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

                          ISSUE # 8

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

                       February 5, 1996

Well, it's been about three months since last we joined together in the communal effort that is SPAG. Life has simplified itself, and I now have a really spiffy school schedule: Tuesday and Thursday classes only. The rest of the week is all mine, barring homework, and I can't wait to get to it.

It seems like the I-F community has been really busy without me. I can count at least 2 or 3 new games that I haven't got around to beating yet, one of the most notable being the _Windhall Chronicles_. But don't think that I'm neglecting _Shelby_ or _Broken String_. I just haven't gotten really into them yet, and I plead a busy Christmas.

Arrangements are moving into place for the 1996 I-F Competition. It looks like we may have as many as twenty entries, but I'm not sure yet. If so, it will be an exciting event, to say the least.

Just so as not to break the pattern, I have to talk about Avalon for a sec. It's not done. It's in its final stages of development. I am investigating printshops for the manual. When will it be done? I really don't know. Maybe this year. I hope.

				G. Kevin Wilson

From: "Christopher E. Forman" (ceforma@rs6000.cmp.ilstu.edu)

Dear SPAG, What follows is something I've been mulling over for several days now, something I think should be heard by everyone involved in playing and/or writing text adventures.

The I-F medium should serve to provide a two-way street for the facilitation of communication between players and authors. Players should feel free to discuss how they think I-F should be, authors need to be able to draw on that discussion when writing their own works, and players need to give feedback (both positive and -- pardon the gratuitous euphamism -- "otherwise") to those authors informing them of how closely their work exhibits the qualities players feel are inherent and necessary in I-F.

Unfortunately, the last of these three basic needs appears, to myself anyway, to be largely unfulfilled. In short, I just haven't been receiving the quantity or quality of feedback I'd like to get regarding my work, and I suspect that many other authors have experienced the same problem. Oh, there's the occasional "this is a really great game" post on UseNet, but, aside from requests for hints, that's all I ever see. While such statements are nice to hear, they tend to lack specific details about just what it is that the player thinks is "really great".

I bring this to the attention of players because about a week ago, I discovered in my e-mailbox a lengthy, extremely well-written evaluation of my work, revealing what one player found favorable about it, and, more importantly, a number of aspects he rather disliked. This was a revelation to me, as he'd made some excellent points I'd never considered when coding the game, and it gave me something to really think about. Although I did disagree with a few of his statements, and found some others too time- consuming to be implemented at the present, I most certainly plan to take everything he said into account to at least some degree over the course of future projects.

The point of all this is that, believe it or not, game authors will listen to your comments. They want to hear them. They need to hear them. Heck, they DESERVE to hear them. Writing a text game means setting aside a lot of time and taking a lot of effort to give computerists a little fun. So the next time you play through a game, if it made any sort of impression on you at all, take ten or fifteen minutes out of your own life to let the author know what you think of his/her creation. Anything -- positive, negative, or both -- on any topic -- writing, plot, puzzles, characters, etc. -- will be appreciated. If you don't tell us what pleases you and what doesn't, how can we be expected to find out? While we may not agree on everything (differences of opinion are inevitable within any entertainment medium), it's encouraging to see just what those differences are.

As a final note, don't let shareware games scare you away from such a practice. I suspect that many shareware authors suffer a lack of feedback because players don't want to feel obligated to register, and admitting that they've finished the game invites such feelings of duty. I'm of the belief that one should only pay the registration fees if one deems the game worthy of such a price (although my shameless UseNet promotions may seem to indicate otherwise B-). Most shareware authors are not going to pressure you into paying for their games just because you've admitted you've played them. While receiving a little extra cash from a game is nice, there's more to writing I-F than that.

With a little help, authors should be able to create games that not only merit but encourage intelligent discussion everywhere. SPAG and UseNet can help, but they can't do it alone. That little help also has to come through direct feedback from the playing public itself.

                                                 -- C.E. Forman

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 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, or do not supply them, in which case the header will read as "Anonymous."

The only game out of the three that I mentioned in my editorial that could vaguely be referred to as new at this late date is _The Broken String_. I have seen the game, and in my opinion, the potential is there, but the authors did not go the extra mile. They needed more betatesting, a native english-speaking editor (The authors themselves are not.) and some careful polish. It is also a tad crude at the beginning. But hey, it's a punk adventure, so some crude is permissible there. I simply question the neccessity of it. I suggest waiting for a future release, but at last count, it was found at ftp.gmd.de:/if-archive/unprocessed/gamebs.zip.

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

 NAME:  Adventure                       GAMEPLAY:  Two Word parser
 AUTHOR:  Will Crowther                 PLOT:  Good
 EMAIL:  I wish I knew                  ATMOSPHERE:  Tolkienic
 AVAILABILITY:  GMD                     WRITING:  Very Good
 PUZZLES:  Many trial & error           SUPPORTS:  Practically all
 CHARACTERS:  Few, but memorable        DIFFICULTY:  Average
Adventure, aka Colossal Cave, is the oldest, most famous, most modified, most ported, and most pirated game in the history of Interactive Fiction. Written in the antiquity of the mid 70's, it was bootlegged to practically every university in the country on magnetic tape. It was commercially released by several companies (such as The Software Toolworks), and has been ported to AGT, TADS, Inform, and several others.

It has also been expanded several times. Many authors have taken the layout of the original game and simply added new rooms, items, and puzzles. For this reason, the game is usually referred to by the maximum number of points that can be scored. For instance Adventure 350 (the original version), Adventure 370, Adventure 550, Adventure 1000, and so on.

Adventure could also be said to be indirectly responsible for the entire Infocom product line. The original mainframe Zork was begun when the authors played Adventure and believed that they could improve on it, especially vis a vis the parser. Zork, the product of their efforts, was the foundation of Infocom, and owes heavily to Adventure. The words "xyzzy" and "plugh" will draw a response, and the thief's maze is lifted directly from the game.

All in all, one might conclude from this that Adventure is the greatest Adventure game ever written, but this is not quite the case. It's continued popularity stems from a) it's hauntingly compelling atmosphere, b) it's colourful imagery, c) the fact that for many it was their first adventure game, and d) the fact that many people first played it 70's style.

Playing a game 70's style was very different from playing today. Since there were few personal computers, playing a game usually involved a trip to the local university computer room, generally after hours, with a bag lunch in tow (since the session would usually last quite a while). My own first experience with Adventure involved late-night trips to IBM with my programmer father. The long trek through dimly-lit windowless corridors to the terminal room was practically an adventure in itself, and since you couldn't just go and play whenever you wanted to, the game had plenty of opportunity to grow larger in the imagination in between sessions.

Also, a player is more likely to be forgiving of a first game than later ones. When you have never seen such a game before and are not quite sure what it can understand or do, you won't mind a simple two-word parser, such as Adventure has, unless it is positively user-unfriendly. Adventure's parser while simple, is adequate for the game, and produces a good effect by frequently addressing the user directly ("You don't expect me to do a decent reincarnation without any orange smoke, do you?").

Adventure is loaded with memorable imagery (Witt's End, the maze of twisty little passages, the Pirate, the breath-taking view, "xyzzy", et cetera) that generally stays with a player long after the game is completed.

The atmosphere is wonderfully authentic. The game map was based on Bedquilt Cave in Kentucky, part of the Mammoth Cave labyrinth. While there are no dragons in Bedquilt, it is said that first-time visitors have been able to find their way around by virtue of having played the game. While Zork is simply a collection of interesting locales that just happen to be underground, Adventure resembles a real cavern much more, featuring dead ends, fissures, blocked passages, and passages in the floor. As in Tolkien, magic in Adventure is present, but tantalizingly remote; not coming out the wazoo, as it is in Zork and most other fantasy games.

Nevertheless Adventure is not without its problems. As mentioned previously, the parser is rather primitive, at least in the original version (the TADS and Inform ports have state-of-the-art parsers).

Also the puzzles are frequently meant to be solved by trial and error rather than deduction. How are you supposed to figure out what to do with the rod, or how to kill the dragon, or how to bring light to the Dark Room, or how to recover the Golden Eggs, or how to get that final point, anyway? By experimenting, that's how. Of course, in a first game players are often much more inclined to experiment with it to discover its capabilities.

That's not to say that there aren't some good puzzles as well. The object that you need to win at the end is very cleverly concealed, and only the keen-eyed will detect the subtle difference between the vending machine maze and the Pirate's maze that allows you to map the former without dropping objects (unfortunately, this feature is not present in the Inform version).

There are no save/restore puzzles as such. It is possible to win on the first playthrough, but not to achieve the maximum score. If you take too long (and you will), you will be forced to expend one of your treasures to recharge your lamp (thus lowering your score), but after you have solved the game, it will be a simple matter to optimize your time and win before this becomes necessary.

Adventure is an adventure game that every text gamer should play some time in their lives; the only game that has a genre named after it. But it would be best to stick with Adventure 350 in either its original form, or the TADS or Inform ports. The add-ons of the larger versions simply make the game bulkier and clunkier without improving the gaming experience.

From: "Christopher E. Forman" (ceforma@rs6000.cmp.ilstu.edu)

NAME: The Awe-Chasm (a.k.a The Chasm of Awe, a.k.a. Snatch and Crunch II)
PARSER: C Adventure Toolkit
AUTHOR: Tony Stiles                              PLOT: Dungeon Quest
EMAIL: ???                                       ATMOSPHERE: Very little
AVAILABILITY: Freeware, GMD                      WRITING: Decidedly unfunny
PUZZLES: Generic/pseudo-logical                  SUPPORTS: PCs, Atari STs
CHARACTERS: Unresponsive                         DIFFICULTY: Painful to play
Start with a rather straightforward late-1970s style dungeon quest/treasure hunt. Now add a remarkably crude and unpretentiously juvenile sense of humor. Stir in a frustrating parser and some poorly-implemented, at best semi-logical, puzzles. Blend into this a sloppy overall design, and, to give a slight flavor of anti-logic, top the whole thing off with a dash of sheer incomprehensibility. Following this recipe, the resulting mixture is a serious candidate for the very worst text adventure ever written.

