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Ratings and Reviews by Peter Pears

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Where would you begin?, by SLo
Peter Pears's Rating:

The Archers, by Pete Austin and Joan Lamb

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
CYOA-style, with a different concept, April 27, 2014
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
There are plenty of reviews for this game - by the Spectrum magazines. Back when people actually knew what you were talking about when you talked about "The Archers". Me, I thought it was going to be a game about archery. Bow and arrow. Maybe Robin Hood.

So modern audiences will definitely need a little background - not that I have much to give, but Wikipedia might help about. Basically, "The Archers" was a radio show/sitcom that was... well, think Eastenders in terms of popularity (if you don't know Eastenders, then think ER. If you're not familiar with ER, where have you been these past decades?). Apparently, it revolved around the Archers (duh), a country family, and their adventures. It was hugely popular.

(EDIT - Aw, how cute I was when I wrote this review... little did I know about The Archers, or indeed about the vibrant wireless culture of the UK. FYI, if you don't already know, The Archers is a long-running soap for the radio, it's still going strong, it's almost a household item (in some households) and its theme is as recognisable as the theme to Eastenders, or the straining brass of the opening of I'm Sorry, I Haven't A Clue. This dumb foreigner apologises to all the brits who've read this review)

In this game you will NOT step into the shoes of an Archer. No, you'll step into the shoes of the show's screenwriter! Now come on, *that's* novel.

(EDIT - Since writing this review I got to play a lot more games. Around this time people were coming up with seriously creative, gimmicky twists all around, and the idea of "playing" a screenwriter for the show is, in retrospect, not all THAT novel. But it's still refreshing. Somewhat.)

In CYOA style, you will be presented with the several plotlines of a certain Archers show. In true sitcom fashion, you will go through plotlines B, C and D before coming back to A - in fact, this emulates the television/radio format so well it sometimes really feels like a show. You will have to choose where each plotline is leading.

Here's the catch: you can't make characters behave too much unlike their established characters. You can't jump the shark. And you can't let country life stay exactly as it's always been, because that's boring. Both these will lose you listeners. And you can't irate PETA people by mistreating animals. Or write off loved characters.

Thing is, this needs a bit of knowledge about each character. You'll pick it up after a couple replays, and if not, I'm sure Wikipedia can help. There are 4 such shows, with varying plotlines in each. You need a set number of listeners by the end of each show, and you'll be rated accordingly. Then, if you were good enough, you'll get to "write" the next show.

Now, this is fun. It's not extraordinary, but it is good fun. It loses on replays, but it does allow you to play a bit with the plotlines. Apparently, the Spectrum version - this from other reviews - isn't always tip-top when keeping up with all the plotlines you come up with, but maybe the Commodore version is.

The graphics are so-so. The writing isn't extraordinary, but within the "sparse" category it manages to be pleasing. It's an amusing way to pass the time. It's not likely to frustrate you.

I'm rating it only 3 stars because... well, it's essentially CYOA. There's diversity, but only just. The concept is refreshing, and done well. You're likely not to ever have heard of the Archers, but you'll still have fun getting to know them, and directing them around - trying to please your listeners. But in the end... well, it's CYOA. With the Spectrum gems that came out, including some other Level 9 games, I can't really rate this any higher. It's fun. It's nice. It's not memorable in the least, but it's a breath of fresh air in the CYOA scene.

Normal Forest By Day, Dark Forest By Night, by Lepak, Vo, Lee, Thomack
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transgresion181288, by luis sanchez
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Gay Porn, by Charles King
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Righteous Path, by Gerardo J. Hernandez and Kelly Jensen
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Escaping a Nightmare, by Wolly Wombat
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Red Fog, by Conor and Jesse
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A Fool's Errand, by J. Sax
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Interactive Fiction: A "Dynamic" Presentation, by Kayla'N'Victoria
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Rhino Cyborgs, by Rhino Cyborgs
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Geist - An Interactive Geek Horror, by Dave Bernazzani, Dean Svendsen, Jonna Hind and Steven Robert

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A good old fashioned fun romp, March 8, 2014
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
I kept getting shades of Hollywood Hijinx as I played Geist, and that still seems to be the best way to describe it. Even the story is similar - looking for the second half of your uncle's will to inherit the estate, in a place that has a strong thematic feel. This is, in fact, sort of like "Hollywood Hijinx 2: Things that go Bump in the Night". Kinda.

The first thing anyone will notice about this, and the single very best thing about it, is how well implemented it is, and how detailed. Most everything you can think of trying is implemented, and other niceties besides. You are never left unrewarded by trying something new. Now, this is very important in a game like this. This isn't an emotional trip, this isn't a story making full use of the interactivity to bring it a new dimension. No, this is a text adventure, where you go around identifying and solving puzzles.

I missed playing a text adventure, by the way. Good ones are hard to come by, and this is definitely a good one.

In a little puzzlebox like this, you'll want to experiment, to try new things. You'll want to explore different properties of what's available to you. You'll want to try taking a closer look at a second-level noun hoping to glean some information. And you can, and you do, and with every little success, or every little rewarded failure, you understand a little bit more about how the game works, and you're that much closer to solving your next puzzle.

The writing and humour is full of inside jokes, but they're the sort that everyone can sort of enjoy. This isn't a private club or anything. In fact, the writing completely fails to create a horror atmosphere, but succeeds brilliantly in the comedy-horror you'd expect from a funfair Haunted House. All the correct horror elements are here, but they are treated in a light-hearted, fun way that makes a playthrough scarily fun, instead of just scary.

The actual puzzles are very good. At one point in the game, something happened to me that can only happen when a game is very well constructed: I could see, in my mind, the chain of events that had to happen next. I knew I needed THAT item to use in THAT place in order to achieve THIS effect which would allow me access to THAT area - we're talking thinking three or four puzzles in advance. And all I had to do was find an object that would allow me to take THAT item.

And you know what? I was absolutely right. Once I did find that object (one of the most frustrating parts in the game, though - I would have expected the object to be in such plain view that it should be in the room description, and instead it was hidden until a certain object was examined. It does make sense in hindsight, but it still frustrated me) it all went very smoothly. This can only happen in a well designed game, one that plays fair with the player, one that rewards experimentation. This is, in fact, one of the things I most like about text adventures, and it's hard to pull off, and it's memorable when you do. I can only think of Infidel and Hollywood Hijinx for examples of other games I've played which also pulled this off (but mileage will vary, since this is very subjective).

The only thing I have to rant against is the inclusion of a combination-style lock, which I have already ranted about at length in my blog. Suffice it to say that in the hints it says that part of that combination (Spoiler - click to show) is in a vision that I didn't even remember seeing - I'd spent so much time, and had so much fun, with the individual puzzles, and whatever that vision was it must have been so unremarkable, I'd put it down to background scenery. And I'm sure it was near the beginning of the game. And now, at the end, I'm supposed to remember some numbers that apparently were in the vision? No thanks, combination lock, you can stay locked for all I care. But this is in a completely optional part of the story. Another optional part involves a trivia quiz about a certain book. Hardly inspired, but remember that players who fulfilled these challenges would be awarded "badges" which would bring them rewards in a certain website.

A further treat is in store for you if you played Catseye. Yes, Dave Bernazzani reuses his intriguing object, gives it context, and the new POV and the sheer implementation of the PC's transformed persona is a highlight of this game.

This game is certainly worth playing. Hints are available for one or two sticking points, though the vast majority of the puzzles are solveable on one's own, and can feel quite rewarding. And anyway, when all's said and done, it's all just good plain fun, and we can never have enough of that, can we?

PS - I only take issue with the following passage from the game's blurb:

"Geist is decidedly old-school IF. It's not likely to be the kind of game well regarded by the inner sanctum of the Interactive Fiction community. It's a treasure hunt. A puzzle fest. In other words: it's a Text Adventure. Further, it has a number of in-jokes, breaks mimesis and targets and rewards a subset of players"

Come now, we're not a group of old artsy-farts. :) There are no rules, and just because we enjoy our emotional, gripping, story-laden works doesn't mean we won't be loving the mimesis-breaking fun-loving games as well!

Worst Day Ever, by tynichole
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The Letter Man, by Meaghan Riley
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Halloween , by Tom Pod
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To be a Rap-God, by Tom Pyne
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Darkiss! Il bacio del vampiro - Capitolo 2: viaggio all'inferno, by Marco Vallarino
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domination at its finest , by caitlin
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Sorcery!, by Steve Jackson and inkle
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Dream Pieces, by Iam Curio

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Already done? I was having so much fun!, November 16, 2013
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
Some games, like the Alan game "The Chasing", have an indefinable quality that makes them a pleasure to play. It's a certain simplicity, a certain cuteness, a certain lack of pretension. They are what they are, the tropes and tricks they use are so transparent they would be groan-worthy if they weren't so darn cute, and sincere.

I was very glad to realise that Dream Pieces was one of these, and of all the Quest Games I've played it's certainly one of the best - and taking the polish into consideration, probably *the* best, period. Quest has been needing a good game to really take off and showcase its abilities... well, "Dream Pieces" might be it.

It's a simple "escape the room" game, where all the prose rhymes (some rhymes are really groan-worthy, but it's all somehow within a certain limit that keeps the whole thing enjoyable) and the aim is to break stuff, and construct a way out from the wreckage. Wordplay-style. Within the basic framework of Quest, though, so it's always a "use X with Y" situation. It works surprisingly well, even if some situations were clearly not expected by the author(Spoiler - click to show) (you can't combine "d" and "e" together, even though it might seem as though you should be able to. This is because there's actually a different way of getting the object "de", without combining the former two).

This is like an escape-the-room hybrid of Counterfeit Monkey (for basic mechanics) and The Chasing (for tone). It won't blow anyone's mind, but it's entertaining, rather sweet, impressively coded for a Quest game with all sorts of little touches, and my only real complaint is that it's way too short. This is a game I'd love to play for quite a while longer.

Coloratura, by Lynnea Glasser

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Through the eyes of the monster, November 16, 2013
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
Before I begin, fair warning that this review spoils the game to a certain degree. Not much, because all that I refer to is so fundamental to the game that it's very easy to understand from the very beginning - the nature of the PC, the predicament the PC is in, the nature of the PC's surroundings, and the ways in which the PC perceives and can alter the world. Still, if possible, it's best to experience this for yourself before you read further.

Done so? Good.

I suppose we should start with the title. "Coloratura" is a moment in the music where a series of close intervals, or a pattern of close intervals, are played/sung very quickly, demonstrating virtuosity, technique, and general awesomeness. It's an effect, an adornament, an embellishment. I'll admit that by this definition I am unsure of why exactly this is the title of the game - but it puts us immediately in a musical frame of mind, and maybe that's all that's necessary (EDIT - A quick look at Wikipedia actually tells me the word derives from the latin "colorare", "to colour". As you'll see below, this makes a lot more sense, and the ambiguity of this title is a perfect match: this game is all about wildly different realities coexisting).

This game is very musical and very visual. In fact, it translates the PC's non-human nature by focusing on these two aspects - the physical world is very much unimportant... and, due to some very good writing, a strange yet mundane place to be. Of course we, the player, know exactly where we are, and what these devices are surrounding us. The PC does not, and it's not easy to describe a world through the eyes of a character completely out of their element while at the same time making it easy for the player to recognise and navigate without problems.

One major advantage this gives the author, of course, is regarding implementation - only the most important parts of the room need be described and implemented, and everything else is background noise. Besides being great design it's also part of the general atmosphere. The PC does not care in the least for unimportant objects, does not know what they are, and does not care, because all around the PC is a world of colours and music (though surely not in the sense that we know music) that is a lot more vibrant than anything else.

Although you control this character physically, as in pretty much any other IF, it becomes obvious very soon that the physicality is very limited and very, very uninteresting. There is a curious sense of wonder, an essential vitality and goodness in the PC, that drive this entire piece, and it transcends the physical plane in a way that veritably shines through. It makes this game a slightly surreal, off-beat experience that you cannot put down.

Of course, all this positivity in the PC is part of the central gimmick: we very soon realise that this is the "Research ship discovers horrible monster in the depths of the sea". In fact, this is "Frankenstein: Through the Eyes of the Monster", or "Zork: A Troll's Eye View", with a different setting. And the point of view of the PC is... well, let's just say you never thought that the monster's PoV could be so appealing.

It does put you in mind, of course, of how subjective reality is, and how people can mean the best and still commit the worst atrocities. The inability to see the world from the other person's point of view (and the extent to which it is unavoidable, because we are after all a complex organism that is nevertheless centered in itself and a product of its own history, so that "walking a mile in someone else's shoes", while good sound advice that can be followed to some extent, remains in the end an impossibility) is a central theme in this game, never more so than in the Epilogue and in the meat scene - a scene that I did not understand until later, when I fully realised what it was exactly I'd done. It was a very curious sensation. I finally felt the horror of the situation as the crew might have, but it was rather detached, because of the enduring positivity and well-meaning that prompted me to take that action.

The musical aspect of this game is all-encompassing (and when I say all-encompassing, let me just point out that in very few games I can meaningfully "examine universe". Nuff said), though not with any actual practical value rather than setting your goal. Still, it permeates the PC's (narrator's) speech often, enhancing the slightly surreal, definitely non-physical nature of the creature you are playing.

There are some physical aspects of the character, of course, but they are very alien to us and they allow for a couple of very interesting puzzles.

I have to take a quick break here to say I absolutely loved this game. Moving on.

I have talked about "colours" as well. The PC can perceive and actually alter characters' auras. It's a simple nudge - trying to colour someone's aura is like making them feel confident/curious/stubburn, from the outside in. It won't drastically affect their actions, most of the time, but it *will* have an effect on how these actions are taken. And it's a central puzzle in the game. It reminded me a lot of "Delightful Wallpaper" (a love/hate sort of game which I loved and recommend, though it won't be for everyone. Oh no.), where in the second half revolved around placing "intentions" on characters, a brilliantly abstract and powerful concept. In this one you can colour their auras with abstract concepts.

So we're navigting a colourful musical world, where the physical reality of the ship is actually jarring with the ethereal universe the PC inhabits. Just to sum up.

Implementation is very solid, and there were two instances where I was surprised to find that the game accepted my commands. In one of them I knew exactly what I wantd done, but was having trouble finding a way to express it, even before I started typing. Eventually I typed what felt most natural: (Spoiler - click to show) > LET ME GO . I was delighted to find that it worked. Top-notch. Also, you can choose between nautical/cardinal directions. This author has done her homework, with splendid results.

This game is relatively short, but very very sweet. I had a hard time writing this review because I wanted to make sure I said everything that I had to say, and there were so many things to mention. It's a very rich experience that makes a great use of the medium, and well, 10/10 basically. It's excellent. The author's previous efforts were good, but this one is her masterpiece. So far. I'm looking forward for the next masterpiece. ;)

Edgar Huntly, by Carrie Shanafelt, adapted from Charles Brockden Brown
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Demons and Deadlines, by Adea
Peter Pears's Rating:

CYBERQUEEN, by Porpentine

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Intense, August 7, 2013
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
Wow. Gory. Intense. Exquisite. Cripes.

These are the things that went through my mind, mostly, as I played and finished Cyberqueen.

Before I proceed, I have to say something that I think is very important: Porpentine is a major author in today's CYOA, or whatever we are calling Twine games (which are not really CYOA... they're simply something else), because Porpentine uses the interactivity inherent in the medium brilliantly. It's more a story than a game, but it could never be static fiction. Interactivity, even when sparse (especially when sparse) is a major, major element in Porpentine's work, is used in novel ways, and if you remove it (and there are many Twine games where you can remove the interactivity and lose nothing significant) then you are missing out on the whole experience.

This particular tale, heavily inspired by Shodan by the author's own admission at the end, is... out there. It's extreme. It's scatological. It's erotic. It's like an extreme BDSM session, one that you're forced to watch, that encompasses defiance, struggle, domination/submission, graphic depictions of bodily functions, eroticism, violence, and ultimately the loss of one's personality as it becomes another's slave/toy/victim.

The reason I don't rate this 5 stars is because I have a bit of a personal distaste for this gory, heavy style. Heavy-handed, over-powering, cloying, relentless. I prefer subtlelty rather than a constant assault on my mind.

But I am well aware that, apart from this being a valid style, and one that many people enjoy, it's the only style possible for this work. The PC and the player both suffer the helplessness, the fleeting moments of hope and defiance, the ultimate merging of the two personalities in play.

This game certainly made an impression on me, and I have to praise it highly for that. The use of the medium is brilliant, masterful. This author exploits the pacing of a Twine experience like no other, employing delays, text formatting and visual things like "clicking on a word continues the rest of the sentence".

It's not something I'd recommend for everyone. But if you feel you can stomach a punch in the gut, you owe it to yourself to try it. I'm always out for IF that creates an emotional response, and boy, this is it.

call advent, by callmore
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ALL I WANT IS FOR ALL OF MY FRIENDS TO BECOME INSANELY POWERFUL, by Porpentine
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Janitor, by Peter Seebach and Kevin Lynn
A text adventure in reverse, July 6, 2013
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
First and foremost, this review doesn't try to avoid "spoiling" the main concept of the game. I say "spoil" because the game itself never spells it out, you have to work it out for yourself, but that's not very fun; the game drops you in the middle of this scenario and expects you to discover that what you're supposed to do is counter-intuitive to every IF player.

Of course, it's been years since this was out, so it's hardly to be a surprise anymore. But still: proper review after a decent spoiler space.

S
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S
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Ah good, you're still here. Let's get down to business.

In Janitor, your role as a player is... not that of the player, actually. No, you play the guy that has to reset the game behind the scenes. So the player just found all the treasures and put them in the trophy case, and has moved on to another game, huh? Well, now you have to put them back where they originally were, and reset every puzzle on your way. Everything to make sure the next player has everything he needs.

Not only this is a neat concept, used by a couple other games, it's solidly implemented. In the form of a mimesis disruptor (built-into your trusty mop), you can toggle the existence of, shall we say, a backstage door for every single location. The backstage area is a very simple cross area, and from there you can access (almost) every room in the game. Or you can traverse the game yourself.

Implementation is not perfect. Solid, yes, with a couple extra cool verbs and responses that go the extra mile, but not perfect, not when every time I have to pick something up and my hands are full, the first thing that the game tries to put in my holdall is the mop, the one item that won't fit in there. This sounds nitpicky, but it's not. It means that instead of picking up an item straight away I have to juggle unnecessarily.

I'm not too fond of a couple of puzzles, either. The vault door combination, well, these are a pet peeve of mine; the "fix the entrance to the Poe room" bit also escaped me, not least because I kept struggling with the parser, completely unaware that I was missing a key item (mind you, that item was so hidden and sparesely identified, I would probably be stuck on this one a long time without the hints). But apart from these, there is a logic to it all. You're not expected to read the author's mind to find out what goes where; almost every room has a defining characteristic that makes it obvious what should go in it.

The key to this game, however, is realising that something else is afoot. That would be a bigger spoiler, and I won't go into it, but I'd like to say that this is where my experience broke down. I suddenly had to interact significantly with an NPC with whom every previous attempt at conversation flopped abysmally. Then I had to solve a couple of puzzles without the least guidance, just floundering along. And the key to actually reaching this stage lies in realising something's amiss - but I never did! I did come across two suspicious points (plus the dead Janitor) but I thought it was just that, while the game wasn't played, these items were revealed to be props! Not entirely unreasonable when props is what you see all around you.

So: there's an endgame section. To reach it you have to make some discoveries, but then you have to communicate them to an NPC that was previously as much help as a potato peel. These discoveries can be mistaken for humour (I mean, we're talking about a game where Tom Servo makes a cameo). It's possible to finish the game without any indication there was an endgame. And the puzzles for the endgame are perilously close to read-the-author's-mind, without any indication of progress, in a gameplay style that differs wildly from the bulk of the game.

I enjoyed the concept of the endgame, and I enjoyed the ending. But getting there was too much of a chore. I had a lot more fun re-setting the whole game world, especially since the game was considerate enough to make it so easy to traverse (the backstage areas).

And hey, once you finish the game you get the chance to play through the game you just reset! That's just cool for the sake of cool, which is cool!

I only wish I could do more things. The game allowed me to turn lights on and off, but didn't care much about it one way or the other. It didn't reward me for cleaning up a few messes, either, but it registered (in the "score" text) that I had, which was good. Mind you, I spotted many more messes that I would have liked to have cleaned... it's like in "Afflicted", where you took pleasure in noting down the health hazards; here I was cleaning the carpet. That was just as fun as re-setting the puzzles!

Internal Documents, by Tom Lechner
Peter Pears's Rating:

Inevitable, by Kathleen M. Fischer

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Myst-style gameplay with Fischer's gift for world building, June 7, 2013
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
Trust Fischer to give us a game like this. Painstakingly implemented, although deserted, it pulsates with the potential for life. As your actions realise that potential, this Myst game gains new dimensions; you'll be able to *hear* the bubbling of the water that becomes so central to this game's mechanisms.

The plot is, on the surface, very simple - and in fact, the section of the plot that actually services the gameplay is stripped of pretenses entirely. You are stranded; you must get away; in order to do that you'll have to et some machines back in working order.

That's exactly what you need from the plot in order to play. But, like most Fischer games, this isn't one you play, but one you experience. For starters, it's not an alien world, though it might as well be - it's a world very familiar to the PC, but very many years have passed, and the desolate landscape might as well be alien. Though they have no bearing on the gameplay, you will access the PC's various memories, prompted by the sights he sees, the smells he hears. The game is certainly solid enough to be played purely on a "Myst game" angle, but the whole experience is what helps crafts this picture of bleak desolation.

