There are two things that I'd like to apologize for in submitting these
reviews. The first is that they are so late after the competition. My
excuse: been on vacation, and afterwards been a bit overworked. The
second apology is that there are only eight reviews here. My excuse...
well, quite not so good.
Okay, when the competition started I was out of a job and just getting
settled into a new apartment in a new town... I put in a big marathon
weekend and loved it. Then the next week, I got hired. AND, in
fairness I should mention, I got into Ultima Online.
But in any case, the games that I played, I gave my all. And I wrote
lengthy reviews right away. So I submit these eight reviews, in
alphabetical order, and hope that the authors and the players enjoyed
the overall experience as much as I did.
AUNT NANCY’S HOUSE
Interestingly enough, I have an Aunt Nancy myself; but that’s neither
here nor there. This is not a game. It is not billed as a game. It’s
a series of rooms that may be explored, based on a real place which
doubtless holds a lot more nostalgia for Nate Schwartzman than it does
The game gives immediate warning that there are no puzzles to solve;
you are just supposed to "wander around and have fun." However, the
descriptions are sparse, the object manipulation is uninteresting, and
the locale is just an ordinary house with nothing to do. The most
interesting part of the game is watching a virtual TV that says nothing
but "Star Wars is on TV." Of course, Star Wars continues to play in
your head even after you leave the room. Novice Informers, please watch
your daemons; things like televisions should use each_turn, or at least
have an "if" statement that prevents you from hearing it outside the
I sincerely hope you will not take this review as an insult, Nate,
because I believe you already knew what you were creating. You must
have realized that, like "My First Stupid Game" last year, it’s not a
real entry. So I hope you will continue to learn Inform, and offer
something with a plot next year. Good luck.
A BEAR’S NIGHT OUT
Following in the footsteps of last year’s entertaining "Ralph", "A
Bear’s Night Out" is an adorable role-playing exercise that makes you
play a helpless cute furry animal -- in this case a teddy bear.
Adorable it is, no question about it. It is partly because of this that
I was inclined to be cynical about the cloyingly cute and fluffy feel of
the game. But in the end, it’s all in good fun. The references to
popular cartoons and to other games are charming, and the
self-referential remarks about the author and his pets were good for a
few laughs. And I did appreciate the surreal aspects, not only of being
a walking teddy bear, but of acquiring objects from other works of
interactive fiction simply by playing them. And okay, I like the cat.
I see nothing in particular to fault about the execution of ABNO; it
was quite skillfully coded and had a decent atmosphere, but in a broader
sense it seemed a little bit lackluster. In Ralph, there was a distinct
goal presented right from the beginning, and all the actions taken by
your character seemed more or less driven towards solving that goal.
But ABNO feels a bit too random by comparison; the puzzles were often
sort of unmotivated, as if the whole intent was to give you situations
in which you can act cute. Any sense of accomplishment from completing
various tasks was muted a bit by the broader question of what the
overall point is.
So, on the whole, I liked ABNO. I appreciate its witty responses to my
actions, and its highly unique player character. But I always felt
vaguely uncomfortable while playing, as if I was racing to keep up with
some kind of inside joke that wasn’t really going anywhere.
I’ve always had a special fondness for epic games that take a broad
view of Time as a theme. A Mind Forever Voyaging, the time travelling
segments of Spellbreaker, TimeQuest… I just eat this stuff up.
So when I figured out what "Edifice" was all about, after a little
weirdness in the beginning of the game, I was delighted! This game is a
one-man (or one-Beast) evolutionary saga, chronicling the progress of a
species (definitely humanoid, possibly historical or possibly in a
parallel universe) from an unintelligible grunting animal, up through
the ages of the hunter-gatherer stage, to become a caveman developing
the roots of communication, and finally a great tribal chief leading his
people in a war for survival.
As a story, the execution is marvelous. Particularly delightful was
the language scene, where you are given all the tools to communicate in
a new language with a foreign stranger. As my dictionary grew steadily,
I felt a fine sense of accomplishment to rival any of the best puzzles
I’ve played. The Stranger’s vocabulary was broad enough to make him a
genuinely loveable NPC, with only a little frustration that he wasn’t
understanding me (after all, he wasn’t supposed to).
The game is a little bit long, and I found myself hurrying through the
walkthrough at the end because I wanted to see where the game would lead
before my two hours were up. This was disappointing, especially since I
was really hoping for the satisfaction of solving the language puzzle by
myself, but wasn’t allowed due to time constraints.
