The Sounds of IF

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Karl Low

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Mar 30, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/30/98
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Just curious, there was a bit of a thread about this in the rec.games.design
group and I was wondering what the folks here would think about it.

Basically, the thread was based around the idea of designing an "audio-only"
computer game. By that meaning that some situation was presented (brain in a
jar?) where all you had was sound. The game itself would be voice
activated/controlled and all the puzzles and things would be revolve around
sound.

(ie.. sound of fire burning down one corridor.. back a ways there could be
water pouring.. perhaps somewhere farther back there was the sound of
something knocking over a bucket.)

Could this possible done as a choose your own adventure idea with a CD? Ie..
play track one, then have a little booklet which gives choices about what to
do and which track to skip to..

More importantly.. would it be fun?

Karl


Steven Marsh

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Mar 31, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/31/98
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On Tue, 31 Mar 1998 13:05:55 GMT, rude...@ptd.net (JohnG) wrote:

>On Mon, 30 Mar 1998 20:46:31 -0700, "Karl Low"
><kw...@deletethis.cadvision.com> wrote:
<snip>


>>
>>Basically, the thread was based around the idea of designing an "audio-only"
>>computer game. By that meaning that some situation was presented (brain in a
>>jar?) where all you had was sound. The game itself would be voice
>>activated/controlled and all the puzzles and things would be revolve around
>>sound.

<snip>


>>Could this possible done as a choose your own adventure idea with a CD? Ie..
>>play track one, then have a little booklet which gives choices about what to
>>do and which track to skip to..
>>
>>More importantly.. would it be fun?

<snip>
> Would it be fun? Why do you even have to ask? Of COURSE it would be
>fun! Well, depending upon the talent behind the project, of course.
>And I imagine that visually-challenged gamers would appreciate it.
>Heck, it'd be an interesting experience for anyone to play an
>audio-based game in a darkened room, don't you think? It sounds like
>good group sport, as well. Like Radio Mystery Theatre, eh?

Yes, it -would- be fun. But something similar has already
been done, with limited commercial success.
TSR (the folks who make Dungeons & Dragons [before they were
bought by Wizards of the Coast]) made a couple of CD adventure games
in 1994 called "Terror T.R.A.X."
They released two of these: one called "Track of the
Werewolf", the other "Track of the Vampire". They revolved around the
idea of "Where do the really odd calls to 911 go?" You played the
role of one of these -special- 911 operators, and you needed to
dispatch agents from your bureau to deal with these calls; it all
occurred in near-real time (with gaps for dramatic license), which
meant that the agents demanded to know what to do immediately. They
were really well-done and very scary; darkened room, headphones (it
had full stereo)... wow.
On the other hand, they were also pretty expensive,
comparitively speaking; they cost the same as a regular CD (about
$13), but were really only listened to a few times until the "correct"
path was chosen; then the appeal wore off. (Though it's been years,
and I've forgotten the right thing to do... I may have to replay them
tonight.)
The other drawback is the limited time of play. Each CD was
right around 73 minutes... about as much as you can realistically put
on a standard CD. The "correct" path obviously didn't make use of all
of these minutes, since many minutes needed to be set aside for
"wrong" events. By comparison, your average Fighting Fantasy book
took hours to read and complete, for a fraction of the price.
So there's a definite appeal to these kind of games (IMO), but
there's also a few technical problems to be overcome.

Steven Marsh
ma...@nettally.com


Joe Mason

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Mar 31, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/31/98
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In article <35206...@news.cadvision.com>,

Karl Low <kw...@deletethis.cadvision.com> wrote:
>Just curious, there was a bit of a thread about this in the rec.games.design
>group and I was wondering what the folks here would think about it.
>
>Basically, the thread was based around the idea of designing an "audio-only"
>computer game. By that meaning that some situation was presented (brain in a
>jar?) where all you had was sound. The game itself would be voice
>activated/controlled and all the puzzles and things would be revolve around
>sound.
>
>(ie.. sound of fire burning down one corridor.. back a ways there could be
>water pouring.. perhaps somewhere farther back there was the sound of
>something knocking over a bucket.)