In this case, author Tony Stiles has cooked up an unappetizing little dish titled "The Awe-Chasm", a.k.a "The Chasm of Awe", a.k.a. "Snatch and Crunch II". (Personally, I've never seen or heard of "Snatch and Crunch I", but it must have been good enough to justify the making of this sequel.)

Snatch and Crunch, the two main characters in this game, are, in the author's own words, a "pokey pervert" and a "monolithic mutant", respectively. For reasons unknown (good old-fashioned greed perhaps?), they're out to explore the many caverns and passageways of the Awe-Chasm in search of treasure. During the course of the game, the I-Fer can type "BECOME SNATCH" or "BECOME CRUNCH" to switch control back and forth between Snatch and Crunch, using each one in tasks for which he is specifically suited -- some puzzles can only be solved using one of our two explorers. Snatch and Crunch can also work together, with Crunch picking up the smaller Snatch and carrying him along on his shoulders.

While this may sound promising, the game doesn't really put forth the extra effort necessary to make it work. Neither Snatch nor Crunch seems to have much personality, so it's hard to figure out who can do what unless the game specifically tells you (which, in most cases, it doesn't). Perhaps the player is expected to bring this knowledge over from the first "Snatch and Crunch" game. Further, unless Snatch is being carried, the duo doesn't move around together -- the player must move Snatch and Crunch individually, and having to retrace your steps is tedious. It would have worked much better to have the pair stay together for the most part, providing a special "SPLIT" command for the few times when they need to go their separate ways.

Complicating matters is the sloppy overall design of the game. It's very linear at the start, until the player figures out how to buy a lamp. This had me stuck until I stumbled across a walkthrough of the first few puzzles amongst the myriad seemingly useless files zipped in with the game executable. My problems were more due to parser quirks than anything else. Did I talk about the parser yet? Perhaps I should do that now.

The author wrote his own adventure design system, called the "C Adventure Toolkit" to create this game. While I must bow slightly to such an impressive feat, the sad truth of the matter is that the parser just isn't very good -- it's barely adequate for the game. There are very few synonyms for nouns -- you can't call a pond a "lake", for instance -- and some commands only work properly if prepositions are used -- "GET EMILY" fails; you must say "GET EMILY FROM POND". (Emily, in this case, happens to be a fish with whom Crunch, the "monolithic mutant" is infatuated, and...oh, just forget it.) For simple interactions (directional moves, two-word commands, etc.) the parser works okay. For longer, more complex sentences, though, it's not even up to the standards of AGT, let alone Inform and TADS. (It's dated 1989, BTW.)

But now back to the game, which becomes more frustrating once the player acquires a lamp and descends into the Awe-Chasm ("a chasm of orgasmic proportions", the game shamelessly announces). There are several levels to the chasm, some of which have openings leading to tunnels. What's particularly noteworthy here is that, when climbing between levels, there's a good chance you'll fall to the bottom of the chasm and have to climb back up several levels again. This happens far, FAR too often to even be called infuriating. After five or six times, you'll want to quit right then and there. (I didn't even get a quarter of the way through the 500-point game.)

The tunnel openings themselves are equally frustrating to navigate. They are listed in room descriptions as "an opening", but no compass directions for them are given or recognized. Players must type "ENTER OPENING" to go inside, and "ENTER OPENING" again to come back. Doors must be traversed in the same manner. What's so difficult about allowing directional commands?

"The Awe-Chasm" showcases an astoundingly juvenile sense of humor. It almost seems as though the author is attempting to imitate the style used by Steve Meretzky in some of his racier titles. But Meretzky's writing exudes personality, and his characterization in "LGOP" and the "SpellCasting" series makes the "naughty" bits more charming than offensive. "Awe-Chasm"'s writing offers little characterization and little personality, and the overall result is decidedly distasteful.

On top of all this, the game just isn't very well planned out. The best dungeon adventures (by which I mean "Colossal Cave" and the "Zork" series) employ a degree of continuity between their locations, adding realism to the layout. In "Awe-Chasm", rooms are slapped together clumsily and objects are thrown about with no thought whatsoever. One tunnel, for instance, harbors a band of sex-starved nymphomaniacs to assault our heroes. Yet for some reason, they've never ventured into the throne room a few levels down to visit King Tony (another personal appearance by a game author degenerating into a very tired and unfunny inside joke). Other thrills and chills awaiting you include a slew of locked doors (at least three more than ANY adventure game needs), the "magical mystery maze" (three guesses as to what this is, and the first two don't count), and the "Oh sh*t, all my treasures have been scattered" room (crusaders for fairness in I-F need not apply).

The game is not without its cult value, however. Fans of truly abysmal I-F should get plenty of howls out of the flaws inherent in "The Awe-Chasm", but everyone else is better advised to leave the "monolithic mutant" and the "pokey pervert" to fend for themselves.

(Both versions are packaged in the same .ZIP file, at /if-archive/games/pc/awechasm.zip)

From "Gareth Rees" (Gareth.Rees@cl.cam.ac.uk)

  NAME: A Change in the Weather           PARSER: Inform's usual
  AUTHOR: Andrew Plotkin                  PLOT: Highly branching
  EMAIL: erkyrath+@cmu.edu                ATMOSPHERE: Good
  AVAILABILITY: Freeware, GMD             WRITING: Excellent
  PUZZLES: Very neat, very clever         SUPPORTS: Inform ports
  CHARACTERS: None                        DIFFICULTY: Hard
My second favourite of the competition games, after "The One that Got Away". This was a fun experiment and a deserved winner of the Inform category. I found it very challenging, but it wasn't outright impossible (unlike one or two of the other games in the competition), so I think the difficulty was well-judged. Three aspects of "A Change in the Weather" were excellent: the quality of the writing, the changing descriptions of the scenery, and the way the components of the puzzle interacted. I was reminded of my decision in "Christminster" to keep the player indoors from seven p.m. until ten so that I didn't have to write descriptions of the sun going down! Andrew Plotkin tackled this problem head on and the result was very impressive.

What I didn't like was the very short time limit and the way it was incredibly easy to get stuck. To finish "A Change in the Weather" required an enormous amount of patience: going back to a saved game, trying something new, observing the consequences, going back again and trying something else, and on and on. The puzzles themselves were quite elegant, but I didn't appreciate them very much because I was a bit fatigued by the process of solving them. I also felt the game lacked for NPCs (the fox was better than nothing), and the dream was just willfully obscure.

From "Gareth Rees" (Gareth.Rees@cl.cam.ac.uk)

  NAME: Detective                         PARSER: Inform usual
  AUTHOR: Christopher Forman              PLOT: None
  EMAIL: ceforma@rs6000.cmp.ilstu.edu     ATMOSPHERE: Unusual
  AVAILABILITY: Freeware, GMD             WRITING: New material is good
  PUZZLES: None                           SUPPORTS: Inform ports
  CHARACTERS: Unoriginal, but good        DIFFICULTY: Trivial
I'm only aware of "Mystery Science Theatre 3000" through the genre of MST3k parodies on Usenet, so I have no idea how faithfully Christopher Forman reproduced the flavour of the television program. I thought that this game was interesting as an experiment, and I did find bits of it funny, but a lot of it was completely meaningless to me, especially the introduction and the endgame, and I probably wouldn't play another similar game.

I'm not sure at all that text adventure games are suitable for this kind of parody by ridicule, and especially free or shareware games produced by amateurs. Bad films are interesting targets for ridicule because they are the result of the labours of intelligent adults who should have known better, and because millions of dollars were wasted on their production. On the other hand, "Detective" was probably the result of a couple of hours' work by a twelve-year-old kid, whose main mistake was to upload it to a bulletin board for the world to laugh at (although the adventure games I wrote when I was twelve were better than "Detective", I have more sense than to let anyone see them now!). Activision's expensive multimedia game "Return to Zork", with live actors pretending to be characters from an adventure game, would be a much more appropriate (though also much more challenging) target.

I think that parody of adventure games is very tricky to do well, because most adventure games sit rather uneasily on the dividing line between seriousness and humour, and generally incorporate elements of self-parody already (think of the ongoing Flathead jokes in the "Zork" series, or the ridiculous names of the spells in "Enchanter" et al), whereas parody succeeds best when its target is relentlessly humourless (think of "A Modest Proposal" by Swift or "The Pooh Perplex" by F.C.Crews). There are some supposed parodies of Infocom games at the IF-archive ("Pork" and "Disenchanted"), but they end up being pastiche rather than parody or satire, and rather weak pastiches at that.

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

  NAME:  DETECTIVE:  An Interactive MiSTing
                                         GAMEPLAY:  Inform Parser
  AUTHOR:  C. E. Forman                  PLOT:  Trivial              
  EMAIL:  ceforma@rs6000.cmp.ilstu.edu   ATMOSPHERE:  Demented
  AVAILABILITY:  GMD incoming            WRITING:  Pathetic
  PUZZLES:  None                         SUPPORTS:  All Inform Ports 
  CHARACTERS:  Cardboard                 DIFFICULTY:  None at all
Normally, looking at the above category descriptions (such as "Trivial", "Demented", and "Pathetic") one would expect a pretty bad game. Yet, such is not the case here. In the zany world of Mystery Science Theater 3000, (MST3K for short) where schlock is fun, and all involved want "More cheese, please", such descriptions denote an excellent game. Detective, the game least likely to be ported now exists (with enhancements) for Inform.

A little background is in order to understand this game. SPAG #4 featured a review of an AGT game called Detective, which stated that the author had made every possible mistake, and that the game should be avoided. In SPAG #5 I wrote a second review in which I stated that the game, though awful, was in fact loaded with unintentional laughs and bizarre incongruities that were sure to entertain the player, and that the game would make an excellent episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

For those who don't know, MST3K is a cable television show (soon to be a major motion picture) on Comedy Central, that involves a man shot into space by two mad scientists and forced to watch bad movies so that his reactions can be monitored. Throughout the movie we can see the silhouettes of Mike and his robot companions (whose outer casings are made out of things like a gumball machine, a bowling pin, and a lacrosse helmet) at the lower right-hand corner of the screen, and hear them deliver a barrage of sarcastic remarks, pop-culture references, and suggestive dialogue. For example in "Godzilla vs. Megalon", a close-up of Godzilla waving his arms and bellowing drew the response "I am Kirok!!", a reference to a classic bit of Shatner overacting in Star Trek's "The Paradise Syndrome" episode. In "Marooned", when three astronauts, stranded in space are arguing over who will leave the ship (there was only enough oxygen to sustain two until the rescue ship arrived) one of the robots observed "they could toss a coin, but it would never come down."

