying that somehow, I wish that this game had _not_ been logical; then it might at least have been interesting (see my review of "Space Aliens Laughed at my Cardigan" in this issue of SPAG), and perhaps good for a laugh, too. Unfortunately, it is neither. Of course, if you happen to like humour like the example above, and if you think that good writing, atmosphere and logical coherence only distracts you from the puzzles, then this game may be worth trying. If not it is best avoided.

The prospective IF author would probably also do wisely to avoid Gamescape, "the ultimate stand-alone adventure writing system", "the incredible system that allows you to design and then play adventure games", that was used to create "No Beer" (a fact which is almost impossible to avoid noticing, since every time one exits the game one is treated to two promotional screen pages about Gamescape). The registration fee for Gamescape is $95 + $5 S&H. Considering that TADS is about half that amount, and Inform is free, and even more considering the parser and user interface of "No Beer", the decision about which system to use should be a simple one indeed.

From: "Graeme Cree" (72630.304@compuserve.com)
NAME: Arthur: Quest for Excalibur  PARSER: Infocom Advanced
AUTHOR: Bob Bates                  PLOT: Very Good
EMAIL: ?                           ATMOSPHERE: Very Good
PUZZLES: Very Good                 SUPPORTS: Infocom Ports
CHARACTERS: Very Good              DIFFICULTY: Average
In Arthur: The Quest for Excalibur, Infocom's final text game, you play the part of the boy Arthur. In the space of a few days, you must develop the traits necessary to lead England, and challenge Lot, a local chieftain, before he is crowned King.

The parser is Infocom's best ever, though unfortunately this is the only game it was used in. You can change your viewing mode with the touch of a function key. The bottom half of the screen is like a standard text game, but the top changes, depending on your mode. One mode shows you a graphic of your area. Another gives you an onscreen map, a third shows you your character's development, another constantly shows you a description of your area, and another gives you a constant report on your inventory. You can change modes without expending a turn.

The graphics (in graphics mode) are helpful, but in true text game fashion they are not necessary. No puzzles require recognizing a clue in the graphics, and indeed one of the modes, is text-only mode, in which the game resembles one of the Infocom classics.

While the overall purpose of the game is to do things that will develop your personal abilities to the point that you are worthy to rule England, the main quest of the game is to acquire certain magical quest items that will allow you to get past the Red Knight to where the Lady of the Lake lies enchanted (Everything you always wanted on a bier...). Only with her help can you recover Excalibur from where Lot has disposed of it.

Early in the game, Merlin will give you the ability to transform yourself into a variety of different animals. Many of the puzzles cannot be solved while you are in human form.

There are few save/restore puzzles. Puzzles that you would be unlikely to get the first time around generally give you multiple opportunities to solve. There are not many "guess what the author is thinking" puzzles, but there are a few. When you try to read the writing on the wall in the ivory tower (for instance), only a burst of inspiration will help you along.

Like several other Infocom games, Arthur has onscreen hints. However, Arthur's have a new twist, in that you are not given the entire clue menu at the beginning. To prevent you from reading them too far ahead, clue questions are added to the menu as they become relevant to your current situation. Sometimes, the clue will tell that you cannot solve a specific puzzle with the information and resources that you have at hand.

Arthur was the ideal Graphic Interactive Fiction game, with graphics that helped set the mood and aided gameplay without taking over the game from the text part.

From: "Graeme Cree" (72630.304@compuserve.com)
NAME: Ballyhoo                       GAMEPLAY: Infocom
AUTHOR: Jeff O'Neill                 PLOT: Good
EMAIL: ?                             ATMOSPHERE: Very Good
AVAILABILITY: LTOI 1                 WRITING: Very Good
PUZZLES: Well Done                   SUPPORTS: Infocom Ports
CHARACTERS: Colourful, Distinctive   DIFFICULTY: Standard
In Ballyhoo, you begin as a typical circusgoer. While wandering around, you discover that the daughter of the circus owner, Mr. Munrab (Barnum spelled backwards) has been kidnapped. Anxious for a little glory, you decide to look into the crime yourself. This turns out to be fortunate, as the detective Munrab engages turns out to be less than competent (surprise). Your search takes you on a tour through the underside of circus life.

When I first played Ballyhoo, I strongly disliked it because of a technical problem. I got stuck about 3/4 of the way through. When I found a walkthrough of the game, I solved the problem, but found that I had done something wrong earlier and had to restart the game. When I did so, I found that I could not get past a part I had gotten through without trouble earlier. I then postulated a completely false idea of what I must have done accidentally the first time, and tried various ways to recreate it. By this time I was ready to throw the game under Monty Python's 16-ton weight.

Eventually, I figured out what the problem was. It wasn't a bug, just one of those unfortunate things. It would not give away any part of the game to say that the command "WHIP LION" does not mean the same thing as "HIT THE LION WITH THE WHIP".

Seemingly this game is plagued with bad luck, as when Activision put out The Lost Treasures of Infocom 1, they inadvertently omitted one page of the original documentation that gave the frequency for WPDL, an all-classical AM radio station (1170 AM by the way). This information is vital twice; once in the middle of the game, and again at the very end.

But if you can get past these glitches, you will find quite a nice little game. There are several characters, all well developed. There are everal amusing little responses and sidelights, such as when you try to get the mousetrap, when you jump off the top of the cage, and when you are standing in line for ice cream. The game captures the circus feel in much the same way that Hollywood Hijinx captures the Hollywood feel. As an added bonus, you get an all text blackjack game in the bargain.

Ballyhoo is neither a classic, nor a "must-play", but it is an enjoyable game well worth the time you will put into it, if you can avoid the little land mines surrounding it.

From: "Graeme Cree" (72630.304@compuserve.com)
NAME: Border Zone       GAMEPLAY: Infocom Standard
AUTHOR: Marc Blank      PLOT: Well Interwoven
EMAIL: ?                ATMOSPHERE: Good
AVAILABILITY: LTOI 2    WRITING: Serious but Light
PUZZLES: Very Good      SUPPORTS: Infocom Ports
CHARACTERS: Good        DIFFICULTY: Slightly above average
Border Zone is another compartmentalized game, in the spirit of Nord & Bert and Shogun. Unlike Shogun, the chapters don't have to be played in order, and unlike Nord & Bert there is no single concluding chapter that you must earn the right to play.

Border Zone involves the attempt to prevent an important assasination in and around the country of Frobnia. In Chapter 1, you play an ordinary businessman, who has been given a document with the details of the assasination, attempting to sneak it out of the country. In Chapter 2, you play the wounded agent who gave the businessman the document, attempting to escape from Frobnia himself. In Chapter 3 you play an American double-agent attempting to prevent the assasination without blowing his cover.