Well, in text adventures I can think of a couple of situations that would lend
themselves to this perfectly.

The most obvious example would be the Darkness section of _So Far_ (which is
basically EXACTLY what you describe, unless you bring a light in yourself -
which is a very eerie effect which I recommend you try at least once, even
though I think it may render the game unwinnable.)

I can imagine a graphical version of So Far (well, not REALLY - it wouldn't
work as a graphical adventure, IMHO) in which sounds are integrated throughout
the game. Then there's a section with graphics, but almost no sound (you
know the one I'm talking about). And then, suddenly, you're plunged into
darkness - and there's sound all around you! I think it'd be a big shock to
the player, if they're not expecting it, and it would be a really fun segment.
(I base this on the fact that the current version is a really fun segment.)
Whether a whole game could be done this way is another matter.

As another example, consider _Suspended_. I would love to see this game redone
with a different interface. Basically, its the closest I can think of to
your "head in a jar" idea - the player is cryogenically frozen and hooked up
to a computer system which controls the complex. Everything the player reads
on-screen is actually a communication from the computer (with on exception -
heh, heh). The player guides several robots around by giving them orders, and
they report back describing what they "see". The interesting part is that
they all see in different ways: one sees by sonar, one by normal visuals, one
has only audio sensors, so you get different descriptions from the different
robots. (My favourite is the one who "sees" normally, but whose circuits are
damaged so that it reports using metaphors and other poetic devices.)

I could see this being done with a VR type interface - the currently active
robot would send its "version" of the world, making different displays for
viduals and sonar, and a blank screen for the audio robot.

Joe

Gunther Schmidl

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Mar 31, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/31/98
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> The other drawback is the limited time of play. Each CD was
>right around 73 minutes... about as much as you can realistically put
>on a standard CD. The "correct" path obviously didn't make use of all
>of these minutes, since many minutes needed to be set aside for
>"wrong" events. By comparison, your average Fighting Fantasy book
>took hours to read and complete, for a fraction of the price.
> So there's a definite appeal to these kind of games (IMO), but
>there's also a few technical problems to be overcome.

This could easily be overcome by using wave samples (or, even better, MP3s).
I have 'Last Chance to See' at home, which contains the full book (by D.
Adams) in English & German, lots of pictures and the whole English text read
by the author. In addition, you can fit around 600 to 700 minutes of music
onto one CD with MP3, so this shouldn't be too much of a problem.

AFAIK, The Space Bar by S. Meretzky has one character you must play that can
only rely on sound (but I haven't had the time to play this far


...and then, there's always So Far, which also has a scene with sound only,
described through text.

--
+------------------------+----------------------------------------------+
+ Gunther Schmidl + "I couldn't help it. I can resist everything +
+ Ferd.-Markl-Str. 39/16 + except temptation" -- Oscar Wilde +
+ A-4040 LINZ +----------------------------------------------+
+ Tel: 0732 25 28 57 + http://gschmidl.home.ml.org - new & improved +
+------------------------+---+------------------------------------------+
+ sothoth (at) usa (dot) net + please remove the "xxx." before replying +
+----------------------------+------------------------------------------+

Paul Fernhout

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Mar 31, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/31/98
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Karl Low wrote:
> Just curious, there was a bit of a thread about this in the rec.games.design
> group and I was wondering what the folks here would think about it.
>
> Basically, the thread was based around the idea of designing an "audio-only"
> computer game. By that meaning that some situation was presented (brain in a
> jar?) where all you had was sound. The game itself would be voice
> activated/controlled and all the puzzles and things would be revolve around
> sound.

Karl -

Funny you should ask...