The show is in its 7th season, and each episode is two hours long. Their bread-and-butter is schlocky sci-fi movies, but they have hit almost every genre, including the occasional biker movie. Before and after the show, as well as during intermissions, they do short amusing skits, often based on scenes from the movie.

Chris Forman has taken this format and adapted it into a text game, almost seamlessly. The original Detective game has been transferred verbatim to Inform, even retaining the AGT default responses, and snappy responses from Mike and the robots have been inserted everywhere; into room descriptions, item descriptions, response descriptions, et cetera. Repetition is avoided, enhancing believability. The first time you enter a room you get one set of responses. The second time you will get either a different set, or none at all. The jokes are generally top quality, turning an already (unintentionally) amusing game into a laugh riot. The level of imitation is flawless; if you have seen the show, you can almost hear the dialogue coming out of the actors' mouths.

A typical MST3K episode features a short skit and an invention exchange with the mad scientists before the movie actually begins. Mr. Forman has represented this by including a special introductory text file that highlights the robots attempting to write their own text games, and Dr. Forrester's "fictionary", a device that inputs the vocabulary of a text game directly into the player's mind, with hilarious results.

The only thing that could put anyone off about this game might be found in Stefan Jokisch's original SPAG #4 review: "we should not forget that Matt [the original author of Detective] wrote this game with good intentions and he offered it for free, so who are we to mock at his efforts?" Matt Barringer's game is "mocked" here, but previous MST3K episodes have had movies featuring the likes of Gregory Peck, Gene Hackman, Linda Evans, Peter Graves, James Earl Jones, and Bela Lugosi, putting Mr. Barringer in very august company indeed.

This may not be my all-time favourite text adventure, but it is one of the few that I would recommend to absolutely everyone.

From: "Christopher E. Forman" (ceforma@rs6000.cmp.ilstu.edu)

NAME: Jigsaw                                  PARSER: Expanded Inform
AUTHOR: Graham Nelson                         PLOT: Complex and entertaining
EMAIL: nelson@vax.ox.uk                       ATMOSPHERE: Excellent
AVAILABILITY: Freeware, GMD                   WRITING: Stylish & imaginative
          (.Z5 and .Z8 versions)              SUPPORTS: Infocom ports
PUZZLES: Varying, clever & logical            DIFFICULTY: Hard
CHARACTERS: Accurate but primarily
The turn-of-the-millennium party at Century Park is something of a letdown, with little to do but run out the clock and, ultimately, let yourself succumb to the festive spirit that's already claimed all the other partygoers. Unless, of course, you found something else to take your attention away from it all. Something like a time machine, perhaps?

"Jigsaw," the latest wonder from Graham Nelson ("Inform" and "Curses", for those of you who've been in comas for the last three years) promises to be every bit as fascinating a diversion as his previous works. As players jump back and forth through twentieth-century history, they discover pieces to complete the aforementioned time machine, which is in actuality a large jigsaw board. In that respect, "Jigsaw" really _is_ a large puzzle to be solved by the player.

Each of the sixteen timeplaces houses a critical event that needs to be resolved so that history as we know it can proceed. Solving an area means you must determine where you are, figure out the critical event that's about to take place, take action to ensure that it happens as history tells you it did, and escape back through time to the jigsaw board.

Complicating matters is a mysterious stranger in black, whom you recognize from the party, alternately hindering and (sometimes seemingly inexplicably) helping you. As the game progresses, a relationship develops between yourself and "Black," whose intentional lack of a specified gender sparked a brush-fire of discussion across r.g.i-f in the weeks following the release of "Jigsaw."

Comparisons to Nelson's previous work is inevitable. "Jigsaw" stacks up very well to "Curses," although IMHO, it's not quite as extravagant as the popular attic search. Perhaps this is because "Curses" was released during a severe I-F drought, and its superior parser and excellent gameplay immediately astounded players. There was nothing out there even remotely close to it at the time. Now that the shortage is comfortably over, "Jigsaw" suffers a little.

Don't get me wrong, though. It's still one of the very best games out there, and it does manage to overcome the (few) problems "Curses" had. For instance, the jigsaw board gives the game's layout a more structured feel, whereas the whole of "Curses" always seemed slightly fractured and incoherent, with several seemingly unrelated puzzles simply thrown together (again, only my opinion). And whereas "Curses" took awhile for me to really get into, "Jigsaw" drew me in right away with the powerful first meeting between White (as the player is referred to) and Black, in Sarajevo.

Virtually all of the timeplaces are self-contained and require no outside information to solve, but this doesn't make the game any less challenging. Some of the puzzles here are very, very hard -- the ghost plane, the moon, and the Enigma machine were particularly taxing. Everything has a satisfying, logical solution to it, and the clues aren't buried quite as deeply as in "Curses," although you still need to examine everything.

Another game to compare "Jigsaw" to would be Legend Entertainment's cult classic "TimeQuest," as both share a similar premise -- that of jumping back and forth between historical events to preserve the timestream's integrity. Personally, I found the historical figures in "Jigsaw" to be handled more realistically than those in "TimeQuest." While the "Jigsaw" player gets to see many of them up close, direct interaction is usually minimized. "TimeQuest" required the player to speak and act around its historical personages to influence their actions, often in unrealistic, sometimes almost laughable, ways. The atmosphere in "Jigsaw" is better, giving its areas a dark, gritty edge that's necessary to make it convincingly realistic (in particular, the Berlin chapter is one of my favorites). Sadly, while the NPC's are very accurate (Graham Nelson did his research), aside from Black, they are not as interactive as I'd hoped. It would have been nice to be able to ask them about a larger number of things, for instance. "TimeQuest" offers a much wider variety of (amusing) queries.

I found "TimeQuest" quite overwhelming at the start, though, with nearly eighty timeplaces open for exploration at the very beginning (although the game does make some effort to point you in the right direction). "Jigsaw," by contrast, keeps just enough timeplaces open at once to give the player a variety of alternatives to choose from. This furthers the structured, episodic feel of the game: At the start, you have a small number of places to visit; in the middle-game, nearly half the board is unexplored; and as the endgame draws near, the number of unsolved pieces is again reduced.

Speaking of the endgame, I must confess that I felt it tended to drag on considerably, with nothing for the player to do but solve an extremely linear sequence of puzzles chasing after a single object. Saying more would necessitate spoilers, so I'll close by saying that the endgame in the Land is by far the weakest portion of "Jigsaw." Once the player gets through it, though, a satisfying conclusion awaits.

"Jigsaw" also sports a nifty performance of the Z-Machine assembler, in the appearance of the board and puzzle pieces. Graham Nelson again works wonders with his Inform compiler (but I noticed that "Jigsaw" uses version 6.0, currently unavailable to the rest of the I-F community).

If you haven't played "Jigsaw" yet, then by all means, do so. You won't regret it.

From: "Adam J. Thornton" (adam@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)
[Beware, Adam's review borders on a few spoilers near the end, though I edited out what I could. -GKW]

_Jigsaw_ is the second full-size game from Graham Nelson, author of _Curses_ and the Inform compiler. As one would expect, then, it has been written in Inform, and is thus an Infocom-format story file. There are actually two separate versions of each release: one the familiar .z5 Version 5 story file, such as used in _Trinity_, in which the game and footnotes are separated into separate files, and one in the new Version 8 format. Infocom never wrote a .z8 story file; the format itself is new, and was developed by the author as a way to lift the restrictions of v5 analogously to the way v5 removed certain v3 limitations.

This, then, is the first Inform game that could not, in principle, have been an Infocom product. That is to say, the sheer quantity of this game places it outside the scope of even late-period textual Infocom. The game is certainly one of the biggest currently existing. For sheer amount of text, only _The Legend Lives_ and possibly _Avalon_ (of the games in my experience) come close; both of those are TADS games, and therefore have a different set of limitations and restrictions with which to cope.

However, quantity does not, of course, imply quality. We need only to look at the sixteen (?) floppy diskettes of _Leather Goddesses of Phobos II_. _Jigsaw_ is big. Is it good?

I'll cut the suspense short: yes, it's good. It's very, very good. It is clearly intended by Nelson as his _Trinity_. I consider this an awfully ambitious goal, as _Trinity_ is, in my opinion, Infocom's finest hour. No one else currently working in IF could, I think, write anything approaching another _Trinity_. This is not to disparage any of the fine works that have recently appeared or soon will be appearing. _Avalon_ is a fine game; it also involves a lot of time travel, modularized puzzles, and a plot of cosmic significance. But it doesn't try to be _Trinity_; _Legend_ has lots of travel--this time spatial rather than temporal--between worlds and a plot of cosmic significance, although its puzzles tend to be much less self-contained; however, it too does not attempt to be _Trinity_.

The structural similarities between _Jigsaw_ and _Trinity_ are striking. Both have a motif of a central place from which portals lead to other worlds; in _Jigsaw_ these worlds are found within the puzzle of the title; _Trinity's_ mushrooms provide its portals. In each, there is a specific problem in each world which must be fixed for the game to proceed. In each game, the fate of the world hangs in the balance, and devolves onto the player, initially just another IF protagonist--in _Jigsaw_, a millenarian partygoer, and in _Trinity_ a boorish American tourist. There are more subtle parallels as well: each game abounds in animals, and both are liberally sprinkled with quotations from external sources.

Remember _Trinity's_ quotations? I do. "Tomorrow never yet/ On any human being rose or set." "Time isn't holding us/ Time isn't after us/ Same as it ever was/ Same as it ever was." "Tempus edax rerum." It was the first time I realized that IF was heir to the same wealth of allusion that traditional fiction is; if you like, the first time it hit me that IF could be Art rather than mere recreation. Nelson has managed to find the same sensitivity in choosing appropriate quotations; like _Curses_, _Jigsaw_ bears the stamp of someone gifted not only with his own words, but with knowing when to use those of others.