All three chapters are played in real time. If you ponder your moves too long, the story may go on without you. This is both good and bad. The puzzles are generally the save/restore type; although they are generally logical and good, they are not the type that you are likely to hit on the first time. You have to learn from several failures before you hit on the correct strategy. This is fine for puzzle fans, but not so good for realism fans (you can't RESTORE in real life). However, the whole idea of doing the game in real time seems to be geared towards pleasing the realism fans, though this may not have been the best game to do it.

The second chapter is the largest and seems to be the centerpiece of the game, but I liked Chapters 1 and 3 better. Chapter 1 is small and easily mapped, but rich in detail, and quickly concluded, making it an excellent introduction to interactive fiction. Chapter 3 has some clever puzzles (especially how you figure out which room the sniper is in), and like Plundered Hearts, it has several different relatively successful endings, but one which is clearly better than the others. Blank does a good job of tying in events from previous chapters, creating an interlocking "big-picture".

The game is fairly light on gadgetry; featuring only an exploding pen in Chapter 2. I'd have liked a shoe phone and the Cone of Silence myself. Still, this is Infocom's only spy story, and is quite a good game.

From: "Stefan Jokisch" (jokisc00@marvin.informatik.uni-dortmund.de)
NAME: Detective                  PARSER: AGT
AUTHOR: Matt Barringer           PLOT: Strictly Linear
EMAIL: ???                       ATMOSPHERE: None
PUZZLES: None                    SUPPORTS: AGT Ports
CHARACTERS: None                 DIFFICULTY: Very Easy
In this game you play a heroic detective who has to find and arrest the murderer of the mayor. Surprisingly, the only commands needed to solve 'Detective' are north, east, south, and west. It is possible to pick up a few items along the way in order to increase the score, but none of these items has any effect on the story.

To cut a long story short, the author made every mistake one can think of; it is not necessary to go into detail. After all, we should not forget that Matt wrote this game with good intentions and he offered it for free, so who are we to mock at his efforts? Every computer store sells a lot of expensive CD-ROMs which are no better than "Detective".

From: "Inigo Surguy" (phunc@csv.warwick.ac.uk)
NAME: Dungeon Adventure           PARSER: Below Infocom Standard
AUTHOR: Level 9                   PLOT: Collect the treasure
EMAIL: ???                        ATMOSPHERE: Good
AVAILABILITY: See review          WRITING: Good
PUZZLES: Good                     SUPPORTS: PC (+Spectrum,BBC,etc)
CHARACTERS: Good, but limited     DIFFICULTY: Medium
Inspired by the history of Level 9 in SPAG 3, I got out my old BBC B (8 bit British computer, ancestor of the Archimedes and RISC PC), and loaded Dungeon Adventure. This is a fantasy adventure, set in a similar universe to the original Adventure, where you play the typical greedy adventurer in search of treasure. This time, you are looting a demon lord's tower (after the demon's destruction in Adventure Quest).

At the beginning there are a few unfair puzzles, such as the example quoted in the Inform manual of carved lions above a doorway, in front of a pit ("pride comes before a fall"), but the quality of the puzzles throughout the rest of the game is excellent. The game is large enough to occupy anyone for some time.

Although the characters are not as advanced as those in the better Infocom games (Witness, Suspect, etc), they are interesting and numerous, including an argumentative sword, a helpful dwarf, two giants, an unhappy will-o'-the-wisp and an army of orcs.

I would recommend this game to anyone with a Spectrum emulator (or even a Spectrum :), and plenty of time.

This game was originally available for the 8-bit British computers of the eighties, such as the BBC and the Spectrum. According to SPAG 3, it is now available for ftp from ftp.ijs.si in the directory /pub/zx/snapshots/a/ with filename dunadv128k.zip for the graphical version and dunadv48k.zip for the plain text. A PC emulator for the Spectrum is in the directory /pub/zx/snapshots/z/ and called z80-201.zip. (Please don't email me about these; I've only used the BBC version and I haven't tried the emulator).

From: "Magnus Olsson" (mol@df.lth.se)
NAME: John's Fire Witch	        PARSER: Excellent
AUTHOR: John Baker		PLOT: Linear
EMAIL: baker-j@ix.netcom.com	ATMOSPHERE: Very good, Enchanter-ish 
PUZZLES: Standard, with a       SUPPORTS: TADS
         few nice touches
CHARACTERS: Few, rather simple	DIFFICULTY: Easy
It's a cold December's day, and you're visiting your old friend John - or, rather, you would be visiting him if he were there; but he never showed up at the pizza place where you'd agreed to meet, his apartment is empty and unlocked, and you've got nothing better to do than spend the night on John's living-room floor. The next morning, you wake up to find that a terrible blizzard has cut off the house from the rest of the world. When searching the apartment, there's still no sign of John. There is, however, a deep, mysterious hole in his basement, a hole which turns out to take you straight into the middle of a conflict between magical powers...

This is the starting point of "John's Firewitch", a short (in the author's words, "snack-sized") but extremely well-written piece of IF. On the surface, this game isn't very remarkable: it's quite simple (it took me about three hours to solve), neither the puzzles nor the story are very original, the author doesn't seem to have any high-flying literary ambitions, and there are no startling new innovations in game design.

Still, this is one of the best - perhaps _the_ best - shareware games I've ever played; better, even, than most commercial games. I'm not quite sure I can put my finger on what makes it so good - it's always easier to pinpoint what you don't like about something than what you like - but "John's Firewitch" is simply very good workmanship; those little irritating glitches and mannerisms that seem to be unavoidable in non-commercial works are absent; the game is eminently playable (much thanks to the excellent parser); the puzzles logical with satisfying solutions; the ending forms a satisfying climax; the writing excellent and free from mannerisms and bad jokes; everything just feels right.

The atmosphere and style of the game are very similar to Infocom's games, expecially the "Enchanter" trilogy, with the possible exception of the beginning which shows a refreshing sense of self-irony (John in the game being the author's _alter ego_). It is much smaller than a typical Infocom game, though. If "Enchanter" is a novel, then this is a short story. This very shortness may be a reason for the game giving such a good impression. On the technical side, as one reviewer noted on rec.games.int-fiction), the small size of the game saves the author from the complexity of large games (which tends to increase very rapidly with game size). On the literary side, it's much easier to maintain dramatic tension in a short work than in a long one; and this advantage is enhanced by the puzzles being easy (but certainly not obvious!), which keeps down the playing time.