Our company (my wife and I) is just about to release a piece of software
that can do just that on Win95/NT. It is called the StoryHarp(TM)
Audioventure Authoring System. We haven't wanted to preannounce
StoryHarp given this news group's views on such announcements (much as I
have been tempted over the past few months by all the talk about
graphical creation of adventures and making systems easier for novices
to use). But I just couldn't resist responding to your post. You should
be able to download a fully functional evaluation copy of StoryHarp by
next week.

A tiny amount of information on StoryHarp is available now at:
http://www.kurtz-fernhout.com
More will be there in the next week or so.

You can play audioventures with StoryHarp by using speech recognition
and text-to-speech (using Microsoft Agent and a SR and TTS engine) or by
pointing and clicking at phrases and reading the transcript (something
like a CYOA). It also comes with an editing environment designed to make
it easy to create such adventures. You can add sounds and music along
with or instead of spoken text. StoryHarp audioventures are not as fancy
as the adventures you can create with Inform, TADS, or HUGO, but
nonetheless they can be fun interactive stories with a charm of their
own.

You can play audioventures with the monitor turned off. How well this
works out depends on how well the audioventure is written. This can be a
nice rest for the eyes of those of us who stare at computer monitors too
much anyway.

We'll post something with more details when it is ready.

> More importantly.. would it be fun?

We think so! :-)

-Paul Fernhout & Cynthia Kurtz
Kurtz-Fernhout Software
=========================================================
Developers of custom software and educational simulations
Creators of the Garden with Insight(TM) garden simulator
http://www.kurtz-fernhout.com

Michael Feir

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Mar 31, 1998, 3:00:00 AM3/31/98
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There has been some discussion of that idea in Audyssey, a magazine I edit
concerning games accessible to the blind. Such a game might work quite
well, but the general concensus seems to be that it
would need a certain level of complexity to be worthwhile. I doubt you could do that
on a simple audio CD, but using a CD-rom, if a game were to be made
with sound as the main means of presenting information, it would be of major interest to my readers.

Michael Feir, editor of Audyssey

Joe Mason

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Apr 1, 1998, 3:00:00 AM4/1/98
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In article <3520d2f1...@news2.nettally.com>,

Steven Marsh <ma...@nettally.com> wrote:
> On the other hand, they were also pretty expensive,
>comparitively speaking; they cost the same as a regular CD (about
>$13), but were really only listened to a few times until the "correct"
>path was chosen; then the appeal wore off. (Though it's been years,
>and I've forgotten the right thing to do... I may have to replay them
>tonight.)
> The other drawback is the limited time of play. Each CD was
>right around 73 minutes... about as much as you can realistically put
>on a standard CD. The "correct" path obviously didn't make use of all
>of these minutes, since many minutes needed to be set aside for
>"wrong" events. By comparison, your average Fighting Fantasy book
>took hours to read and complete, for a fraction of the price.

Well, the length problem could be solved in a couple of ways. First of all,
multiple CD's is an obvious solution, but as DVD grows in popularity it would
be a much better platform.

Second, if it were in CD-ROM format, using MP3 or other audio compression would
allow much more sound on a single CD.

Of course, this doesn't address the cost factor. DVD's and multiple-CD sets
would cost much more. As a CD-ROM, however, it might be much cheaper than the
competition (full-blown graphic adventures). The problem with a CD-ROM is that
many people don't have their computers hooked up to complete stereo systems -
and, really, the computer is an incredibly intrusive object. If its done by
computer, it would no longer be a matter of curling up in your favourite
armchair, closing your eyes and pointing the remote and clicking.

(Note that this is the main problem with textual I-F, too - sitting there
typing at a computer just isn't as much fun as curling up with a book. Curling
up with a PalmPilot is a solution here, but PalmPilot's can't read CD's.)

Joe

Ola Sverre Bauge

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Apr 2, 1998, 3:00:00 AM4/2/98
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Michael Feir wrote...