Then, too, the game was slightly marred by some minor "guess what I’m
thinking" puzzles. I was stumped by the need to draw pictures on bark
("crush berries?" huh?), and also found throwing sticks at stumps a
slightly questionable demand in the walkthrough. I imagine some players
might have figured these things out, but I’m pretty sure I would never
have gotten them without hints.
On the whole, though, I got a great deal of pleasure out of Edifice,
and I congratulate Lucian on an excellent effort. It was the first game
that I played, and I originally gave it an 8. After playing a few more
games, I bumped it up by one more point: this game is a truly
THE LOST SPELLMAKER
Okay, let me say this first of all: the scrambled title screen of The
Lost Spellmaker is TOTALLY COOL!!!!! What can I say, I’m a sucker for
special effects, even in a text adventure. Neil, can I convince you to
lend me the Inform source code of your title? I want to do something
similar with Hot Cross Doubles. The only thing I would really suggest
is that you put a keyboard test in the middle to make sure that I can
skip it without waiting for all the letters to fall into place.
Okay, now that THAT’S out of the way... Lost Spellmaker was okay. Not
too hard, not too difficult, with enough clever writing to feel pleased
in the end. The game is set in a not terribly well-defined fantasy
universe, with a more or less stock plotline (go find and rescue this
guy we love who disappeared not long ago, and while you’re at it find
out what the heck is happening to our fair land) and an averagely
engaging NPC community.
I do seem to remember a discussion on rec.arts.int-fiction a while
back, in which there was a heated argument about whether one could
include a gay or lesbian character without making it an overtly
political statement, and I think now that it must have been Neil who
sharply cut off some other arguments by saying "I’ll show you; I’ll just
USE a gay character, and then you’ll see!" I’d forgotten about this
And that’s all well and good, but I get the very uncharitable feeling
think that by making his character a lesbian for the sake of proving an
argument, Neil inadvertently DID make a political statement. I’m not
saying that’s a bad thing; I, for one, fully believe that a character
CAN be gay, or left-handed, or Hindu, or whatever, and I think it may
well add flavor to the game without being too much in-your-face. But in
this case, it was a little self-destructive.
Perhaps the main problem here would be that the love interest (a
beautiful librarian) doesn’t play much of a role in the game; and apart
from sprinkled comments along the lines "You are too shy to confess your
love," we as audience are never given a reason to care about her. And
this would be a serious shortcoming for any love story, regardless of
In short: a decent game, eminently playable, fair, and fun to explore.
But as far as story goes, I was never quite able to CARE about anybody
or anything, including the ruined land, its inhabitants, and the token
villain. This was more accentuated during the very self-conscious
I would, however, like to point one very excellent feature of Lost
Spellmaker besides the title screen: there is a thinly disguised parody
of a newsgroup, possibly r.a.i-f itself, dressed up in a fantasy world
context. That alone makes the game well worth playing.
MADAME L’ESTRANGE AND THE TROUBLED SPIRIT
I almost abstained from voting on this game. After playing for an hour
without receiving a single point, I threw up my hands and went to bed
extremely frustrated. The next day I tried to get back into it, but I’d
barely been following the plot the first time, and I had no hope of
remembering what I’d already done. I thought it was not fair for me to
vote on a game that I had played in pieces; but then again, this was
part of the overall experience I had. My impressions, like the game
itself, will probably be little bit free-form and disorderly.
The third person past tense voice is an interesting device. Unlike
"Piece of Mind" last year, the voice and tense are not intentionally
used as goofy gimmicks, but are really intended to lend atmosphere to
the game. I found it interesting, but it very uneven. Little Inform
quirks will show up from time to time, like a standard library message
(probably) that says, for example, "You open the umbrella." The game
breaks with tense even outside of the library messages, as in: "The log
in the fireplace makes a small popping sound."
I know I should ignore these and not be critical of what is essentially
a minor bug, but I found that jumping in and out of different writing
styles was very jarring and tended to shatter the intended atmosphere.
I wish the authors had worked a little harder at staying consistent.
The variety between the many NPCs is quite good. For example, there are
two detectives in the game, and they have very different personalities.
One is jovial and open to Madame L’Estrange’s odd methods, the other is
more mean-spirited. This is the standard "good cop bad cop"
combination, but at least the mix is more interesting than a single
pointy-headed Inspector Lestrade stereotype would have.
Let me talk for a moment about the abundance of text in this game. On
the one hand, I appreciate the effort to make a work of Interactive
Fiction into a literary piece; I think it is good that people should
treat IF as an art form. On the other hand, the dialogue was overdone.