This reviewer, being a busy man with too little time to spend on IF, and in addition being slightly disturbed by the recent trend towards "simulationist" IF (where the authors try to provide a good simulation of their literary world, complete with all objects, an attempt which will only serve to overwhelm the poor player with useless information) would certainly like to see an increase in the number of small but well-written games like this. "John's Firewitch" is an excellent example to emulate for prospective authors.

And with authors like John Baker around, why should we mourn the passing of Infocom?

From: (J.J.Farmer-CSSE94@computer-science.birmingham.ac.uk)
NAME: The KORC Trilogy           PARSER: Limited
AUTHOR: AMF the Doomwatcher      PLOT: Linear (ish)
EMAIL: ???                       ATMOSPHERE: Unique
AVAILABILITY: Freeware           WRITING: Brief, Preaching
PUZZLES: Interesting, Moral      SUPPORTS: Acorn Archimedes
CHARACTERS: Weird but Shallow    DIFFICULTY: Medium-Low
It may (or may not) surprise you to learn that the KORC trilogy consists of three separate games ("Welcome to the Kingdom of Relative Concepts", "Return of the Timebringer", and "The Waking of AMF the Doomwatcher"), the plot of all three being centred around one person's quest (yours) against corruption in a world moderately similar to ours.

Throughout this quest, you meet all manner of weird characters, ranging from the author (who descibes himself as a "timid genius" in the first two games), to Ergol the pi-reciter (whose life is devoted to reciting pi), to an old guy who asks you to kill him.

This last character sums up the atmosphere of all three games; the author seems to be trying to preach a number of moral points at you. The only problem is that occasionally he has you do something that goes against these teachings (like killing somebody). Whenever this does happen, though, the feelings of guilt that consume you (and I'm not being sarcastic here) are a testement to how well the author is getting his message across.

The characters, for all their weirdness, don't seem to have much depth to them - apart from their purpose in the story, they consist only of a few "fob off" statements (usually something like "I exist, uncorrupted. Is that not enough?"). They certainly aren't as fascinating as the characters in Scapeghost, for instance.

The user interface is a complete washout. Rather than multi-tasking (as all good adventure games should), the games single-task in Mode 12 (80 columns by 32 rows, 16 colours, for those non-Archimedes users reading this), although the colour scheme is at least bareable.

The parser is just plain annoying. It doesn't understand the normal abbreviations for compass directions (N for North, and so on), and doesn't even recognise the full compass directions (NORTH, SOUTH, etc). Only commands like GO NORTH will move the player around; this is extremely irritating and there is no good reason for it. To be fair, the movement commands are stored on the function keys (so pressing F1 will move you north), but this is no excuse.

Despite their limitations, I actually found these games very enjoyable, especially the third. It didn't take me long to finish KORC 2 and 3 (although I did cheat and take a peek at the program code once or twice). I personally found KORC 1 the most difficult, and it is probably the largest (nothing to do with the presense of a character called Olaf the Fatty!).

In the instructions, the author hints that a second KORC trilogy is on the drawing board, and I certainly hope that this is true. Until then, the KORC trilogy is free and reasonably addictive. What more could you want?

From: "Graeme Cree" (72630.304@compuserve.com)
NAME: Leather Goddesses of Phobos  GAMEPLAY: Infocom Standard
AUTHOR: Steve Eric Meretzky        PLOT: Excellent
EMAIL: ?                           ATMOSPHERE: Excellent
AVAILABILITY: Mail Order (maybe)   WRITING: Excellent
PUZZLES: Excellent                 SUPPORTS: Infocom Ports
CHARACTERS: Very Good              DIFFICULTY: Advanced
In this risque imitation of 1930's pulp fiction, you are captured by the Leather Goddesses of Phobos. For some reason, you escape, and with your trusted companion Trent/Tiffany, you tour the Solar System searching for a collection of incongruous objects, which when put together will form a super-duper-anti-Leather-Goddesses-of-Phobos-attack-machine.

The game begins by patting itself on the back for the outraged reactions that it will likely induce in old fuddy-duddies, though truth be told it is not much dirtier than your average beer commercial (though it is much more clever). The game has three naughtiness modes for dealing with sex scenes:

TAME - No sex scenes
SUGGESTIVE - You're told that the scene is happening, but no more
LEWD - Level of description about equal to a Harlequin novel

In addition, Lewd mode has one or two 4-letter words, seemingly thrown in out of some sense of obligation, as they don't mesh very well with Meretzky's humour at all.

The game wonderfully recreates the feel of 30's pulp fiction, from the swordfight on the hull of the Space Battleship (without spacesuits, naturally), to the Sultan and other colourful characters you meet on Mars, to the delightfully contrived situation at the South Pole, to the marvelous running gag concerning the lucky escapes of your faithful companion. The final scene where you try to assemble your machine while under attack by all of the Leather Goddesses minions is one of the greatest moments in interactive fiction, and one that would be utterly impossible to reproduce with graphics.

I generally enjoy games like Spellbreaker that spread the action over a wide area, and Leather Goddesses has one of the widest areas of all, with the action ranging between Venus, Mars, Phobos, Earth, and Saturn orbit.

Leather Goddesses has some of the best freebies of any Infocom game, including a 3-D comic book, 3-D glasses, and a scratch and sniff card. It was one of the five games made into a Solid Gold edition. The Solid Gold edition contains not only onscreen hints, but the ability to get through the difficult catacombs maze with a single special command. The game also allows you to play as either a male or a female, depending on which restroom you enter at the beginning.

Some early editions of the game had a Lost in the Desert maze in place of the Martian Desert room. I have only heard of this edition, not seen it, and if anyone has a copy, I'd love to see it. The non-Solid Gold editions of the game had a "Boss key", whereby you could bring a specially created text file onscreen by hitting Control-B. The file included with the game was a sample screen of Infocom's Cornerstone database, the easy-to-use productivity software that almost [Well, did. Let's be honest. -GKW] bankrupted the company. Later Infocom games that used the same interpreter also had the Boss key feature, though it was never mentioned.

A sequel is promised at the end of the game. This was released as a graphic adventure in 1992 by Activision/Infocom, but this is already out of print, and probably getting difficult to find. LGOP2 promised yet a third installment, but there is no word on this.

All in all, Leather Goddesses of Phobos is one of Infocom's best efforts.

[A few brief notes. MINOR SPOILER, beware! That boss key screen is a real chuckle, and if you have the version with it, definitely read it over once, just for yucks. Here's the scoop on avoiding the catacombs. As soon as you descend into them, type $CATACOMB. If it works in your version, you will have skipped past one of the most insidious and evil puzzles in all of Infocom-dom.]