Excuse me, but I'm curious about a few matters regarding IF and the
blind: Do most blind people use external voice synthesizers / voice
boxes or are software synthesizers preferred? Are things such as
animated intro screens in Z-machine games, or the Z-machine's screen
model in general, a problem? (cf. Lost Spellmaker among others) Is
there any way to suggest high / low / fast / slow voices to the speech
synthesizer for the various characters?

As Z-machine adventures may eventually come to have sound effects and/or
background/ambient sounds included, could it become a problem to hear
the synthesizer over the sound effects, ie. would most people have
seperate external amplification for the sound effects alone?

For that matter, do most of the r*if crowd have external amplification
such as a HiFi or rack hooked up to their computers, or are most of you
at the mercy of multimedia speakers (shudders) and whatever volume
controls your OS / software hands you? I know *I* would go crazy if all
I had to adjust the volume was that speaker icon on the Win 95
taskbar...

Sorry if this has all been covered before my time, or in January when I
was offline, but I would hate to see text adventures, one form of game
which should definitely be accessible to the blind, closed off to them
because of meddling technicalities.

Ola Sverre Bauge
o...@bu.telia.no
http://w1.2327.telia.com/~u232700165

Russell "Coconut Daemon" Bailey

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Apr 2, 1998, 3:00:00 AM4/2/98
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Yep, it would be fun. Here's my idea:
*Format: BBC-style radio drama, with the appropriate conventions, except
for second person present tense.
*Gameflow branches, with multiple situations and paths, except for
realtime (choices appear and dissapear from moment to moment)
*Choices made from a simple text menu.

This sounds like a great idea... with audio compression, one could get several
hours of audio on to a single CD. Oh, and one other thing... perhaps the
choices could be chosen by voice selection.

Russell


Paul Fernhout

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Apr 4, 1998, 3:00:00 AM4/4/98
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Announcing StoryHarp version 1.0

The StoryHarp Audioventure Authoring System is an interactive
environment for playing and creating audio adventures. Using StoryHarp,
you talk to your computer and your computer talks back with speech,
sounds, and music.

StoryHarp runs under Windows 95 and Windows NT 4.0. Speech I/O and sound
effects require installing Microsoft Agent and a speech recognition and
text-to-speech engine. Microsoft provides these for downloading from
their web site.

We have just released a fully functional evaluation version of StoryHarp
on our web site at:
http://www.kurtz-fernhout.com

Please try it out and let us know what you think!

The StoryHarp player interface works sort of like a Choose Your Own
Adventure (CYOA).
* You make a selection from a list of choices by clicking on or saying
the choice.
* StoryHarp makes changes to internal variables as needed.
* StoryHarp presents you with a reply to your command in a transcript
and via text-to-speech.
* StoryHarp offers an updated list of choices.

StoryHarp was designed with two ends in mind:
* To make the authoring environment as simple as possible so you can
focus on creative writing, and
* To provide the best environment for creating and playing
voice-operated adventures.

You create a StoryHarp story by making rules. Rules interact with state
variables to produce the flow of the story. Three navigation views
(table, map, and browser) help you manage large collections of rules.

StoryHarp does not compete directly with sophisticated IF authoring
systems such as Inform, TADS, or Hugo. For example, it does not have a
parser. Instead, StoryHarp offers something different -- voice operated
adventuring and an integrated story editor designed to be easy to use.
You can edit adventures while you are playing them.

We hope that StoryHarp draws more novices into the IF field. While any
form of IF requires programming, StoryHarp tries as much as possible to
keep programming in the background and writing in the foreground. We
also hope StoryHarp provides a way for experienced IF authors to rough
out their ideas quickly.

-Paul Fernhout & Cynthia Kurtz
Kurtz-Fernhout Software
=========================================================
Developers of custom software and educational simulations
Creators of the Garden with Insight(TM) garden simulator
http://www.kurtz-fernhout.com

StoryHarp is a trademark of Kurtz-Fernhout Software.