And of course, like all good authors and players know, the better painted the desolation is, the more effective it is when your efforts finally pay off and it springs to life.

I admist I don't know what the title means. This is because, like I said, the plot runs at a parallel course with the game, and having played it on the most difficult setting (oh, that's right: three levels of difficulty, depending on how much you want to focus on story and/or puzzles, not unlike what Blue Lacuna would try later), I rather had to focus on the world around me. Not only that, but the PC's memories were sometimes vague and not very informative. So I had to focus on the game, and as I experienced the multiple endings (read: one good ending and various failures, but the failures actually help you piece the whole story together, so that's just fine) I was more than a bit confused. I grasped the particulars, but too many questions were left unanswered, and I never really understood if what happened on the end was a memory, time travel, soul transfer, or what.

It didn't worry me, though. I may play it again in the future, and right now I'm pretty sure I enjoyed the fullest of the main part of the game: the detailed world Fischer can create to perfection. I am reminded of the two other games of hers that I've played. The first, "The Cove", is brilliant world- (or scenario-)building (though it was specifically created to be that). The second, "Prized Possession", also left me scratching my head a bit in terms of plot. So I guess this is like a junction of both.

Despite my issue with the story, I rate this game five stars. Myst fans need look no further; others should still look to this game to see how a detailed world must behave. Not forgetting, of course, the synonims, the implementation, the shortcuts for the player. Even if the plot and the game are in two separate levels, the main course is more than enjoyable enough.

Inside Woman, by Andy Phillips

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Bitter disappointment, June 4, 2013
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
I was so, so primed to enjoy this game to the fullest. I know Andy's work, and it seemed that with every game he improved something. This one, his latest offering, is just as hard as any other of his games, but *feels* easier because of a number of factors. I was able to play a huge part of it without any hints whatsoever, and I got to trust the game.

And then, at the end, bitter disappointment. A sudden time limit for the entirety of the endgame. The need to find five codes. The weight of all the puzzles I hadn't been able to solve so far, and always thought I'd need extra equipment which I'd have in time - and here's me, needing to solve those puzzles, but still no extra equipment, no extra insight.

This was all too much, and much like Andy's previous games, it stupidly came near the end. Andy, please. PLEASE. By the end of ANY game the player is tired enough already, but by the end of your games he's frickin' EXHAUSTED. Ease up on us, will ya? I gave up on this game because of this. I've done enough, the game kept exorting me to go further and further and I went, I played along, but to spring this on me at the end? I cry fowl. I quit. I move on. Just like that, I have no further wish to involve myself in this game.

Well, now that that's out of my system...

...which doesn't mean it doesn't belong in this review; at this time, the feelings I've just described are the strongest feelings I have regarding this game, therefore they certainly belong in a review...

...let's talk about this game. Andy Phillips has created another monster of a game, and has not forgotten some of his staples like gratuitous puzzles here and there (so much so that the player's sidekick starts commenting on how excessive they are - amusingly, that makes them easier to bear), genre writing, a certain imagery that's very vivid, almost comic-book-ish, and a grandiose story.

I have to say this is his best *game*. His best puzzles may be in Heist; his best-crafted visuals definitely in Heroine's Mantle (in fact, this game lacks a bit of the pizzazz that so characterised Mantle, but it's a different game, different atmosphere, and anyways we still have six thematically-identified female antagonists, so I guess that makes up for the lack of heroine antics)... but as a game? This one shines. The way it gradually opens up to the player; the way you quickly realise that each level of Utopia is pretty much a puzzle in itself, and you can mostly solve it without resorting to other levels; the nature of the puzzles themselves, always clued but never obviously so; and the way those subbuteo pieces keep cropping up everywhere (I'm actually sorry that wasn't merely a comedic touch, because it worked brilliantly just like that), as a sort of comic relief...

In this one, you play an Asian SuperSpy. Well, in Heist you majored as a SuperThief, in Mantle you played a SuperHeroine... Phillips is clearly going in a certain direction. One is unsure of whether he's parodying the style, making it serious, trying something new or enjoying the staples of the old.

You know what? I don't care. There was a comic book charm about Mantle, and sometimes a kind of Charlie's Angels charm to this game (although more spy-themed; though there's definitely a Charlie's Angels motorbike section...). It's enjoyable, and staple or not, it's fun, and has a kick to iy. So maybe some of the prose falls flat - invariably when the PC is making a moral assessment of some sort. For most of the game, these assessments are in the voice of the sidekick, and that works wonders. Then they migrate to the PC's voice, and that works... less well.

I do so wish Andy would stop doing that, by the way. It's rather typical: an author who wants to explain things a bit too much, lay it on a bit too thick. The first three quarters of this game prove that Andy writes well enough WITHOUT that; the situations he creates provoke the reaction he desires in his players. It's only when he goes one step further and actually VOICES that reacting through the PC that it gets less enjoyable. It's possible this difficulty is simply the difficulty in creating a PC... because Andy proved that, when keeping those reactions to an NPC, it works wonders.

Another issue is the main theme - the supercorporation that creates a 1984 society. It's rather done to death, so for the author to bring it up in 2009 it means one of two things.

A) The author believes it's still as relevant as it was before;

B) The author gets a kick of these exaggerated, overly dramatic settings.

Personally, I tend towards B), and I don't mean this in a bad way. There's a lot of fun, a lot of potential in such setting, and Andy plays them to the max. Power to him.

I was revved up to really finishing this game without hints, and like I said, I got a very long way. I even endured the two worst things in an AP game: the "puzzle as the reward for a puzzle" (man, it gets tiring) and the gratuitous puzzle (in the casino, I actually groaned. Three times). It was always worth it; I've just spoken badly of the Casino puzzles, but actually solving them was a real treat. The act of *solving*, I mean. Not the frustration of *trying and trying and trying* to solve them.

And near the end, here they are - the codes. I really hoped Andy had done away with them. If you have codes in your game, then unless they are fairly obvious, or just not too cryptic, the game stops. Halts. Completely. If you're cryptic, and Andy is, then anything and everything in the game can look like a code. What about that year? Is that significant? That player's High Score? Hang on, here's a date... Maybe count the number of words that character said? "Break both legs", is that a nod towards number two? Or number eleven? No, they're broken, maybe 77?

I mean, GAH! Authors, this is my pet peeve with these puzzles. If you really want to include codes and safe combinations, please do not make them too arcane to solve. You saw where my mind started going to? DO NOT LET IT. Provide me enough clues to KEEP ME on the RIGHT TRACK. Thank you.

I hardly know how to end this review, so I might as well end it here. Bottom line: I was loving it, even when I was fighting it. Then the game sprung too much on me at once (did I mention the puzzles I was leaving to solve till later, having done all I could for the moment, only to find out I had to solve them NOW without any extra insight? What can I try I haven't tried before? With the extra aggravation of me now being royally sick of those puzzles). I'm moving on, leaving this one unsolved.

Oh, one last thing. There's a plot twist that passed me by completely unnoticed. This is because it was presented in such a way that I thought it was a villain trying to trick me. It was quite a while before I realised that no, it was the truth, and I, the player, was supposed to have been shocked at the revelation, and adjusted my world view accordingly, instead of refusing to believe it. So, a very important plot twist that the player hasn't noticed... not the author's finest hour. Though it does prompt you to replay a certain section of the game and be highly amused at the results you'll get.

Ill Wind, by Marshal Tenner Winter

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
"Ill Wind" indeed, May 21, 2013
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
This is the third game in a nameless series by the author, the first being "The Surprising Case of Brian Timmons" and the second being "Castronegro Blues". Players will recognise the overall game design of the first game in this third installment.

In this game, also adapted from a Call of Cthulhu scenario, players go to Chicago and... well, get involved in mob business, and avenge a friend's death, and... meet a cabbie and...

...and actually, I'm not sure what else. Because one of the things this game did really badly (as, I felt, in its predecessor; not so, curiously, in Brian Timmons) was presenting the story to the player. It's a very easy game, and you can just traipse along without bothering about the plot *at all*. Bits of it will get thrown at you from time to time, plus you will navigate rooms in a very linear fashion. Add to this the game's tendency to shout the plot in your face (the worst offenders are conversations that pretend to be interactive and are nothing more than cutscenes with commands in between - and the game has the gall to tell us to use ask/tell! I tried once and gave up; barely implemented) and the promise of a great horrific entity from the great beyond that never materialises, and the whole thing falls flat on its face.

The game tries to achieve a sort of dark, hardboiled humour. It has its moments, and the thing I actually like most about it, the author is certainly trying. The author did have fun creating this game. That's good, it's in the right direction. It's not enough, but it's good. Overall, though... let's just say that the description of the fedora has always really irked me ("It's very stylish here in the 20's"). It's a sort of self-reference that worked much better in the first game; three games on the humour hasn't refined. Worse, the pastiche which the first game used reasonably well has worn thin, making for a bland experience.

Also, the author has decided to disable UNDO in a game with ways to die and short timed sequences. I leave you to your own opinions about this.

The issue of profanity has been brought up in this author's games. Well, it's in character, and at least the narrator isn't randomly abusing the player any more. The swearing that comes out of the cabbie's mouth often sounds like a parody, but that fits in well with the pastiche theme, so it rather works. Again - a certain comedic side to the hardboiled, dark stuff.

I feel this game deserves two stars, and most of those are because, again, I liked the author's energy, and because for what it's worth the game has a certain solidity about its linearity, and it IS rather entertaining, though extremely bland (much more so than its predecessor). I would encourage the author to keep trying, and furthermore, I would remind the author that this is one person's opinion - I am probably not the audience for which this game was written, and I would encourage that audience to write their own review so we can have both sides of the issue. I most certainly do NOT wish to discourage the author from making more games.

IF Whispers 5, by Chris Conley, Joey Jones, Marius Müller, Tom Blawgus

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A horror piece with a lot of atmosphere, May 20, 2013
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
Some context is required here - "IF Whispers" is a project, a (mutable) team, a concept. The story goes from author to author, and each of them sees only what the author immediately before him wrote, and adds to that - or breaks away from it entirely.

It's a novel experience, and who would have guessed it would have come this far. Six games on, and I for one do hope there's more.

But in this one, a twist. Apparently, the authors got a second shot - they wrote not one, but two scenes. Knowing what THEY wrote before and seeing TWO other scenes, the attempt seems to have been to make a more coherent, cohese story this time around.

Mind you, I quite enjoyed "An Escape To Remember", one of the Whispers that most isolated its scenes. Other Whispers that tried to do away with the linear one-scene-one-reality nature of the thing were, if not less successful, then for me less enjoyable.

Which brings us to this one, where the last author - if I read the source code right - did a stellar and unbelievable job of putting it all together, and I believe is the author responsible for making this the unsettling piece of low-key horror that it is.

The premise is simple: you are wandering around in the Antarctic, looking for - as you'll soon find out - the Antarctic Research Centre. The story that awaits you inside is short, rather brutal, and worthy of Babel for its atmosphere. The most surreal elements of this game, notably the "screaming television" courtesy of Porpentine, add directly or indirectly to a mounting sense of tension and unreality, and the game is so much better developed than previous Whisperses that you'll have a hard time finding the seams between the scenes.

What I like most of all is that, as I was playing, I made a certain discovery that literally chilled me. (Spoiler - click to show) Knowing the cat was the carrier. By then, I'd witnessed death and desolation, I'd noticed I was doing very poorly, sweating, coughing, and I'd also been having the cat as a constant companion. I'd put him out of my mind, except to be grateful for the company. The realisation, as spelled out in the very beginning of the note hidden in the music box ("The cat is the carrier"), made me freeze instantly - I'd read that sentence five times over before moving on to the rest of the note. It's a brilliant example of what can be achieved if you let the player experience the situation by himself and then give him, or make him work for, the most vital clue. "Show, not tell" indeed.

The version I played was quite buggy, but apparently another release is out. I haven't played it, I played the buggy version because none of the authors decided to *announce* the revised version, but it grew on me and, as I got to the last scenes, I was unnerved, unsettled, and fumbling as I saw the PC's state deteriorate.

Hearty congratulations to all involved. This is the closest thing any Whispers game has ever gotten to an actual narrative (though House of Dream of Moon took a fair shot at it), and the result is worthy of more attention than it's been getting. Well done, you guys!

Megaman dimensions , by Seakladoom
Peter Pears's Rating:

House of Dream of Moon, by Admiral Jota, Sam Kabo Ashwell, Tom Blawgus, Ricardo Dague, N. B. Horvath, Carl Muckenhoupt, Marius Müller, Jacqueline A. Lott, Mark Musante
Peter Pears's Rating:

Heist, by Andy Phillips

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Exhausting, but worth it for some, March 30, 2013
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
I really am in two minds about this game. On one hand, it's provided me with gameplay that lasted for months, and made me feel really clever, and come on, that's one of the reasons we solve puzzles: it makes us feel really clever. We're thwarting obstacles put in our place by a nemesis, the author, and we triumph. Surely no one can deny that the thrill of puzzle-solving has quite a bit to do with *that*.

On the other hand, though, it's completely exhausting. Every time you solve a puzzle you're immediately confronted with another. The sense of achievement is great, but lasts but about 5 turns, and then you realise you're knee-deep in another problem. All the solutions are logical, none are obvious. By the end - and I made it through most of the game without hints, excepting for a couple I shall mention - I'd given up and turned to the walkthrough. Also because the final puzzles turned out to be the least interesting for me.

So. Andy Phillips, the man of the huge games and devilish puzzles, has churned out another epic with Heist. The plot is simple: as the heir to a master thief's legacy, you are to prove worthy or your heritage and, eventually, steal the Crown Jewel of Some Place Or Another. Your first challenge is to actually get into your uncle's apartment (the late master thief in question), and if you think that's hard (it is!) then wait for the rest of the game...

Mr. Phillips always treads a fine line between the crossword and the narrative; he does sincerely try to have the best of both. The crossword always wins in the end, but the narrative is fairly enjoyable - what is lacking in depth of plot is compensated by the colourful and ingenious situations we're put in. Prose is not strictly functional, as you'd expect. It also does its best to be atmospheric.

It doesn't always work. The narrative voice comes up with the oddest judgements at times, like being in an abandoned supervisor's office and musing about the lack of humanity of the people who sat there and fired staff willy-nilly. Or crying at the innocence in a doll's eye (admittedly a nice one-off if well done, but in this game and in this context, rather ham-handed). Or like being severely offended by a nude pornographic poster - our master thief, murdering, electrocuting PC suddenly reveals that she opposes the nude female form. Shocking.

But those are, to be fair, few and far between. For the most part, the narrator doesn't judge. It compares, it suggests, it does all the right things to immerse you in the room.

Which is very good, because there's some situations where I really had to visualise the room in order to proceed. Not that it was a complex situation, but rather I had to imagine what I could possibly do, were I in that situation, with the tools at hand, to proceed. I needed a clear goal, and a clear view of my surroundings, and I can't have that if I'm not immersed. And I was.

Oh, but actually playing the game is a slow, methodical, exhausting affair. Mostly my gaming sessions lasted for 2 minutes. Then I had to take a break and think about it without staring at the screen, having apparently gone through all the possibilities. Then I'd have an idea, and try it out. No go. Ok, lawnmower the locations a bit, end the game session. Think about it. Try another idea. That one didn't work, but hey, hang on, what if... Eureka! Awesome! I'm the best! I'm the... oh f**k, here's another one. Rinse and repeat. And repeat. And repeat.

Of course, this was my experience, and mileage will vary. But I wanted to illustrate that the game was rewarding enough for me to stick with it for some months, but very tiring.

Of course, if gets easier once you get used to Mr. Phillips' style. There are flaws in game design, to be sure. For instance, a multi-part object (let's say a bed with sheets, pillows and a mattress) will have all parts as synonims for the object (meaning "X BED" is the same as "X SHEETS" and "X PILLOWS"), expect for one random part which turns out to be critical (meaning "X MATTRESS" will, say, point out that there's a lump worth investigating). A player would not mechanically lawnmower such an object, he would - rightly so! - assume that the object is all a big game-object.

Another design flaw. Mr. Phillips makes it unnecessarily hard to interact with, say, the keyboard of an organ (actual game example, but no spoilers). There are several keys - "first key", "second key", and so on. But you will only know it if you type "x key" and get shown a disambiguation prompt. You may well spend the best part of a week trying to "play abacada", "play c", "play tune", "play organ", when you should have been doing "play first key. play second key."

Finally, I was stuck the longest time because of a syntax problem. Turned out I had exactly the right idea, but the way I phrased it made the game respond in such a way as to make me believe I was on entirely the wrong track.

But apart from that, the puzzles themselves are, for the most part, wondrous. I can't begin to describe them, and I'm amazed at the sheer originality. A puzzle is never repeated, they are all medium-to-difficult, they are all logical. If you can put up with those design issues, this game is a treasure trove for puzzle-lovers.

Well, not entirely. There are a few instances in the game I heartily disliked, and most wore to do with code-inputting. Now, I happen to be of a very strong mind about this. If a safe has a combination, then the combination had better be shown in full, or just cryptic enough for a player to guess. Because if the clue is too cryptic, you might as well forget it - because there are way too many combinations, and the player might start looking everywhere in the game for numbers, or indications of what to do with those numbers. It's a nightmare, made even worse when the "safe" isn't the standard kind and inputting some numbers is un-obvious. (Spoiler - click to show) I'm looking at you, you damned cuckoo clock, and your infuriating "set hour hand to 10 for it to count as a leading zero" policy.

Near the end I completely broke down, though. The cyberspace sections (yep!) were too much, opening the vault door was too much, and the final maze, well!, certainly I could map it and have a breakthrough, but...

I expounded on this in my blog, or maybe in IntFiction, but in a nutshell, if a player gets to the end, he's tired. He's exhausted. He's also high on adrenalin, if the game was good enough. Neither of these are conducive to a massively intricate/difficult/dense/boring endgame (and the final maze, once you "got it", was certainly too boring and disorienting). The author would do well to ease up on him. "Christminster" is an example of a game that does this brilliantly, giving a tense situation with a tight limit but presenting a logical and rather thrilling final puzzle. "Heist" is an example of a game that saved the densest puzzles for the end. You know what that means? Sure you do. "Walkthrough time!"

But for all my nay-saying, I really had a blast with most of this game. It put me in great situations, even if they are clichéd. It really made me feel as though I was progressing through a series of complex situations. And, unlike the "capacitor" and the "pyramids" and stuff in "Enemies", this game didn't expect me to automatically know about everything it threw at me (well, almost. You do have to find (Spoiler - click to show) out how to write a certain number in binary. ). It doesn't feel unfair. Just...

...too much, man. Way too much, and it didn't know when to quit!

PS - The blurb implies that you have a choice regarding whether or not to accept this challenge. Some players may assume it is indeed a choice you can take. It is not. As you might expect, it's the choice between playing this game... and not playing it.

The Surprising Case of Brian Timmons, by Marshal Tenner Winter
Peter Pears's Rating:

Castronegro Blues, by Marshal Tenner Winter
Peter Pears's Rating:

Enemies, by Andy Phillips
Peter Pears's Rating:

Interactive Fiction Player, by Charlie Marcou
Peter Pears's Rating:

Gris et Jaune, by Jason Devlin

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
I so wanted to enjoy this more, March 12, 2013
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
I really did. I mean, the setting is ripe for a great story - I've been a sucker for these things since Gabriel Knight I, which was my first real, serious adventure game (my actual first adventure games include Monkey Island, Indy and the Last Crusade, Space Quest, Police Quest... but GK I hold in a separate cathegory). I mean, a story set in 1933, the New Orleans of Voodoo? Heavily involved in that culture (and the game does take some care in taking its subject matter seriously)? With a great cast of characters? What's not to like?

Well, game design is what's not to like.

The thing is, the game starts very linearly. Painfully linearly. I got the feeling I was reading a short story instead of playing IF. But I wasn't all that bothered, because I was enjoying it. Good characters, good premise, interesting conflict... I was really into it, even if it WAS linear and almost puzzleless.

Then you leave the house, and you suddenly have a whole world at your disposal.

Now, first off, credit where credit's due: I was lost and disconcerted, as a player, suddenly having had all restraints lifted, and being set loose like this. Where am I? Where do I go? What do I do? I can do so many things I don't even know where to start!

Thing is, those mirror the PC's sentiments EXACTLY. The author has managed to make me feel exactly like the PC was feeling. Bravo!

But it's no fun to play a whole game like this. There's little direction, and the puzzles start appearing to be... well, badly managed.

You see, when you have an open-world policy (make no mistake, this isn't a sandbox, you don't have an ilimited amount of options, but you do have a fair number of them, and the world is detailed enough that you actually feel your actions have an impact on the characters - kudos for that too!), at some point the player needs SOME guidance. And if the player gets conflicting information, well...

Here's an example. I failed to solve the first serious puzzle on my own, one that involves getting to a certain place without the game ending. I failed it because, a) I had failed to grasp a certain connection which was only tenuous at best, and b) something the game told me led me to believe I should look to a different solution entirely.