From: Adam Justin Thornton (adam@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)
NAME: The Multi-Dimensional Thief    PARSER: AGT 1.5
AUTHOR: Joel Finch                   PLOT: Crappy, on the whole
EMAIL: ???                           ATMOSPHERE: Not bad
AVAILABILITY: GMD, F                 WRITING: Kind of cute
PUZZLES: ______                      SUPPORTS: AGT ports
CHARACTERS: Cardboard Cutout         DIFFICULTY: ______
The plot seems pretty standard. You want to be in the Thieves' Guild. So you're tossed in a dungeon and have to escape, as your bizzarro frat hazing ritual.

There are early on bits stolen from "The Wizard of Oz" and "Robin Hood". I don't really know what else is here. The game didn't keep me interested long enough. It looks like it's supposed to be just a bunch of puzzles strung together. The portable hole is kind of neat.

I imagine if I were really bored and had a few hours it'd be an entertaining diversion. It's not bad. The atmosphere is cute; the responses are often somewhat amusing, if cliched and predictable.

The parser is pretty atrocious. Actually it's standard AGT fare, and in 1991 probably wasn't that bad. Now that we have TADS and Inform, its limitations are both obvious and annoying.

If you're really bored, give it a shot. If not, play Curses instead.

From: "Graeme Cree" (72630.304@compuserve.com)
NAME: Nord and Bert Couldn't Make Head or Tail of It
                              GAMEPLAY: Infocom Standard
AUTHOR: Jeff O'Neill          PLOT: Very Good
EMAIL: ?                      ATMOSPHERE: Excellent
AVAILABILITY: LTOI 2          WRITING: Excellent
PUZZLES: Very Good            SUPPORTS: Infocom Ports
CHARACTERS: Very Good         DIFFICULTY: Standard
Nord and Bert Couldn't Make Head or Tail of It is a collection of interactive short stories, all revolving around the common theme of restoring the town of Punster, and based on the idea that you can alter the nature of reality merely by engaging in wordplay with it.

The concept is difficult to explain, so some examples from the game's sample transcript may illustrate it without giving away any of the actual story. You wake up, knocking over your alarm clock and a glass of water. The only way to avoid the debris is to get up on the wrong side of the bed. Asked to mail your father's tax return, you discover you can't find it. But that scruffy guy in the corner with the IRS tee shirt, who you're told is barely male can be transmogrified with the homonym "mail". The return isn't stamped? You can fix that by Spoonerizing your father's stone lamp into a lone stamp. And so on.

To prevent this from becoming incredibly confusing, each short story deals with only one specific type of wordplay. The stories can be played in any order, except for Meet the Mayor, which must come last.

The parser is a bit better than the usual Infocom one. Compass directions and mapping are dispensed with entirely, as the Status Line constantly lists all the areas that you can travel directly to. As the maps are generally small (one story has only two locations), the map can be easily internalized in the player's mind.

The puzzles are not the very best. The nature of such a game means that many of the puzzles will be of the "guess what the author is thinking" type. Also, since the puzzles don't necessarily build on each other, but often stand separately, you may finish a story only to be told that there were more things you could have done, and be forced to return later. However, since ALL versions of Nord & Bert have on-screen hints, there is no chance of getting permanently stuck.

The real strength of the game is in it's Writing and Atmosphere. The mood created is delightfully surreal, and the constant clever descriptions and responses make this one of the best "reading" text games ever produced. Text game players like to argue that well-written text produces more evocative images than graphic games do. Nord and Bert goes beyond this, not merely doing things BETTER than a graphics game could, but doing things that a graphics game could never do at all. Definitely one of Infocom's most underrated classics.

From: "Graeme Cree" (72630.304@compuserve.com)
NAME: Planetfall                   GAMEPLAY: Infocom Standard
AUTHOR: Steve Eric Meretzky        PLOT: Excellent
EMAIL: ?                           ATMOSPHERE: Excellent
AVAILABILITY: LTOI 1, Zork Anth.   WRITING: Excellent
PUZZLES: (blank)                   SUPPORTS: Infocom Ports
CHARACTERS: Excellent              DIFFICULTY: (blank)
In Planetfall, you start as a deck scrubber on a starship in the far future. When your ship is destroyed, your escape pod deposits you in a deserted high-tech building complex on an alien world. With the help of your faithful robot companion B-19-7 (aka Floyd), you must discover what happened to the people, and correct various problems before your time runs out.

Planetfall was the first Infocom game I played, and still my favourite. Often billed as a science-fiction comedy, it really is not. There are many amusing sidelights and funny responses from the author to your failed actions, (one of my favourites is when you are looking at the planets computer datafiles, and come across an Infocom catalog. When you read the description for Zork, Floyd looking over your shoulder tells you that he played that game and solved all the puzzles...except for how to get into that little white house) but it is not at all a straight comedy in the same sense that Leather Goddesses of Phobos, or The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy would be. It merely feels like one because the game is constantly charming you in one way or another. Floyd, generally remembered as Infocom's best NPC is useful for only three things in the game, but provides you with a constant stream of amusing banter, from relating tales of the time he helped someone find a lost paper clip, to passing along the latest hot gossip about Dr. Fizpick.

Oftentimes text games fall into the syndrome of providing one and only one use for each item in the game, so that if you have found a use for an item you can throw it away, confident that it will not be called for again. Not so in Planetfall (and Meretzky games in general). Several items have more than one use, while others have no use at all.

Planetfall's original edition contained Infocom's usual batch of interesting freebies (I still keep the Stellar Patrol ID card in my wallet mixed in with the credit cards). However, it was also one of the games selected to be redone as a Solid Gold edition with onscreen hints. Get both editions if possible.

The IBM version of Lost Treasures of Infocom 1 contained an original version of the program. The Macintosh version of LTOI 1 contains the Solid Gold Edition. PC users who have Macintosh-using friends can of course try to get a copy of the datafile from the LTOI1-Mac version, and run it off an IBM interpreter.

Planetfall was one of the games selected for novelization when Avon Books put out a series of Infocom Books several years ago. The novel version of Planetfall is really a sequel to Planetfall (and Stationfall). This book (not written by Meretzky) was much closer to the Battletech universe than Planetfall's, and was loaded with tiresome, sophomoric, un-clever humour. I read most of the other Avon Infocom books in a day or so each, but Planetfall took almost a month to force myself through.