Zaphod1342

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Apr 5, 1998, 4:00:00 AM4/5/98
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>The problem with a CD-ROM is that
>many people don't have their computers hooked up to complete stereo systems -
>and, really, the computer is an incredibly intrusive object. If its done by
>computer, it would no longer be a matter of curling up in your favourite
>armchair, closing your eyes and pointing the remote and clicking.
>
>(Note that this is the main problem with textual I-F, too - sitting there
>typing at a computer just isn't as much fun as curling up with a book.
>Curling
>up with a PalmPilot is a solution here, but PalmPilot's can't read CD's.)

Hmm... if speech synthesis and voice recognition get a bit better, I think we
might (maybe, well hopefully) see a product like the (hypothetical) "Sony
IFMan." Put a floppy disk containing a Z-Code or TADS data file, put on a
headset w/ microphone, and start playing! (You talk instead of type, and
listen instead of read.)

Games like "Christminster" or "Jigsaw" would be really fun to play this way.
Hey, maybe the machine could even put music or Sound FX in the background!
That would be really cool.
--> <----> <----> <--
Name: Nat Budin
Email: budi...@DELETECAPSANDNUMBERSgeocities.com
ICQ: 9020946
--> <----> <----> <--

Paul Fernhout

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Apr 6, 1998, 3:00:00 AM4/6/98
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Zaphod1342 wrote:
> Hmm... if speech synthesis and voice recognition get a bit better, I think we
> might (maybe, well hopefully) see a product like the (hypothetical) "Sony
> IFMan." Put a floppy disk containing a Z-Code or TADS data file, put on a
> headset w/ microphone, and start playing! (You talk instead of type, and
> listen instead of read.)
>
> Games like "Christminster" or "Jigsaw" would be really fun to play this way.
> Hey, maybe the machine could even put music or Sound FX in the background!
> That would be really cool.

Nat -

While it isn't as portable as the IFMan proposed here, you can have this
functionality now on your portable computer by running StoryHarp on it,
if you have Microsoft Agent and a SR amd TTS engine installed. Music and
SoundFX are also supported, and the designer can easily switch music
based on what the player is doing in the audioventure.

When we first started StoryHarp, one of the uses we envisioned was
people making a custom game to play at a party. Portable computers are
perfect for that. The two pound Libretto does not support sound input,
but many other lightweight portables do. One drawback with the current
StoryHarp voice recognition based on Microsoft Agent is that you have to
press a key to talk -- but we're working on that, since otherwise you
could just run speaker and microphone cables from a desktop to another
room (and so have a portable audio terminal).

StoryHarp will run on some 486/66mhz machines (with some restrictions to
choice of animated character), so many people with portables that have
line-ins for microphones should be able to use them for audio IF. The
built in microphones in portables often give poor results for voice
recognition, so that is why a line-in port is probably needed.

StoryHarp itself isn't very CPU intensive. Speech recognition is.
StoryHarp stories are still fun to play without SR by clicking on
choices and listening to the results via TTS (which is less CPU
intensive that SR); so a portable player on WinCE or the MP2000 without
SR is a real near term possiblity. I don't think the Pilot has the
horsepower to do TTS, but it may; the original Mac has TTS and it had a
similar CPU to the Pilot.

StoryHarp can also use wave files instead of TTS, so this is another way
to go for platforms with decent audio out but no TTS support (like older
newtons), at a cost of requiring a few megabytes FLASH memory for audio
storage (and a resultingly much longer download time to the PDA unless
the game came on a card). Since you can pick up a Newton MP120 for a
couple hundred dollars, this might be very close to an IFMan without SR.
A Newton player for StoryHarp is on the drawing board, but we haven't
yet had time to get to it and so I can't promise anything about it.

Right now, you can get YAZI from another company, which is a Z-machine
engine for the Newt, which allows you to play existing IF games. I don't
think it supports sound out though, but it wouldn't surprise me if they
have gotten it to work with the MP2000 TTS engine (which unfortunately
was never officially released to the public by Apple).