To clarify:

a) (Spoiler - click to show)We are supposed to make the connection between what Mama John is doing to us and what Dr. Gris was doing in the beginning, where they got into our head and just made us their puppet. But I never really understood Dr. Gris' control, and how it related to the presence in our mind. And I didn't understand it because, by the time I invoked all those Loas, I was still trying to understand what was so "golden" about his voice that the pulp made me listen past. It was all a bit confusing, really. Once the hint system nudged me into comparing Dr. Gris' control over me and Mama John's, I immediatly knew what to do, but I always felt as though something wasn't very thoroughly explained.

b) This is worse. (Spoiler - click to show)After speaking with Mamo Whomever, I actually got the idea I needed protection before entering the thicket! I had the blood, and I was looking high and low, mostly in the Dr.'s bedroom, for something Mama John had written, even trying very hard to get the crumbly note from the stove in the burned house! Now, with this idea in my mind, believing I needed PROTECTION to get past the thicket, it never would have occured to me to look elsewhere!

And of course, once I start going into the hints, I couldn't stop... there again to see how to get past the second half of the thicket problem; and again to see how to get rid of the zombies; and by the time I realised I had an entire spellbook to read and master, I just couldn't be bothered. The game had drawn me in beautifully, and then had, just as expertly, booted me out. I. Just. Didn't. Care. Anymore.

And it's a shame. I *loved* the Baron Samedi character, and the knowledge that once you leave that bar you can't go back adds a lot to its mystique. Dumballah was a great sidekick, even if very passive and silent. Characters you can take a long time getting to know, lots of life in this piece.

All marred by a degree of incrutability in the design (in my experience) that made me quit just before what would theoretically have been the climax. I encourage all authors to take a look at what this game does right and what makes it fail; and I would encourage this game's author to revisit his work, because it deserves being revisited.

Changes, by David Given
Peter Pears's Rating:

Calm, by Joey Jones and Melvin Rangasamy

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Good concept that rather misses the mark, February 23, 2013
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
"Calm" is an ambitious title, and that becomes obvious in the first few minutes of play. You are asked questions that will affect your gameplay style (in theory - more on that later). You are immediatly introduced to the basic concept: stay calm, in a post-apocalyptic world, or death awaits you. You will soon learn that there are even multiple solutions to most puzzles.

This is clearly very ambitious. But it doesn't always hit the mark.

Let's start with the best. Multiple solutions to various puzzles and different ways of keeping "calm" abound and are, for the most part, solidly implemented. You get to trust the way the game works - it's interested in solid world modelling, of the sort you can fiddle around with, and that ius engaging. The concept in itself is gripping - tread a fine balance between your emotions and your motivation, proceed cautiously when interacting with the world, a world where stress is fatal and, often, just around the corner.

But it fails on a few important levels. The first is that you have to keep calm AND motivated. That's perfectly OK. Except that your own indication of these is a single word, that will describe both your stress level and your motivation. This makes it unnecessarily hard to keep track of exactly how you feel.

The other thing is that the implementation is thorough, but it breaks at key points. I struggled with the parser far too many times for a game which, in some aspects, is very detailed. Making a swing, though optional, was especially stressful (to me), and that damned plank of wood! I could have solved the problem simply by tying it and dragging it along, or throwing it over that damn wall, but the game just wouldn't let me!

And a game with multiple solutions always has the same problem - your inventory gets highly cluttered, you see the various possible solutions as well as the once you chose, and the game feels at once cluttered (because of all the possibilities) and empty (because you've already chosed one of the possibilities, and you're left with, shall we say, too many hammers and not enough nails).

The game tries to enchance replayability by giving you different strategies to stay calm, by making you start with different goals at different places. This is a fallacy. It gives you a different prologue, but the gameplay and the game will remain pretty much the same. The problem seems to be, to me, that the options were too superficial, and did not affect the gameworld enough.

The game also tels you, explicitly, at a few times, that to do, or suggests it. It's a good thing that it does, as they are actions I doubt I would have thought of on my own. But that's a good thing about the game, it tries its best not to leave the player stranded, without a clue. If it were a linear game instead of multiple-solution, I'm sure it would have been much more enjoyable to play.

Another problem of the multi-solutions, and the multiple paths, of which the game suffers, is: "what now"? Goals are clearly defined, but fulfilling them is sketchy at best - you blunder on to objects, then you blunder onto characters, then you blunder onto a new goal, then you blunder onto the end. It seems as though the most significant things you can do don't advance the story AT ALL.

...which, mind you, isn't bad. It enriches the game world. I'm all for it. But just for once, you know, it would be good if they actually achieved something.

Finally, the end... leaves a lot to be desired. It feels rushed, and feels as though I've accomplished very little. I think it would work if this game were the first chapter of a much larger work, but as it is...

So, on the whole, this is a game which seems to have proven a bit too ambitious. But that isn't bad, and I for one hope that the author will keep writing games in this vein. I'm certain that his next one will be better.

My Evil Twin, by Carl Muckenhoupt

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
It's just plain fun!, February 16, 2013
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
This game is kindred to such works as "Bliss", or "Darkseed" (graphical adventure). Which is to say, and I'm spoilerising because it's worth realising for yourself, (Spoiler - click to show)working in two mirror worlds, watching the actions in one affect the other.

I'm a sucker for these things. I find them so much, so much fun.

The premise is fairly simple. You have an evil twin. He wreaks havoc, and you get the bad reptutation, not to mention when the police arrest you - mistaken identity and all that. So you set out to stop him once and for all. Again. It's kind of an ongoing work in progress, this "stopping him once and for all".

What this game has going for it is the richness of the setting. It's not very big, about as big as a rather large SpeedIF game, but infinitely more polished than most SpeedIFs I've ever seen. Red herrings abound, but can you really count them as red herrings when they serve the purpose of cementing the basic concept/gimmick of the game (which I shan't spoil here, even though it's fairly obvious)? Everything that relates to the central gimmick is perfectly implemented. The game encourages you to experiment, and have fun. About 80% of the things you can do will have zero impact on the game, but if you're like me you'll want to try it all the same!

One thing I liked was how the author went out of his way to fill this short piece with all examples of duality he could think of, the only thing missing was a computer game playing "Darkseed". Jekyll and Hyde, Batman's Two-Face, constant nudges to singularity and duality. It would be overbearing... except that it's the core of the game, and besides, the instances are varied enough to remain fresh (I mean, Nostradamus and a Batman villain in the same context!).

The writing is perfect for a piece like this. There is a certain comedy, but it's never explicit. It arises from some situations, particularly the solution to entering Your Evil Twin's lair, which is utterly nonsensical and perfectly logical and still makes me chuckle just to think about it. On the whole, the PC sees himself as a knight in shining armour. As the game progresses, the player will make up his own mind about that. It's also interesting to see the relationship between (Spoiler - click to show)the children around the cotton-candy machine and the mindless creatures around the mind-control device. Yes, it lacks subtlelty, it lack finesse, but it's a damn appropriate relationship all the same. Same with the photo booth and its counterpart.

Unfortunately, the ending twist makes for a far less interesting interpretation of the game's events.

My only gripe is that I wish this game were larger (well, that and the ending, and the obscure puzzle involving the voodoo doll). I'm a sucker for this sort of gaming mechanic (which is not all that different from the time-travel puzzle-style of, say, "Day of the Tentacle"), and the author has filled it with enough toys that I was having fun even when the plot wasn't advancing.

The Statue Got Me High, by Ryan Veeder

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Modern retelling of a classic, succesfull in every way, February 16, 2013
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
I am not familiar with the TMBG song of the same name, but I certainly know Mozart's "Don Giovanni", and I know its ending when I see it. Don Giovanni, who in elated spirits (as he always was) after an entire opera of seducing and adventure (a regular day, in fact) decides to invite the statue of a dead man for dinner, a man whose daughter he abused. The statue accepts, and Don Giovanni takes it in his stride, making it a guest of honour.

The remainder of the story, and the finale of the opera, could be considered spoilers to this piece, so I won't go into them.

This game concerns itself with the actual dinner. You play Leporello (or rather, his counterpart), arranging the seating for one of your master's ("John") feasts, which is likely to end in debauchery. There are two puzzles in the game, and neither is really a puzzle - they exist merely as pacing devices, in an excellent use of the "puzzle-as-pacing" modern conception (as opposed to the "puzzle-as-obstacle-for-the-player-to-exercise-his-brain). In fact, if you try to solve one of the puzzles by yourself, you'll reach a non-cannon ending that I found immensely amusing, and heartily recommend that you find it.

What I found most appealing about this work is that it captures Mozart's opera's duality perfectly. The opera starts very grimly, but then very soon turns towards the typical light Mozart comedy (if you're unacquainted with his farces, think farcical plays from that period): misadventures, trickery, misunderstandings, a comical manservant.

But at the end, for whatever reason, it turns upside down completely. Farcical turns to tragedy, light turns to sombre, and with the same energy that he made us laugh earlier, he presents the flames of hell like he never did before, and to the best of my knowledge never did again.

This game captures that duality. Debauchery abounds, with just enough decency here and there for the contrast. It's comical in many respects, though the comedy arises from the characters' own personalities and traits ("Chucky" and the left-handed lady immediately spring to mind) coupled with the PC's own voice, who is in himself remarkably fun to play. The PC is well aware of what his master is. He doesn't judge. He is disturbed by some things, but is an impeccable butler. He's Carson from Downton Abbey, he's Steven from Remains of the Day, he's Jeeves from Jeeves and Wooster - but just enough to remain credible and enjoyable to play, never going too far into the caricature. That was, at least, my reading of the PC; others' mileage will probably vary.

And then, at the end, chaos ensues. But not straightfoward chaos. There's a bit of grotesque comedy even then, just like the comedy was tinged with dark tinctures.

The game even manages to retain Mozart's overblown sense of morality. There is a moral theme, repeated over and over, forcing you to get the message, reminiscent of "Die Zauberflöte"'s insistence that every third aria be an explicit moral, to the point where, frankly, the modern audience can't stand it.

I loved this game. I am aware that knowing the opera in advance gave me a bit of an advantage, I could appreciate it a bit better, so I don't know how it would appear to someone who never heard of Don Giovanni's finale. But for me? It was a blast!

Happy Ever After, by Robert M. Camisa
Peter Pears's Rating:

Halothane, by Ravi Rajkumar
Peter Pears's Rating:

Corporate Wage-Slaves of Holofernes XIV, by Buttfort
Peter Pears's Rating:

Galatea, by Emily Short

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
The logical conclusion to Pygmalion's legend, September 19, 2012
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
As Pratchett says in "Witches Abroad", stories don't really ever end. And they certainly never end happily - go far enough and the "happily ever after couple" have their fights, their arguments. Go a bit further and, to use Pratchett's example, the story about the king parading naked becomes the story of the small child who got punished by insulting royalty - or even the story of the kingdom that discovered the joys of nudism.

Pygmalion's legend is heart-warming. But follow it up and, like all heart-warming legends, a less-than-ideal outcome is certain.

This is what we're asked to interact with in this piece. The outcome of an unwanted act of (a?) God(dess?).

It is beautiful.

I'd tried to play this before, though my heart wasn't in it. I dabbled. I'd heard about it, and though I wasn't ready to commit myself to it, I tried a few questions, a few actions. I left feeling that Galatea was a cold, hard characters, with such a strong mind that it would be hard to make anything of her. She was as off-putting as many people I've met in real life.

Yesterday I decided to truly play/experience this game. I decided I was going to get to know Galatea. I was going to behave normally - and steer the conversation towards what I normally would in real life.

The results were amazing. The cold, hard woman was no longer unreachable. It took me some work (just like it always takes some work to get to know complete strangers, which is the main reason I don't think I'll be replaying this game anytime soon... it's just too much work, it's too draining, to get to know a stranger over and over and over again, just as it is in real life), but I got her to talk about herself. And I got to talk about myself. And I reached four endings in a single session, and they were all beautiful, but I didn't stop until I got one that really satisfied me.

(Spoiler - click to show) I got the "Aphrodite" ending, the "Galatea dies" ending, and the "We sit together and talk until the musem closes" ending - I particularly liked that last one. But I wasn't truly satisfied until I'd talked her into facing me completely, seen her eyes, and asked her to step down from the pedestal. I wasn't looking for a love story - and I was glad I wasn't forced into one.

Naturally the work isn't flawless. Navigating it can sometimes be a bit of a maze, stumbling upon the right keyword - especially when you find yourself in a conversational dead-end. Nothing to do but to go back and try another tack. But isn't that what we do in real life? Also, the opportunity to occasionally try other commands (I tried hugging Galatea at a certain point - because of her posture, she threw a completely unexpected comment that suddenly gave me more things to talk about and a little extra insight into her gestalt) is very refreshing, raising this from just a conversation example into a true NPC experiment.

Another difficulty is, naturally enough - this isn't an actual person; it's a bunch of code and replies that one author put together. Short's work was tremendous, but there will still be the occasional moment when you want to say something specific; you want to address Galatea's views, or fears, or feelings; but you'll be constrained to an ask/tell system that simply doesn't allow for that. But this is exactly the sort of caveat that comes with this sort of experiments - Short has improved on this in later works. And while there are a few moments like this... we can overlook them for the technological impairment that they are, something we'll probably never really get past. Though works like this do their damnedest to try. And naturally, without a Galatea, it's unlikely we'd have a City of Secrets, an Alabaster, or a Blue Lacuna.

Some people won't like it, naturally. It's not everyone's cup of tea. But even those who don't will probably be all the richer for it if they manage to approach it with their defenses lowered. They might walk away with a new friend, a new look on life, or on art, or on creation, or they might just walk away frustrated. But that's true on meeting new people, and that's true on meeting art. Galatea, the character, started as an artistic experiment, gone awry. Galatea the game started the same way, and has become a masterpiece - truly art in every sense of the word.

Including, by the way, the prose, which I neglected to mention. Short's prose is very distinctive, and helps shape all of Galatea's strengths as well as all her frailties - which, be warned, you won't find unless you're prepared to spend some time with her. And if you don't want to do that, you can just leave and proceed to the next exhibition in this IF museum we're constantly adding to. Either way - whatever you do - Galatea as a work of art will have served its purpose.

Delightful Wallpaper, by Andrew Plotkin ('Edgar O. Weyrd')
Peter Pears's Rating:

Beyond the Tesseract, by David Lo
Peter Pears's Rating:

A Stop For The Night, by Joe Mason
Peter Pears's Rating:

Escape From Santaland, by Jason Ermer
Peter Pears's Rating:

A New Day, by Jonathan Fry
Peter Pears's Rating:

Cabin Fever, by Dr. Froth

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
A pleasant, simple diversion, August 25, 2012
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
NOTE - At the time of this review, Quest 5 was not yet available. This explains my negative experiences with Quest 4, and while I have yet to play a Quest 5 game I consider to be *good*, I'm more more optimistic about it as I was when I first wrote this review.

"Quest" games are, from my experience, usually a rather sorry lot. Somehow, the engine managed to attract all sort of people except those who actually cared much for IF and its history and conventions - Quest's tendency to strip down every command to a handful default verbs (with more available if the programmer so chooses, naturally) has resulted in a myriad of shallow, many-room games. Of course, there's bad and awful games in any language, but as I played Quest game after Quest game I noticed this low level of quality was not the exception but the rule. A situation which, I should add, I believe will change now that Quest has become a free tool and has been considerably revamped.

So, I was not expecting a good game at all. I seldom do. Nowadays, even a TADS or Inform game will have to do some work to convince me.

It was a pleasant surprise to find that this game has been written by someone who knows and cares about what interactive fiction is. That alone is worth the four stars for me.

The game is a one-room scavenger hunt, fairly easy. There is nothing remarkable about any of it, and there isn't even the solidity I usually find in Inform or TADS games - since most verbs had, I imagine, to be input manually by the author, you can expect the game to recognise "put out the fire" but not "douse fire"; "open lid" but not "remove lid" (which, incidently, is the verb the game itself hints to: "remove"). At a couple of points you'll need to perform rather convoltued interactions, and instead of thinking about the verb that will best describe what you intend to do, you'll realise that if you've constructed a tool that will help you get something you want, then "take something" will be quite enough.

I don't really mind this simplicity, because it's consistent. It's not like sometimes you have to be super explicit and then you have to be overtly simplistic.

The story that emerges is predictable, a bit clichèd, but well told. It has no pretensions, and there are a few surprises. The writing is hardly superb, but the author has obviously takes some pains to achieve the desired effect, and you know, sometimes the effort is worth just as much.

It's worth mentioning that there's a lot of stuff in the room, and yet the game manages not to feel "cluttered", which seems to be a common fault in more modern IF. Cluttered rooms are not fun - I enter, I realise how many things I'm going to have to examine, maybe look under and behind, I sigh inwardly, and suddenly the game has just become a lot less fun. This game isn't like that. It plays to its strengths, and its strength is simplicity. So it sticks to it.

Apart from being the first quality Quest game I've played so far, this game is worth playing if you're fancying a quick diversion, simple puzzles which are perfectly logical, a simple story which actually goes somewhere (and aren't we all tired of those "Beyond Atlantis"-style narratives where the story is horribly static?).

Christminster, by Gareth Rees

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful:
A Crossword At Peace With A Narrative, August 13, 2012
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
Ah, for the invigorating puzzles! Oh, for a superbly paced narrative! Hark, at the cast of solid characters! Faint at the sight of multiple puzzle solutions to avoid walking deads!

Ok, ok, so you get the picture - I loved this game.

In this game you play Christabel (seriously), whose brother Malcolm has summoned her to the college at Christminster (apparently this is all based on some novel(s) I have never heard about, but hey, I played "Blackstone Chronicles" without ever reading a John Saul and I still loved it). Predictably enough (for us), all-is-not-as-it-seems as Malcolm disappears and tenacious Christabel starts delving into a world of secrets and amibitions, of power lost and power desired...

This game is an early Inform game - considering "early" to mean "nearer Curses than Infocom". It's too newschool to be oldschool, and too oldschool to be newschool.

Actually I think that's a perfect fit. Puzzles abound, but they are so logical - and so "IFfy", being puzzles of "world manipulation" type (I *adored* the way you open the crumbling door at the end!) - that you actually feel pleasure when you solve them. And they're interspersed with a rich narrative...

...hmmm... that's not quite right.

They're interspersed with the step-by-step discovery of a centennial alchemichal formula, while simultaneously actively looking for her brother in a college where every character is wondrously realistic (though far from being Galateas, but hey, they don't have to be) and the villains of the piece threaten to do away with Malcolm for good.

So it's not exactly a narrative, in the linear sense of the term. It's more like a constant discovery of a certain part of backstory (which becomes very important, naturally), and at the same time following the story as it presents itself (as in, "if my brother's missing my main concern is to get into his room, not to try and distract the porter so I can climb some ivys" - not a spoiler, don't worry).

It's rather Anchorheadian, really, though more puzzle - and you're expected to do more with the knowledge you acquire than just chillingly realise what it all means.

The game almost seems to follow Graham Nelson's thoughts on Beginning, Mid-Game and Endgame to the letter. The former and the latter are very self-contained. The mid-game expands and keeps on expanding, and then at its climax it quickly contracts to a pinpoint through which you enter the Endgame. It's... beautiful. Theory doesn't always work well in practice, but this is an example of theory made art.

Ok, maybe I'm getting carried away. I really liked it, ok?

A very important feature of this game is that you may miss the opportunity to do something - maybe you failed to hide something from the bad guys, for instance. Or failed to uncover a secret passageway, and can't get the clue again. Unwinnable? No! Not at all! You can try and get the item back from the bad guys, or find an alternate route! I always found this to be one of the most alluring things in Interactive Fiction - a missed chance doesn't necessarily mean the end! Yes, it's harder to design and program, but man, it makes for better games.

Ok, my experience with Christminster wasn't all a bed of roses. There were a few instances where I was surprised that the game actually expected me to: (Spoiler - click to show)know that the gum was myrrh; solve the wire/sockets puzzle (I was able to figure out which wire belong to which phone, but as for the rest...); look up some names in the library. But I stuck with the game, and it didn't disappoint. It was a wonderful experience, culminating in a tight-limited, exciting finale.

I would point to this game as an example of story-pacing as applied to Interactive Fiction, and of puzzles, mostly. I would, in fact, point to this as being a sort of Curses - but a newschool Curses, of a sort; lighter, better designed (sorry Graham, but you yourself violate your bill of rights too many times!), more approachable and more easily enjoyable, without losing any of its oldschool charm.

Flamel, by Francesco Cordella

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Superb game, awful ending, July 19, 2012
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
This review will be short and to the point, because this game disappointed me severely.

If you read my reviews you'll know that I'm the sort of player that really gets drawn into a game (unless the game doesn't want to draw me in, by virtue of bad design or bad writing, or unless it's a strictly cerebral game). And therefore I start responding emotionally. In a character-heavy game such as this, with very well done characters, I get drawn in even more.

Hitting a dreadful ending after this is a very disappointing experience. I'm not rating the game, because if I did, I'd rate it the lowest possible, even though up to the ending the game was, in a word, superb.

So. The story is very good. Heavily surreal, but not so much as to leave you disoriented. In fact, amidst all the weirdness, some key elements remain, leaving you grounded in what you could call, if you like, the "main plot". There is a dream-like transition between some scenes, almost stream-of-consciousness style.

The writing is wonderful, and gets even better when you start interacting with characters (who are everything but static - they don't walk around with their own agenda, but that's just the easy way to make dynamic characters, and then again, walking pieces of cardboard aren't usually that dynamic...). They each have their own voice, their own very distinctive personality, not to mention very weird names.

The design is very good. Looking back on some of the actions I performed, I wonder that I thought of them at all (most of them character-interaction related). It was only possible through a detailed implementation and very crafty writing.

