[IFLibComp] Short Reviews with Some Spoilers

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atholbrose

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Mar 23, 2002, 7:59:07 PM3/23/02
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Well, I've had the notes I took during my playthroughs for a while, so, as
requested, some reviews. As I usually do with competitions, I played the
games in alphabetical order.

After writing the reviews, I want to say this to the authors: I honestly
want to offer the comments below as both constructive criticism and
feedback on what I really enjoyed about the games. I hope you can accept
them as that, and if you want to further discuss anything I've said, I'm
game.

Okay, on to the reviews.

Dwenodon (G. J. Shannon)
--------

There was a thread not too long ago on raif asking if people would mind
small line-art drawings in a game, offering a web page with an example of
what the author had in mind. I rather liked the effect, really; the
pictures were small and simple and didn't break the flow of the text much.

They ended up being one of the best things about Dwenodon, especially the
ones which helped me find my place in the rather twisted geography of the
city. I think the use of simple static graphics like that is a good
approach, and the pictures were done well and chosen well.

My first thought on reading the game's intro was: Oh, dear, a defeat-the-
foozle-by-collecting quest. The game ends quite a bit before you defeat any
foozles, apparently, so I wasn't able to verify or discredit this thought.

I eventually turned to the walkthrough rather more than I usually do, and
sometimes for some quite silly things, and at other times got hung up on
things I really shouldn't have. For example, I had a problem with the old
push-something-under-a-window puzzle: I expected to have to tell the game
where to push the chair, and instead just needed to push it. Then I didn't
have to climb on it, just go north.

I also had some rather puzzling exchanges with the parser, like

>x rocks
Which rocks do you mean, the pretty pebble or any rock?

>any rock
pretty pebble: You like to [...rest of response deleted...]

Without the walkthrough, I never would have gone as far north as my
friend's hut, nor would I have ever figured out how to escape from my
pursuer immediately afterwards.

Then I was being chased through the city. Every so often, I'd see my
pursuer and have to enter a RUN command. RUN apparently takes you to a
random nearby room, and this is where I finally got frustrated enough to
just quit.

Some of the rooms are dead-ends you can only enter from one direction;
because of this the room description leaves out which way the exit is,
figuring that you just came in. If you end up in one of these rooms, it can
be a frustrating round of N, NE, E, SE, S, Sw... oh, okay, it was SW this
time... and oh, look, my pursuer is back already! Grr.

So, sorry, I didn't get the "good" ending. I did get the "bad" ending,
which will apparently start the sequel with me as a prisoner of the bad
wizard. That's kind of neat, and sounds promising. Since the story forks
will apparently be seperate games, I suppose I can take that as my ending
and wait and see how I do in Chapter 2 before retrying Chapter 1. I really
am looking forward to seeing the (hopefully larger and more polished) next
game in the series.

Familiar (Papillon)
--------

Another teeth-grinding introduction. I can't help it; an introduction which
sets up an amnesia situation for whatever reason just isn't a good start.
Amnesia is like "It was a dark and stormy night" or "And then she woke up
and it was all a dream!": a tired plot device which should only be used in
parody. It would take a heck of a game to overcome this, and Familiar just
isn't that game.

It comes close, though. After a very confusing initial room which I
couldn't picture at *all*, exploring is somewhat fun. There seems to be a
lot set up for you to explore and discover. However, I was constantly being
snapped out of the game by the parser.

For instance, in the bedroom you find a lot of clothes and perhaps a few
hints the room is shared by more than one person. I decide to try some of
them on, not least of all because of the stain on my clothing; after
looking over what's available, I >REMOVE DRESS, and am met with a
disambiguation query. I guess it was because some of the dresses are inside
a container, so I could have meant >REMOVE LAVENDER DRESS FROM WEST CLOSET
instead of >REMOVE WHITE DRESS (i.e., the one I'm wearing). It's just not
what I was expecting, though, and it gave me a start.

All the clothes fit differently, though since I prefer wearing loose stuff,
I'm not sure if I really found out which stuff was mine. A nice touch.

Other small things rankled, like the fact that you can't read something
unless you're holding it, and the game won't automatically pick it up for
you. You find a few scrolls with recipes on them, a flying ointment and a
potion of remembrance, but you can't >READ REMEMBRANCE RECIPE, even though
this works:

>READ RECIPE
Which recipe do you mean, the flying ointment recipe or the potion of
remembrance recipe?