_Trinity's_ historical research was good, particularly in the painstakingly correct layout of Trinity Site. _Jigsaw_ has raised the stakes again. It is clear that a great deal of reading has gone into the recreation of its historical set-pieces: Kitty Hawk, the S.S. Titanic, Proust's apartment, and others. This, of course, suggests the other comparison between _Trinity_ and _Jigsaw_. Where do they differ? _Trinity_ has eight worlds; _Jigsaw_ sixteen. _Trinity_ has the lemmings, the bees, the magpie, the German shepherd, the lizard, the rattlesnake, and, of course, the roadrunner. There are sixteen sketchable animals in _Jigsaw_, and a host of others that make cameos.

"Sketchable?" I hear you cry. Patience. All will be revealed. Up to now I have told you how _Jigsaw_ is and isn't _Trinity_, but very little as to what it is. One way of characterizing it might be: _Trinity_, but with a love story and a sketchbook.

You play White, the generic IF protagonist; you start at a quarter to midnight in Century Park, somewhere in London, on the evening of December 31, 1999. You have a party invitation; it instructs you to wear white--hence your character's appellation--and have seen a brief glimpse of an attractive stranger, dressed all in black. Shortly after, you come upon a giant jigsaw piece, and a very bizarre statue of a very bizarre man, one Grad Kaldecki, whose fault all this will turn out to have been. Then a monument to him. There's also a strange device, a rucksack that looks--and acts--surprisingly like the one in _Curses_, and a sketch book belonging to a girl named Emily, intended to hold drawings of animals. WIth luck, you can figure out what to do before the celebrations start and you are sucked into the merriment.

What you find is a giant jigsaw puzzle; and you're already carrying a piece. Add to this a lovely Victorian clock, and you have the makings of an adventure, as, when a piece is correctly placed, it opens up a portal to another area of the game.

There are sixteen pieces. Each one is a self-contained puzzle; in no place do you need an object from any other, although a certain gadget found in one scene can be used in another, but is then lost--and therefore must be put to its intended use before being taken to that world, and one animal can only, I think, be sketched with the use of an object from another piece of the puzzle.

Through the course of the puzzles, there seem to be three ongoing goals: you need to collect the remaining pieces of the jigsaw, you ought to sketch the animals you find, and you get to know Black, the Mysterious Stranger, somewhat better. The motivation is admittedly weak here: putting together the puzzle and sketching the animals are both things done only because the materials to do so are at hand. While the rationale behind the puzzle pieces appears early on, until the epilogue is reached, there is no indication of the point of the sketchbook.

Graham Nelson has done an amazing job with the White-Black romance. Black is never assigned a gender: she or he can be whatever you want him or her to be, as long as it's attractive. Black has stayed a caucasian female for me, though White's gender has fluctuated. Rec.games.int-fiction has had a long discussion on the technique used. It is, I think devastatingly effective. I have a theory that Black's gender may, in fact, be determined, but to give my speculation would give away a great deal of the game.

Black, it turns out, is trying to modify the course of the Twentieth Century to make it better, or at least, what Black feels to be better. After realizing that allowing Black to make his or her changes is fatal to the progress of the game, it becomes clear that your job, as White, is to keep history the way it was, or, at least within the context of the game, should have been. This means thwarting Black at (almost) every turn; the tension between preserving your future and courting Black is ridiculously persuasive, despite that fact that Black is no more interactive than your standard IF NPC and that the depth of your crush on Black, within the game, makes little sense. This is another of my criticisms of the game: for someone on whom you're so hung up, you can do curiously little to elicit responses from Black. And one feels that, given Black's behavior throughout the game, you may well be heartily sick of the poltroon by the end.

The endgame takes place in The Land; it includes knowing winks to _Colossal Cave_ and _Zork_, and is basically one long Rube Goldberg/Heath Robinson puzzle: what you have to do is obvious, but, as you try to do it, like the Babel Fish in _Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy_, obstacles keep interposing. It's charming, and reasonably climactic. And just when you think it's all over, there's an epilogue, which (finally) reveals the purpose of the sketchbook, brings closure to the tension with Black, and, like _Trinity_, drops you back into the circle of time.

The game fares well as narrative; but how is it as a game? In short, just fine. There a a few flaws: one has to "look under" too many things. The Barge scene needs a bit more of a clue; as it stands, it's a "guess the author's intention" puzzle. For someone so central to the game, one would hope that Black were more interactive, but he/she doesn't seem to ever want to talk to you. There is one puzzle of exhaustion: the Enigma machine. One feels that Nelson was so pleased with what a spectacular bit of programming modeling an Enigma Machine in Inform was that he forgot to ask whether it would be a good puzzle. If one more stecker were given, reducing the problem to brute-forcing one steckering and one wheel setting, it would be a less annoying puzzle. There is one maze, thankfully brief and not a standard drop-and-map maze. There is one egregious "guess-the-verb" puzzle.

There are also a few wonderful puzzles. The Ghost Bomber is one such; although I've seen complaints from the rgif readers about it, I found it logical, well-motivated, and well-executed. Berlin is small, but tightly constructed and entertaining. In fact, most of the worlds have tight and satisfying puzzles.

At the end of the day, _Jigsaw_ is a masterful game. It lacks the endearing silliness of _Curses_; it is a much more serious game. It could not have come from Infocom, and I suspect could never have been produced as a commercial venture: too much effort went into the research to have been commercially viable. It is arguably the finest piece of IF yet written. That includes _Trinity_. I have not yet decided whether I prefer _Jigsaw_ or _Trinity_; for once, trying to compare _Trinity_ to anything else is not comparing apples and oranges. However, _Jigsaw_ ranks, on my personal scale of games, comfortably within the top two, followed at some distance by _Spellbreaker_.

I close with an observation and three questions: first, I would like to see a full bibliography rather than just the scattered notes at the end of each section's footnote. Since the v8 format is huge, and since the v5 footnote file is small, could we not also have a list of "Have you tried..." as we had in Curses? Second, shouldn't the bowl in Paris contain lime, rather than jasmine, tea? Finally, who is Emily?

[By the way, before everyone starts asking if Avalon is done again, noticing Adam's comments in his reviews, I'd better head you off and say that no, it isn't, and Adam is one of my betatesters, hence he's actually seen the thing.]

From: "Christopher E. Forman" (ceforma@rs6000.cmp.ilstu.edu)

 NAME:  A Journey Into Xanth                  PARSER:  AGT Standard
 AUTHOR:  Neil Sorenson                       PLOT:  Quite linear
 EMAIL:  None Given                           ATMOSPHERE:  Well-adapted
 AVAILABILITY:  GMD                           WRITING:  Prosaic, with good
   (:/incoming/if-archive/agt/xanth.zip)        spelling but poor grammar
 PUZZLES:  Easy, typical, but plot-related    SUPPORTS:  AGT Ports
 CHARACTERS:  Nicely developed                DIFFICULTY:  Easy - Medium
No, this is not the graphical "Companions of Xanth" game released by Legend Entertainment a couple years ago. Rather, it's a text adventure, set in the magical land of Xanth, that I stumbled across on GMD (in rather an odd place, as the header shows).

Xanth (the world, not this game) is the creation of author Piers Anthony, and is explored in a couple dozen books comprising the popular series. Unlike our world, known in Xanth as "Mundania", everything about Xanth is magical, and puns are taken quite literally -- a "card table" is literally a table made out of a giant playing card! Each inhabitant of Xanth has a single magical talent, and no two talents are identical.

"A Journey Into Xanth", a charming I-F adaption of Anthony's world, succeeds admirably in capturing the same whimsical appeal of the books. Author Neil Sorenson is obviously a dedicated fan -- his game is chock-full of places, plants, and personages from Xanthian lore, as well as truckloads of the really bad puns that Xanth is famous for. (You _will_ cringe. I guarantee it.)

Sorenson's "Xanth" puts the player in the role of Mim, a young Xanthian with the ability to summon a magical mirror, which he can use to communicate with anyone else in Xanth. A lengthy but well-written introduction sets up the plot. When the Sen-Trees (told you you'd cringe!) that guard Castle Roogna mysteriously wither and die, leaving the palace defenseless, King Trent sends for your friend Lief, the only one with the power to restore them. Because you have knowledge of swordsmanship, as well as the ability to communicate with the king via your magic mirror, you are chosen to go along as Lief's companion and guide.

The game handles better than most AGT packages I've had experience with. There are usually plenty of good synonyms, and some amusing responses (although there's no escaping some of those goofy-sounding AGT defaults).

What impressed me most about "Xanth" and convinced me to write a review of it were the NPCs, particularly Lief. Rather than attempting to successfully implement a convincing "ASK ABOUT " or ", " routine, Sorenson restricts all NPC interactions to the simpler "SHOW", "GIVE", and "TALK TO" commands, and leaves plot advancement to the more lengthy strings of dialogue produced by the actions. Although it may appear somewhat unrefined by TADS or Inform standards, this method _works_ here, and it's well-programmed. Dialogues appear when they're supposed to, and produce different responses based on game circumstances. This creates the illusion of some of the most realistic NPCs seen in an AGT game, although they are fleshed out through primarily non-interactive methods.

Unfortunately, while the dialogue routines are quite nicely done, the rest of the game's writing is marred by a great deal of rather poor grammar. I found no spelling errors (a plus), but few of the room descriptions are particularly memorable, and run-on sentences abound. Also, there are no double-spaces or indentations between the lines of dialogue, which makes it hard to read in places. Occasionally an event description will be printed out of order in some locations (a common problem with AGT games) which furthers the somewhat ramshackle appearance.

While most of "Xanth" is fairly logical (though sometimes in a strange, punnish kind of way), a few problems -- crossing the river in particular -- determine success or failure (i.e. life or death) based entirely on the outcome of a random number generator, a very, VERY big no-no in my book. Also, while many of the puzzles make perfect sense after you've solved them, there is often little indication beforehand that a particular solution is the correct one. Perhaps this is due to the somewhat inconsistent nature of the AGT play system more than anything else.