The ending is awful. Dreadful. And it's the sort of ending that ruins everything that came before.

If you *must* play this game, I reccommend you play until the helicopter part. Then quit, and think up your own ending. It will be much, much better than the ending that's actually there.

And no, it's not a "it was only a dream" ending. Although I usually loathe those, in this game it might actually have worked. Would have certainly worked better.

The Colder Light, by Jon Ingold

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful:
Great story and design; Unconvincing interface, July 14, 2012
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
EDIT - I have just realised (and accordingly removed a couple of sentences) that inability to save is NOT a design choice, but rather a limitation of Quixe, which powers this particular presentation of this particular Glulx game.

More and more I come to realise how much I like IF, and especially parser IF. "The Colder Light" is an experiment in doing away with the parser, replacing it with hyperlinks. Now, this has been tried before, and has mostly resembled CYOA. Jon Ingold's brilliant design, however, manages to (and this is the brilliant part) capture all the versatility of the parser without overloading the player with options (a common failing of such projects as these). The result is, incredibly, mouse-driven parser IF.

Ok, ok, so it's technically not parser IF however you look at it because you don't actually type. But it feels like parser IF.

However, it's left me thoroughly unconvinced that this is a good solution. As I played and clicked along, in a very streamlined experience where I was never one step ahead of the interface (frustrating) nor was the interface ever one step ahead of me (confusing and puzzle-spoiling), I missed typing. As I walked around, I missed the ease of "n.e.n" to quickly go somewhere.

Here's the thing, and here I get awfully subjective - parser IF means typing back at the computer, and having the computer display text. It's a dialogue, an illusion of a two-way medium. I can't just keep blundering forward, I can't scan my mouse over the screen and see what the hotspots are. I have to take the time to read.

And that triggers a mental switch. It means I'm now focused on this.

Now, that "switch" is vital. Sometimes I never get it. Sometimes I get it from the very beginning. When I load up a game, there's me and the computer, and I'm thinking about the design, I'm thinking about the writing, I'm thinking about current goals and obstacles. Then after that "switch", I have fused with the story and am part of it. I am no longer typing "s.e.open window.w", I'm actually walking around a house looking for a way in, and having a nice little "aha" moment (granted, what we usually call "aha" moments are grand epiphanies on otherwise game-stopping moments, but the smaller "aha"s have their place too).

This is because, a) the game has just grabbed me by the balls or by the heart or by the brain, and b) the barriers between me and the game have become invisible.

In parser IF, the barrier is already invisible. If you're used to typing, and can type well and reasonably fast (a trick which playing IF actually enhances) then it's as simple as "think it, type it, do it". And the illusion is "think it, do it".

The mouse is a barrier in this. It's one thing for me to read a room description and mentally view it and wander around, and then to type a command which feels as natural as actually doing it (because the connection between my mind and my fingers is automatic at this point).

It's quite another to read a room description, get that view, and separate it - separate it! - from the hyperlinks, which are the hotspots. They demand my attention. I actually pay less attention to anything else. Then I "click". A click can mean anything and everything, and is a dull, repeatable action. Point. Click. Point. Click. And I'm yearning to "play fire and brimstone. Summon Lucifer" (random example not found in the game). It would feel much more natural, and as strange as this sounds, actually writing things out has a meaning. Clicking is meaningless. Constructing words in that dialogue of a narrative is not.

But for all this, I must praise Ingold for his design. If we're going to have parserless IF, it doesn't get any better than this, technically or otherwise.

Well, this rant is enough. Now what about the game? It's a short story, which I wish I could appreciate more... but sadly, the "switch" never happened, because of the interface and because I couldn't save my game and come back to it another time. It has beautiful imagery, a fairly linear plot, and very interesting puzzles, ranging on the poetic. If it didn't feel so serious, it would make a great fairy-tale story, especially the sequence on the ice floe.

All in all: great game, great story, a fantastic attempt at revolution. Me, I prefer the parser. But hey. That's just me.

Darkiss! Il bacio del vampiro - Capitolo 1: il risveglio, by Marco Vallarino

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
A good introduction, June 14, 2012
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
In this game the player becomes Martin Voigt, a vampire. A slain vampire. Brought back to life for reasons and parties unknown. And as you look for the answers, the thirst for revenge grows in your bosom...

The most striking thing about this game, I wouldn't hesitate to say, is the sheer amount of prose. It's almost heavy-handed, at times. Oh, it won't seem like it at first. Your first dozen turns will be a very pleasant experience, as the game reacts very well to your commands and you keep finding little bits of history here and there. But after a certain point (mileage may vary) you'll probably think that enough is enough, and may start skimming a couple of text dumps that occur when you examine, say, an instrument of torture and get three or four lengthy paragraphs detailing your latest "guest".

But it's not *purple*, and it's not *bad*. It just feels like it could have taken a bit of pruning.

Apart from that, it's a collection of puzzles, and the grandiose story will soon reveal itself nothing more than a series of obstacles you need to overcome in order to escape your castle - here's hoping there'll be more Darkiss games, because the story certainly promises more. And I for one would love more of these games. The good thing about making an unashamedly puzzly game is that you turn your attention where its most needed; instead of focusing on fiddly, frilly extras, you focus on implementation and on the quality of the puzzles, especially when the game's this linear.

And man, I mean *linear*. When you start really solving puzzles, it's like "solve a puzzle, enter a new room; solve a puzzle in that room, go to a new room; solve a puzzle in that room"... This is a very unappealing formula. Eventually the player goes "Just let me past already!" It's obviously a conscious design: a large-ish initial area and then a lot of bottle-necking.

For me, this game had two very, very big flaws (about which I've contacted the author. I've had no response, positive or otherwise, but I hope he's thought about it). There are two severely under-implemented puzzles, which stick out all the more because of how well the rest of the game is implemented. There are a lot of details to the game's scenery, and they not only embellish, they help get the player in a specific role. Once the player is in that role, he'll start thinking along specific lines, and will start thinking not only about what he/she'd do, but what would the vampire Martin Voigt do.

Usually, when IF achieves this, the rest should be clear sailing. And it works most of the time. Sadly, in two very specific points the game fails to capture two obvious solutions to two different puzzles (glaring because up until then, error messages were mostly captured and treated fairly, i.e., dismissed with a fair reason). The first one is hardly a spoiler - there is a wolf in my way, and I have a big bone in my possession. The two are not connected at all, the bone is for another puzzle altogether. Yet it's very frustrating when the game doesn't acknowledge anything at all when we try to give/show the wolf the bone; drop the bone, leave and return; throw the bone. After a series of well-implemented failures, this one - this very obvious connection - being entirely unimplemented shakes the player's confidence and thrusts him out of the shoes of the vampire the game had been so assideously trying to put him/her in. I keep saying that puzzles should serve the narrative. Now I add that bad puzzle design/implementation (even if it's only, as in this case, a lack of foresight) will damage the experience.

The second one is harder to describe without spoilers.(Spoiler - click to show) Let's just say that removing an article of clothing right on front of someone does not have the same effect as leaving, removing the article and then coming back. In the context in which this happens, namely trying to calm someone down by removing a scary article of clothing, I'd think it'd make more sense to leave, remove it and then come back. This completely broke the experience - the person would still be afraid, even if I appeared without any menacing item at all, without any article of scary clothing. It left me floundering, trying to solve a puzzle I'd unknowingly already solved - but in such a way that the game didn't know I had.

These are my two very big gripes with the game. But they are balanced with the rest of the qualities - the puzzles are clever (if unspectacular), the writing, characterisation and atmosphere are excellent, and it left me wanting for more. That's always good.

Degeneracy, by Leonard Richardson

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Greater than the sum of its parts, June 14, 2012
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
Degeneracy starts with a clear goal, and in fact begins after a great victory - you, a knight of the Faith, have slain the evil Baron. Nothing remains for you but to return home. However, that's easier said than done. Mysterious magic is afoot, not only keeping you locked in but, as time goes by, in very real danger of your existence...

The funny thing about this game is that it has two endings, one "winning" ending and one "optimal" ending (which is also a winning ending, by the way). There are hints and a walkthrough, and they deftly avoid any discussion of what entails the optimal ending. In fact, just by reading the hint file, you wouldn't know anything else was afoot.

What this game does very well is setting and atmosphere. The writing style helps - the author has chosen to emulate 18th-century prose. At first it reads a bit strange, but it's well done, and as with all things well done, takes no time at all to softly get under your skin. The Baron's keep is richly described - with an eye not to promise not interactivity than it delivers, and not to deliver an absurd and useless amount of interactivity. They are what I like to call "dynamic" descriptions, not because they change over time but because they dynamically describe otherwise static rooms - for instance, by hinting at what a room used to be before the fleeing servants fled en masse. Yes, it's a "trick of the trade", one might call it, but it's a damned good one when it works. And it works here, very well. It helps establish the atmosphere.

An atmopshere of decayed grandeur is really hard to achieve, actually. Especially with only a handful of rooms. This game pulls it off.

There will be very little character interaction, but the two characters you will find are, if not over-implemented (as in most IF, a real attempt at conversation will soon hit a few brick walls), then efficiently implemented. It helps that there are so few and they are such striking characters - the cryptic fool and the unholy priest. Yes, they are archetypes, but they are put to good use. The whole setting is archetypical, so why not just stick to your guns and use archetypes as NPCs? It take some courage, and it pays off in the end.

The overall gameplay will be an exercise in juggling (I'm afraid so - there are some inventory limits, which to be fair aren't as maddening as they would be in a larger game) and, once the proper doors have been opened, consulting a library and trying to make sense of what is going on - make sense of the exact nature of the Baron's final curse. The whole experience is "greater than the sum of its parts" because, if you strip the game down to its basics, you have a couple of interesting puzzles and no more (although the final puzzle, the one you need to solve for the optimal ending, is always pretty cool). But this game is more than just the basics; it's more than an excuse for the puzzles. Small and contained as it is, it's a small concentrated bubble of a fictional world that is very solidly conceived.

There are two very, very good moments in this game. The first is when you start to see the "Degeneracy" in place for the first time, and see the timer finally run out (it *will* happen to you, eventually). The second one is when you stop it. I mean, as much as I liked the rest of the game, and for all the praise I gave it, the extra puzzle that gives the game its name is what makes this game a special experience. And the funny thing is how this fundamental gimmick is underplayed throughout. That also takes courage.

baby tree, by Lester Galin

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Trash for some, beauty for others, May 12, 2012
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
I have a knee-jerk reaction against vague, ill-defined games with - apparently - mere shock value and random imagery and a poor parser. They scream things to me. They scream "teen angst poetry", or "pseudo-modernist ramblings", or "hey, this is my first game!". Lack of caps and a generally strange prose doesn't help.

However, the amount of attention this game is having at the IntFiction forums - attention I for one would never have given it - makes me take a step back and look for the other side of the coin.

There is a certain merit in this short scene. It's rather like a bit of a nightmare, in that the elements are recognisable but slightly off and add up to a very strange picture (the prose which I so lashed against is actually effective in this). In context, it might be a delusion coming at the end of a life (said ending might be the direct effect of the player's actions, or it might have happened previously) filled with some sort of negative emotion - guilt, sorrow, madness.

The most interesting thing about it, however, is that when I saw it I mentally deemed it "trash". Now I'm mentally deeming it "sorta interesting attempt at surreal horror". This after giving it a second chance, after seeing so much discussion about it.

So, this game was completely innefectual as a game or a story, for me - but it did cause me to re-evaluate my standing as a reviewer (and I do pride myself on my reviews, I put a lot of thought into them and want them to be as helpful as possible). Maybe I should ignore my knee-jerk reaction and look for the other side of the coin. On the other hand, isn't my first reaction as a player as valid as any other reaction? Should I also be looking for political statements in nom3rcy's games? How much do I have to dig before I can evaluate a game - or do I have to dig at all?

The "game" itself I didn't like (even after admitting the merit). But kudos for making me take a step back and think about some things.

Fingertips: I Hear the Wind Blow, by Jacqueline A. Lott

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
One-turn elegance, May 5, 2012
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
This is a game in the Apollo 18+20 Tribute collection of games, and like a large number of those games, it's a one-turn game - you have one turn to play, after which the game restarts. Unlike "Aisle" and like "Rematch", these games do have winning conditions (or, in at least one case, a finite number of ending messages you're encouraged to fully discover), and you're supposed to learn from your past actions. Piece by piece, you're supposed to arrive at the one command(s) that will give you a winning scenario.

Personally, I don't see the point of this - it becomes a silly hybrid between Aisle and regular IF; in Aisle, each command was recognised and led to different outcomes (and the sheer number of recognised commands was amazing and part of its charm), whereas these games seem like a streamlined timed puzzle.

The advantage of this method over the timed puzzle, however, is that by its very nature it allows only one move. You know the solution will take only one move. Furthermore, there's no undo/restore hassle - the game automatically takes you back to the beginning after each attempt. It's IF streamlined to its bare bones: a puzzle and trial and error, with the added bonus of a minimum of frustration.

The noteworthy thing about *this* game, however, is that the one-turn format brings the PC and the player together. The PC is not entirely aware of the predicament she's in; neither is the player. They will gradually take in the hints. And when the player does finally realise what's happened, and the circumstances which brought her there (of which I uncovered only a handful of hints, which nevertheless satisfied me), it will almost certainly be a shock.

In other words, the trial-and-error nature of these one-turn games begets a slow, exploratory, methodical discovery of the game, leading to gradual realisations and sudden epiphanies... which mirror the PC's own realisations and epiphanies, despite the fact (and here comes in the suspension of disbelief) that the PC does not have the incremented knowledge that we have gained; she ALWAYS knows as much and as little as we do.

This is the first one-turn game which actually had an emotional impact in me, which is what I look for in any game (and if I don't find it, because it simply isn't one of those games, I'll gladly take intellectual stimulation, but I much prefer emotional impact). I honestly didn't believe this type of game could deliver this. Now I know better. For all its brevity and its one-trick pony (once you've figured it out, that's pretty much it), this is a game I enjoyed and can heartily reccommend, for players and writers alike.

Fingertips: Mysterious Whispers, by Peter Nepstad
Peter Pears's Rating:

Opolis: Chapter One, by DeepRiver
Peter Pears's Rating:

Bed Time, by Charlie the Spiffy
Peter Pears's Rating:

Catseye, by Dave Bernazzani

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
How much can you do with the least possible resources?, February 27, 2012
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
First off - and this is especially important for people who know my reviews, and know what a "4-star" means from me - this is NOT a game I'd usually rate four stars. By itself, it's worth two stars when you first pick it up. If you finish it, you may feel like awarding the third star. The fourth star is me tipping off my hat to the author for deciding to constrain himself and still delivering something that *works* (now, whether it's enjoyable or not, that's another matter).

Now, on to the actual review.

This one was a funny thing - like "Building", I've been playing it on and off. I look at my games, and if I don't fancy playing a new one I browse my existing ones, and this up kept coming up. I kept thinking "What the hell, maybe this time'll be the charm". It never was, until today. In fact, until today, I always quit in the highest frustration. And the only reason I solved it today was because I started thinking meta-game - more on that later - so it's not as though I was particularly inspired, or I had that sense of finally beating the challenge. I just felt "what the hell" enough to be very, very objective about what this is.

What is it, then? It's, first and foremost, a "miniventure", one of a series of games designed to fit in the smallest filesize possible. It's an interesting constraint to design under - Paul Panks tried it, but often (always?) failed to do anything actually *playable* (as far as I know) in his 4k and 8k adventures. The result is sparcity of text, sparcity of objects, and even of synonims and commands.

A game like this has to be very well designed. Well, this one isn't. But it's not shoddy, either - it's remarkably efficient.

The story, if you can call it that: your uncle asked you to get his necklace at his house. Clumsy as you are, you let it slip down the fireplace (into an ash trap... whatever that is), and your goal is to retrieve it. Along the way, you'll be switching between two states which alter your capabilities in meaningful ways.

Let's be honest here - unless you're willing to approach this in a "let's see what he did with those constraints", this is rather nightmarish to play. Meta verbs (save, restore, undo, even quit) are out. Synonims? Pish-posh. You're lucky the author implemented "x" for "examine", but you have to use "take" because "get" isn't recognised. A single multi-stage puzzle where the scenery is so sparse and under-implemented you feel like yelling at the game "Why?! WHY can't I open and read the bloody book?"

To top it off, actually finishing the game will require some interactions that are a bit beyond the regular verbs - and the phrasing you use may not even be the best one for describing what you're actually trying to achieve. (Spoiler - click to show) Such as "put X in door" when you actually mean THROUGH the door (and the game won't understand "through"). Error messages are usually "Huh?", which gives you no clue as to whether it didn't recognise the verb, the noun, whether it didn't make sense of the action...

Conversely, it does steer you in the right direction - once - when you're in the right track but need to do something else first. So the aforementioned faults are symptomatic of the author's chosen constraint, more than of his design.

One interaction, the one I solved by going meta-game, was completely random. I solved it because I thought "Ok, let's look at it like a puzzle-box where all the pieces have a function - because what doesn't have a function was stripped out, that's what this is all about. So, there's THIS object, which I can't use as it was intended... Hmmm... let's concentrate on it..."

It happened to work. But I had to get completely out of the game. But, on the other hand, this is not a game for anyone to be immersed in - maybe it could have been, but the author chose to make it a little, efficient, working puzzle box...

...which, funnily enough, it is. It's all one big multi-stage puzzle that does make sense even as you solve it. In the best tradition of IF, it even requires you to fully understand where you are and what you have at your disposal, and how you can use your inventory's properties to your advantage.

So. Bonus star #1: for working within the constraints chosen, never compromising. I admire that. I think paucity of means can stimulate creativity (look at Infocom...).

Bonus star #2: for achieving something that works and can actually be solved by thinking about it (and did, in my last session - today - wile away 10 minutes on the tube) - something that's bare-bones, no-frills, all possible corners cut: stark, direct. And still, in a way, fun.

The other two stars are the rating of the actual *game* here, which, for all the beauty of the chosen constraint, is still a guess-the-verb meta-verb-less 5-room pointless and rewardless couple of puzzles.

Tales of a clockwork boy, by Taleslinger
Peter Pears's Rating:

Cacophony, by Owen Parish
Peter Pears's Rating:

Busted!, by Jon Drukman and Derek Pizzuto
Peter Pears's Rating:

Building, by Poster

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
"Office-Life Is Hell" sort of game, December 2, 2011
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
I've tried to play this game four or five times over a space of, I don't know, let's call it a year. Today I finally beat it. While I don't think much of the ending, I'm glad I got to it, because while the journey was flawed, it was fun. Frustrating at times, but fun, in a problem-solving way.

"Building" is an "office-life is hell" kind of game, rather like Little Blue Men (a must-play if you like the genre) but taking a completely different approach. In this game, you will explore a deserted building, in a surreal half-dreamy state - you will try to remember your past, which is the overall goal. Exploration and discovery are the themes.

Thing is... well, let's start with the negative first. I'm not fond of the whole "office-life is hell" thing. I can see where it comes from, but I've never worked in an office, and the only person I really know who *has* was quite happy in it (my father; in fact, I have memories of going fishing with him, and going on outings, organised by the company he worked in). So I'm naturally taking the whole thing with a pinch of salt, shrugging and moving on. When the story takes a definite and relatively unsurprising turn (Spoiler - click to show)towards Stepford Wives I'm not even surprised.

And within this genre, the game adds very little. And it does so in purple prose. You know, the sort you start skimming. By the end I was skimming quite a lot. It's a good thing this game's default mode isn't VERBOSE.

But here's the funny thing. The game may fail on wordsmithing, and on overall plot (having reached the end, I failed to understand much of what happened, but more than that, I abysmally failed to care), but it's excellent in the atmosphere it creates. This game has empty rooms, which is often sneered at, but this game wouldn't be half as good without them. Discovery and exploration are sometimes confused with walking-around-examining-stuff. This game makes an effort at maximising your experience. It doesn't always work, but then, what does. For the most part it paints vivid scenes - be they dusty, chaotic, surreal, familiar, cozy, fearful. It paints with a shoddy brush, and with uneven brushstrokes, but the end result is powerful.

The game also has a couple of rather serious design issues. The biggest one is the needless inventory management, where you have to constantly juggle your items because there's a rather arbitrary weight/bulk limit which, in a game where much of the game relies on getting the right item to the right room, is just an artificial obstacle - the kind that no one has fun with. There are also objects which impede your movement, which is only troublesome when coupled with the weight/bulk limit.

Also, for a game that is all about remembering, the game does not provide a way to remember particular memories. Instead you get a generic "remember" verb which lists one-line summaries of recalled events. This is simply not enough. I think Babel did something similar, but in Babel this was less of an issue. Perhaps because the events in Babel were multiple and bite-sized. The events here are big and there aren't that many of them - plus there's always some surreality to them which makes it hard to piece the overall plot from memory.

But then there's the game's best part - the puzzles. They're not award-winning, I guess, but they were the reason I kept coming back to this game. If the puzzles had been gratuitous, I wouldn't have bothered - but they weren't. They weren't too easy, either - they were almost too hard, but not quite. Two of my favourite puzzles were very satisfying because they provided that "click" you get when you know all the world rules, know what the obstacle is, and then sit quietly, thinking about possibilities, and - "click". A case in point: the "bronze chest" puzzles. I really, really liked it.

If there's a problem with the puzzles, is that solving them often doesn't feel as though it's advancing you at all. That's because the game isn't structured as "solve a puzzle to solve another puzzle", but rather "solve a puzzle to get a memory". And because the overall plot completely failed to interest me, it felt unrewarding for me. But then again, for the most part I'd had my reward - when I felt the answer "click".