I like a good book as much as anyone in the IF crowd, but when I play an
IF game I am in "play game" mode, and I don’t like to scroll through
three pages of text without getting to DO anything. AT MOST this should
happen twice in the game: during the introduction and during the final
congratulatory message. "L’Estrange" had me reading one or two
mini-novels in almost every single location. As a result, I played the
game with a continuously paranoid feeling: "Do I have to read all that?
Is this character offering me anything besides idle gossip? Which part
of the screen has him or her mentioning the crucial fact that I can’t
win without? How am I supposed to use it if I can’t find it?"
So I did end up skimming a lot of text, and this may ultimately be why
I didn’t get any points. But I honestly believe that if anyone had read
every word carefully, they could not possibly have finished in two hours
even if they were simply reading a transcript. There was that much.
I guess my main problem here is that I was not allowed to roleplay the
character of Madame L’Estrange at all, and all that text made me feel
like I was watching TV instead of playing. Madame would arrive on a
location and, without any prompting, show somebody pictures that weren’t
listed in her inventory. This always left me thinking "Why can’t she
let ME do anything?" and I had a continuous sense of being completely
detached from the action.
I wanted to give a higher score, maybe a 6 or a 7. I applaud the
literary STYLE of the game, and I presume that a lot of thought went
into plot development. Again, I’m not sure whether I’m being fair with
this review, because it seems to me like I got too hung up in the
nitpicks and missed the big picture. In fact I feel very much like the
intention of the game went right over my head. I don’t quite get what
they were trying to do.
But the thing I most take issue with, is that in the credits, Marcus
Young proudly announces the fact that he has never willingly played a
text adventure in his life. On the one hand, I understand the need to
get an outsider’s perspective on the genre. But on the other hand, the
foolish people who give us countless "Interactive Movies" (read:
clickfests) each year, have ALSO never played a text adventure, and I
think that’s why they don’t get it right.
I’m almost embarrassed to review this game. I saw that Rybread Celsius
was back in the competition, and I desperately wanted to believe that he
had improved after his two games last year. I truly hoped that I would
get to give him a good score. Needless to say, I instantly experienced
a sinking feeling when I realized that the TITLE was speled rong, and I
only felt worse when I played.
The game had just two locations… one of them was "in bed" and could
only be reached by typing "in" whereas "get in bed" caused a weird
error. There was one real action to take in the game; the best I can
say is that the action wasn’t COMPLETELY without motivation. That
doesn’t mean it wasn’t confusing.
As usual, Rybread’s prose is interesting and imaginitive; hence I allot
him two points instead of one. Some of the competition games have
indeed made the mistake of printing nothing but "You are in a room.
There are exits to the north, south, and east." (A criticism which my
"Reverberations" received in a kind of sideways manner last year.) At
least this is one place where Rybread doesn’t skimp; the prose is long,
flowing, and creative. And it doesn’t go anywhere.
I would like to give at least one more point for literary merit, but I
feel I cannot conscientiously make such an allowance for a game that
took ten minutes and had such frustrating parser problems.
ZERO SUM GAME
Q: What do you get when you play country music backwards? A: You get
your dog back, your horse back, your girl back, your truck back...
"Zero Sum Game" is an adventure game in reverse, a screwball comedy
with a jokey message about the social side of adventuring. The common
theme is the obvious selfishness of an adventure game character whose
job is to steal, kill, loot, and generally make life a living hell for
all the innocent people who might actually OWN the things that you are
stuffing in your trophy case upstairs.
I was originally assigned Zero Sum Game at a fairly low position on my
list of games to play, but I skipped to it early "just taking a look"
because the title caught my eye so quickly. As math and computer
enthusiasts know, a zero sum game is any game, such as chess or poker,
where the total wins and losses distributed among all players add up to
nothing. In other words: you may get your emerald the size of a
plover’s egg, but what about the guy you took it from?
The game did not disappoint; it was a barrel of laughs from beginning
to end. As soon as I saw that the second paragraph in the game was
"***You have won***" I had to play all the way through. The object is
to put back all the treasures and correct all the "heroic" deeds that
you accomplished before the story began, so you can gradually LOSE all
your points before your move count goes to zero. In this respect, it’s
a little bit like Steve Meretzky’s very memorable "Island Where Time
Runs Backwards" puzzle.
But what really shines about ZSG is the NPCs, especially the ridiculous
Maurice the Follower, who has something stupid to say for all occasions;
and the "heroic" Benny/Darlene, a seasoned adventurer who’s ever so much
more capable than you, as measured in total peasant body count.