It's hard to knock "Xanth" completely though, because it tries so hard. The author has gone to great lengths to make the game as easy to play as possible, even including a set of brilliantly rendered ASCII maps (a great time-saver) with the game files. There's also a walkthrough in case you find some of the puzzles a bit too obscure. Speaking of the puzzles in "Xanth", although they aren't terribly difficult or imaginative, they do serve to actually advance the plot, a feature sadly lacking in so many text games. The plot itself is a pretty standard fantasy journey, and quite linear. Unless you do most things in a particular order, you'll either become halted or stuck. But because of the author's ability to make a good story with a somewhat limited development tool, I decided to score him fairly high on the wildcard points, even if the game is otherwise unspectacular.

As an adaption of sorts, the appeal of "A Journey Into Xanth" is limited primarily by the size of its target audience. It's obviously aimed at fans of the books. Players familiar with Piers Anthony's world should get a kick out of it if they can bear the AGT parser. If you're not at all familiar with Xanth, or if you've tried the Xanth series but didn't care for it, you'd be advised to look elsewhere, perhaps into a more mundane game.

From "Gareth Rees" (Gareth.Rees@cl.cam.ac.uk)

  NAME: The Mind Electric                 PARSER: Inform's usual
  AUTHOR: Jason Dyer                      PLOT: None
  EMAIL: jdyer@indirect.com               ATMOSPHERE: Good
  AVAILABILITY: Freeware, GMD             WRITING: Good
  PUZZLES: Impossible, bizarre            SUPPORTS: Inform ports
  CHARACTERS: None                        DIFFICULTY: Impossible w/o hints
I enjoy playing a game in which I am plunged into a new universe with unfamiliar but logical laws which I can discover by experimentation and careful thinking. "The Mind Electric" seemed to promise that, but it didn't deliver. The world it presented made no sense as a real world, and still made no sense when interpreted as some kind of "Neuromancer"- style virtual reality (i.e., the objects and landscapes are visual representations of programs and data in the memory of a network of computers). I didn't feel as though I was in a world with logical laws that I could deduce; I felt instead that I was in a world where an ad-hoc rationalisation could be produced for any event, however meaningless. I think the majority of those who commented on "The Mind Electric" on rec.arts.int-fiction (and it was the game which seemed to receive the most debate) would agree with me.

For example, at some point in the game I need to pick out one of ten thousand boxes, or else I will die. There is an intelligent cube which cannot talk, but wants to tell me the number of the correct box. There are several easy and straightforward ways it might do this. One way would be binary chop: the cube blinks if the number I guess is too high, and nods if I guess too low. Another way would be for the cube to communicate the number directly: "The cube blinks four times, then pauses, then blinks three times, then pauses...". But instead it insists on playing "Mastermind" with me, which might have been appropriate in "The Magic Toyshop", but not in a life and death situation!

One possibility for improvement would have been to give a set of rules at the start. Infocom's games "A Mind Forever Voyaging" and "Suspended" are similar in some ways to "The Mind Electric", and those games come with manuals explaining the nature of the world into which the player is plunged, and details on the kind of commands that might be expected to work in that world. The shareware game "Enhanced" doesn't come with a manual, but it does have a gentle introductory section in which the player is prodded into experimenting with the game's capabilities. Either of these approaches, followed by a consistent way of interacting with the virtual world, would have helped "The Mind Electric" become playable.

Even ignoring the debate about the nature of the world and the difficulty of the puzzles, it was just a dull game! The backstory (who are the Kaden and the Souden? what was I spying on and why? how did I got into this mess in the first place? who is the mysterious character who is trying to get me out?) sounded much more interesting than what actually happened in the game. Jason Dyer's responses in rec.arts.int-fiction suggest that he had a much more clearly worked-out rationalisation for the events in "The Mind Electric" than actually appears in the game:

As for the paper puzzle, well, the paper was a gift from the tall man. He had access to the passwords, but, was unable to send messages that were too long without being detected [...] logically speaking, knowledge of how a duplicator operates is one thing not erased in loyalty transfers since both Kaden and Souden use it.

Perhaps there should have been more of this background (and maybe a character or two?).

From "Gareth Rees" (Gareth.Rees@cl.cam.ac.uk)

  NAME: A Night at the Museum Forever     PARSER: TADS's usual
  AUTHOR: Chris Angelini                  PLOT: None
  EMAIL: cangelin@uoguelph.ca             ATMOSPHERE: Poor
  AVAILABILITY: Freeware, GMD             WRITING: Poor
  PUZZLES: Not very logical               SUPPORTS: TADS ports
  CHARACTERS: None                        DIFFICULTY: Impossible
I didn't enjoy playing this at all. Ninety percent of the game seemed to consist of tramping back and forth along the corridor in the different time zones, and the remaining ten percent was somewhat dull. No people, no interesting puzzles, no colourful background, no awe-inspiring future technology, nothing. The game seems to have not been playtested, and it raises rather more questions than it answers.

Why is the McGuffin something as prosaic as a diamond ring in a game wanting for colour, when it could have been an exciting Heechee (tm) gadget with miraculous properties? Is the coal/diamond puzzle a reference to "Zork I", or is it just serendipity? And anyway, how on earth did the coal turn into a diamond when it was just buried in a hole for 2000 years? Why is there a starvation time limit when there is no food in the game? Is this just the infamous "TADS has starvation and sleep deprivation time limits unless you explicitly turn them off" bug, or is it deliberate? Why does the walkthrough think I can refer to the "glass cover" as a "case"? And so on.

From "Gareth Rees" (Gareth.Rees@cl.cam.ac.uk)

  NAME: The One that Got Away             PARSER: TADS's usual
  AUTHOR: Leon Lin                        PLOT: Linear, very short
  EMAIL: unknown                          ATMOSPHERE: Excellent
  AVAILABILITY: Freeware, GMD             WRITING: Superb, funny
  PUZZLES: Not so good                    SUPPORTS: TADS ports
  CHARACTERS: Excellent                   DIFFICULTY: Easy
My favourite entry in the competition. The puzzles aren't up to much, but who cares? The writing is superb, atmospheric, and very funny. I usually find myself impatient with long sequences of text in adventure games, but even though "The One that Got Away" was brimful with text, I enjoyed it immensely. I must have spent ten times as long thinking of things to say to Bob as I did trying to catch any fish. I suppose I have a soft spot for this kind of mock American pioneer folklore.

I laughed out loud at some of the more purple passages, especially the example game sequence in the pamphlet, which is an accurate pastiche of the Infocom style of sample transcripts and at the same time a hilarious take on "Moby Dick":

"Curse you, Doby the Mackrel, curse you!" Pete exclaims, shaking his fist at the sea. "From Hell's heart I stab at thee."

I have a nitpick about an inconsistency in the text: if you type "kiss bob", then Bob replies, "I've been lonely since the missus died", but according to his other speeches, he has been mourning his first love Nellie all his life and has never married: "I always thought Nellie might come back, and I've waited, just minding this store, but I guess it'll never be."

However, I think it's a good sign when characters have enough background that I can worry about consistency like this. No other game in the competition had anything like this level of backstory.

Carl Muckenhoupt (carl@fox.earthweb.com) wrote the following in the newsgroup rec.arts.int-fiction:

I'd put ["The One that Got Away"] the category of "could have been written in AGT with no appreciable decline in quality" [...] I like detail. I like background objects that are fully fleshed-out. I like doodads with lots of parts that can be poked at individually. I like characters that do more that just stand there, waiting to respond to your actions. These are all things that AGT handles clumsily, if at all. Neither "Toonesia" nor "The One" gave us much beyond Rooms containing Objects.

I think this criticism is unfair. The complexity of implementation of a game should be just as complex as required by the story and characterisation, and no more. Just because it is possible to write a sliding-block puzzle in Inform or TADS, doesn't mean that every game should have some similar piece of complex machinery. Similarly, just because computers are large enough to store hundreds of thousands of words of prose, doesn't mean that every game should have pages and pages of irrelevant descriptive text (which is very hard to write vividly). It's kinder on the player to just say "that's not important" than to produce a dull description that nonetheless has to be read carefully for clues.

When I play "Adventure" today, I don't think, "This game would have been much improved if the lamp had a wick that had to be cut and adjusted every 100 turns, or if the nasty little dwarves had Eliza-style natural language parsers so that `dwarf, why do you throw knives at me' would produce the response `Is the fact that I throw knives at you the reason why you are unhappy?'".

If a story can be told well using only objects and rooms, then why not tell it that way? "The One that Got Away" was a very effective piece of fiction because it was concerned with people and their feelings and motivations, rather than mechanical puzzles. I agree that it doesn't expand the boundaries of what is possible with interactive fiction, but other entries in the competition (notably "Undertow") demonstrated that it's extremely difficult to expand these boundaries without losing a lot of valuable qualities that "The One that Got Away" had. To put it another way, a genre has boundaries to explore *because* there's a solid core of technically routine but artistically successful work to react against.

I hope that Lin writes more interactive fiction, and that he continues to orient his work towards strong characters. Other peoples' comments in the newsgroup suggest that he should work on the structure of the game -- "The One" was too easy to finish without ever having to quiz Bob about the history behind the game; instead, the puzzles should have been an inducement to explore the background -- and on the quality and number of the puzzles.

From: "Brian Reilly" (reillyb@gusun.acc.georgetown.edu)

  NAME:  Save Princeton               PARSER:  TADS
  AUTHOR:  Jacob Weinstein	      PLOT:  Rescue Princeton from
  EMAIL:  jacobw@cap.gwu.edu	      ATMOSPHERE:  Good
  AVAILABILITY:  GMD, shareware,$10   WRITING:  Good
  PUZZLES:  FAIR	              SUPPORTS:  TADS Ports
Egads! Gun-toting radicals have infiltrated the Ivy League. Nope, it's not Columbia of '69, but Princeton of today. As a mild-mannered perspective Princetonian, you duck away from your tour of Princeton out of boredom and begin to explore the the campus on your own, only to be startled by the sounds of gunfire erupting in the usually tranquil Princeton, NJ. When you come out of hiding, you can tell that something has gone drastically wrong.