On the brighter side though, another Planetfall sequel is the next game that Activision plans to release under the Infocom label. The game, to be called "Planetfall 2: The Search for Floyd", is sheduled for release late in 1995. As a prelude to this, they included the original (non-Solid Gold) Planetfall game in their recently released Zork Anthology.

Still, Planetfall remains not only my favourite text game, but my favourite adventure game.

[Well, we've all got our fingers crossed hoping that Activision doesn't fumble this game as badly as they did Return to Zork. But I'm giving public notice, if Floyd looks like either R2D2 or a garbage can, the fur will fly.]

From: "Graeme Cree" (72630.304@compuserve.com)
NAME: Plundered Hearts     PARSER: Infocom
AUTHOR: Amy Briggs         PLOT: Good
EMAIL: ?                   ATMOSPHERE: Very Good
AVAILABILITY: LTOI-2       WRITING: Good              
PUZZLES: Not bad           SUPPORTS: Infocom Ports
CHARACTERS: Not bad        DIFFICULTY: On the Easy Side
Plundered Hearts is a romance novel set in the 1600's. You must rescue your father from the clutches of an evil island governor with the aid of a pirate captain who lights your fire.

Plundered Hearts takes a rather standard plotline and uses it to very good effect. The writing feels very much like a Harlequin novel, with enough amusing puzzles and clever responses to keep me, a non-romance-novel-reader interested to the end.

The puzzles are a little easier than the standard Infocom fare, but generally interesting ones that can be reasoned or inferred. There are few "guess what the author is thinking puzzles".

The game's strongest point though is in its characterization. Not in the other characters; Crulley, Jamison, Lafonde and the others are rather standard, thus my character rating of 1.2. Rather, this game characterizes you, the player, more than any other of Infocom's offerings.

In most Infocom games, who YOU are is either unimportant or doesn't affect the plot much. In Zork, you're just some anonymous guy who was walking by the white house. You have no particular personality, or history before this point. Planetfall makes an effort to paint your character with the enclosed diary, but it is all chrome. None of it really affects the story once you're in it. As a result, I always sort of imagined myself as the main character. To some extent this was Infocom's intention; much of their early advertising talked about imagining yourself waking up inside a story.

Plundered Hearts, more than any other game gave me the feeling of really being inside someone ELSE'S head. Throughout the game, who you are plays an important part. Disguising your identity and altering your appearance is important in several places to elicit a desired reaction from other characters (not to mention avoiding some undesired reactions). As a result, the game scores very well in "intangibles", thus my high Wildcard rating.

Plundered Hearts is one of Infocom's more underrated games. A very good blend of puzzle solving and story.

From: "Graeme Cree" (72630.304@compuserve.com)
NAME: Seastalker: [Your Name] and the Ultramarine Bioceptor
				    GAMEPLAY: Infocom Standard
AUTHORS: Stu Galley & Jim Lawrence  PLOT: Routine
EMAIL: ?                            ATMOSPHERE: Good
AVAILABILITY: LTOI 2                WRITING: Passable
PUZZLES: Good                       SUPPORTS: Infocom Ports
CHARACTERS: Good                    DIFFICULTY: Very Short and Easy
In Seastalker, Infocom's only adventure designed for children, you play the part of...yourself, a brilliant young scientist who has designed a two-man submarine. Before it is completely ready, your aquadome is attacked by a mysterious sea creature, forcing you to rush to the rescue, encountering danger without and treachery within.

Obviously, ratings for such a children's game reviewed by an adult will be somewhat skewed, though I tried to compensate for this in Wildcard Points.

One of the authors has ghostwritten books for the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and Tom Swift series, and the writing style carries over very well. The game has the same oh-my-gosh-golly sense of adventure that those books have. This is not a criticism, I read and enjoyed the Hardy Boys as a child, but it has a mixed effect on the ratings, causing the atmosphere rating to go up a bit, but the plot rating to go correspondingly down, as I had read so many of these books that the plot seemed rather routine and predictable.

The game scored well in the wildcard category, because I thought that it was very innovative in three ways.

First, it allowed you to give the main character your own name, or any other name that you chose (this was later used in Moonmist, also by the same authors, but in no other Infocom games).

Secondly, unlike other text games, items in a room are not necessarily visible when you walk in the room, even if they are out in the open. In one room, there is a pile of miscellaneous equipment that contains something you need. You are not told that the item is there, and searching the pile will not help unless you tell the game exactly what it is that you're looking for (If you have your documentation, you should be able to figure this out).

Third, the system used for piloting your submarine, gives you an ASCII readout of your radar screen, similar to the sector maps in those old Star Trek games (periods for empty sectors, a special character for your ship, and so on).

There was however, one feature that I didn't like. Seastalker's documentation comes with maps of both building complexes, and the neighbouring harbour (not the box-and-line graph paper maps that the players would make, but floor plans). This is fine in itself, but many times, the description of a room in the game would not tell you where the exits are. If you have the documentation you can figure it out of course, and perhaps this was meant as a form of copy protection, but it was still rather annoying, as it meant that you had to keep the docs right by your side at all times.

I did come up with a little joke to counterbalance this. Remembering the stereotype of the child genius who can design moon rockets, but can't pronounce his S's correctly, and noting that the title of the game, and the name of your submarine had three "S" sounds between them (Seastalker, Scimitar), I decided to play with a main character named Thuthie Thmith.

All children's software today seems to be designed for the preschool through kindergarten age group. The rest is for adults. Seastalker, like The Hardy Boys, is for ages 8-14, and even 10 years later it remains about the only game specially geared towards them. Since the purpose of children's software is always to educate as well as entertain, an all-text adventure seems especially appropriate. It's only a pity that there aren't more.

From: "Graeme Cree" (72630.304@compuserve.com)
NAME: Sherlock: The Riddle of the Crown Jewels
                           PARSER: Infocom
AUTHOR: Bob Bates          PLOT: Very Good
EMAIL: ?                   ATMOSPHERE: Excellent
PUZZLES: Very good.        SUPPORTS: Infocom Ports
CHARACTERS: Quite good.    DIFFICULTY: Standard
In Sherlock: The Riddle of the Crown Jewels, you play the part of Dr. Watson. Moriarty has stolen Victoria's regalia, leaving a trail of clues to follow, and Holmes must recover them before the weekend is out. Fearing that Moriarty would anticipate his own moves and trap him, Holmes puts the case in your hands to throw Moriarty off the trail.

Having read all the Conan Doyle Holmes stories, I found Sherlock a positive delight to play. Both Doyle's writing style, and the atmosphere of 19th century London are approximated extremely well. Unlike Infocom's earlier mysteries which took place in one house, Sherlock's action takes you all over London. Numerous little bits of Holmesian minutia flesh out the game. The humour is appropriately wry without resorting to the usual Infocom style of silliness that would not work nearly as well here as in other games.