>REMEMBRANCE
[...text of remembrance recipe deleted...]

Maybe I was being too picky about the whole thing, but each time I tried
something and was met with a block like this, it built up frustration.

I found one ending on my own (the one where you leave via gur uvqqra sebag
qbbe). I restarted, gritted my teeth through a few more things I assumed
would work, and found some hints as to some other possibilities -- how to
gather ingredients for the ointment and the potion. I eventually got really
frustrated, though, and just stopped playing. As of yet, I haven't even
used the walkthrough to see the other endings, though typing up this review
makes me want to do so. I don't understand why I'd want to remember
something so awful it made me drink a potion to forget it in the first
place, though, except as an exercise in finding out what happened *for the
player*. Maybe I'll see when I do see that ending.

I feel somewhat ambiguous about this game. Almost all the problems I had
with it were mechanical. With a bit of effort and polish applied to
disambiguation and things names and user friendliness (shouldn't I be able
to read a note just with EXAMINE? I already know it's a note, and there's
nothing to really tell me about the paper.), they would be gone and it
would be a real joy to play, especially if the game kept track of what
you'd seen and how many endings you'd experienced. After playing it in this
state, though, I don't know if I'd return to it with the same enthusiasm.

Lazy Gods of Earth (Stark Springs)
------------------

Of the games in the competition, I felt that possibly it was this one I had
given short shrift to in my play-through. I was not really sure why; maybe
I had played it too fast, maybe there were some things I hadn't
considered...

I feel differently now, having played the same author's entry in the
IntroComp, Genie. I also felt frustrated and at ends with that game, even
though it was very short, but for different reasons than this one. I'm not
really sure what constructive advice I can even offer the author, either.
"Be more descriptive", maybe, along with "really use the promise of your
settings". That is the worst failing of both games, I think.

I quickly got frustrated with Lazy Gods. In the darkness, pushing the
sphere, an arch appears; you go through it, you can return from where you
go, and there's no feedback in the dark room to tell you that the arch is
still there. Um, trying again, I see that there is, but I didn't see it --
even in verbose mode -- because it looks so much like a part of the
previous paragraph to me. My bad there, but because of it I thought you
could only enter each world once. After seeing that wasn't so, I looked at
the walkthrough and quickly succumbed to the temptation to just follow it.

There's guess-the-verb in a few spots. There are gods who only talk in very
short sentences. There are conversations where none of the options are
actually anything near what I want to say. I convince gods to change their
mind in a flash.

And speaking of the conversation engine -- of the emerging Emily-Short-
style standard -- why in the world are the choices relegated to a small
window on the right-hand side of the screen? We get inconsistent spacing
and ugly hard-to-read word-wrapping to go with it. Much better to be at the
bottom, or even at the top under the status line, and there's no
*technical* reason why it's not there...

There are also very short room descriptions. The game is pretty linear, and
assumes the player is male even though the descriptions and game carefully
don't assume you are. Also, even if you've done everything right, it's
possible to end the game and win without seeing what I'm sure is supposed
to be the optimal ending (you end up with a goddess as a girlfriend),
simply by opening a mysterious box you've never seen before that suddenly
appears in your bedroom.

Now, what adventure game player ISN'T going to open that box? Without a
walkthrough, I would have assumed that was it, and that the earlier promise
had been forgotten or was in an unspecified future. Unfair.

Papillon

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Mar 23, 2002, 10:41:09 PM3/23/02
to

(Spoilers and nitpicky discussion likely to occur. Not of interest to anyone
who hasn't played the game yet.)

>Familiar (Papillon)
>--------
>
>Another teeth-grinding introduction. I can't help it; an introduction which
>sets up an amnesia situation for whatever reason just isn't a good start.

*grin* Bluntly, I was tired of trying too hard to come up with things that
hadn't been done before and figured 'What the heck, let's go for the
bleeding obvious and work from there'. Thought about making the whole thing
slightly parodical and reference all sorts of other IF favorites but then
figured *that* had been done already too...