A wireless lightweight IFMan today is also a possibility using radio,
although it might need some hardware customization. With an FM two-way
radio system, you could have IF anywhere in your building by talking to
a portable walkie-talkie device somehow linked wirelessly to your
desktop running StoryHarp.

Using a cell phone or cordless telephone to interface with StoryHarp IF
is also a possibility, although I tend to think that general purpose
voice recognition would not work as well over the telephone because of
signal clipping and line noise and ambient noise (but I haven't tried
this). If telephone recognition can be made to work reliably, providing
stories instead of just music for on-hold customers or for tasteful
1-900 services might be an interesting StoryHarp IF application. If you
could call such services on a cell phone, that is pretty close in form
factor and portability to the IFMan you proposed.

-Paul Fernhout


Kurtz-Fernhout Software
=========================================================
Developers of custom software and educational simulations

Creators of the StoryHarp(TM) Audioventure Authoring System
http://www.kurtz-fernhout.com

GLYPH

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Apr 7, 1998, 3:00:00 AM4/7/98
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Zaphod1342 wrote:
>
> >(Note that this is the main problem with textual I-F, too - sitting there
> >typing at a computer just isn't as much fun as curling up with a book.
> >Curling
> >up with a PalmPilot is a solution here, but PalmPilot's can't read CD's.)
>
> Hmm... if speech synthesis and voice recognition get a bit better, I think we
> might (maybe, well hopefully) see a product like the (hypothetical) "Sony
> IFMan."

That would be neat, but I like being able to re-read the screen. A
PalmPilot (or similar sized computer) Z-machine interpreter would be
tremendously cool.

Student, playing Hitchhiker's Guide on PalmPilot during class : "Hee hee
ha ha!"

Professor : "Excuse me, just what are you doing?"

Student : "Uh... I'm .. taking notes. Yeah, that's it."


- GLYPH

Jason Compton

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Apr 7, 1998, 3:00:00 AM4/7/98
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GLYPH (graham...@hotmail.com) wrote:
: That would be neat, but I like being able to re-read the screen. A

: PalmPilot (or similar sized computer) Z-machine interpreter would be
: tremendously cool.

They do exist, you know. There's even a Gameboy interpreter.

--
Jason Compton jcom...@xnet.com
Editor-in-Chief, Amiga Report Magazine VP, Legacy Maker Inc.
http://www.cucug.org/ar/ http://www.xnet.com/~jcompton/
Choose and renounce... throwing chains to the floor.

Dennis Matheson

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Apr 7, 1998, 3:00:00 AM4/7/98
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GLYPH wrote:
>
> Zaphod1342 wrote:
>>snip<<

> That would be neat, but I like being able to re-read the screen. A
> PalmPilot (or similar sized computer) Z-machine interpreter would be
> tremendously cool.
>
>>snip<<

Isn't there a version of Frotz for the Pilot? I have one for my
palmtop (FrotzCE). I know you mentioned that the Pilot couldn't read
CDs, but I have about 5 games on my Casiopeia right now, including
Jigsaw, so you can put a couple of good size games on there.

--
"You can't run away forever, but there's nothing wrong
with getting a good head start" --- Jim Steinman

Dennis Matheson --- Dennis....@delta-air.com
--- http://home.earthlink.net/~tanstaafl

Jason Compton

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Apr 8, 1998, 3:00:00 AM4/8/98
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Dennis Matheson ("Dennis..Matheson@"@transquest..com) wrote:
:
: Isn't there a version of Frotz for the Pilot? I have one for my

: palmtop (FrotzCE). I know you mentioned that the Pilot couldn't read
: CDs, but I have about 5 games on my Casiopeia right now, including
: Jigsaw, so you can put a couple of good size games on there.

It's not a Frotz version but it is an Infocom interpreter.

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