This is a game I would normally rate 3 stars, but... I had so much fun with the puzzles, and I find it so curious that a game I should bash so much for the prose should achieve such atmosphere, that I feel it deserves an extra star right there. I wouldn't recommend this game without reservations... but I would recommend it.

Dragon Flies Like Labradorite, by Troy Jones III
Peter Pears's Rating:

Awake the Mighty Dread, by Lyle Skains
Peter Pears's Rating:

Andromeda Awakening - The Final Cut, by Marco Innocenti
Peter Pears's Rating:

Eva's secret, by Cauldron
Peter Pears's Rating:

Adventure Time, by Derek O'Neill
Peter Pears's Rating:

Beyond Exile, by Doug @Paul Flum Games

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful:
Broken, unwieldy, devoid of interest, September 24, 2011
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
I had the same problem as the other reviewer - I could get so far and no further, because pretty soon there was no interaction I could make to advance the plot/game/poem. But I had issues with this piece much earlier than that.

First: the game tells us NOT to use the keyboard but the point and click interface supplied by Quest. This sets off a suspicion that this isn't a game at all, but a hypertext, or just another sort of interactive literature. Which is ok, just like "Space Under the Window" is ok, and "Endling Archive" is ok, but those games actively hacked/diminished the power of their chosen Virtual Machines to create a cohese experience. "Beyond Exile" simply pastes a "poem" into a system for creating IF. For the amount of self-hype, this is quite sloppy, and feels not unlike playing a CYOA masquerading as full-blown IF.

Second: the game warns us that saving a game may take from 5 to 10 minutes. I didn't even try. I don't care if it's the system's fault, or the programmer's, or whatever - if it takes that long just to save and load, something's seriously wrong.

Then the "poem" itself. It starts by showing you a picture - if you subsequently type "look", you don't get the picture but a small box with a red X on it, something ELSE that's broken (and author, if you didn't want me to type LOOK, again I tell you you should have used some other programming system. Look into CYOA). A few verses and three characters, one of which disappears after interacting with them. "Interacting" means clicking on "look at" and then clicking on their names. There are two more options, "take" and "speak to", which wield no response at all - again, this spells B.R.O.K.E.N.

Finally, I haven't seen enough of the poem to really judge, but the author keeps posting snippets here and there so I think I've seen quite enough.

Since poetry is really not my field, I'll establish a musical comparison.

As far as poetry is concerned, I enjoy the classics. My favourite is Edgar Allan Poe, for combining strict metrics, a strict rhyming system, and vivid content - and in his poem "The Bells", even going as far as making the phonetic sounds of the poem convey as much information and feeling as the words themselves. I enjoy, very much, the "Lusíadas", for much the same reasons. I love Fernando Pessoa, whose futuristic works are maybe not as tight, in terms of metrics and technique, but which follow a specific style, are true to that style, and seek to evoke all manners of feelings in the readers.

That's the poetry I like - either tight in its mechanics, a smoothly-oiled and well-devised watch running perfectly, like Bach... or the passionate experiments of Liszt and Chopin... or the mixture that lies in Beethoven.

For me, "Beyond Exile" is to poetry as "Duet for dog and flusher" (a real, existing piece) is to music.

PS - The thought occurs that, if this program contains the entirety of the book "Beyond Exile"...

...then either the author had permission or he didn't. And if he didn't, it's probably illegal. And if he did... then it's a poor lookout for Lawrence Johns if he can give carte blanche to such a shoddy project, which happens to feature his whole *book*. If *I*'d been the author of the book, and had given permission, I'd certainly withdraw it after seeing the final result.

Adventure, by William Crowther and Donald Woods

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
Impossible to rate, September 24, 2011
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
I find it impossible to rate this game. What am I rating it against? At the time, it was the only one of its kind, so it was neither the best nor the worst - it was the one. I therefore can't rate it comparing it to its competitors - there were none.

But I can't rate it against modern IF either, because Adventure is the one common source from which we derived, for a long time, what to do and what not to do (and if we abolished gratuitous hunger/light puzzles, it was because they were *everywhere* - but they were everywhere because they were part of "Adventure". Well, not the hunger puzzle, that just appeared as a variant of the light-puzzle, possibly for games with no reason to stay in dark places for long. But I digress). Also, we have hindsight, we have experience, and that's our basis for rating modern games. Adventure had none of those things.

So it must go unrated.

Now. What is Adventure?

"Adventure" is, simply put, a cave-crawl with a two-word parser. It has logical puzzles (the plant) and read-the-author's-mind puzzles (the rod) and puzzles that are extremely rewarding to solve (getting the plover's egg, as I recall). It has two mazes (two!). It has random enemies that attack you.

It is, in short, a collection of good, mediocre and bad puzzles and game-design (by today's standards, after decades of essays, innovations, and the infamous and eternal "game vs art" discussion, in which IF is uniquely placed by its very nature). It survives to this day mostly because the original author was himself an explorer of caverns, and his writing is, if not beautiful and lavished and prize-winning, then a reflection of his experiences - there is a real feeling of exploring an underground system of caverns.

Because so much has been written about this game, it's hard to add much to this review - but I couldn't NOT write a review on this game, for the same reason that an adventure gamer can't NOT play it, at least once. It's the one that started it all, and it's a great guide for what to do and what not to do. The conventions stemmed from here. The cardinal directions (a must for navigating underground) originated from here. Even the Carousel Room in Zork II originated here. Heck, even a little bit of parser trickery (the dragon).

Modern players will do well to check out the TADS version, though - it has a novice mode which, for 5 points, will make your lantern last 1000 turns, a welcome addittion for new-schoolers like myself. It's also worth trying to map and solve the game on your own... but don't feel ashamed to turn to the hints eventually. It's got design issues (by today's standards), and it's best to peek at a few hints and get on with the exploration. After all, this is the 21st century - it's not as though we haven't got thousands of other IF to play, games that are probably better suited to our modern sensibilities.

But you owe it to yourself to play this one, eventually. Just a taste. Just a sip. Maybe you'll like it so much you'll end up seeing it through.

A veces..., by Antonia Visiedo

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Moralistic, yet non-gratuitous, September 22, 2011
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
"A Veces..." ("Sometimes...") is a short piece which takes great pains to create a connection between the PC and the player, and does it with clichès. But it does it cleverly.

This game is a collection of scenarios. Each scenario is a representation of a cliche, such as "truth is subjective" or "you can't see the trees for the forest". Yet the scenarios aren't merely representations of those clichès - they are constructed in such a way that, by the time you've finished them, you'll realise the truth in the clichè. It plays with perception in ways that are very much befitting the game that it is: small, easy, at times rather clever, wanting to make a point via the medium it chose. The fact that the point is done to death becomes immaterial, because the author does it skillfully.

Under the flag of "this is a dream", the author neatly gets away with this slide-show of a setting with no logical connections between scenarios other than the overall morality. Also, while the writing is mostly sparse and functional (even while "making a point"), it can at times dole out a surprisingly lovely image - I'm thinking specifically aobut the description of the forest when viewed from above, made even lovelier because when you're actually *in* the forest the description is non-existent.

"A Veces..." is a clever little game, that is worth playing if you are relatively familiar with the language. It is, in concept, reminiscent of the Alan game "The Chasing" (where by displaying virtues you find your missing horses, each one named after that particular virtue), and as transparent, but rather more mature and concise. And clichè.

A Very Hairy Fish-Mess, by Byron Alexander Campbell
Peter Pears's Rating:

Fish!, by John Molloy, Pete Kemp, Phil South, Rob Steggles

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Will bemuse, dazzle and thrill you before confusing, razzling and killing you, September 16, 2011
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
"Magnetic Scrolls" could be seen as the English counterpart to Infocom. Both companies had amazingly complex parsers, both excelled in the quality of writing and puzzles. Both had great feelies.

The big difference, I'm coming to realise after having played Corruption and Fish!, is that where Infocom tried to minimise timers and the need to optimize moves (something relatively common in their day), Magnetic Scrolls gleefully forces you to continually save-and-restore, optimizing, optimizing. No time to stroll and smell the roses.

In "Fish!", you are cast as an operative pitched against an organisation called the Seven Deadly Fins. This organisation, and the organisation fo which you're a part, are described in inimitable British detailled humour in the manual. After reading the files on the Fins, and all the documentation on Warping (a key concept that, while not exactly original, is covered in surprising detail), you'll be ready to start "Fish!" with great expectations.

And mostly those expectations are fulfilled. Gameplay will have you (you're not human, and you're not exactly a fish, I don't think - exactly WHAT you are is never quite made clear, but it works to think of your default state as a goldfish. It isn't, but it's close enough) travelling to different dimensions, in a clear scavenger hunt.

The first half of the game is misleading in its friendliness. You'll have to warp to three different dimensions. Dying in one of them simply means you get to restart them. They are small, self-contained, and have different types of puzzles. One of the scenarios is reminiscent of Corruption: you won't solve it until you've lost it in every conceivable way, and therefore know what to do, where to go. But since this is a very small scenario and if you lose you can simply restart it, in a way that does NOT break mimesis, it's not as glaring as solving Corruption.

Then you get into the game proper. In which you roam around Fishworld, using the tube to get to such stations as Paddlington and Eelpout. Fishworld is very detailed, especially considering that Magnetic Scrolls - like Infocom - were working with a hard limit for text, and had to constantly optimise themselves. Again, you'll be on a scavenger hunt, but this time you'll be on a tight limit.

I really enjoyed this section, until I saw the watch creep closer and closer to 4pm - the deadline. Now, I'd been played as a "cautious player". I saved before doing anything, going anywhere. If something turned out to be a waste of time, I restored a previous game. If something I did actually worked, I restored and did that thing right away, so as not to lose time. And STILL I got to 3:36 (missing an appointment I'd set at 3:30) with too much left to do.

Magnetic Scrolls has a cruel streak in them. Quite apart from this strict deadline, there's a logic puzzle disguised as a maze (that, like the gambling in Myth, sticks out like a sore thumb because up until then the puzzles were strictly - and beautifully - world manipulation, with a dash of move-planning). There's a character the player has to deduce as being the saboteur, with very little to go from. There *are* some issues with the parser, its brilliance notwitstanding. And you won't even know there's an inventory limit UNLESS in your gamesession you happen to collect a certain heavy item later in the game, when the deadline is really creeping up - the worst possible time to do inventory management.

So I had an amazing time with this game - it's snarky, it's fresh, it's got an attitude, it's clearly defined. It's atmospheric, it's clever, it's witty. Until I hit its "old-school-ness" full force.

"Fish! will bemuse, dazzle and thrill you before confusing, razzling and killing you." It says it all - that's exactly what Fish! will do, and here's the thing: it seems proud of the latter three. It's like it's out to make things hard for the player. That's probably true - no point in making easy puzzles and games, heh? The Topologika games also seemed to delight in making things harder, so maybe it's an English thing. Regardless, playing Fish! convinced me - finally and utterly - of the brilliance of Infocom. The main difference between Infocom and Magnetic Scrolls is that with MS, you get the feeling the game is out to thwart you; it's your enemy (in a sequence in Fish!, if you happen not to be present when a certain timer goes off, the game is viciously sarcastic at you for no good reason). With Infocom, you feel the game wants to help you, even while it throws all sorts of obstacles your way; if not your friend, it's at least your companion.

Ahem - bottom line. This is a great game, and lovers of puzzles and good writing will have a feast. But when you get to the second part of Fish!, go in knowing you'll probably have to replay the whole thing when you know exactly how to solve it. And solve as many puzzles on your own as you can, the heavy majority is quite good, very satisfying, and sometimes simpler than it seems... but if you're truly stuck, do check the hints, because there's a couple of puzzles you - just - couldn't - figure out.

404- Life not Found (Beta), by Evan Derby

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
404- Game not Found, September 15, 2011
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
The author says that this version has no story, and the next installement will have the story. In fact, the author says this is a "haunting story"... minus the story.

Meaning, this is not a completed game. And yet it's been uploaded to the database of Interactive Fiction. Meaning one of two things:

A) It considers itself complete enough to stand as a full game.

B) It considers IFDB a perfectly valid place to create a placeholder for a WIP that may or may not see the life of day.

As regards B), I've only found it to be true in the case of IntroComp entries. As regards A): it doesn't. And it shall be reviewed as a full game.

There is no story, which is not necessarily bad in IF. But there are no puzzles, and I don't mean it's puzzleless IF. The room descriptions mention items of interest such as "dumspters" and "sheds" which are not implemented. The game is a collection of rooms in what seems to be a school setting, with such strangeness as couches in classrooms and a minefield. The only puzzle I found was unlocking the first door.

This is not a game. The reviewer in me urges the author to actually make a game out of this collection of rooms - they need proper descriptions, and not just listings of exits and unimplemented objects. There have to be puzzles OR the slouching zombies the game suggests are prowling around OR some ominous reason why there are none of those (i.e., puzzles OR survival horror OR atmosphere - that's what the game seems primed for). There has to be a GAME here.

The gamer in me, however, is not so kind, and sees no reason to be kind after having wandered through a collection of useless rooms, and says this is crap.

There's A Snake in the Bathtub, by Edward Griffiths

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Not bad... for a self-confessed hater of the genre, September 10, 2011
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
So the author says in his blog that he hates IF. Reading a bit more closely, you can see that what he *means* is that he hates old-school IF, especially games that violate the Player's Bill of Rights - and he points fingers at Curses and Jigsaw. No surprises there - those games are fantastic, but inacessible at some levels for some people (including me, though I intend to give Curses another try).

So he makes a game in a genre he hates. Apparently in order to alienate the players.

The funny thing is, the game is rather good. It's an old-school experience all the way, though not nearly as unfair as some of them. It's logical... insofar as logic can apply to this sort of story.

The concept, as you can tell from the title, is simple: there's a snake in your bathtub. You have to get it out. But in order to take a bath, that snake is only the start of your problems... you'll find yourself trapsing to other dimensions and even outer space if you're not careful.

Every puzzle in this game is of the type "world manipulation", if I can call it that. There's a certain logic that makes the game very appealing - getting rid of the snake is a step-by-step trial and error puzzle, and heating the water is a "by the time you're halfway through you can see, in your mind, how it's going to play out" puzzle (because you've been interacting with all the involved objects for a while now). Both types are very satisfying. But along with the hits there are misses - dealing with the dragon isn't entirely clear, not least because it requires a verb that used anywhere else brings up a default response, and I was sure the verb wasn't used in the game.

Which brings us to implementation. In a word... sketchy. A puzzle involving the verb "connect" can make you believe you're on the wrong track simply because you've switched the order of the nouns (i.e., "connect NOUN1 to NOUN2" won't work but "connect NOUN2 to NOUN1" will). The oven is a mystery, an object that looks as though it's broken, not entirely implemented, until you get to the point in the game where you do get it to work. And while sometimes the game does respond helpfully to your experimentations... it's only when you're on the right track. Manipulations involving the bowl, the water, the oven... things a reasonable player would try... are completely ignored by virtue of severe lack of implementation.

But then, the author's out to frustrate us, right?

I don't think so... not entirely. Because when the game works, it's quite satisfactory. Rewarding. Even in terms of pacing, the crazyness escalates quite nicely, from the snake to... well, you'll see.

Also, there's a very clever ruse in form of a timer of 100 turns. In 100 turns you can't possibly win the game if you don't already know how to do it... but there's a non-standard, unclear and non-intuitive way to turn it off... and when you think about it, it feels clear and logic and not unclear at all. That's some achievement.

What I like about it is that by disabling the timer you forfeit one point. Thus if you want the perfect score, you have to restart the game and go through it in 100 turns. It's an extra challenge if you want it, totally optional. There's been talk about extra challenges and "achievements" in the Int-Fiction forum, and this seems like the perfect example. Much like the lamp batteries in Adventure (yes, Mr. Griffiths, you weren't all that original after all).

The hints in the game are woefully insufficient. I had to deduce clues from the "Fun things to try" section. Surprisingly, that was more useful than any hint.

All in all, like Emily Short says, "Slice of Life" this is not. But it begins that way, and escalates nicely. And even as it escalates a certain game logic remains, so that the very final puzzle is perfectly logical, really, and unlikely to leave you struggling more than a handful of turns.

It's funny how someone who claims to hate IF got so many things right. Not enough for the game to be worth 4 stars, but certainly solid 3.

Seymour's Stoopid Quest, by Matt Scheidecker
Peter Pears's Rating:

Firebird, by Bonnie Montgomery

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Traditional folk + solid implementation + anachronistic narrator, August 13, 2011
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
The best way to enjoy this game, I feel, is with a hefty knowledge of traditional folk tales. It won't make the game any easier, but it will be satisfying to recognize the story elements.

So, in this game you, the third son of the Tsar, must catch the Firebird (a task your 2 elder brothers failed in), who has been stealing golden apples from your father's garden. Of course, once you do, things get even hairier and more folky...

This game is deeply rooted in folk tales, and I don't really know where the folk tales end and the author's imagination begins. It's all classic stuff - three ferrymen who demand greater tolls, three palaces of copper, silver and gold, aiding animals who'll then help you back. The game feels a lot like a lot of disjointed scenes put side to side, but hey, that's what a folk tale is like, when you think about it. The puzzles are all suited to this theme, and they are fair, clued, and fun.

The most jarring thing about this game is that it can be quite... er... jarring. There's a sassiness, a tongue-in-cheekiness, a smart-aleckness, that often just doesn't fit. The first puzzle involves finding a way to get through a lot of beautiful women who want to kiss you and marry you, and their lipstick is made with beeswax, and the PC is allergic to beeswax so he'll die of an allergic reaction. Is this odd or what?

Still, the game lives happily in the line between genuince folk and this modern-day tongue-in-cheek Scherezade, and I must admit, grudgingly, that it never oversteps that line.

Add to this a detailed implementation, and several puzzles with more than one solution, and even a warning to save at important points, and you've got a winner. Oh, it won't be everyone's idea of fun, but those who enjoy and know folk tales (or at least have watched Jim Henson's Storyteller), and would enjoy playing the part of the youngest of three sons thwarting a great evil (and, depending on your playthrough, you *may* be aided by a batallion of Japanese sushi-chefs, whose methods are... different... but effective), and who, furthermore, want to play a game that is fair and abides by its own rules and in which you can trust to give a rewarding experience, need look no further.

Fine-Tuned, by Dennis Jerz

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
The work of a sadist, August 13, 2011
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
Who else who write such a good game, with such engaging characters, such pleasant puzzles, such lovely writing, and then proceed to first release it in a buggy and incomplete fashion? Even today it's not complete, though vastly superior to its first release - the last sections still have bugs, and the cliffhanger occurs just before what seems to be a final climatic scene.

The first scene of this charming 4-chapter game sets the mood. You, the gentleman-daredevil Troy Sterling, daring, bold, are about to enter your Dynamo automobile, and with it you are going to keep the darkness from vanquishing the light!

But first, to put on your nice goggles, your peaked cap, your stylish scarf, your signature gloves. Even when saving the world, one must look dashing.

Your quest against darkness, the precise details of which firmly set the mood for the rest of the game, is but the smallest part of this game, the first scene. There will be plenty more scenes in this chapter, all of them serving no purpose but to establish character and situation - the 1920's world you're living in, your trusty sidekick, the villanous MacDougall and his anti-automobile association, and even the simple fact that a gallant daredevil can't pass through a fallen hatchling without climbing up the tree to restore him to his nest (which rewards the player with points, so everyone's happy).

In fact, this is what the first chapter is - a succession of situations, intended to draw in, to make you smile, to fully comprehend the characters and the situations while making you, say, race a speeding train. Wonderful pacing, brilliant writing, using simplicity to its greatest effect - seldom do I feel a gameworld so vividly in a game with such sparse text.

As the story progesses, you'll switch characters, and enjoy a more traditionally-IF second chapter, playing an opera singer with perfect pitch. The story will take twists, as darker elements are introduced, only to be counterbalanced by an odd villain who is a bit too clichèd for the player to take seriously, with a penchant for puning.

THe only reason this game doesn't get 5 stars from me is because the story is unfinished. Come on, man, finish it already! We want more!

Fifteen, by Ricardo Dague
Peter Pears's Rating:

D-Day, by Yvette Gilmore
Peter Pears's Rating:

Chunky Blues, by Scott Hammack and Jessamin Yu
Peter Pears's Rating:

Edge of the Cliff, by Poster
Peter Pears's Rating:

Baby Uncle New Year, by Jonathan Blask
Peter Pears's Rating:

Nord and Bert Couldn't Make Head or Tail of It, by Jeff O'Neill

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
To this day, unique and innovative, May 16, 2011
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
I've been seeing some disappointed reactions from newcomers towards Infocom games. I can understand that, really I can. For a newcomer, who's probably used to Photopia and Blue Lacuna and even Anchorhead, there are a lot of characteristics present in many Infocom games (cruelty, unfairness, time/hunger limits, mazes) which the modern player simply does not like.

But it's important to take Infocom within the context of its day. I was surprised when I started dwelving into its contemporaries and found out that Infocom actually made the least cruel, least unfair games (as a rule). And the most funny mazes.

And most important of all, when you really look at it, you can see how cutting-edge was their IF.