>For instance, in the bedroom you find a lot of clothes and perhaps a few
>hints the room is shared by more than one person. I decide to try some of
>them on, not least of all because of the stain on my clothing; after
>looking over what's available, I >REMOVE DRESS, and am met with a
>disambiguation query. I guess it was because some of the dresses are inside
>a container, so I could have meant >REMOVE LAVENDER DRESS FROM WEST CLOSET
>instead of >REMOVE WHITE DRESS (i.e., the one I'm wearing). It's just not
>what I was expecting, though, and it gave me a start.

(I am still trying to figure out how to get disambiguations to default
gracefully. It's not hard to exclude an item entirely from consideration,
but I have no idea how to positively reinforce something's suitability. As
you said, you could have meant to remove the dress from the closet, so that
dress can't entirely be excluded, but it is more *likely* that you meant the
one that you're wearing, so in an ideal world it would make sense for
'remove dress' to default to the one you were wearing - unles you had just
been referring to the other dress. (After all, if there were another dress
on a mannequin and you had just been looking at it and then typed 'remove
dress', would it not be a reasonable assumption that you meant the dress you
were just looking at?) The ambiguity of the verb 'remove' is probably why
there's a separate unwear/doff verb that means only remove-clothing-item -
but unless you know that verb exists you're not too likely to type it, it's
a litle awkward. The overall question remains of how to push-positive an
item in a disambiguation query instead of only pushing negative... but this
is really an raif topic, though, I guess.)

>makes me want to do so. I don't understand why I'd want to remember
>something so awful it made me drink a potion to forget it in the first
>place, though, except as an exercise in finding out what happened *for the
>player*. Maybe I'll see when I do see that ending.

Well, that's sort of the obvious point of using the old amnesia hook, isn't
it? The PC has no motivations outside of those the player provides, because
the PC has no memory. Therefore, if the player is willing to accept an
ending in which the character escapes from the setting, still with amnesia,
and never remembers whatever it was she forgot - then so is she. It's not
necessarily a bad ending. It's quite possibly a better ending. You have the
option of leaving it there.

But if you're curious and if you've uncovered enough hints about the past to
wonder what really happened, then, well, the character wonders as well.
You/she know it was something you were trying to forget, so it's probably
not pleasant, but since you don't know what it *is*, there's the
temptation...

>I feel somewhat ambiguous about this game. Almost all the problems I had
>with it were mechanical. With a bit of effort and polish applied to
>disambiguation and things names and user friendliness (shouldn't I be able
>to read a note just with EXAMINE? I already know it's a note, and there's
>nothing to really tell me about the paper.), they would be gone and it

(Actually, there is something to notice about two of the paper fragments -
not particularly important, mind you, but: zbfg bs gurz ner whfg gbea-bhg
cntrf, ohg gur barf va gur orqebbz jrer gbea bhg naq gura gbea va unys -
gubfr cntrf hcfrg ure zber guna gur erfg qvq.)

I know there's always been some disagreement about read/examine objects and
ease-of-use, but in my mind there really is a distinction. It's not fair to
treat a readable object as just a conveyor of the written text. The physical
object can itself be a clue, and if the written text is always lumped in
with the description under examine, it would be hard to notice anything
about the object itself... But the real reason I separated the text out to
the read command rather than examine is simply length. When I personally
examine an object, there's a limit to how much text I want dumped at me. I
felt like the papers crossed that limit, so I moved their contents to the
read command. *shrug*

>would be a real joy to play, especially if the game kept track of what
>you'd seen and how many endings you'd experienced. After playing it in this
>state, though, I don't know if I'd return to it with the same enthusiasm.

*rueful grin* No offense to you, of course, but it's awfully annoying to
hear the words "a bit of effort" after you've tried hard to give something a
decently rigorous beta. :) Oh well. Nothing's ever perfect. :)

atholbrose

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Mar 24, 2002, 12:49:09 AM3/24/02
to
Papillon <papillo...@bigfoot.com> wrote in
news:oupq9u0qg4n2t6bo6...@4ax.com:

> *grin* Bluntly, I was tired of trying too hard to come up with things
> that hadn't been done before and figured 'What the heck, let's go for
> the bleeding obvious and work from there'. Thought about making the
> whole thing slightly parodical and reference all sorts of other IF
> favorites but then figured *that* had been done already too...

Sometimes, it seems like everything's already been done. It isn't true, of
course, but still...