Your explorations around Princeton soon lead you to discover that the Administration Building has been seized, and the President of Princeton is being held hostage. Now, it's up to you to oust the terrorists, and rescue President Shapiro. The puzzles in this game are done fairly well, but some tend to be rather illogical or bizarre. The game is full of a good amount of humor, although a lot of it is dependent on Princeton history or a familiarity with the campus. The characters add to the humor of the game, although many of the characters could have been more developed. I do have to add though, that I was ecstatic when I realized that the maze was a non-maze, and did not have to spend hours mapping. All in all, Save Princeton is a fun, enjoyable game.

From: "Christopher E. Forman" (ceforma@rs6000.cmp.ilstu.edu)

  NAME: Shades of Gray                       GAMEPLAY: Surprisingly responsive
  AUTHORS: Mark Baker, Steve Bauman, Belisana Magnificent, Mike Laskey,
           Judith Pintar, "Hercules", Cindy Yans
  PLOT: Complex and absolutely fascinating
  EMAIL: ?                                   ATMOSPHERE: Generally well-done
  AVAILABILITY: GMD, CompuServe (Freeware)   WRITING: Generally well-done
  PUZZLES: Above average                     SUPPORTS: PCs
  CHARACTERS: Varying degrees of realism     DIFFICULTY: Average - Difficult
The AGT programming language was designed to be easy to use, to give non-programmers the power to create their own games. Yet in games I've seen, its parser has been almost consistently flawed, leading me to believe that users didn't find this aspect of the programming as user-friendly as AGT's developers had intended.

But "Shades of Gray" is different. The annoying quirks that plague every other AGT game simply are not present. The parser generally accepts multiple methods of phrasing, a move in a wrong direction does NOT repeat the entire room description, and trying to examine something that isn't there gives a better message than the annoying "You see nothing special", which always seems to imply that something is there when it really isn't. Add to this the fact that the writing approaches the very best in _any_ text adventure, and you've got something well worth downloading.

What fascinates me about "Shades of Gray" is the fact that it wasn't written by a single author, or even a creative pair. This game is the combined efforts of _seven_ authors, from both the U.S. and the U.K. Not only that, but the authors' only means of communication has been through a private CompuServe Gamers' Forum! Having collaborated with a co-author myself, I can appreciate the difficulty in trying to merge the products of two creative minds into a single streamlined work of art, but SEVEN...! One would think that conflicting ideas and plot details would crop up incessantly, reducing the end product to a cluttered, incomprehensible mess. But, astoundingly, it doesn't.

In fact, "Shades of Grey" has the most fascinating plot I've ever seen in a work of I-F. You begin with no clue about who you are or what you're supposed to be doing, shifting back and forth between hallucinations and reality. Eventually you gain the help of the clairvoyant Lady Magdalena, whose Tarot cards seek to provide insight into your existence. (I often wonder if this game was Graham Nelson's inspiration for the Tarot puzzles in "Curses.") As you learn more about yourself, and your past and future, you act out the roles of yourself as a young child, a soldier, and Robin of Locksley and the Sheriff of Nottingham, all culminating in a complex political thriller surrounding Haiti. To say more would certainly spoil the entire game, but rest assured that everything fits together beautifully in the end, after you've faced every facet of yourself and put the events together.

The use of seven authors leads to a rather segmented design, but linearity serves the story well. The individual episodes vary in style and quality (both in the writing and the overall design), yet somehow this creates the effect of many pieces coming together. And the whole of "Shades of Grey" is far, far more than the sum of the parts.

Still, it's not perfect. The parser still isn't up to TADS level, but it's the closest I've seen from AGT. And there are some small mazes and a few puzzles that involve trying to guess the author's frame of thinking. But the rest of the game is so breathtaking that these flaws are easy to ignore.

Give this one a play. Even if you normally hate the AGT system, you'll enjoy it.

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

  NAME:  Suspended                    GAMEPLAY:  Early Infocom
  AUTHOR:  Michael Berlyn             PLOT:  Save the World
  EMAIL:  ???                         ATMOSPHERE:  Changing viewpoints
  PUZZLES:  Save/Restore              SUPPORTS:  All Infocom Ports
  CHARACTERS:  All-Robot              DIFFICULTY:  Expert
The implicit promise of a good adventure game is that the gaming experience is just like really being there, or as one of Infocom's early brochures put it, "It's like waking up inside a story." In Suspended, the promise is broken; deliberately. You aren't really there, and you don't wake up.

In Suspended, you play the part of an alien being frozen in an underground cryogenic chamber that is part of an underground complex that controls the planetary weather control devices. In the event of emergency, your mind (but not your body) is activated in order to coordinate repair efforts. The main characters are your six repair robots; Auda, Sensa, Iris, Poet, Whiz, and Waldo (Where's Waldo?), who perform the game's vital tasks, and report to you what they see and do. Each one has different abilities (one can only see, one can only hear, et cetera), and must be directed by you to the point where they will do the most good.

Suspended is a game that will appeal to some players and infuriate others. It is the ultimate save/restore game. It is flatly impossible to solve it on the first play through; you must acquire vital knowledge through failures before you can put it all together to be able to win the game.

Also, simple knowledge is not enough. The game works on a very strict time limit, and to win, you must not only know what to do, but be able to optimize the time it takes to do it. Since the robots take time to travel through the complex, you must have the foresight to have them in the proper locations at the proper times, which means ordering them there earlier. If you take too long, a team from the surface will enter the complex to take control from you.

It might be best not to think of Suspended as a work of Interactive Fiction at all. It is a pseudo-simulation game, written before software technology was developed enough to develop real simulation games. It is a game for frustrated would-be air traffic controllers who enjoy coordinating multiple activities from a central location, much more than it is a work of fiction. It is a game for people who like to play WITH games, not merely play them.

To help you, the game supplies a game map (the only Infocom game apart from Seastalker to do so), and markers to track the movements of your robots. The original edition gave a good, mounted map with rubber markers. The thin-paper map included with Lost Treasures I is much more difficult to work with. I haven't yet seen the components for Activision's new Science-Fiction Collection.

The parser is one of Infocom's early ones, and is missing several convenient abbreviations that players will be used to. Not merely "x" for examine, but also "z" for wait, and "g" for again are missing. The very handy "Oops" feature is also missing.

Suspended features three different levels of play, of increasing difficulty, designed to give the game more replay value. It might not be the best computer game ever written, as Rolling Stone said in their review, but it is worth a look.

From "Gareth Rees" (Gareth.Rees@cl.cam.ac.uk)

  NAME: Toonesia                          PARSER: TADS's usual
  AUTHOR: Jacob Weinstein                 PLOT: Mostly linear
  EMAIL: jacobw@infi.net                  ATMOSPHERE: Good
  AVAILABILITY: Freeware, GMD             WRITING: Good
  PUZZLES: Very nice                      SUPPORTS: TADS ports
  CHARACTERS: Fair (a bit static)         DIFFICULTY: Easy
I enjoyed playing "Toonesia". It captures a good deal of the flavour of the cartoons it pastiches, and makes excellent use of the logic of the cartoon world it takes place in: I found all of the puzzles were solvable on the first attempt, and the majority were very good.

There were problems with the descriptions (the directions on the mesa were reversed), and a few minor bugs (e.g., you could type "enter hole" from the mesa and get there directly, rather than messing about with the blindfold), but the main reason why I ranked "The One that Got Away" higher was because "Toonesia" seemed to lack energy.

Palmer Davis (palmer@ansoft.com) wrote the following in the newsgroup rec.arts.int-fiction:

The writing could use a bit more polish, but still manages to capture the spirit of Saturday morning. The NPCs don't, however -- if you encounter Daffy Duck or the Tasmanian Devil in a "real" cartoon, he'll be in your face until Porky Pig shows up for the fadeout, rather than just standing around like they do here.

I agree entirely; the characters in "Toonesia" are too static, and the game is directed too much by the player's own wanderings to be a completely successful pastiche. In a typical cartoon, Bugs would appear right at the start and his running battle with Fudd would continue to the end, with Fudd setting traps for Bugs and Bugs always escaping and turning the tables.

You can make an NPC more interesting by giving him or her a strong motivation and an ability to do things on his or her own initiative, not just in response to the player's actions. They are more interesting if they react to each other's actions as well as to the player's. And it helps a lot just to give them many different things that they can do. So in "Toonesia", the player should have had to make several attempts to deal with Bud, with interaction at each stage. The other characters should have had their own motivations and schemes which would either provide additional hindrances, or present opportunities for subversion by the player, or be just there for background.

From "Gareth Rees" (Gareth.Rees@cl.cam.ac.uk)

  NAME: Tube Trouble                      PARSER: Inform's usual
  AUTHOR: Richard Tucker                  PLOT: Linear, short
  EMAIL: rit10@cl.cam.ac.uk               ATMOSPHERE: Claustrophobic
  AVAILABILITY: Freeware, GMD             WRITING: Good
  PUZZLES: Good, very complex             SUPPORTS: Inform ports
  CHARACTERS: Not interactive enough      DIFFICULTY: Hard
I played this game on a BBC micro several years ago, and I was impressed by the neatness and complexity of the puzzle: I had a feeling of going round and round on a complex Heath-Robinson mechanism that I had to nudge a little bit each time it went round until finally I could step off where I wanted. I did my to best to capture this feeling in the opening sequence of "Christminster".

From: "Palmer Davis":

Not as sketchy as _Toyshop_, and not as pedestrian as _Library_, this entry still falls prey to the major shortcomings of both games, to lesser degrees. You are stuck inside the London Underground, and must find a way to extract food from a run-down old vending machine in a tube station.

Unlike _Toyshop_, _Tube_'s rather laconic style succeeds in much the same fashion as _Enchanter_ at making the setting seem real. Much of the tube station is left to the player's imagination to fill in, but the setting is familiar enough, and the handful of words carefully enough chosen to evoke the appropriate image from the player. Likewise, the vending machine looks and works just like you'd expect. Of course, relying on a shared experiential context to fill in atmosphere is hazardous; players in rural areas who do not normally encounter urban mass transit stations may not have enough background to provide the needed imagery.