Think about Infocom games. Chances are, you'll think about classic adventures, and they certainly were the bulk of their production - Zork marked the company in more ways than just their programming language. But think about it. The next game right after Zork was Deadline, a whodunnit with free-roaming NPCs complete with amazing feelies. Moonmist fits the classic adventure mold, but has four different variations, and thus four different stories. Suspended wasn't really an adventure game, it was strategy. A Mind Forever Voyaging would be the pioneer of puzzleless IF. Border Zone saw real-time input (granted, there were other experiments on that area by different games, but Border Zone is arguably the most sucessfull of them - in the Synapse/Broderbund games, for instance, time does pass but the story does not progress, which is rather weird). Planetfall surprised everyone by making an emotional connection. And "Guide to the Galaxy" is just one of a kind.

And then there is Nord and Bert. I can think of two modern games to have followed on its footsteps - Ad Verbum and Chico And I Ran.

Nord and Bert is a collection of 8 stories. In seven of the eight stories, you'll be dumped in a particular scenario with a specific (if sometimes vague - yeah, specific AND vague) goal. Each story will require its own particular use of language. In some, it'll be spoonerisms (a hardy tick VS a tardy hick). In others you'll be transforming a golf "tee" into "tea" (and by the way, I'm not spoiling anything, so don't worry). In one of them will find all the uses that you can jack out of a Jack, and in another two you'll be making mountains out of molehills and avoiding crying over spilt milk.

Naturally, people tend to focus on this aspect of the game. After all, it's the most fun. It's the most ground-breaking. It's also the one that will frustrate the hell out of you if you're not American (some of the expressions you have to type in I'm pretty sure are alien even to English), so it's perfectly allright to give it a fair go, take it as far as you can, and then check the built-in hints.

But there are two other scenarios which are very interesting. In one you star in a scene of a sitcom, and get to play the sort of wacky pranks you expect to see in inane sitcoms (players of Sam and Max Season 1, in episode I-Forget-Which, and players of The Master of Dimenions, will find the whole concept quite familiar). This is a venue that, as far as I know, has only been explored by Chico And I Ran. I know, I know - how many games can you make out of that concept? Well, I wouldn't think that king-princess-knight-dragon fantasy concepts had a long way to go either, but they did. ;)

In another, you play a house in which each of the rooms had a distinctive personality. I loved that one, and my only pity is that it wasn't more developed. You could have a whole game with that one. Sadly, descriptions of items didn't change (according to the personality of the new room) as I moved around, that would have been - pardon my french - way awesome. This section also had a very ingenious and very, very cruel bit of parser trickery which will catch you completely unawares.

In the eighth story you will sort of use elements from all the other stories, but it's relatively simple. In fact, the most complex - and the most tiring, mentally speaking, since it not only forces you to think wordplay it also happens to feature quite a few elements from classic adventuring and you can even die in it - is "Shake a Tower" (spoonerisms). Which, incidently, is one of the best-paced stories, and it's mostly paced *very very fast*.

Nord and Bert is about having fun with the words, the letters, the sounds, the clichès. It must have been impressive to program, even though it's not without bugs ("ajar" seems to work where it shouldn't, and if you leave the first scenario while "wearing" a certain item, you won't still have it when you return. Oh yeah, that's right - you can jump between scenarios at will). It's guaranteed to stump you, and I'm very sure that almost everyone - Americans included - who plays it will have to turn to the hints and go "Huh. I had never heard that expression before." It is, nevertheless, fun, fun, fun. And if you've been pushing nails into keyholes to let keys fall on the papers you stuck under the doors... then it's about time your brain moved into something really refreshing, really different.

Oh, one last thing. In this game, you can examine something just by typing its name. Rather reminiscent of a certain game which started keyword-IF, huh?

Leather Goddesses of Phobos, by Steve Meretzky
Peter Pears's Rating:

Exhibition, by Ian Finley

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A unique experience, April 14, 2011
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
This game is every bit as groundbreaking and masterful as "Photopia" was, and shares a common hub - puzzleless IF, focusing on the story of a certain character, seen by different viewpoints. In fact, structurally, the big difference between them is that Photopia is a story that progresses linearly, and in Exhibition what you have is a story that is gradually unfolded, with no particular order (reminiscent of Finley's "Babel", and certainly one of his strongest suits, giving meaning to the term "interactive").

But this is no Photopia. Photopia is about the ongoing story of a young character with whom we are almost always in contact. Exhibition is about the finished story of a deceased man whom we never see. Instead, we see his work - twelve paintings. But even those paintings we see through the eyes of four different people, with different backgrounds, and different knowledge of the artist.

You, the player, must see and experience each painting - and indeed experience the whole exhibition - as each of these characters.

It is beautiful.

For starters, the writing is superb, top-notch. Each character is amazingly fleshed out, with their own vocabulary, their own emotional baggage, their own understanding of what they're looking what. What they see is mixed with their memories, and their own idea of the meaning of any given painting.

Just by itself, this concept is worth its weight in gold. It exposes and draws on the most striking characteristic of any work of art, but mostly the visual arts - its subjectivity, and how people can look at the same painting and see wildly different things, and even construct wildly different but sound and sensible theories about who painted it and what they were going through.

But Finley doesn't just rest on the laurels of a good concept and wonderful writing. He actively explores every nook and cranny of the four characters we "control", devoting almost as much time to them as to Domokov, the artist. The result is unique, ethereal - four lives, and a single one always hovering above them, maybe looking at them and making his *own* observations on what he's seeing, from the grave.

Because no one knows what the artist is going through, yet everyone thinks they do. That's one of the main themes of Exhibition. And life, like art, is just as jagged and fractured as the viewpoints of these characters - multiple points of view, judgements passed without knowing all sides of the story (which is impossible, as we'll only ever truly know our own side, however much we try to appraise others'). Hence Exhibition attains the level of Art, by reflecting Life.

It also dwells on how art changes people. It also dwells on how art reflects the lives of people. It shows how a simple truth can also be something else much more complicated, and yet still be true.

Many times during this "game" I was close to tears. Because the characters were so real, their stories so true. Every time I looked at the Madonna I thought of Domokov trying so hard, and my throat would just close up. When the critic described Shores, what I saw in my mind's eye - which is what Domokov saw when he'd come to America - was unutteringly beautiful.

Finally, this is accompanied by four "promenades" of Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition". They're quiet pieces, played on the piano, composed by a friend of an artist for their *own* real-life exhibition. A delicate final touch, that breathes life into this experience. Plus, of course, they're gorgeous compositions.

This is Art, and it's about Art. It's also about Life, and it is also Life.

Death to my Enemies, by Jon Blask (as Roody Yogurt)

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Deserves to be rediscovered, April 13, 2011
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
It's interesting to read past reviews of this game, because they reflect in no way my experience with "Death to my Enemies". I can only assume that between the comp release and the release I played several bugs have been fixed, several things have been cleaned up.

The DtmE that I played was a solid (not bug-free, but solid), unassuming, almost cartoonish diversion, uniting superspies, supervillains, McGyver and James Bond. The humour was always just right for my tastes - always bordering on the unfunny, but never quite getting there.

In this game, you are to revenge the death of your sidekick (who, true to the game's theme of parody and sarcasm, appeard to be the one who really did all the work), killed by the evil Dr. Nova. Along the (short) way you'll find a couple of puzzles which can be solved in multiple ways, though one is always the optimal solution.

What I really liked about this game, and the reason I give is such a high rating, is because there's been quite an amount of care put into it. The writing is always perfectly suited to the story being told (if you're even lightly amused by a "Kitchen of Evil", you might well enjoy it) and to the overall tone - if the game were a comic, it would be one of those in bright, garish colours, with little or no shading, with maybe a couple of panels "Sin City" style just for the sheer heck of it.

And while the implementation is not deep, it certainly is broad. Meaning: you won't find 2nd-, 3rd- or 4th-level nouns, and there is a certain superficiality about the whole experience, but you'll be surprised to try things and have the game recognise them. In one particular instance, I tried something just for the heck of it. I ended up unlocking a very short optional sequence. I mean, it had two more rooms devoted entirely to a path that would only lead to a non-optimal ending. This is way above and beyond the sort of thing you'd expect from this sort of game.

My only complaint is that I finished the game with only half the points and unable to find the optimal solution... and the walkthrough told me that I *had* found it. I can only imagine that the walkthrough was written for the comp version, and since then, other things have been added.

In short, this game is no prize-winner, but it certainly deserves to be rediscovered in its latest release. It's short and sweet, and if you heed the author's warning and SEARCH a lot (no biggie - there's not many objects in the game anyway), you should have no trouble.

Empty Rooms, by Kevin Lovegreen
Peter Pears's Rating:

Everybody Dies, by Jim Munroe
Peter Pears's Rating:

ETO, by Ian Waddell
Peter Pears's Rating:

Escape Into Fiction, by M27
Peter Pears's Rating:

Break-In, by Jon Ingold
Peter Pears's Rating:

The Warlord, The Princess & The Bulldog, by David Whyld
Peter Pears's Rating:

Book and Volume, by Nick Montfort
Peter Pears's Rating:

The Erudition Chamber, by Daniel Freas
Peter Pears's Rating:

Eric's Bender, by uncleozzy

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Needs testing and polish, February 18, 2011
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
This is a pretty nice effort, actually. The story is practically non-existant - after a wild bender, you find yourself *somewhere*, with no idea how you got there, and you have to get home. That's the whole extent of the story, so as you can expect, you'll spend your time going around, using items on items, doing favours to people, and little more.

Thing is, it works quite nicely. It's an unassuming game with an unassuming premise, competently written. It's entertaining enough for you to actually want to go on playing it.

But the game is in SORE need of testing.

The game has more than one act (presumably two; I've only got as far as act two). The first half of the first act is escape-the-room, and it's probably the very best scene in the game. Escaping the room will involve making use of your environment in more than one way, and while it's unlikely to stump anyone, it doesn't insult anyone's intelligence either.

The second half of the first act quickly degenerates into "use X with Y to get Z to give to A to get B to give to C"... which is not really bad in wuch an unassuming game. Sure, you meet a few NPCs and think to yourself "Gee, the author of this game sure didn't put much time in NPCs". Talking to them is an exercise of finding keywords to talk to them about, and there's only one or two to which they respond. Still, they're *fairly* obvious keywords.

In the second act, however, I quit. I have no idea what's going on there - it looks like it was never tested at all. You can pick up the toilet. You can open someone else's bag - you get a message saying the man won't let you, and immediately afterwards you get a message saying you open the bag and inside are some sneakers. It all breaks down horribly.

A game this casual needs to be competently written and tightly programmed if it's going to work. It's nicely written, I'll give it that (hardly award winning, but I've played enough to know that there's plenty of very, very badly-written IF out there). But it's not tightly programmed. Considering the length and type of game, it has an obligation to be much better coded than it is.

As it is, I'd reccommend Act I for anyone looking for a quick diversion.

PS - Also, this is one of those games that ring alarm bells regarding Inform 7's tendency to bloat story sizes. There's NO WAY that a game like this should require z8. Makes one wonder whether it would be possible to have some stripped-down version of I7, without some features that games like this do not use.

Eric's Gift, by Joao Mendes
Peter Pears's Rating:

Basic Train-ing, by bpsp

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Good puzzles, great idea, God-awful execution, February 1, 2011
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
This game is extremely frustrating. And one of the reasons it's extremely frustrating is that so much of it is so damn good. The other reason is that it's so shoddily implemented.

There's little you can say about the story (what little there is of it) without spoiling it, so suffice it to say that you'll be faced with a relatively interesting starting scenario. As you find your way around this one-room game and try things out, and as puzzles start appearing for you to solve, you'll shift your perception of where you are and what you are - which is critical for solving at least two of the puzzles.

Now, I have to start with the praise, and I have to praise it highly - the concept was ingenious, fun to figure out and play through. Every single puzzle ranks from "nice" to "good". They are just the sort of puzzles I like - they rely on understanding exactly where you are and what you have at your disposal, and how things will affect each other. Two puzzles in particular (Spoiler - click to show)- the mirror puzzle and the speed switch puzzle - I found delightful.

This is no epic, but it's not meant to be. And for what it's meant to be, it's original, well-thought, coherent.

But the implementation makes it nearly unplayable. It's amazing that a game this good can have implementation this bad. A truly horrid guess-the-verb. Objects (Spoiler - click to show)(doors) which, when broken, not only don't change their description, you have to break again and again if you ever want to see what was behind/in/on them (this was the game-breaker for me, and I only kept going out of sheer stubborness). A world state change that is vital to the player, of which he's not informed - I only found out about it by a disambiguation question I really did not expect.

This game has great puzzles, wrapped around a great concept. It could make for a great mini-game. But until all these issues are corrected, I urge no-one to come near it without a walkthrough in hand (and there's no point in playing this via walkthrough. The fun is in figuring things out). Either that, or a rather masochistic frame of mind.

Eric the Unready, by Bob Bates

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Charming, funny, and a pleasure to play, January 19, 2011
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
These days, I find it harder and harder to find good IF. Games that grab me, for one reason or another. I've sifted through so many crappy games that my patience wears very thin, and I find it hard to find good IF. And when I find good games, sometimes they have some flaw or other which I find fatal (for instance, I was enjoying "Travels in the Land of Erden" very much until I found that it rejected sensible puzzle solutions for lack of firesight and seemed to require at least one important action without any motivation).

And then I play games like Eric, which make me smile and laugh and remember why IF can be so much fun.

In this game, the player controls Eric, a fumbling, bumbling knight who means well, is pure of heart, and all that. He's simply extremely unlucky, and as a consequence, disaster usually follows. He is to rescue princess Lorealle (the first of many, many references and puns, more on that later) from a political wedding to an unholy beast, aided only by Excalibanana, a magical backpack and the great wizard - unless he happens to be watching some game on the telly, in which case Eric is quite by himself.

Yes, you read all that correctly.

Legend Entertainment seems to have a very strong trend of linear gameplay. I haven't played Timequest, and it seems like it might be anything but linear; but Gateway, Companions of Xanth, Callahan's Crosstime Salloon, Mission Critical, Shannara and Death Gate all had this in common, and so does Eric. There's a clear cut quest, one that at the beginning seems rather overwhelming. Step by step, you traverse the game, completing very easily-definable sequences. One by one, you achieve the objectives that seemed so distant once. You never turn back, unless for plot reasons. And you're very, very, very unlikely to end up in a "dead-end" situation - not least because each section is so well-defined, almost independent. In each section you do what you have to do, with the items at your disposal. When you move on, anything you have is all you need. To have that assurance makes gameplay much more pleasureable.

In this game, the quest is ridiculous and over the top, in a parody of adventure games themselves - and this sets the tone for the rest of the game. As you search for the Wrench of Doom, the Steak of Eternity, and three or four more similarly-named items, you will find references to anything you can imagine, and then some. ("Skipper!" "Little buddy!")

Throughout the game, you're accompanied by a newspaper. It details your latest exploits in true tabloid fashion, i.e., an entirely distorted, unbelievable account. It also contains, occasionaly, clues. But mostly what it contains is laughs, laughs, laughs.

This game is a multimedia experience - it includes music, graphics, even full-screen animations. For the purists, there is the option to disable all of these; for others, there's all sorts of options to customize your gaming experience.

There's an onscreen map. Really. A feature I loved, and it's only a pity more games didn't include it.

The graphics are gorgeous, and - naturally - quite funny. At times, especially in dialogs (point-and-click dialog trees), it seems as though there was a certain lack of communication between the artists and the programmers... which the game is the first to mock, with hillarious results (examples can be found in the dialog with, for instance, Harold the herald, or the Goddess of Beauty).

The music is a bit grating, but it's a nice mood-setter. There's even sound effects. Well, it's good for those who like it (<raises hand!>), and those who don't can just turn them all off. No questions asked.

This is a polite/merciful on Zarf's scale. It's also surprisingly easy - but then, maybe I thought it was easy because I was so immersed in it. I became so immersed in Myst (RealMyst edition) that I completed it with barely a hitch, and then found out that some of those puzzles had many people stumped for a long time. But I found them easy, because of my involvement with the game. This is how I felt with Eric. I'm not a great puzzle-solver, and I finished this game with only two hints... so, I consider it easy. But challenging.

Ah, regarding those two hints... the first one, even as I read the hint, I slapped my head and went "D'OH! If I'd thought a little more, and examined things a bit more carefully, I'd have seen this!".

The second one was a bit more iffy. It was the only puzzle in the game I didn't like, and was very different from the other puzzles. (Spoiler - click to show)Basically, at a certain point, there is a bulletin board, on which, among others, is the typical "Call X-XXXX-XXXX for this and that!". I made a mental note of that, but there was no telephone anywhere, nor any way to call those guys... so I didn't think much about it. When I learned that I just had to type "call X-XXXX-XXXX", and no phone was needed... which they didn't mention anywhere... It was the only time at which I felt the game had swept the rug from under my feet without warning, leaving my aching butt on the freezing marble.

But that was the only one. Every other puzzle was self-evident, or logical, or it made me grin as I tried it out, or it prompted one of those "Click!"s in your head where the pieces come together and you realise how to progress.

Another issue that is worth bringing up is the commands the game understands. It is simply beautiful. The depth of implementation is astounding - possibly because of the game's linearity. Some commands you can just type in the spur of a moment, because circumstances in the game prompt you to. In any other game, you're sure, they wouldn't work. In here, they did and they make you progress - so naturally! It's all so fluid! There is no guess the verb, or guess the noun. There isn't. I often had to come up with ingenious actions. I never had to struggle to tell the parser what it was I wanted to do. Similarly, I never had the parser suddenly make it so easy that a puzzle was spoiled.

Legend Entertainment is one of my favourite companies, and I tend to call it the sequel to Infocom (not surprising, considering Bob Bates was one of the last Implementors). I also tend to think of it as pre-Lucasarts (incidently, Monkey Island is also spoofed here. Have fun spotting it), because of their design and philosophy. I further tend to think of it as one of the most important companies in the story-based-adventure-game, never neglecting the puzzles or the adventure components.

In Eric the Unready, naturally, the story takes a bit of a back seat - it's a quest, after all. Nevertheless, it's a fine story, and it develops nicely, and really, all in all, this is the sort of game you can't afford not to play. It's one of those rare games that has quality coming out of its ears. Enjoying IF and not playing Eric the Unready means that, quite simply, you're missing out on one of the finest, funniest games (and companies) you'll ever play.

An Informal Time, by Anonymous
Peter Pears's Rating:

The Equivocal Ingredient, by James Dingle
Peter Pears's Rating:

The Endling Archive, by Kazuki Mishima

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
Fragments which form only fragments, and are the richer for it, December 23, 2010
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
This game is not a game. It's being rated in a system meant for rating games, for rating text adventures and interactive fiction. Therefore, by all rights, I should not rate it at all, or not rate it 5/5.

Alas, I can't. I have to rate highly what affects me highly, and what I highly reccommend. And this simple, hardly-interactive piece has certainly affected me.

To detail its contents is to ruin it, so the reader will pardon me if I keep to images and metaphors. As to its form - a very simple hyper-text menu, with no interaction possible other than reading what you get shown. But as to its content, well. Well, well, well.

You see, although this piece is set on a future history, and does expose a certain chain of events, and the circumstances in which you're reading the text - although, in other words, it does define a PC and the events surrounding his/her life - it is highly grounded on things close to us. Many things, many fragments of things.

In the manner of most fragmentary fiction, such as, for instance, Shrapnel or Photopia, one would expect the fragments to come together, leading to a cathartical ending. Well, there is catharsis, but the beauty of this piece is that the fragments remain fragments to the end. It's the realisation that fragments is all they are, and fragments is all they'll ever be. I found myself thinking of examples even as I read - how would Turandot have been if Puccini had been able to complete it? What about all the unfinished melodies? Or all the unfinished books? And what about all the books that are lost to us? What about the very nature of more ephemeral arts such as the theatre, the opera? What must it have been like to have seen Sarah Bernhardt? How did Gayarre sound like?

These are all peripheral questions - they are not the questions that "The Endling Archive" rises. But they're closely related. The questions I posed are questions of "What if?". What if we could retrieve things, what if we could halt a composer's death just long enough. What if we could regain what was lost. The Archive is much grimmer - it states, plainly, what was lost and can't be recovered. It denies all "ifs". "What if" is a question filled with hope, and the Archive is where Hope goes to die.

The Archive is a brief history of loss, all the more effective because it is so brief. The ending (for there is an ending) is surprising, and cruel, and painful.

I am not in the position, as others are, to discuss the writing. Maybe it forces its points sometimes - I don't know. Maybe it's too maudling near the end. I wouldn't know that, either. All I know is that this piece affected me, because the questions it poses are not new to me, and haunt me as much as they did the (fictional) author of the Archive.

Benjamin's death made me, and makes me still, infinitely sad.

E-Mailbox, by Jay Goemmer
Peter Pears's Rating:

The Elysium Enigma, by Eric Eve

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful:
Compelling, entertaining, and minutely detailed, December 20, 2010
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
Eric Eve is one of those authors whose games grab me firmly from the word "go". I take a look at the intro, I get interested, I start playing. Next thing I know, I'm so completely engrossed in the story and the game I just *have* to see it through. It happened in Dreadwine, small thing that it is; it happened in Blighted Isle; and happened again in The Elysium Enigma, a game that is in fact rather small - not many areas or NPCs, fairly straightforward puzzles - but that results in a very sizeable experience.

Really, my only mistake with this game was that I started playing it as 11pm, just before calling it a night. Midnight came and went; my eyes were sore, I wanted to go to sleep; but I just couldn't put this down until I'd seen it through. I went to bed at 1am, throughly satisfied.