I give this game full marks for creativity and humor. I heartily
recommend ZSG with only a few small reservations. My main problem is
that the dark humor of this game is sometimes a little too extreme for
my taste. Be warned: you have to voluntarily kill loyal companions more
than once to win; and in the end, most dead characters do not come back
to life. (MOST. That’s a little spoiler.) Because I found so much of
the game to be in questionable taste, I’m a little more reserved in my
enthusiasm than I would be otherwise. Also, it requires a twisted and
sadistic mode of thinking which makes a few puzzles almost unfair.
(With hindsight, the puzzles that I did not solve seem easier, but I
still can’t help asking of many situations: "Would that action REALLY
have entered my mind as a possibility, given a little more time to
think, or was it completely off the wall?")
Overall, though, this was the only game so far that made me laugh out
loud, and it was a pleasure to play.
Zombie’s strongest point is its noninteractive buildup to the story.
It has all the elements of a truly great horror story. The intro
creates good foreshadowing in a suitably creepy environment. Not only
that, but it successfully uses a technique that worked wonders in
Hitchcock’s "Psycho", and more recently in Wes Craven’s "Scream":
introduce a character, flesh him or her out a lot, lead your audience to
believe that this is the main character... and then kill them. As a
device, this is used very effectively in Zombie.
Then the true main character is introduced, and he seems like a
well-characterized hero. Unfortunately, once the initial terror has
passed, the tension dives dramatically, as the game degenerates into a
treasure hunting romp through a not very creepy house.
I do not consider myself a genuine horror buff. I don’t like the
slasher genre in general, but I can still be pleased by a director’s art
when it is done effectively. I’ve read my share of Steven King novels,
and I’ve spent a few late nights regretting the insomnia that a corny
episode of "Tales From the Crypt" caused. With that in mind, I think I
can offer a few suggestions about how this game could have inspired
terror in me a little better.
1. The house feels far too safe. In a horror movie, a long lull will
usually be interrupted with absolutely no warning by a sudden shock. A
great example (from a movie which is not quite horror) is the scene in
Jurassic Park where Dr. Satler is catching her breath after a
frightening run through a jungle teeming with unseen dinosaurs. Just as
the music softens and the audience relaxes, there is a SCREECH on the
soundtrack and a giant velociraptor claw rips through the wall! Very
scary. In Zombie, on the other hand, you KNOW when you’re entering the
scary laboratory, and you are prepared in advance to be frightened.
This should not be allowed.
2. Some of the loose ends are left loose. The most glaring one: what
happened to the cheating Valerie and her friends? That line in the
beginning where Valerie wonders if Charlie still loves her was great. I
was expecting her to pop out of nowhere and try to kiss him and then
shred him. Charlie at least deserves to get some kind sweet revenge on
Valerie’s zombie form. Because Scott totally dropped the ball on this,
parts of Charlie’s character are left undeveloped at the end, and he
never really receives redemption for his personality flaws, so to
speak. In fact, by the end Charlie feels like a faceless Zork
adventurer, unlike the promising human interest that he was in the
3. The villain is MUCH too cliche. Come on now, a silver haired mad
scientist swearing revenge on the community that alienated him, and a
"Lurch" lookalike assistant? At least do SOMETHING to distinguish him
from the zillions of other mad scientist clones that appear in horror
stories; this is the saving grace that can change a hackneyed and boring
stereotype into an interesting and scary (or funny) character. For
instance: let’s say Dr. Maxim is not so bitter about his expulsion from
the scientific community, but he’s furious because his short-lived HBO
horror serial was ridiculed by critics. Or maybe his real diabolical
plan is to use the zombie hoard to clear the world of human life so that
the planet will be safe for cheese. These aren’t serious suggestions
of course, but the point is, it’s the minute details that make a
Speaking of the assistant, "Lurch" has a tendency to hang around in the
lab while Dr. Maxim is gone. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but I
think Lurch would be a little upset when you sit there looting his
master’s items while he stands there watching. He doesn’t have to mash
you to a pulp, but at least he could give some kind of comical dumb-guy
reaction. ("Lurch stares at you, dumbfounded, as you pick up the
syringe. He looks like he’s about to stop you. He opens and closes his
mouth a few times, looks in the direction that Dr. Maxim went, looks
back at you, and then returns to his former blank expression.")
Scott, I hope you will take these as constructive comments, for they
are intended as such. In general, the writing was flawless throughout
the first half of the game, and I understand that time constraints can
be rough as the deadline approaches. Just mull over these as possible
expansions, or points to consider as you write your next game -- which I
will certainly look forward to.