[disambiguation discussion deleted]

(This is always a difficult topic. At the risk of going off-topic, the
problem is basically that TADS 2 can't handle having the same verb in
multiple objects, so 'remove' actually generates a TakeFrom that is hacked
into an Unwear if the item is in the player and worn. In TADS 3, 'remove'
is a full synonym for 'doff' so the command is unambiguous and not
questioned, a much more proper way to handle it.)

>>makes me want to do so. I don't understand why I'd want to remember
>>something so awful it made me drink a potion to forget it in the first
>>place, though, except as an exercise in finding out what happened *for
>>the player*. Maybe I'll see when I do see that ending.
> Well, that's sort of the obvious point of using the old amnesia hook,
> isn't it? The PC has no motivations outside of those the player

> provides, because the PC has no memory. [...]


> But if you're curious and if you've uncovered enough hints about the
> past to wonder what really happened, then, well, the character wonders
> as well. You/she know it was something you were trying to forget, so
> it's probably not pleasant, but since you don't know what it *is*,
> there's the temptation...

Yes, and it's definitely a good part of the game. I think tomorrow I may
just try and brew that potion... it's just that I couldn't see any real
motivation for the *character* (who is most definitely not me) to want to
remember. I would have written myself a note: "You really don't want to try
and remember what happened; just go and live!" Or gone somewhere else, like
a hotel or inn in a city where nobody knew me, and then drank the potion.
Or something.

Maybe I think too much, or roleplay too much, or something.

> (Actually, there is something to notice about two of the paper

> fragments [...])

A subtle thing I might not have picked up on...

> I know there's always been some disagreement about read/examine
> objects and ease-of-use, but in my mind there really is a distinction.
> It's not fair to treat a readable object as just a conveyor of the

> written text. [...]

I agree, for items like books and diaries and maps and such. However, a
matchbook with some writing on it? I'd prefer not to have to read it
seperately from it's >EXAMINE text. There's arguments for doing it both
ways, obviously, and you put thought into it; it's fair however you'd like
to do it. In fact, you may have convinced me you were right.

> *rueful grin* No offense to you, of course, but it's awfully annoying
> to hear the words "a bit of effort" after you've tried hard to give
> something a decently rigorous beta. :) Oh well. Nothing's ever
> perfect. :)

I in no way meant that the effort hadn't been expended in the first place,
more that it was very close to the joy-to-play stage as it was. (Believe
me, as someone who has been writing IF games since GAGS hit the scene and
yet has never released one, I well know just how much goes into actually
finishing a game.) I think you understood, though. (To be fair, I also did
say I might have been too nitpicky. I did play the games while sick with
some bug that had me eating soup and jello for almost a week.)

By the way -- I really enjoyed "One Week", which I happened to play
recently, even if I can't get a decent date to the Prom.

Gary Shannon

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Mar 24, 2002, 2:41:39 AM3/24/02
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Spoiler discussion below.

"atholbrose" <cinn...@one.net> wrote in message
news:Xns91DACC03D9D1...@209.249.90.101...


> Well, I've had the notes I took during my playthroughs for a while, so, as
> requested, some reviews. As I usually do with competitions, I played the
> games in alphabetical order.
>
> After writing the reviews, I want to say this to the authors: I honestly
> want to offer the comments below as both constructive criticism and
> feedback on what I really enjoyed about the games. I hope you can accept
> them as that, and if you want to further discuss anything I've said, I'm
> game.
>
> Okay, on to the reviews.
>
> Dwenodon (G. J. Shannon)
> --------
>
> There was a thread not too long ago on raif asking if people would mind
> small line-art drawings in a game, offering a web page with an example of
> what the author had in mind. I rather liked the effect, really; the
> pictures were small and simple and didn't break the flow of the text much.
>

Glad you liked them.