Eric Eve is one of those people who combine everything necessary for quality IF. That's rare. You have to be a good programmer - and Eric Eve's programming is excellent. You have to be a good writer, and Eve is that, too. You have to control the pacing of your game - as Eve does. In the freedom he allows the player, he fills it up with discovery of past and present, of others and yourself; with new relationships which grow realistically, if a little fast (but then, suspension of disbelief and all that. No worries there).

In this game, you'll find yourself in a Sci-Fi setting - but in a planet which has eschewed technology. Your orders are to hoist the flag of the Federation so everyone knows you're there and can come to talk to you if they like, so you can sort out whatever needs sorting out, but the relationship between Elysium and the Federation is so strained that everyone just expects you to hoist the flag, sit tight for a few hours and then come back.

Ok, maybe it's just me, but this intro alone had me hooked. The setting *alone* is fertile - what's the story beyind their technophobia? How does it reflect on the people of Elysium? What's the deal with this "strained relationship"? And in the end, should I just follow orders or start looking around? Will I do more harm than good?

And, of course, the question that pops out frequently throughout the whole game - do I really have a right to judge these people? Do the Federation really have a claim to them? Who is in the right here? Is there even a right?

You're aided in your moral dilemma by the discovery of another person, who's been outcast from the town. How you deal with this person is up to you - I found I could relate to her very easily, and found myself caring for her, and liking it. A similar experience, in fact, to Blighted Isle, where I befriended and romanced the local "witch", as I recall. Maybe I'm just a hopeless romantic. :)

Which brings us to NPCs. And in fact, to the game's similarity with Aotearoa, this year's grand winner. Both games involve exploring a new geography, lush with life and vegetation, and both have, in the end, an illusion of a huge world with only a handful of actual locations. Both of them have you in contact with a single NPC that serves as a sort of anchor, always in the same place, with whom you can discuss your progress. In both of them you keep radio contact. And in both, you can get an NPC to tag along. I'm sure this is all accidental, but it's fun to notice.

Anyway, to NPCs. Lots of conversation in this game, with lots and lots of backstory. A set up such as this is usually baffling and boring to read through. And this is where Eve's skill as a writer comes into play. I enjoyed every written word, even if, come midnight, I was starting to skim a bit. I made a point of talking about everything listed in the TOPICS command, but I also occasionally asked things right out of the blue, because I felt they were relevant. They weren't listed in TOPICS, but they were addressed, and meaninful conversation ensued. Eric Eve has managed, like Gentry in Anchorhead, to make the ASK/TELL system actually behave like an actual conversation. It's a wonder. It's a beaut.

But the thing about this game is the detail. Stripped of half its backstory, it would be ruined. If the player couldn't type "EXAMINE EAGLE" (the symbol of the federation) and be given the response "Which eagle do you mean, the eagle on your tunic, or the eagle on your belt buckle?", it wouldn't be the same. There are no red herrings - or rather, they are, but they are not gratuitous. They enrich the gameplay experience, as well as the storytelling experience. You're exploring a single, lonely planet while all around you are signs of unrest and possible war. And it feels that way, and it dampens your enjoyment of Elysium's lush flora just as much as it counfounds you to see how close-minded the Elders have become (if that's your interpretation of them, of course).

Did I say I loved this game? I loved this game. Relatively short - very, very sweet.

Death off the Cuff, by Simon Christiansen

11 of 13 people found the following review helpful:
A pastiche, a parody and an entertaining half hour, November 29, 2010
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
It's interesting that so soon after playing Aotearoa, in which I commented genre-writing, I played Death Off the Cuff - not so much genre-writing, as a full-blown pastiche and parody. I daresay parody because it's painfully obvious that the PC is inspired on Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot - the "grey matter", the moustache, the hat. The manner of the expositiion. It screams "Poirot", although there *is* enough to make Mr. Germain stand as his own character. Possibly his belief that bluffing his way through a murder investigation will turn out all right in the end - which is the whole concept for the game.

A very nice concept. A surprising one. Wouldn't work with a more serious game, but this game is anything but serious. It's very light-hearted, and cheerfully throws in a huge number of staples of the genre, most notably the fact that no-one is what they seem. The writing is superbly adapted to the task - it's not meant to read like an Agatha Christie, it's meant to read like a much cheaper whodunnit you can read on your holidays when you don't want to think too much. And because it's also a parody of those very same paperbacks, it allows itself a little humour (such as continously talking about your moustache) which fits in perfectly well. In fact, it's what stops us from groaning *at* the game and start grinning *with* it.

I've seen mentioned, several times, that a potential problem of this game is the fact that the very final clue is, in fact, something that is clearly visible from the very outset *but* which the game doesn't allow you to interacti with until the very end, for no apparent reason. In a game where gameplay consists of carefully examining everything and then thinking about it...

...which I must say, is a superb way of conducting this particular story - every parser message I encountered was tailored to this specific situation, and because interaction was so limited there was a lot of detail to take into account. Which the author did. Often I had to examine things which more than one people had (Spoiler - click to show), such as hair, , and *every single time* the game correctly guessed WHOSE thing I was trying to examing...

...so, in a game where gameplay consists chiefly of that, it's natural to think that keeping the final evidence unmentioned *until the very end* and for no discernible reason is a show-stopper. I will have to disagree on that, and say instead that it provides further characterization for the PC(Spoiler - click to show), in that we realise that the PC was so trusting in his own ego and methods that he managed to overlook something as simple as the detective's uniform.

It's a light-hearted 30 minutes, that pokes fun at the wild twists such stories usually have; at the dramatic exposition in which, it seems, the "great detective" fumbles his way across, practically accusing everyone but the real murderer; at the peculiarities of such detectives, in this particular case some traits of Hercule Poirot with some magnification of his considerably ego; at all sorts of things that are revealed in the end, where relationships are conjured out of the blue.

Also, it constructs a fairly solid mystery, in the end. Not remarkable, but solid and entertaining. It also has some action scenes, in which the PC triumphs by (Spoiler - click to show)bluffing - a perfect conclusion to a whole bluffing game (even though had to "hint" my way through it). It simply didn't occur to me that the PC could be big-headed enough for that to work, but then, one should never underestimate the ego of some detectives...

Burn the Koran and Die, by Poster

22 of 23 people found the following review helpful:
A (rather cynical) statement which lacks punch and subtlety, November 29, 2010
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
This most certainly isn't a game. The title is clearly adapted from "pick up the phone booth and die", and although very minimalist, that one can sort of qualify as a "game" - there's an obstacle, there's a winning move, and the focus on the game is on getting you to solve a puzzle. This isn't a game, and doesn't pretend to be. It's a transparest, and rather cynical, statement on the author's views on religious tolerance by the light of, I hazard to guess, certain contemporary events as the question of raising a mosque on so-called Ground Zero.

I do have to admit that, in his cynicism and his pessimism, the author is consistent. The message in this game is very, very clear. Rather too clear. It's a slash with a blunt dagger. One feels that a stab of a sharp rapier would have lived better to the "political satire" the author aspired to.

But as I was saying, the message is clear. You have several books to burn, and they're not all religious books. But you only get in trouble if you burn the Koran. Sure, things happen when you burn other books - I was actually amused by the nonchalant response at burning the classics, especially since I felt like a member of the inquisition when I did it - but it doesn't affect gameplay, i.e., you don't win, lose or anything. You just happen to burn another book. Ho hum.

Then of course, as the title says, you die if you burn the Koran. But you'll also die if you DON'T burn the Koran, because you'll be said to "clearly INTEND to burn it".

The only thing that's left to make this complete is to let the player drop or destroy or throw the lighter, or immolate himself, or just walk away... and then have similarly cynical replies, showing that by the PC's sacrifice or unwillingess to burn the Koran he was, I don't know, weak of purpose. Then you'd have the whole package of self-destruction.

(and while I'm at it, I would also say that "pray" would be a command deserving of some sort of reply)

An admittedly interesting aspect is that the PC himself seems to have no ties to any religion.

Overall, it's too easy to dismiss this as a troll-game, or a hate-game, but it's not, not really. It's cynical, it's horribly heavy handed (the first lines of "examine me" are a case in point - way too blunt), it's grotesque where a true satire would be elegant. But it's clearly a point the author wanted to make. I don't agree with it, but I don't have to, and that's also part of the point. At its most positive, it's a grim reminder of the silly lengths to which Political Correctness can go towards protecting any single religion/race/creed at any given time, while disregarding others. But really, it's just 40 moves of negativism.

For the Love Of Ornery Blue Yaks, by Doug Jones
Peter Pears's Rating:

Divis Mortis, by Lynnea Dally
Peter Pears's Rating:

Barbarossa, by New Insights Project

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful:
A failure, November 23, 2010
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
Out of respect for the authors in the New Insight project, I have opted to confine my considerable disappointment to the rating and the name of this review. The actual content of said review will be much more constructive.

The first thing I have to say is that the only reason I give the game two stars is because a lot of work has gone into it, extending to multimedia. That earns the second star.

The second thing I have to say is that I am severely disappointed. IF in general and CYOA in particular have come a long, long way. Gone are the days of "throw axe/kill dwarf", or more specifically, "drop cage/n/drop stick/s/drop axe". Similarly, gone are the days of "Choose A) or B)! One gets you killed, the other lets you move on!". We have undreamed-of sophistication even in the CYOA format. So it's almost unexcusable to revert back to the dark ages of CYOA.

I shall walk you, dear reader, through my experience of playing Barbarossa.

The very first point is probably moot, but it irked me. I had to register in order to download the game. I find that off-putting, and ridiculous, but that's a personal bias with no further place in this review.

Then I see that I have to download Adventure Maker 4 (free) in order to run the game. Now, at this point I cry "Foul!" for the first time. Hasn't IF evolved so much that we now have many, many tools at our disposal? TADS, Inform7 or Adrift ALONE (not to mention Hugo) could have managed a simple CYOA with sound and pictures. Why bring in some other software? Well, I can understand some preference for a tool you're already used to, but even so, there are other tools - AGS springs to mind - which allow you to output to an executable file, *without* forcing you to download the entire Adventure Maker in order to just play the game.

To those that compare it to downloading an interpreter, I'll point out that when I download Windows Frotz, I expect to be able to play lots and lots of IF in it. Adventure Maker is completely unrelated to IF and forces me to download the entire software creation suite.

Getting past that, I start the game. What I see is pretty pictures, lots of clicking past screens and sometimes choosing A or B. And in my (admittedly short) session, all my choices seemed to amount to was "Choose the right one and proceed! Choose the wrong one and lose!"

Now, I understand the authors. Truly, I do. They wanted to focus on historic events, create a sort of simulation of the period in which the game is set. They worked hard on the multimedia aspects, and on research.

But they forgot to make it a game. As it is, it's horribly dull, having you occasionally make choices with apparently little connection to the central plot of Barbarossa. You choose A or B, and are rewarded by a few coloufrul screens, some images and sounds, sometimes a little information about this or that.

It's not a game. It's a coin toss, with illustrated diagrams about why the coin is rising the way it does, and what happens when it reaches the apex, and some flimsy drama about the way it spins on its way down.

I would advise the authors to research CYOA. I would reccommend the mobile phone series "The Dark Eye". There is a lot of potential in the format, severely truncated and ignored in this particular game. The *game* gets absolutely marginalised in favour of the historic accounts and descriptions and images, and that is a big no-no. It's like a History of the American Civil War advertising (masquerading!) as "Gone With the Wind", when in reality it is no such thing. It is "Science of the Discworld" without the Discworld chapters and without much of the wit and humour of the Roundworld chapters.

Now, these are my gripes. Will the authors know about them, assess them? Will they take some things into account? Will they ignore most of them and carry on as they have? I don't know, but I certainly hope they will heed it. I don't mean to destroy, to put down their work, their research. But disappointed as I was, I do mean to ruthlessly point out all the flaws that - in this day and age - are simply inexcusable!, and show a remarkably lack of contact with modern CYOA.

Aotearoa, by Matt Wigdahl

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful:
The Famous Fi-... er... ok, the Famous Two., October 28, 2010
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
It's interesting when IF can really capture the essence of a certain style, a certain story. I've seen "genre writing" scoffed at, but it is one of the three great things at which IF can truly excel (the other two being alternative, experimental, weird stuff and good old-fashioned puzzle solving). And I'd say that Aotearoa does a very good job of playing like a Famous Five book would read, if you cut out three of the children. And if you add a rather mystical dimension which, quite frankly, I wouldn't at all mind sharing with my children, if I had any.

But first, let me talk about the polish. Oh, it is polished. Superbly polished. It's not just that I couldn't find any bugs, I also found tons of little ways to help the player along. There's a radio that keeps you in contact with the other major NPC, making conversations that much easier; there's comprehensive replies for pretty much everything you care to try; there's even multiple ways to solve a puzzle, and they all make sense. There's a way to name some NPCs Beyond-Zork style, which is not only a neat trick and saves typing, but actually makes it all feel more personal. There's credible reactions from NPCs to your actions. There's even an NPC that imitates you almost all the time, or is otherwise engaged in some activity.

Polish. Detail. The game has them, and comes alive through them. Because all of a sudden I'm seriously thinking about the puzzles, seriously manipulating objects, seriously trying stuff out - because the game has been fair to me, and has been giving me information as I asked it, and has added little details here and there (like the "glory") which just make me glad I'm exploring.

I mentioned puzzles. In fairness, they're not all that hard, and they're not meant to be. This is "introductory level" IF by the author's own admission. Well, for intro-level, I found it quite satisfying. The answers were never staring-you-in-the-face obvious, though they weren't hard to spot either. A fine balance which I would, indeed, recommend to new players. There's also a various assortment of puzzles, not just USE X ON Y. Although the game is rather small, it permeates of care, detail, and creativity (as in, it does a lot with the little it allows itself to have).

The storyline feels very much like one of those Famous Five books (in Portugal, I'd have said "Feels like an 'Uma Aventura' book"). Young kid against the evil poachers. Sure, it feels clichèd and done to death, but then, if you sum it up in a single line, what doesn't? It's not the concept, it's what you do with it. And the author runs with the concept as far as it goes, giving us exactly the right sort of excitement, surprises and exploration that you'd expect. And he does it with real fine pacing, which is another unsung hero. The game unfolds piece by piece at a relaxed pace, never letting you get bored.

And there's the mystical element. It's soft, though not all that subtle. It brings across all the right elements of a good tale told around the campfire, the sort of tale to make you feel good about all the little gifts Life gives you every day. It's an extra dimension that makes all the difference, enhances the experience considerably.

It's my pleasure to rate this game 5/5. Technically, it certainly deserves it. Artistically, it might not be groundbreaking, but not everything needs to be groundbreaking. It's a story that made me feel good, told in a good way. It also captured the feel of a type of book I haven't read in a long, long time, and although I'm not going back to Enid Blyton any time soon, I was so very glad of the trip.

This is, in fact, the sort of game I'd like my children to play. It's *that* friendly, and the message is *that* important.

Bravo, Mr. Wigdahl.

The Edifice, by Lucian P. Smith
Peter Pears's Rating:

Earl Grey, by Rob Dubbin and Adam Parrish
Peter Pears's Rating:

Along the River, by Matthew Alger
Peter Pears's Rating:

Dual Transform, by Andrew Plotkin

7 of 10 people found the following review helpful:
Atmospheric. Surreal. Brilliant, June 6, 2010
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
There are certain names one hears often when he starts digging into IF - and not too deep, at that. Emily Short. Graham Nelson. Aaron Reed. Jim Munroe. Jon Ingold. Eric Eve. And of course Andrew Plotkin, aka Zarf.

It is of course debatable whether everyone will hear these particular names. It's even more debatable whether these names are automatically linked with quality. One hears Paul Panks or Rybread Celsius just as often, in wildly different contexts. So it's a matter of opinion that, in my case, the names I've mentioned in the first paragraph are linked with quality, and with games I enjoy playing.

What am I driving at? Simply this: Plotkin is one of those names you hear the most often. He's been around a long time, and has an impressive collection of games under his hat. At the time of writing this review, Dual Transform is his most recent game. Time to ask - is he still an author worth playing? Is he riding on his past fame? Does he still have something to say? Are his games still worth playing, his prose worth reading?

My answer is simply this: Dual Transform shows very effectively *why* Plotkin is one of those names you hear often, one of those authors you have to play.

The background story is relatively sparse. There's just enough of it to introduce you to the PC's motivation (an important contract and an approaching deadline), and together with the first couple of moves, it provides all the knowledge you need. You quickly discover gameplay will consist of travelling between a series of rooms, rooms with a subtle relationship to each other, manipulating your environment in search of "forces".

It is, if you will, a one-room scavenger-hunt. An unlikely combination if ever I saw one. But here it is.

Now, why is this game so bloody good? Well, for a start, it's a very interesting scavenger hunt, and a very interesting room. You never really know what you'll be looking for next, and you're constantly surprised by subtle changes in the room. There is no monotomy, unlike, say, Dreamhold, which is a scavenger hunt for seven items spread in a more fixed, less mutable geography (if it doesn't show, I didn't have much fun with Dreamhold, though it was very fun at first). The single inventory item is also highly mutable.

There's also a second phase of gameplay, once you're done with the scavenger hunt. This second phase is very easy, but very nice to play through. It can be completed simply by wandering around at random, but there's a certain pleasure in figuring out the exact next step to take, even if it can be brute-forced.

But gameplay isn't the only reason this game is so good. There's another aspect of the game which I haven't seen on other reviews in this site, which is why I wanted to write my own review. I wanted to add this.

The prose and the atmosphere. I found the prose bloody brilliant. And the atmosphere, oh! Each of the rooms was described with just the right choice of words, each setting vivid in its own. Because each room is very distinct, characterised by so different images, smells, sounds and feelings, it's easy to feel drawn into this game, which is what I look for in a game: immersion. Immersion and atmosphere and good prose.

There's a reason Plotkin is one of those names you keep hearing about, and he's still got it. He can still dish out high-quality titles like nobody's business. Programming is always solid. The final product is polished. The writing is superbly suited to the story told, even if the story is highly secondary to the main puzzle and the setting.

I swear, the imagery on this game often verges on the poetic. I loved it. Loved it, loved it, loved it.

Drinks With Lord Hansom, by James Webb

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
A single puzzle, and an unrelated interesting horror yarn, June 5, 2010
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
First for some context, straight from the mouth of Duncan_B on the Adrift forums, Oct. 14 2009.

"Ectocomp is a Speed IF Competition for Hallowe'en. Entries can be darn near anything (they don't always turn out to be horror, though I will ask entries to try to keep to the Hallowe'en spirit in at least some way), but must be written in three hours or less. You can do all the planning you want, but the game itself must be written in three hours."

We all know how tricky SpeedIF can be. Entries are usually short, with puzzles that are often either unclear or quite easy. There simply isn't time to flesh things out as much as one would like.

"Drinks with Lord Hansom" tackles SpeedIF from another angle. The author seemed to have a rather lengthy story to tell. So he told it all. The interactive part of the game is a small bit, almost unrelated to the story, about two-thirds of the way in.

In my opinion, from the point of view of interactivity, this game fails completely, almost as much as David Whyld's "The Cellar". Gameplay consists of watching a lengthy introduction, solving a simple puzzle and reading the lengthy development and epilogue. Makes you think "why didn't the author just write a short story". The answer is probably because there are already too many short stories ih this vein, with this sort of theme, and told in this way. It's thoroughly unoriginal. We've all read it at least twice in books or magainzes, told this same way - a reluctant speaker who shares, among his friends, something quite unnatural and unexplainable which has preyed on his mind, and by the time he finishes his merry audience is hushed to a reverential silence.

But you know, considering it's SpeedIF... it's a rather intelligent way to tell the story you want to tell within the time constraints. Granted, maybe the author should have forgotten about the SpeedIF and written the game WITHOUT the constraints at all, but still, it's a workaround. Also, the interactive bit is nice, the puzzle is fair, and it's fairly well implemented. It's polished to a certain degree. I suppose if there's just one puzzle and two locations, polishing becomes easier.

And as a whole... I mean, if you're expecting a short story, the puzzle feels gratuitous and you'd rather it weren't there. If you were expecting a game, you're sadly disappointed. But the experience, as a whole... does work to a certain degree. I mean, this isn't a game I'll remember, but it was nice enough to play. Written well enough, even if somewhat stereotyped at times. The story is well told, really, it's just... static fiction.

All in all, it's another way of tackling SpeedIF. The result, I think, fails abysmally as a *game*. But might be worth a read. Even if it's not original, it's competently thought of, coded and written.

A Dream Too Real, by Raditz
Peter Pears's Rating:

Dragon Hunt, by Joachim Froholt and Markus Merilainen

6 of 10 people found the following review helpful:
5-minute distraction, May 25, 2010
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
"Dragon hunt" is exactly what it says - a dragon hunt. Any more would be a spoiler, but then, there's very little to this game. You'll play this in 5 minutes, and you're very unlikely to lose.

The reason I rate this game so highly is because what it *does*, it does surprisingly well. The prose is short and to the point, focusing on only the most important things in the scene - as befits a hunt. There's a certain urgency, and a certain need for stealth. The fact that there's a group of hunters which are *not* led by you, forcing you to keep up with them rather than the other way around, enhances these feelings.

I didn't try many verbs, but every one I tried - I particularly liked "shout", especially when I thought about it after finishing the game - was implemented. Very nicely.

There's music in this game. Repetitive, a bit pounding, but never annoying or aggressive. It sets the tone well.