Unfortunately, the limited vocabulary and amount of interaction with the NPCs (one of whom enters and then promptly vanishes before you can interact with her at all!) turns a good portion of the puzzle into a guessing game. This entry may have been an attempt at the "sudden" IF concept described in Whizzard's Supplement #1, but the reduced set of possibilities that the author implemented jars the player out of the tenuous sense of immersion that the writing creates. Keeping words, locations, and objects to a minimum works if done correctly; restricting the player's actions without providing a reason why (beyond "I don't understand ____ as a verb") doesn't.

No help at all was provided, and the author didn't include a walkthrough, so I still haven't seen a fairly sizeable portion of the game. Combined with the rather circumscribed nature of reality and the generally unexciting goal, that fact has kept me from wanting to return to finish the game. Authors of future entries that don't implement help systems might want to keep that in mind and at least provide a walkthrough.

BOTTOM LINE: Tightly written, but misses the train.

From "Gareth Rees" (Gareth.Rees@cl.cam.ac.uk)

  NAME: Uncle Zebulon's Will              PARSER: TADS's usual
  AUTHOR: Magnus Olsson                   PLOT: Linear
  EMAIL: mol@df.lth.se                    ATMOSPHERE: Good
  AVAILABILITY: Freeware, GMD             WRITING: Competent but dull
  PUZZLES: One great, rest pedestrian     SUPPORTS: TADS ports
  CHARACTERS: OK (there's only one)       DIFFICULTY: Easy
My third favourite of the competition games, after "The One that Got Away" and "A Change in the Weather". I was reminded very strongly of Infocom's game "Hollywood Hijinx": there's a mysterious will, a hunt through a deserted house, and plenty of descriptions which are enlivened by references to my childhood memories of the place. I almost expected to find Uncle Zebulon still alive at the end, menaced by my evil cousin Hector. Perhaps the fabled city of "Cyr-Dhool" which I reach at the end of the game is some kind of reference to Liz Cyr-Jones, co-author of "Hollywood Hijinx"?

The background to the game suggested a world in which magic takes the place of science and technology. (The genre is known as "elfpunk" and is exemplified by the novel "The Iron Dragon's Daughter" by Michael Swanwick.) This was very interesting, although it was perhaps too subtly done, and didn't seem as relevant to the game as it could have been. I wondered if the "train strikes" mentioned in the opening text (rather than, say, "magic carpet strikes") were evidence that the background wasn't part of the original design. Certainly the Greek mythology sits rather uneasily with either the elfpunk world in which the game starts or the generic-fantasy land in which it ends.

I enjoy games where I have to sift through lots of information to find material that's relevant to the puzzle I'm working on, and "Uncle Zebulon's Will" was good in this respect: two letters, a torn note, a scroll and a poem on a bronze plate. There was a point where I wondered if I was going to have to replicate Zebulon's alchemy experiments (shades of "Christminster" here). But it quickly became apparent that most of the information was redundant, and from there on I found it an easy game to finish.

The main impression I had of the game was that it was a very solid piece of work. There were no bugs, all the pieces of the plot fitted together smoothly, the hook at the start was intriguing, and the ending was good, though not as much of a surprise as it should perhaps have been.

There were various aspects that disappointed. Apart from the one-object restriction, which was excellent despite needing a completely gratuitous demon to enforce it, the puzzles seemed a bit pedestrian. There are four objects hidden in obvious places and *two* puzzles involving collecting a set of related objects. The writing was very flat and lifeless, managing to be lengthy without being either vivid or humourous. Half a dozen descriptions have some variation on "This room has been ransacked by your greedy relatives". Magnus Olsson commented in rec.arts.int-fiction:

I tried not to be too literary; the more flowery the prose, the more time one has to spend polishing it.

I'm afraid that it shows; perhaps a bit more floweriness would have helped. And I was hoping for at least some people in the land of Vhyl to welcome me. Perhaps the sequel will reveal where they've all gone.

From "Gareth Rees" (Gareth.Rees@cl.cam.ac.uk)

  NAME: Undertow                          PARSER: TADS's usual
  AUTHOR: Stephen Granade                 PLOT: Mystery
  EMAIL: sgranade@phy.duke.edu            ATMOSPHERE: Good
  AVAILABILITY: $10 requestware, GMD      WRITING: So-so
  PUZZLES: Obscure                        SUPPORTS: TADS ports
  CHARACTERS: Don't convince              DIFFICULTY: Hard
This is a very ambitious work unfortunately let down by its implementation. Interactive fiction has to come to grips with characterisation and complex character interaction, but it has to do that while allowing suspension of disbelief and remaining interesting and playable. This kind of material was something I considered doing for the competition, but rejected because I didn't have time, and because in any case I don't know how to do it! So I think Stephen was very brave to tackle it. It's just a shame that the result isn't very good.

The characters in "Undertow" don't seem to have the knowledge that they should have, based on what they've seen me do. For example, suppose I tell Carl that I have seen Thom's body in the water. Later on, I still get the exchange:

"What is it?" you ask him [Carl] en route.
"Thom. We've found him dead."

which was clearly written for the case when I hadn't seen Thom's body at all. The game let's me attack the other characters, but they don't seem to treat me any differently afterwards than they did before. Then there are perfectly sensible actions that are prevented for arbitrary and stupid reasons. The worst such problem I found was that I couldn't pick up Ashleigh's purse or get her gun! Surely no-one in such a situation -- a murdered man just discovered -- would leave a gun lying around on the deck for anyone to pick up? The game says that if I'm seen with a gun, then people will think I killed Thom. Well then, let me pick up the gun, and implement the other characters' suspicions!

"Undertow" seems not to have been play-tested much (if at all), when in fact the mystery genre demands extremely rigorous testing. It's hard to be a detective when you get responses like:

> ask ashleigh about carl
Carl is no longer here.

> carl, tell me about ashleigh
You can't reach that from the dinette bench.

There are lots of little bugs, such as "The battery cover is closed, revealing a nine-volt battery", the consistent misspelling of "gauge" as "gague", and the way the "shape" in the water that looks like Thom's body is still present after Thom's body has been pulled out of the sea. There are also far too many objects: try typing "tell all about thom" in the Forecastle -- I counted 25 scenery objects in that one room alone! This clutter obscures rather than illuminates.

There are basic problems with the way the story develops. After an extremely hectic opening, suddenly nothing else seems to happen until the boat explodes (a situation which reminds me of "Plundered Hearts"), and the player is left with no idea of what to do.

There does seem to have been a lot of work put into this, but the task facing authors of this kind of game would seem to be greater still. "Undertow" was too ambitious for the competition, but I'd be intrigued to see what Stephen Granade could produce if he went back to the code without any deadlines or time constraints and tried to finish writing the game. (If you need another play-tester, e-mail me).

From: "Christopher E. Forman" (ceforma@rs6000.cmp.ilstu.edu)

  NAME: Zanfar                              PARSER: Good ol' AGT
  AUTHOR: YAK (Your Adventure Kreator)      PLOT: Explore-the-old-mansion
  EMAIL: ???                                ATMOSPHERE: Very, very ordinary
  AVAILABILITY: Freeware, GMD               WRITING: Unremarkable
  PUZZLES: Generic                          SUPPORTS: AGT Ports
  CHARACTERS: Cardboard                     DIFFICULTY: Easy, if you can
                                            force yourself through it.
There are a number of ways for authors to draw attention to their games: by promoting them through newsgroups, web sites, and e-zines; by creating a favorable (or unfavorable) impression on players, who spread it by word of mouth; et cetera. A more imaginative trick is to give the game a name that places it dead last in an alphabetic directory listing on an FTP archive, so it grabs attention by being the very last thing a user sees when doing a "dir". Well, it worked on me, anyway. The title I refer to is "Zanfar", an appellation that seems to have absolutely no significance in the game itself, apart from the promotional scheme I've just outlined.

In fact, there's very little about "Zanfar" that's significant. Though it boasts 140 rooms, there just isn't much there. Very few of the rooms are more than padding, and it's painfully obvious what's important and what's not (the game doesn't allow you to examine ANY scenery). The rudimentary plot simply tells you that you're someone who enjoys exploring old houses like the one in the game, despite the fact that the locals warned you there's something dangerous there. Before long, though, you find out that the whole thing is just another collect-all-the-treasures operation, with no innovations to recommend it.

The puzzles are so cheesy and cliched, they could have come out of a white box labelled "Acme Jenerik Advenchur Puzzuhlz." Your exploits in "Zanfar" range from obtaining a light source for dark rooms, to unlocking things with keys (Did I say "The Awe-Chasm" had a lot of locks? "Zanfar" has even more!), to solving a drop-an-item-in-each-room maze, to dealing with a group of cookie-cutter NPCs -- there's an enraged wizard, a "Junk Food Junkie", and a "Humongeous [sic] Bat", to name a few. All this is strung together with wholly unremarkable writing.

As a result, "Zanfar" is neither good enough to gain widespread popularity nor awful enough to be a must-play for bad game aficionados. It's the kind of game that you forget all about a couple days after you solve it. If nothing else, "Zanfar" deserves recognition as the most _ordinary_ text adventure I've ever had the privilege(?) of having played.