> They ended up being one of the best things about Dwenodon, especially the
> ones which helped me find my place in the rather twisted geography of the
> city. I think the use of simple static graphics like that is a good
> approach, and the pictures were done well and chosen well.
>
> My first thought on reading the game's intro was: Oh, dear, a defeat-the-
> foozle-by-collecting quest. The game ends quite a bit before you defeat
any
> foozles, apparently, so I wasn't able to verify or discredit this thought.
>

The complete story, as written, will probably take a dozen seperate games
before you're ready to take on the foozle. ;-)

> I eventually turned to the walkthrough rather more than I usually do, and
> sometimes for some quite silly things, and at other times got hung up on
> things I really shouldn't have. For example, I had a problem with the old
> push-something-under-a-window puzzle: I expected to have to tell the game
> where to push the chair, and instead just needed to push it. Then I didn't
> have to climb on it, just go north.
>

My mistake. This is my first game, and I haven't really played much IF
since the old INFOCOM days. Hence I tend to limit my thinking to the <verb>
<object> pattern. A bad habit I need to break.

> I also had some rather puzzling exchanges with the parser, like
>
> >x rocks
> Which rocks do you mean, the pretty pebble or any rock?
>
> >any rock
> pretty pebble: You like to [...rest of response deleted...]
>

I was sort of doing battle with the parser's disambiguation on that one. I
do need to find a better way to handle this situation which is caused by the
fact that there are rocks lying on the ground everywhere you go outdoors,
and you need to be able to pick them up. I tried to solve the problem by
positing that when you pick up a rock you clean it off and shine it up
turning into a "pretty pebble". That didn't really work very well, though.

> Without the walkthrough, I never would have gone as far north as my
> friend's hut, nor would I have ever figured out how to escape from my
> pursuer immediately afterwards.
>

Hmmm. I thought I had provided inticement to lead you north by describing
what lies to the north of each location from the city gate. I guess I need
to revisit that. Did you read the letter Tom gave you? I had hoped that
between the instructions for the bag and the fact that there was a feather
in your bedroom that it would be obvious what to do. (Although there are two
other animal-derived items that can be put in the bag that will allow you to
escape also.)

> Then I was being chased through the city. Every so often, I'd see my
> pursuer and have to enter a RUN command. RUN apparently takes you to a
> random nearby room, and this is where I finally got frustrated enough to
> just quit.
>

As for the run command I thought I was even too blunt about it when I
included Tom's instructions to run twice in his speech. Re: the frustration
level; obviously some fine tuning is needed here. If the bad guy shows up
too often you can't get anything done!

> Some of the rooms are dead-ends you can only enter from one direction;
> because of this the room description leaves out which way the exit is,
> figuring that you just came in. If you end up in one of these rooms, it
can
> be a frustrating round of N, NE, E, SE, S, Sw... oh, okay, it was SW this
> time... and oh, look, my pursuer is back already! Grr.
>

This one has been pointed out to me by several other people too. My bad!
I've already fixed it for the next build.

> So, sorry, I didn't get the "good" ending. I did get the "bad" ending,
> which will apparently start the sequel with me as a prisoner of the bad
> wizard. That's kind of neat, and sounds promising. Since the story forks
> will apparently be seperate games, I suppose I can take that as my ending
> and wait and see how I do in Chapter 2 before retrying Chapter 1. I really
> am looking forward to seeing the (hopefully larger and more polished) next
> game in the series.
>

The second game (the sequel for when you "lose") is about 1/2 coded, but I'm
going to take care to incorporate what I'm learning from the feedback on the
first game.

Thanks for taking the time to critique it.

--gary


atholbrose

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Mar 24, 2002, 6:15:14 AM3/24/02
to
"Gary Shannon" <fiz...@starband.net> wrote in
news:drfn8.3953$In2.118...@twister2.starband.net:

> My mistake. This is my first game, and I haven't really played much
> IF since the old INFOCOM days. Hence I tend to limit my thinking to
> the <verb> <object> pattern. A bad habit I need to break.

Well, again, this was a silly thing to get stuck on; trying the simple
thing should have occurred to me. Being able to do both isn't such a bad
thing, though.

> I was sort of doing battle with the parser's disambiguation on that
> one.

I don't think anyone will disagree with me when I say that disambiguation
is a constant battle, especially with TADS. An excellent system's weakest
point. T3 seems to give you lots of tools to try and handle it; I'm still
exploring them. It was really a minor thing.

> Hmmm. I thought I had provided inticement to lead you north by
> describing what lies to the north of each location from the city gate.
> I guess I need to revisit that. Did you read the letter Tom gave you?
> I had hoped that between the instructions for the bag and the fact
> that there was a feather in your bedroom that it would be obvious what
> to do. (Although there are two other animal-derived items that can be
> put in the bag that will allow you to escape also.)