"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one
persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all
progress depends on the unreasonable man."
-- George Bernard Shaw
Russell can be heckled at
Sure; I'll email the code to you when I get the chance. Incidentally,
did anyone actually hate this effect? (Other than C E Forman, but
considering that he wrote Sylenius Mysterium I find this ironic.)
> I do seem to remember a discussion on rec.arts.int-fiction a while
>back, in which there was a heated argument about whether one could
>include a gay or lesbian character without making it an overtly
>political statement, and I think now that it must have been Neil who
>sharply cut off some other arguments by saying "I’ll show you; I’ll just
>USE a gay character, and then you’ll see!" I’d forgotten about this
Did I? I think I might have cut off most arguments by saying "ooooh,
you're a raving bigot!" But hey, I was having personal probs at the time
and wasn't thinking very rationally.
> And that’s all well and good, but I get the very uncharitable feeling
>think that by making his character a lesbian for the sake of proving an
>argument, Neil inadvertently DID make a political statement.
As I explained in another post, Mattie was lesbian at least three weeks
before I started that discussion (which was just to test the waters).
I'd made a joke with a pen pal once about how Dean R Koontz should
actually try to invent new characters instead of using pretty much the
same ones for all his books, and came up with a leather-obsessed priest
and a dumpy, sweet shop owning lesbian. I used the latter for Lost.
(Okay, Mattie doesn't own the sweet shop, but it's close enough.)
> I would, however, like to point one very excellent feature of Lost
>Spellmaker besides the title screen: there is a thinly disguised parody
>of a newsgroup, possibly r.a.i-f itself, dressed up in a fantasy world
>context. That alone makes the game well worth playing.
Argh - rumbled! I wasn't getting at r.*.i-f, though...
> Sure; I'll email the code to you when I get the chance. Incidentally,
> did anyone actually hate this effect?
I liked it, but I would also have liked a skip-to-end-if-any-key-hit
> > I would, however, like to point one very excellent feature of Lost
> >Spellmaker besides the title screen: there is a thinly disguised parody
> >of a newsgroup, possibly r.a.i-f itself, dressed up in a fantasy world
> >context. That alone makes the game well worth playing.
> Argh - rumbled! I wasn't getting at r.*.i-f, though...
Ok, what *heck* does Sacromys Pemcoangs stand for?
"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the
Yeah, agreed... if it makes the cut in Doubles, I'll definitely make it
That's classified information.
Actually, I'd rather someone else worked it out and told everyone. If no
one does, then I'll spill the beans some time after the next release of
"Lost". (That might be ages away yet - I might do a "Wedding" and
totally rewrite the ending.)
Given the platform you work on, my bid is comp.sys.acorn.games. Am I
: Dylan O'Donnell : "What scourge, what scourge I bear, from :
: Southend Slave Deck, : what red star/ So near to happiness, :
: Demon Internet Ltd : and yet so far?" :
: http://www.fysh.org/~psmith/ : -- Andrew Plotkin, "So Far" :
Damn. I was hoping it would take slightly longer than twelve hours. :)
Plantasitoy, Silk's home town, is an anagram of 'playstation'. Magic
Weavers are meant to represent Risc PCs, which are (as far as I can
gather, seeing as I've never been able to afford one) high quality
machines with very little software. There used to be a reasonably
healthy games scene for Acorn machines, but most of the best programmers
have now moved on to other, more popular machines. (Not that I care any
longer. My poor A3000 is no longer supported by anyone, so I no longer
feel like a genuine Acorn user, something that was reinforced when I
went down to "Acorn World" in London and found that there was nothing
there of any relevance to me at all.)
Because there are no new games to talk about, the only thing to do on
c.s.a.g is to bitch and bicker.
I'm sure you can all work out the rest. :)
> Ok, what *heck* does Sacromys Pemcoangs stand for?
comp.sys.acorn.games. I was a silent witness to Neil's scuffles their.
It is a very silly place.
"For small erections may be finished by their first architects; grand
ones, true ones, ever leave the copestone to posterity. God keep me from
ever completing anything." -- Herman Melville, "Moby Dick"
>>Ok, what *heck* does Sacromys Pemcoangs stand for?
>That's classified information.
>Actually, I'd rather someone else worked it out and told everyone.
Bah. With wordplay and other anagram programs available, this is trivial.
It's "Access a gym prom, son".:)
Is it anything like Camelot?
<Visit from the Narn Bat Squad deleted>
Member of Narnwatch