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.
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 
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:
 ====                  ======  ===  ===  ====  ========       ======
Adventure               8.1    1.3  0.7    1     8      F_INF_TAD_ETC_GMD
Adv. of Eliz. Highe     3.1    0.8  0.3    1     5      F_AGT
All Quiet...Library	4.2    0.5  0.7    2            F_INF_GMD
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
Awe-Chasm		2.4    0.3  0.6    1     8	S?_IBM_ST
Balances		6.4    1.0  1.3    2     6      F_INF_GMD
Ballyhoo		7.0    1.8  1.5    3	 4	C_INF
Beyond Zork		8.1    1.5  2.0    3	 5	C_INF
Border Zone		6.7    1.4  1.4    4	 4	C_INF
Bureaucracy		8.3    1.8  1.6    3	 5	C_INF
Busted                  5.2    1.0  1.1    1            F_INF_GMD
Castaway		1.1    0.0  0.4    1     5      F_IBM_GMD
Change in the Weather   4.5    0.6  0.8    1            F_INF_GMD
Christminster           8.1    1.8  1.6    1            F_INF_GMD
Corruption              6.7    1.4  1.4    1     x      C_I
Cosmoserve		8.7    1.3  1.4    2     5      F_AGT_GMD
Crypt v2.0		5.0    1.0  1.5    1     3	S12_IBM_GMD
Curses			8.3    1.3  1.7    7     2	F_INF_GMD
Cutthroats		6.4    1.4  1.2    5	 1	C_INF
Deadline		7.0    1.3  1.4    4	 x	C_INF
Deep Space Drifter	5.5	    1.4    1     3      S15_TAD_GMD
Demon's Tomb            6.7    0.7  1.1    1     x      C_I
Detective		1.1    0.0  0.0    4     4-5    F_AGT_GMD
Detective-MST3K		5.1    0.1  0.1    2     7-8	F_INF_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		7.1    0.9  1.4	   5     2	C_INF
Enhanced		N/A		   0	 2      S10_TAD_GMD
Eric the Unready        7.4    1.5  1.4    1     x      C_I
Fable, A		2.0    0.2  0.1    1     6      F_AGT_GMD
Fish                    7.1    1.2  1.5    1     x      C_I
Gateway                 7.5    1.6  1.5    1     x      C_I
Great Archaelog. Race	6.5    1.0  1.5    1     3      S20_TAD_GMD
Guild of Thieves        6.8    1.1  1.2    1     x      C_I
Hitchhiker's Guide	8.0    1.6  1.6    5     5	C_INF
Hollywood Hijinx	5.7    1.0  1.5    4	 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 		7.0	    1.4    7     1-2	C_INF
Jacaranda Jim		7.0		   1	 x	S10_GMD (Uncertain)
Jeweled Arena, The	8.0    1.5  1.5    1     x      ?
Jigsaw			8.6    1.5  1.7    2     8	F_INF_GMD
John's Fire Witch	7.1    1.1  1.5    3     4	S6_TADS_GMD
Journey			6.9    1.3  0.8    1     5      C_INF
Jouney Into Xanth	5.0    1.3  1.2    1     8	
Klaustrophobia		7.3    1.2  1.4    4     1	S15_AGT_GMD
Leather Goddesses	7.8    1.4  1.7    5	 4	C_INF
The Legend Lives!	8.2    0.8  1.5    1     5      F_TADS_GMD
Lurking Horror, The	7.1    1.4  1.3    5     1,3	C_INF
MacWeslyan(PC Univ.)    5.6    0.7  1.0    1     x      F_TADS_GMD
Magic.Zip		4.5    0.5  0.5    1     3      S20_IBM_GMD
Magic Toyshop, The	3.6    0.5  1.0    1            F_INF_GMD
Mind Electric, The	5.1    0.5  0.8    2     7-8    F_INF_GMD
Mind Forever Voyaging	8.5    1.4  0.6    4	 5	C_INF
Moonmist		5.9    1.4  1.3    5     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
Night at Museum Forever 4.3    0.0  1.0    2     7-8    F_TAD_GMD
Nord and Bert		4.8    0.5  1.0    2	 4	C_INF
Odieus': Flingshot	3.3    0.4  0.7    2     5      F_INF_GMD
One Hand Clapping	7.1    1.1  1.3    2     5	F_ADVSYS_GMD
One That Got Away, The  6.4    1.2  0.9    2     7-8    F_TAD_GMD
Perseus & Andromeda     3.4    0.3  1.0    1     x      ?
Planetfall		7.4    1.7  1.6    5	 4	C_INF
Plundered Hearts 	7.8    1.4  1.3    2	 4	C_INF
Sanity Claus		9.0	           1     1	S10_AGT_GMD
Save Princeton		5.8    1.2  1.3    2	 8	S10_TAD_GMD
Seastalker		5.5    1.1  1.0    4	 4	C_INF
Shades of Grey		7.9    1.2  1.4    3	 1-2	F_AGT_GMD
Sherlock		8.2    1.5  1.6    2	 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	   5	 2	C_INF
South American Trek	0.9    0.2  0.5    1     5      ?_IBM_GMD
Space Aliens...Cardigan 1.8    0.5  0.4    4     3      S60_AGT_GMD
Spellbreaker		8.2    1.2  1.8	   4	 2	C_INF
SpellCasting 101        7.0    1.0  1.2    1     x      C_I
SpellCasting 201        7.8    1.5  1.6    1     x      C_I
SpellCasting 301        7.5    1.4  1.5    1     x      C_I
Starcross		7.0    1.1  1.3    5     1	C_INF
Stationfall		7.6    1.6  1.6    5	 5	C_INF
Suspect			6.2    1.3  1.2    2	 4	C_INF
Suspended		7.5    1.3  1.2    4	 8	C_INF
Theatre			6.1    0.7  1.0    2     6      F_INF_GMD
TimeQuest               8.6    1.5  1.8    1     x      C_I
TimeSquared             4.3    1.1  1.1    1     x      F_AGT_GMD
Toonesia		6.3    1.1  1.2    2     7      F_TAD_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    8     1-2	C_INF
Tube Trouble		3.3    0.5  0.4    1            F_INF_GMD
Uncle Zebulon's Will	7.7    0.7  1.0    1            F_TAD_GMD
Undertow		5.2    1.0  0.8    1            F_TAD_GMD
Undo			1.9    0.1  0.4    2     7      F_TAD_GMD
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		7.6    1.3  1.3    4	 5-6	C_INF
Witness, The		7.1    1.6  1.2    4     1,3	C_INF
Wonderland              7.5    1.3  1.4    1     x      C_I
World			6.5    0.6  1.3    2     4	F_SEE REVIEW Issue #4
Zanfar			2.6    0.2  0.4    1     8	
Zork 0			7.1    1.3  2.0	   2	 x	C_INF
Zork 1			6.0    0.7  1.5	   8	 1-2	C_INF
Zork 2			6.5    0.9  1.5	   6	 1-2	C_INF
Zork 3			6.1    0.6  1.4	   5	 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	8 votes
 2. Mind Forever Voyaging 8.5	4 votes
 3. Curses		  8.3	7 votes
    Bureaucracy		  8.3	3 votes

Editor's Picks of the Month:

My two picks for this issue are _Shelby's Light_ and _The Path to Fortune: Volume 1 of the Windhall Chronicles_. Both are engrossing, somewhat difficult (I'm still stuck in both), and well implemented. _Fortune_ has a ton of characters to play around with, which is a plus in my opinion. _Shelby_, while less populated, has an intricate plot that has kept me interested through the entire game so far.

Both of these are available on the ftp.gmd.de FTP site. Shelby is a TADS game, available in /if-archive/games/tads/shelby.zip, I believe. Windhall is a v8 Inform program, and as such requires jzip rather than zip to run. I don't have the info on me, but jzip is on ftp.gmd.de as well. Windhall is in /if-archive/games/infocom/windhall.z8.

	[Well, better late than never, I suppose. -GKW]

Soon, the unlikeliest of heroes will be chosen to embark on the unlikeliest
					   of adventures.../\
                                                         /    \
                                                / \    /     /
                                                \   \/     /
                                                  \      /
         THE PATH TO                              / \   \
         ___________                            /    /\   \
        |  _________|                         /    /    \ /
        | |_________                       _/    /
        |  _________|  ______   _____   __| |__/  _   _   _____   ____
        | |           |  __  | |  ___| |__   __| | | | | |  _  | | o__|
        | |           | |__| | | |    /   | |_   | |_| | | | | | | |__
        |_|           |______| |_|  /    /|___|  |_____| |_| |_| |____|
                       BY JEFF CASSIDY AND C.E. FORMAN

Windhall has fallen upon hard times.  Lord Osrich, ruler of the realm of
Rysch, has threatened to reclaim the tiny village and send its inhabitants
away, unless a great debt is paid.  The town's only hope lies in finding
and recovering the treasure of the great dragon Kirizith, hidden and nearly
forgotten for so many centuries...

Meet Aerin.
A simple blacksmith's apprentice, nothing more.  Certainly not the hero
selected by the village to seek out the dragon's lair...

...Or is he?

Meet the cast.
Fifteen fully-developed characters help and hinder Aerin in his quest:

  Borthur, the dwarven blacksmith, Aerin's mentor and best friend.
  Mielon, the mayor of Windhall (since no one else wanted the job).
  Idah, his wife, the finest storyteller in the land.
  Baezil, preparer of Windhall's finest culinary delights.
  Sir Gunther IX, the most incompetent and tongue-tied knight in Rysch.
  Creston the cleric, master of alchemy...when he feels like it.
  Kytan the thief (guard your gold closely).
  Denvil, the jovial (or is it pain-in-the-neck?) wood elf.
  Midknight, swordsman extraordinaire.
  Kaela, the enchanting young wizardess of Aerin's dreams.
  Mighty Nostrophidius, an ancient sorcerer whose powers are unmatched.
  The ever-rhyming Mire Cat, master of riddles and wordplay.
  The Haughty Chameleon, appearing and vanishing in the blink of an eye.
  Grrarr, werewolf of the Forest of Ansalon.
  And of course, the mighty Kirizith himself.

Meet the quest of a lifetime.
In a world where magic is the ultimate power of mortals,
           where only the most skilled warrior can survive,
           where only the most clever explorer can uncover the secret,

                           ADVENTURE IS INEVITABLE.

                            "The Path to Fortune"
                   Volume One of "The Windhall Chronicles"

                   Available on a ZIP Interpreter near you.

Excitement abounds. The 1996 I-F Competition looms in September. For those of you planning to enter, here are some preliminary things to keep in mind:

1. Your game can be written in any format: TADS, Inform, C++, whatever. But, if it isn't played and voted on by at least 10 people, it will be disqualified. Votes will be on a scale of 1 to 10 for each game. and authors and betatesters may not vote.

2. All the games are in the same category this year.

3. The final deadline looks like it will be Sept. 30, 1996.

4. Betatesters will be made available for your use starting in April. They are not mandatory.

5. All entries must be freeware, and should be playable in under two hours by the average player.

6. We need prize donations still. for this year's winners.

7. I will not be accepting votes this year. There is another who has shouldered the burden.

Thank you for helping to keep text adventures alive!