I could have been being thick-headed about both. I think I didn't read the
letter because, if I remember right, I was immediately in danger and more
worried about what was going to happen. Duh. Ah, well.

> As for the run command I thought I was even too blunt about it when I
> included Tom's instructions to run twice in his speech.

I certainly said to myself: ah, there must be a RUN command.

> Thanks for taking the time to critique it.

You're welcome; I truly hope some of it helps.

Sean T Barrett

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Mar 25, 2002, 4:15:19 AM3/25/02
to
I was thinking about writing a brief review of Passing
Familiarity, especially considering the brevity that
"Triune" and "Desert Heat" received in my reviews and
playthroughs (and, shame on me, I didn't review LoTech
and hence "One Week"), but a lot of the things I wanted
to say have been covered, so I'll just reply to this
one post.

Possibly there are spoilers here but probably not really
but just in case...

Papillon <papillo...@bigfoot.com> wrote:
>>Another teeth-grinding introduction. I can't help it; an introduction which
>>sets up an amnesia situation for whatever reason just isn't a good start.
>
>*grin* Bluntly, I was tired of trying too hard to come up with things that
>hadn't been done before and figured 'What the heck, let's go for the
>bleeding obvious and work from there'.

I thought it was a nice start--self-induced amnesia. That almost
sounds like a cliche too--something so horrible the character forces
himself to forget it--but I can't actually place it in any specifics.
It does remind me slightly of the frequently-mentioned CRPG
Planescape: Torment.

>>I don't understand why I'd want to remember
>>something so awful it made me drink a potion to forget it in the first
>>place, though, except as an exercise in finding out what happened *for the
>>player*. Maybe I'll see when I do see that ending.
>

>...if the player is willing to accept an


>ending in which the character escapes from the setting, still with amnesia,
>and never remembers whatever it was she forgot - then so is she. It's not
>necessarily a bad ending. It's quite possibly a better ending. You have the
>option of leaving it there.
>
>But if you're curious and if you've uncovered enough hints about the past to
>wonder what really happened, then, well, the character wonders as well.

I thought this was delicious once I realized what was going on.
When it came up that Vicious Cycles had a rather Luddite message,
someone defended it because you could stop early and avoid that
conclusion, but stopping early just wasn't that reasonable in
that game, I think.

This one, I think, pulls it off. The character must know that it
was something awful, that she doesn't want to know, and yet she
is tempted; the player doesn't feel the exact same thing, so it
doesn't quite bring the PC and the player to the same mental
state, but it takes an interesting step towards it--far beyond
the typical amnesia game.

>I know there's always been some disagreement about read/examine objects and
>ease-of-use, but in my mind there really is a distinction.

[snip]

That's probably a reasonable call. They did still feel like
they were strung out too conventiently--probably a product
of how small the map is versus how much text you wanted to
get across.

>*rueful grin* No offense to you, of course, but it's awfully annoying to
>hear the words "a bit of effort" after you've tried hard to give something a
>decently rigorous beta. :)

One Spag review of "The Weapon" complained about one puzzle being
guess-the-verby and failing to acknowledge guesses on the right
track; this after The Weapon went through a six-month combined
beta-and-gamma test period (not to mention the revisions during
alpha). My sympathies.

My experience with PF was, unfortunately, not quite as good as
the above comments might lead you to think; I forgot to look
in the bathroom cabinet and then forgot it was there waiting
to be opened, and I somehow spaced the idea of typing "OPEN
CURTAINS" (but I tried 'LOOK BEHIND CURTAINS' and 'MOVE CURTAINS'
and 'EXAMINE NORTH WALL', all to no success), at which point
I looked at the walkthrough, at which point it seemed like
a fairly mechanical, systematic solution--cast the spells in
every room, use x on y, etc.--so I just went for the shortest
solution and quit playing. But this is because I am a lousy
player (missing the aforementioned things), impatient and
cantankerous, and I have a rule about never playing a game
by reading from a walkthrough (because then I'm reading, not
playing).

Overall I'd judge that the problem lies about half in me and
my unreasonable impatience, and about half in the game for
being a little too repetitive and mechanical. But I think it
was a fairly neat idea, and one of the best uses of an
early ("multiple") ending I've ever seen.

SeanB

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