Sherlock is remarkably free of save/restore puzzles (i.e. ones that require death or failure to acquire information that can be used after you restore the game. You are usually given multiple opportunities to solve ones that you probably wouldn't get the first time around.

The only place where Sherlock suffers is in its "intangibles". The concept of the villain laying down a trail to follow is more reminiscent of Batman's Riddler than Professor Moriarty. Also, the idea of Holmes turning such a vital case over to a tyro, stretches the imagination a bit, despite the fact that he personally oversees your activities. The game also suffers a bit from the "Zork Syndrome", where you as the adventurer go wherever you want and take whatever isn't nailed down. In the course of the game you must take or deface items from Scotland yard, Madame Tussaud's, and the Tower of London, with little consequence or resistance. In e-mail correspondence, Bob Bates told me that he was aware of this problem when writing the game, and sought to minimize it as much as possible. To a large extent he succeeded, but there is a little residual weakness. Finally, it must be remembered that Moriarty died in the same story that he was introduced (The Adventure of the Final Problem), and that at that point Watson had never heard of him.

Therefore there is a difficulty in going back and doing a story where he and Watson meet. To be fair though, Conan Doyle himself made the same cheat in The Valley of Fear, as did almost all of the movies.

Despite these nits, the game's strong points almost completely overwhelm them, and Sherlock, Infocom's final all-text game, ranks as one of their very best.

From: "Preston Landers" (planders@mail.utexas.edu)
NAME: Shogun                 PARSER: Infocom Graphic
AUTHOR: Infocom              PLOT: Linear
EMAIL: ???                   ATMOSPHERE: Very Well Done
PUZZLES: Fair                SUPPORTS: Infocom Ports
I forgot that I had a copy of one of Infocom's last releases, Shogun, laying around over Christmas break. So when I found it, I decided to tackle it because the novel it was based on, James Clavell's SHOGUN, is one of my favorites. The parser is Infocom's last, the Graphic style similar to Zork Zero. There is one graphic puzzle (that can be solved "non-graphicly" if you must.) There are many beautiful illustrations in the style of Japanese 17th century paintings.

The game itself is extremely linear. If this really turns you off, you won't like the game. You go through a number of "episodes" or scenes, very closely based on the book. Honestly, I don't think I could have won the game if I had not read the original novel (or used the built-in hints extensively.) For instance, you must know where to go and what do to almost by magic. If you haven't read the book, or you don't plan on using the hints, then you might not enjoy this game. Those caveats aside, it WAS a very enjoyable game. It was done by Dave Lebling (I believe.)

The story, in case you haven't seen the mini-series or read the book, casts you as John Blackthorne, a 17th century English pilot, sailing a Dutch ship towards the fabled Japans. The game goes quite a bit into the political intrigue between the various feuding Daiymos (Japanese kings.) Ultimately, you must become a samurai and help your Daiymo become Shogun, or Supreme Ruler. There are a few sub-plots, such as your love interest with the beautiful courtier Mariko (how many games do you get to type 'MAKE LOVE TO MARIKO' to score 5 points?) but overall, the game flies from one episode to the next in a very fast-paced, and overall, enjoyable game.

From: "Graeme Cree" (72630.304@compuserve.com)

In SHOGUN, you play the role John Blackthorne, an English seaman in 1600, working for the Dutch to open up a trade route to Japan. Based upon the book of the same name, the story involves your attempts to learn Japanese native customs while caught in the middle of the power struggles between Toranaga, and Ishido, two local warlords.

The writing is much grittier than in any other Infocom game; from the cockroaches swarming over your cabin floor to the frequent violent killings to the occasional nude bathing scene. Shogun was the only Infocom game ever to carry a warning label on the box. If it were a movie, it would probably be a PG-13.

Shogun is also the first of Infocom's three Graphic Interactive Fiction games. Unlike the other two however, there is no interaction between text and graphics (except the automap in the maze in Chapter 10), and graphics simply pop up at certain times. Ordinarily in a game like this, the cartoon-like graphics would positively destroy the atmosphere, but in a historical novel they resemble what you might see in an ancient manuscript, and thus add to the atmosphere.

One weakness of the game is in compartmentalization. Rather than one large game, it is divided into 18 separate chapters. It is rather like Nord and Bert, except that there are more chapters, and they must be played in a specific order. This does not work as well here as it does in Nord and Bert.

Your point total is the only thing that carries over to the next chapter; the items in your inventory are pre-determined. Admittedly, this is probably the only way to adapt such a novel to game form, but the effect is still not entirely satisfactory. Many text games end up being all puzzles and no story. Shogun is exactly the opposite. Too often the story just seems to go on around you while you get meaningless points for smiling, nodding, or bowing at the right times. The result is rather too many "guess what the author is thinking" type puzzles, rather than puzzles that can be reasoned out.

Two exceptions to this are Chapter 1 (The Erasmus), and Chapter 16 (The Ninja). Both are outstanding blendings of story and puzzle solving, and rank with Infocom's best moments.

One nice feature is that the game asks if you want to save at the end of each chapter. I keep a save file for each chapter on a scratch disk, so that I can enter the story at any point if I ever feel like pulling the game off the shelf. Shogun is a very good game to read, though a bit less satisfying to play. Overall though, a fine effort.

From: "Magnus Olsson" (mol@df.lth.se)
NAME: Space Aliens Laughed at my Cardigan
			            PARSER: AGT 
AUTHOR: Andre M. Boyle		    PLOT: Confusing
EMAIL: ???			    ATMOSPHERE: Utterly demented
AVAILABILITY: GMD, S60 (voluntary)  WRITING: Abysmally bad
PUZZLES: Incomprehensible	    SUPPORTS: AGT
CHARACTERS: Weird		    DIFFICULTY: Totally unplayable
Initially, it was the title that drew my attention to this game. I didn't download it, however, until I saw the review by Sean Molley (a.k.a. Molley the Mage) in SPAG3 - I wanted to see for myself if it really was possible to have a game as bad as his review indicated. What I found exceeded my wildest expectations.

This game is not just bad, but unspeakably so, and it's uniformly bad; the writing, the puzzles, the atmosphere, the plot, the NPCs, the room descriptions, the attempts at humour are all miserable. If there was an award for the world's worst adventure game, this game would be an obvious candidate. In addition, this game must be the most bug-infested piece of software it's ever been my misfortune to try; it actually seems as if the author hasn't even tried playing his own game once, or he would have found the bugs immediately.

You may wonder why I bother to write this review if I'm only going to tell how bad it is, which Sean did an excellent job of saying in his review. Well, I think Sean missed an important feature of this game: its cult value.

In fact, every aspect of this game makes for a truly unique experience: the total lack of logic, the weird malapropisms triggered by some player actions, the utterly bewildering atmosphere, the author's inexplicable hatred for policemen (try examining the "policeman standing here like a total and utter prune" sometime), the demented dialogue produced by your interaction with some NPCs, the attempts at humour (including some utter failures at imitating Douglas Adams), just to name a few examples. A great source of unconscious humour is the author's weird, fractured English (it's hard to believe that he actually lives in the U.K.), that switches freely between tenses, persons, even gender (human NPCs are referred to as "it") and spellings.

Playing (or trying to play) this game is sure to create a lasting impression. It is not to be recommended for the weak of heart or those incapable of appreciating the beauty of absurdity, but if you'd like to experience Infocom on acid, as it were, you should by all means try it out.

From: "Graeme Cree" (72630.304@compuserve.com)
NAME: Suspect               GAMEPLAY: Infocom Standard
AUTHOR: Dave Lebling        PLOT: Good
EMAIL: ?                    ATMOSPHERE: Not Bad
PUZZLES: Very Good          SUPPORTS: Infocom Ports
CHARACTERS: Very Good       DIFFICULTY: Advanced
In Suspect, you start as a reporter covering Veronica Ashcroft's halloween party. When she is murdered in a back room, with some of your personal possessions found at the scene of the crime, you are the prime suspect (hence the name!), and you've got 12 hours to find the real killer.

Suspect may be a victim of ratings inflation. My numbers for it totalled 5.8, and assuming that 5.0 means an average game, this still indicates a pretty good effort. However, it seems to be especially low for an Infocom game, though I didn't dislike it by any means.

The puzzles are generally well done, but it suffers from a lack of vividness, and a lack of feeling that you're really there. This problem afflicted some of Infocom's earlier efforts (except Planetfall which was extremely well written, and Suspended, where you really aren't there!), and their early mysteries in particular. One problem might be that in several of the early Infocom games, there seemed to be a set of stock responses to various commands that stayed the same from game to game, while later on they began to tailor them from game to game. For example, in many early Infocom games, if you try to enter something that you can't, you're told simply "You hit your head on the [NOUN] as you attempt this."

Also, Infocom's early mysteries, which took place in a single private residence seemed to lack the sense of exploration and discovery that one comes to expect in an Infocom offering. This is of course purely a matter of taste, and may not be experienced by a different player at all.

All in all though, Suspect remains a very solid effort, and well worth a play through.

From: "Stefan Jokisch" (jokisc00@marvin.informatik.uni-dortmund.de)
NAME: Tossed Into Space            PARSER: AGT
AUTHOR: Graeme Cree                PLOT: Non Linear
EMAIL: ???                         ATMOSPHERE: Not Bad
AVAILABILITY: Freeware, GMD        WRITING: Not Bad
PUZZLES: Simple                    SUPPORTS: AGT Ports
CHARACTERS: Simple                 DIFFICULTY: Very Easy
"Tossed Into Space" tells a slightly weird science fiction story: You are Dr. Schmidt, a saboteur who is trapped on the new colony of Alpha Centauri. Since the colonists (the Rob-&-Son family) refused to take you home to earth, you have waited for an opportunity to steal their space- ship "Jupiter 8". Finally, your time has come: The Rob-&-Son family is not at home and the Jupiter is only guarded by a robot. You have to get rid of the robot, refuel the ship, set the course data and lift off.

Apparently, "Tossed Into Space" was written for beginners; the game is very short, simple and easy. All the player has to do is to perform the most basic exercises of text adventuring: bringing light to a dark room, wearing appropriate clothes in a cold place or unlocking an object with a key. Experienced players will solve 'Tossed Into Space' within an hour or less. In fact, this game is so short that I cannot say more without spoiling the entire game.

Nevertheless, playing "Tossed Into Space" was fun. The story is amusing and the writing is all right as long as you don't mind a few spelling mistakes. The (AGT) parser is not comfortable, but satisfying. 'Tossed Into Space' is worth taking a look at, if you don't expect too much.

[By the way, if you haven't guessed it yet, this game is a total Lost in Space parody, but then, you knew that, right?]

From: "Magnus Olsson" (mol@df.lth.se)
NAME: World			   PARSER: Limited
AUTHOR: Doug Mcdonald		   PLOT: Simple but non-linear
EMAIL: ???			   ATMOSPHERE: Superb
PUZZLES: Fairly standard, much 
         treasure-hunting and exploration
SUPPORTS: Unix, DOS, VMS, etc 
          (C source included)
CHARACTERS: Few, simple		   DIFFICULTY: Below average
Five and a half years ago, when I first got full access to the Internet, one of the first things I did was to look for FTP sites with interesting software. Finding the Usenet source archives on uunet was marvellous; finding the source to a large adventure game there was even more exciting. I downloaded the game, tried it on my Unix workstation, and liked it so much that I brought it home and compiled it on my PC at home. The game was called "World" and was _huge_; due to its sheer size, I never completed it (I got stuck about 75% through, put it aside for a few days, and never got about to complete it), but it made a lasting impression. When writing these reviews for SPAG, I couldn't resist the impulse to dust off my old copy of "World" to see if it's lost any of its attraction over the years; to my joy, it hadn't.

"World" is a game in the tradition of the old mainframe adventures like Colossal Cave and Zork/Dungeon. This means that it's a big game (several hundred locations), with a heavy emphasis on treasure-hunting and exploration. Unlike those games, however, the author has managed to create a much more coherent world - which doesn't stop it from also being a world that is very varied and offers a lot of surprises.

The story is simple: you, being a lowly latrine orderly on a starship that's just landed on an alien planet, have volunteered to explore it on foot. By collecting alien artifacts and specimens of interesting wildlife, you hope to earn a (long overdue) promotion. The planet soon turns out to have quite a few surprises in store for you...

While the plot may not be that great, what makes this game memorable is the outstanding atmosphere. Somehow, the author manages to make a world which is quite improbable when you think about it, and which is filled with quite a few of the cliches of Sci-Fi, seem very convincing. You not only get the feeling that "you're there", you experience that elusive feeling that is the very essence of science fiction - the sense of wonder.

The writing is very good, with lots of long, very graphic descriptions of a weird and wonderful, alien world. The mainframe tradition is noticeable in that the author doesn't shy away from using long descriptions - fortunately without falling into the trap of excessive verbosity or overuse of purple prose.

Unfortunately, the parser and vocabulary aren't quite up to the standard of the writing, reducing playability and leading to a few "guess the verb" situations. Still, it's not worse than your typical AGT parser, and since most puzzles don't require any advanced manipulation of objects you can get along quite well. Also, some slight misses (which would surely have been found by more extensive playtesting) detract somewhat from the overall impression.

As an adventure _game_, "World" isn't very remarkable; it does stand out, however, in the way its author manages to give credibility, texture and atmosphere to a totally alien world.

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 ftp.gmd.de
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.
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.
Disclaimer: These scores have been compiled since issue 1 of SPAG, and as such, might not be totally accurate. However, they are as close to the readers' opinions as I can make them. Heh, I always wanted to say that.

Name		       Avg Sc  Chr  Puz  # Sc  Rlvt Ish Notes:
====                   ======  ===  ===  ====  ======== ======
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
Ballyhoo		7.0    1.8  1.6    2	 4	C_INF
Beyond Zork		7.4		   1	 x	C_INF
Border Zone		6.1    1.1  1.4    2	 4	C_INF
Bureaucracy		7.8		   1	 x	C_INF
Curses			8.4    1.3  1.7    5     2	F_INF
Cutthroats		6.3    1.4  1.2    4	 1	C_INF
Crypt v2.0		N/A		   0     3	S12_IBM_GMD
Deadline		7.2		   2	 x	C_INF
Deep Space Drifter	5.5	    1.4    1     3      S15_TAD_GMD
Detective		1.0    0.6  0.2    1     4      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
Dungeon of Dunjin       7.0    1.0  1.5    1     3      S20_IBM_MAC_GMD
Enchanter		7.0    0.8  1.3	   4     2	C_INF
Enhanced		N/A		   0	 2      S10_TAD_GMD
Great Archaelog. Race	6.5    1.0  1.5    1     3      S20_TAD_GMD
Hitchhiker's Guide	8.0     	   3     x	C_INF
Hollywood Hijinx	5.5		   2	 x	C_INF
Horror30.Zip		N/A		   0	 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)
John's Fire Witch	8.5    1.2  1.5    1     4	S6_TADS_GMD
Klaustrophobia		7.8    1.2  1.4    2     1	S15_AGT_GMD
Leather Goddesses	8.0    1.6  1.7    3	 4	C_INF
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    1.4   -     2	 x	C_INF
Moonmist		5.8	           4     1	C_INF
Mop & Murder		4.9    0.5  1.0    1	 4	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
One Hand Clapping	6.8    1.0  1.5    1     x	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
Sorceror		7.3    0.6  1.6	   4	 2	C_INF
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		6.7		   2	 x	C_INF
Suspect			5.9		   1	 x	C_INF
Suspended		7.0		   1	 x	C_INF
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		6.3		   1	 x	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_MISC_GMD (See Rev.)
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:

[From now on, 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. So, if your favorite got dropped from the list because you were the only one who rated it, you'd better get two friends together and make them play the game.]

 1. Trinity		8.8	6 votes
 2. Curses		8.4	5 votes
 3. Spellbreaker	8.1	3 votes

Editor's Picks of the Month:

This month I have three completely different, but equally interesting games to recommend. First is the game _The Golden Wombat of Destiny_, and as the name implies, prepare yourself for a large helping of whimsy, and a dash of wonder.

The second game is none other than Adventions' very own _The Horror of Rylvania_, a very appropriate tale amid today's Anne Rice craze. Of course, Adventions takes a rather unique approach to the vampire genre, and I'm sure you'll enjoy this one. It's at the high end price range of text adventures, but from what I've seen of it, worth it all the same.

The final game is John's Firewitch. This little game has made quite a stir since its release, proving that short games are sometimes better than long ones. Playing time averages from 2-3 hours, but everyone I've talked to has had nothing but praise for it, including myself.

'Wombat' is available only for IBM PC compatibles as far as I know, but 'Rylvania' supports all TADS ports, another chit in its favor. Rylvania has a demo available on ftp.gmd.de. Wombat is available in full. John's Firewitch is also a TADS game, available in full, but well worth the $6.00 registration fee.

Wombat of Destiny and Solution

Horror of Rylvania Demo & Solution
  ftp.gmd.de:/if-archive/games/[your computer]/rylvania.[compressed format]

John's Fire Witch

From: "Stephen Granade" (sgranade@obu.arknet.edu)

Newly released! Yet Another Sci-fi Adventure Game (tm)! It's fun, it's kooky, it's...


While driving home one night, your car mysteriously dies. You get out, pop the hood, and wham! that's the last you remember...until you wake up trapped in a cell. With no idea of how you got there and no one to ask, you must escape and find out why you were kidnapped.

Visit the lovely sewage dump Melica! Tour abandoned Comanis! Avoid Efric at all costs! The game is guaranteed 99.9% maze free, and is freeware. That's right, freeware. (I wrote it as an exercise to see what TADS could do.)

The game is in TADS .gam format, and can be found at ftp.gmd.de in the directory if-archive/games/tads, under way.zip. (If necessary, e-mail me at sgranade@obu.arknet.edu, & I'll put a .tar'ed file there as well.) All comments are welcome, all suggestions are listened to.

See what one man, a twisted imagination, and lots of free time hath wrought. Waystation! Get yours today.

Just a short comment on "Whizzard's Guide to Text Adventures", that should follow this issue. I was only able to look at things from an MSDOS user's viewpoint. I am looking for people willing to take a shot at the other formats, primarily Macintosh.

In other news, both SPAG and other, I have a few comments to make. First, no, Avalon is not finished, though I'd give my two front teeth to have it done this week. Maybe expect it this May, or this summer, or possibly this fall. I can say with confidence that I will beat the new decade at least. Beyond that, I can only pray.

Next, SPAG starts a new policy this issue, the Unlucky 13. Every issue, 13 poor, put upon readers will be sent a list of 3 games and asked to review them. I got a pretty darn good response from this policy in this issue, and I guess I'll continue it, since readers at rest tend to stay at rest. There is no penalty for not reviewing these games, other than a smothering, choking miasma of guilt that will gnaw at your very kidneys.

                [Evil Laugh]
*Cough* Ahem. I don't know what came over me.

Well, in the next issue, I'll be running the winning 'breathers', and I'll see if I can't scrape together a feature article or something. Seeing as I had two I almost put in this issue, I reckon I'll manage. Welp, until next issue then.

Thank you for helping to keep text adventures alive!