All in all, while this is not exactly a must-play, it's worth every minute of the 5 minutes it takes to complete. I find no mention of more games by this author, which is a pity. Short as this game is, it shows promise.

Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde, by Rod Pike and Shaun G. McClure

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Starts off brilliant, falls apart badly at the end, May 9, 2010
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
In going over the oldies, you sometimes get to be very pleasantly surprised. Although most old Spectrum games are a mish-mash of semi-random locations, read-the-author's-mind puzzles, insipid prose and more unfairness than you could fill up a leaky basket with, you occasionally unearth the odd gem.

Of course, "gem" is a subjective term, that I apply to games which, a) are well-written and even consider prose to be an important part of the gaming experience; b) are player-friendly by keeping dead-ends, especially unforeseeable dead ends, to a minimum; c) are less interested in laughing delightedly at your inability to procedd, and more interested in watching your curiously as you unravel the story. Oh, and d) - games which keep the timed puzzles to the bare essentials.

And so, I call this game a "gem".

It's probably redundant to write out the synopsis of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, so I'll just say that, for the most part, this is a rather spelndid adaption. Leaving aside any talk of IF, this game is a sort of re-telling of the story - but a re-telling that remains faithful, not only to the storyline, but also to the style, to the atmopshere, to the prose. I don't believe the text is taken from Stevenson's novel, although a certain scene did seem very familiar(Spoiler - click to show) - the scene where Hyde murders Carew. Nevertheless, the ahutor has taken great pains to *emulate* Stevenson's style. It is debatable whether he has succeeded. It is certain that just by reading the introduction you *know* you are in for something different. Also, it's just plain good reading!

NPCs do not exactly abound, but there's a fair amount of them, and they have sufficient depth of implementations. Which is true also for scenery and objects and, generally, for the game itself. A Spectrum game has a hard limit of how much it can be interacted with; so the trick is to capture most common interactions, if there are any, and then write off a standard message for *other* interactions that will suffice and leave the player satisfied. It's not easy to do, and this game pulls it off. Whether you're talking to a character (and, apart from a few oddities such as the cook not knowing anything about the dinner party you're throwing *even as he's busy cooking it*, characters have sufficient responses to your inquiries) or simply exploring around, the game gives the impression of a real world you're exploring. Location descriptions are as skillfully done, making even empty, strictly useless rooms (there are a couple) come alive and make perfect sense.

Gameplay is relatively linear, but not in a bad way. There will probably be times when you'll get stuck and have to restore to an earlier savegame, though not much earlier, but the game is so light on puzzles and heavy on story that it won't happen often (nevertheless, when you turn into Hyde for the first time, keep a walkthrough handy). The game leads you from one part of the story to another, without making it feel as though you're going from point A to point B - rather, you start from point A, and before you know it you're past points B and C and well into D.

Not to say that the game overclues any problems. On the contrary, I was pleasantly surprised when, after I failed on a certain puzzle, the ending message had a very specific clue about what I'd done wrong. If I hadn't been clued there, I probably wouldn't have known how to proceed, either. But having said this, there are many times in the game - concocting the potion for the first time is very much a case in point - where you just have to experiment, feel around.

The game manages, in short, to lead you some, and to leave to explore some. In the former instance, it does it without breathing down your neck. In the latter, it doesn't leave you lost and wondering and helpless.

The very first puzzle in the game, in fact, is years ahead of its time, IF-design-wise. It's a timed puzzle, that doesn't present itself as a puzzle, and which has a logical but rather obscure solution, all within the first moves of the game - which is quite normal for Spectrum games, and, generally speaking, oldies. BUT you then have the means to patch up the situation that arose from your failing to solve that puzzle. Not even knowing that you ARE patching up a puzzle gone wrong. And it's very natural, very seamless, and you'd hardly know you'd actually prevented something very bad from happening later on. It's very natural, and it's this naturality which is unlike games from this time, and which is sadly missing even from many modern games, when we should know better.

The map is very logical, and give or take a few sticking points, it should be easy enough to map in your head.

It's not bug-free, I'm sorry to say. This happened a couple of times (paraphrasing - the text is mine):

There is a bottle of alcohol on the table.
>EXAMINE ALCOHOL
I don't see that here.
>EXAMINE BOTTLE
I don't see that here.
>EXAMINE TABLE
A bottle of alcohol is on the table.
>EXAMINE BOTTLE OF ALCOHOL
I don't see that here.
>GET ALCOHOL
Taken.
>EXAMINE ALCOHOL
It's a bottle of alcohol.

...now, thankfully, this only happened a couple of times, and in these situations where it's very obvious what the game is doing wrong. Could be worse, I guess. Also, there were a few room descriptions which were totally blank (although to be fair, in context, I can understand that - they are non-descript streets, better described in other locations. I can live with that), and at one point, the X (eXits, not eXamine, not in this game) command told me I could leave to the north and east, when in reality I could only leave to the north. But these don't really hamper the enjoyment of the game. Also, in these days where NPC conversation was still rather experimental, some parts of the game where you have to communicate with other characters are quite uneven, and in a couple of cases a bit unfair (the proper response to Utterson as you return home as Hyde, for instance, is horribly unclued. Better wording would have sufficed to make THAT puzzle much fairer). But for the most part, it's fairly competent.

It comes in 3 parts (the third part, in the TZX file I played, was a aprt of the "Part 2.tzx" file). The first two deal with the story as we know it, adapting it a bit to work as an IF piece. The adaptation, as I've said, is top-notch.

At least in the first two parts.

Starting the 3rd part is a dream sequence that is, frankly, interesting - but culminates in a horribly twisted puzzle that I'm not sure I ever would have gotten (but maybe some of you puzzley-folks would have gotten in a jiffy. :) ). It then gives way to a conversation, where it's quite unclear what answers should be given, and then you find yourself outside the police station having turned suddenly into Hyde. This when Hyde was already a wanted criminal.

Now, at this point, according to the walkthough, I had to "open manhole", in order to escape quickly into the sewers. Well, my copy of the game rejected this command, so I was unable to proceed. Reading the walkthrough, though, I find that (Spoiler - click to show)Hyde goes on a chase through the sewers, then surfaces as Jekyll riding a steam locomotive, has to solve a weird puzzle involving steam and levers and wheels, then eventually Jekyll comes out in a church, finds a priest, makes a confession, and then finds that the potion will no longer work and he's free of Hyde forever.

And I was like: WTF?! They had a brilliant story, they were coming up with a great adaptation, and THIS is how it ends? It's cheap. It's senseless. It's a waste of one of the creepiest endings in literature. It's a throwback to the movie/play ending of Ten Little Niggers, aka Ten Little Indians, aka And Then There Were None (if you don't know, it's a changed ending in which the killer gets caught and the boy gets the girl).

This game had some serious, serious potential. But implementation, fairness and even story all fell apart in the end. Only the writing remains worth reading, but even that is not up to the standards of the first part.

Bottom line: worth a look, definitely. But if you want to play it through to the end, you'll end up disappointed.

The Djinni Chronicles, by J. D. Berry

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Rather abstract, quite unique, just right, April 17, 2010
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
Now here's an interesting one. In "The Djinni Chronicles" you get to play a wish-granting Djinni (at first). You (the player) are dropped in the middle of a scene which is very carefully crafted - just alien enough for you to have to readjust your thinking and your perception; just clear enough not to leave you stranded; just hinted enough not to leave you wonder "what the heck am i supposed to be/do?". Before long, the game has thrown a lot of concepts at you, concepts which are quite unique even to the whole "djinni"-theme.

It's a testament to the power and craft of the game that you find yourself catching these concepts even as they're thrown at you. They become very natural very quickly. They're twists on the way we perceive "genies", but they're very natural twists. In effect, the game puts you in the shoes of the genie - and it's not long before you realize what a natural place it is to be.

It's a relatively short game, with compact prose, but man it's *cohese*. Every word is carefully chosen. Every description is carefully tailored. Every situation you are put in demands that you think like the being you've incarnated, and as you explore for yourself you find that everything fits together. Everything makes sense.

Even if the story is short, it's very well told. Just when you think you've figured out where it's all going, and the mechanics of the thing, the game springs up another element - and another plot device - and suddenly things just got more *interesting*.

I found this game a refreshing journey. It was maybe too alien for me to deal with in a longer game, but the size was just right. The puzzles could have thrown me off in other circumstances, but they were in fact just right. The prose was just right, nor too much nor too little. Even the limit you're imposed (a limit based on "Purpose", a very interesting concept) is neither too lax nor too tight - it's in fact *just right*.

The only reason I give it 4 stars instead of 5 is that, for me, the ending didn't... well... didn't "click". But it was a nice ending, nonetheless.

Why did the Dino cross the Road?, by Richard Bos
Peter Pears's Rating:

Spaceship!, by The Guardian's Gamesblog Community

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Pleasant puzzle romp, March 14, 2010
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
This game bills itself as an attemp to write the best group-authored game ever. Now, if you're like me, this tagline is enough to put you off right there and then. I've seen too many well-meaning newbies putting forth their own attempts at the best game ever. At best, such games are tasteless. At worst, they are dismal.

So it was a pleasant surprise for me to start enjoying this game very early on.

This is a simple puzzle-romp, rather light-hearted in tone despite the urgency of the situation - it's probably best compared to Hollywood Hijinx, even though the settings are completely different. Simple premise, lots of puzzles, light-heartened tone. It's not as clever or as original or as creative as Hollywood, but it's quite, quite a pleasant romp.

The setting is simple as to be almost boring - you're a captain in a ship in which something has gone wrong. Go and fix your ship, before you run out of oxygen (a time-limit, but a relatively lax one - it enhances urgency without getting in your way. A nice compromise). In these days where plot and stories are all the rage, it was a surprise to see people trying to make "the best group game ever" with such a thin plot.

Nevertheless, there is more to text adventures than plot - just think of Zork. And the authors have filled the ship with enough background information to make it worth exploring. Red herrings abound, but rather than feeling gratuitous, they feel as though they were put there to enhance the atmosphere. They work.

The game is carefully coded. I did have a couple of issues, namely when trying to set the toilet to "kill" (yes, the game has a certain dry wit that might not appeal to everyone, but made me chuckle more than on- twi- many times), whereupon the game asked me which toilet did I mean, the toilet paper, the toilet water, or whatever. But this is an exception in a game where disabiguation issues have been very carefully polished. The very first puzzle, which involves similarly-named objects, is made very pleasant to solve because of this; you don't have to specify which *whatever* you mean, because although you COULD mean the other one, it's OBVIOUS you mean that one.

This first puzzle sets the tone for the entire game, puzzlewise. Puzzles are carefully done, so that they are amply hinted without making you feel as though you're not actually achieving anything. They require creative thinking at times, but are not absurd to the point of... well, of Monkey Island 2's monkey wrench puzzle, or Simon the Sorcerer 2's hush puppies puzzle.

The game almost seems made for finishing in one sitting. The pleasant writing, the atmosphere of the ship, the nature of the puzzles, make playing "Spaceship!" a nice experience one just breezes through.

It was unfortunate that the very last part of the game seemed to be rather more sloppy. Once I left the spaceship and went into space to continue fixing what I had to fix, it seemed that the quality of writing dropped. So did gameplay - the only instances where I had to struggle with the parser was when I was trying to fix the engines from outside.

Speaking about the writing, it would be expected, from a game with many different authors, that the style would be hap-hazard. Not so. It's cohese, and you'd think all of the text had been written by a single person. The same goes for the puzzles, which, asides from being well-coded, go along the same lines. The game as a whole is surprisingly cohese.

There are advantages of having a group make a game. Beta-testing is practically built in. Although the outside of the ship, as I said, is much more sloppy than the rest of the game, for the most part the parser understood what I wanted it to understand, and sometimes a bit more. Whether I over-simplified a command or over-extrapolated, the game always knew what I meant. Kudos to the authors.

I can't say that Spaceship! is the best game ever. I can't even say it's the best group-authored game ever because a) I've yet to play all group-authored games and b) I personally enjoyed "Across the Stars" (two authors, so I guess it counts as a group) more than "Spaceship!", because it's a little more plot-heavy and basically more my style.

But I can say that this is a game well worth playing. It's been rather low-profile ever since it was released. Well, I think it deserves a little recognition. It's sleek, it's fun, it's cohese, it's well coded. Here's hoping the authors get more ambitious, story-wise, on their next project.

Dead Like Ants, by C.E.J. Pacian

7 of 10 people found the following review helpful:
"You are my favourite daughter", January 23, 2010
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
"Dead Like Ants" is a remarkable little story, with a few gimmicks thrown in, and makes an overall satisfying and thought-provoking experience. The protagonist is an antropomorphised ant, which is not really a spoiler at all - it's pretty obvious from the onset. She is sent forth by the Queen/Mother herself to help rid the colony of five dangers than threaten it every year.

There is a spin to it, of course, which I won't reveal. But it's that spin which makes the game. The following sentences are only mildly spoilery and rather vague, but if you haven't played the game I suggest you don't read them. (Spoiler - click to show)It raises questions of one's identity in the community. It raises question about manipulation by someone who's higher than you in life's hierarchy. It raises questions about manipulation by someone you love, and someone who, you think, loves you.

Gameplay is repetitive, but that repetition ties in beautifully with the issues the game adresses. As the PC appeases the five dangerous strangers, the player is more and more aware of what is going on, distancing himself - a bold move in a medium where "immersion" is traditionally the key to authorial sucess. This distance is the key. It's very Brechtian - Brecht is the one who wanted the audience *not* to connect emotionally with his plays, so they could coldly appreciate and analyze the important political aspect and messages he wanted to convey.

And in the very end, a final twist (which is "the last lousy point", if you will), that gives it all yet another dimension, yet another layer.

Of course, the author himself states, in the afterword, "I'm sure this is all susceptive to interpretations, but I just wanted to portray a day as an ant", blowing any analysis to the winds. :) Ah well.

"Dead Like Ants" is a short game, with almost no puzzles to speak of. The prose is succint, evocative, and a constant mixture of "literal" and "metaphorical". Dialogs are topic-based, relatively limited, but amply suficcient for their purpose. I would recommend this game for anyone who wants a short playing experience that'll keep them thinking about it long after they finished the actual game.

Hollywood Hijinx, by Dave Anderson, Liz Cyr-Jones

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful:
Zork light, anyone?, January 21, 2010
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
"Hollywood Hijinx" is a traditional scavenger hunt, a puzzlefest, much like Zork I - get ten "treasures" and you're out (sort of). But the gloomy GUE has been replaced by your aunt and uncle's estate, turned into a huge puzzlehouse as a special test for you (don't you feel special?). The sprawling geography of Zork I has turned into a simple-to-memorize layout - it wasn't small, but I never needed to map my way through. The mind-bending, sometimes author-mind-reading puzzles have given way to simpler situtaions (although a couple are downright intricate), where logical thinking and some experimentation will make you feel all glowy inside for having solved that puzzle.

So I guess HH is a kind of Zork light. All the flavor, all the fun, minus 70% the frustration.

The hallmarks of Infocom are almost all here - the maze which turns out to have an original spin to it (I swear, those guys could make mazes and still make them fun), the time limit which turns out not to be so stifling, the puzzle where you have to get a light source across some water (Infocom seemed fond of that one), the rooms which are described in very few sentences and which have very few implemented objects but which nevertheless are vidid and feel quite real (sometimes it's a good thing to have hardware limits, I guess)... the only thing missing is NPC interaction - but then, there aren't any NPCs.

The only gripe I had with HH was when for three times - three times! - I had to turn to the Invisiclues, just to find out I was overcomplicating the situation because the text had left out something that... well, that was probably obvious, really, but which I hadn't grasped (for those curious, that would be opening the hatch, what to do with the pillars, and the very last puzzle). Everything else made me keep at it, experiment, and I haven't felt this gratified in playing a puzzlefest since Infidel. Logical solutions, no Towers-of-Hanoi and such, puzzles which revolve around the use of your environment and not some mini-puzzle/mini-game you have to solve (like the plane seats in Bureaucracy). This is the sort of game I love.

The game is so simple in concept in fact, that there is no more to be said. It's a light puzzlefest, very upbeat. The puzzles are rewarding. The time limit is lax (probably around 800 moves). The light source has infinite power (yay!). There will be very little inventory juggling. Overall, a good game for new-school players to play if they're feeling like old-school, but not *too* old-school.

Big Red Button, by Mister Nose
Peter Pears's Rating:

Dr. Death's House of Horrors, by John Olsen
Peter Pears's Rating:

Deadline Enchanter, by Alan DeNiro

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful:
A curious, touching story, perfectly suited to its medium, January 14, 2010
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
The term "Interactive Fiction" was, I believe, coined by Infocom (if not, I'd be grateful for corrections). It was a bit of a marketing move, granted - it was a grand appellation for what was, in fact, a text adventure game. Said adventure game could range from cave romp (Zork, Enchanter) to an actual story in interactive format (Deadline, A Mind Forever Voyaging), but it was essentially an adventure game.

That was then. In those days, rememeber, personal computers were uncommon, the net was in its very infancy. The games were supposed to be entertaining, and were supposed to last a long time - people wanted to get their money's worth of the games. All this is in the basis of what we now call old-school games.

Fast-forward a couple of decades (going on three decades now), and we're at the center of new-school. We have thousands of games at our disposal, they're easier to make (although as hard to design as ever) than they were back then, way easier to distribute. We don't want those insane puzzles anymore, because life frustrates us enough as it is. We want a challenge, not punishment.

And furthermore - and this is what I wanted to get at - we have given new meaning to the term Interactive Fiction. I'm not sure whether Photopia was the first of its genre, but it was certainly the most inspiring and at the center of this fundamental change. Short's works like Galatea, Best of Three and the very recent Alabaster are also examples of this new "Interactive Fiction" - games that are really stories, which are much more suited to an interactive medium than a static one. Not really "adventure games" at all.

This is bloody hard to do. No kidding. These pieces are often very linear in gameplay, out of necessity (or they go out of their way to accomodate nearly everything the player can do - Alabaster and Gisjber's The Baron both do this, in their way). Their reason of existence is the story alone (and the writing and the characters). There's nearly no puzzles to speak of.

A game like this had better have a good reason for choosing to be IF rather than a short story.

And this is where Deadline Enchanter comes in.

Deadline Enchanter makes ingenious use of the IF format. As a game, it feels strange, because you're basically given pieces of walkthrough, which you follow to the game's conclusion. But as you find out, that makes perfect sense. You feel like you are being led? Well, you are. You're being taught something by the narrator, who has a distinctive voice and personality. It's the embodiment of new-school - it's the story that matters. No puzzles (you're given a walkthough at the beginning of the game! And yes, you have to follow it, and yes, it makes sense). Extremely linear. And a very rewarding story, that draws you in.

It's also confusing as heck, at first. The story is always sketchy, with a few recurrent themes. You come to recognize those themes and move with it, and that is what makes the story come together. We don't know exactly who those characters are. The Faux? The Mundane? Other than looking like names out of a Clive Barker novel, we never really know about any of them. But we don't have to. We know what happened between them - sort of. In the end, it's the same old story played over and over again. The author, Alan DeNiro, seems to feel it's such a familiar story it doesn't really need much elaboration. Faux and Mundanes, the Blue and the Grey, Cowboys and Indians, and so on and so forth. It merely provides the backdrop.

Well, not "merely". It's not just backdrop. It's backdrop that sets the scene - a half-mystical scene of violence, fear and war. It evoked emotions and feelings in me.

The writing is, at first, confusing, especially because the game is very original in placing the narrator. The narrator, who is also the parser (except at times when Inform's default verbs come in), speaks to you as the author of the game. She talks in a rather confusing, intricate way. The whole story develops almost in a stream-of-consciousness style, as she sometimes chooses to stop your current progress to tell you something about something else. And then she may change her mind. It's very strange at first, but it got to grow on me.

At first, I was afraid it might be terribly pretensious and pedantic, this style. It was not. More than that, the writing itself was - I found - absolutely gorgeous. Even within the sketchyness of the entire game world, it detailed some rather amazing things and creatures (the image of the coeurpouch stays with me even now). Maybe they are this vivid *because* the background is so sketchy, I don't know. What I do know is, I was quickly entranced by this game I had approached warily.

It probably could have used more polish, since anyone who wants to explore some more will soon bang their heads in Inform's default messages, which are definitely out of tone. Implementation is not always consistent, with some items being more implemented than others - randomly, it seems. Still, it makes sense when you realize *why* it's like that. Also, this piece is a story, rather than a game (a story which I don't think could be told in any other medium, hence the term "Interactive Fiction"). You quickly realize you have a path to follow... so it makes sense that you should just follow the path. Not to worry, there's enough sightseeing and interaction on the way... but you have a path to follow. And you have someone very eager for you to follow that path.

In the end, I rate it 5 stars because of one thing only, and this is very subjective.

This game touched me emotionally, and when I entered the epilogue I was in a dazed state (which was helped by the visual style and layout of said epilogue). When the game ended, I just sat there for a while, not in the way I did after watching, for instance, "Requiem for a Dream" or "Saw", but in the way I did after watching "Pan's Labyrinth" (i.e., "El Laberinto del Fauno") or "Huit Femmes". It's because this game made me feel that way that I rated it 5 stars.

To sum it up - I would recommend this game, even though I know it won't be many people's cup of tea. It's a game you simply can't not play, much like Bad Machine, The Gostak, or For a Change. You simply have to experience it. Then you may or may not like it, and that's ok, because these are heavily experimental. I disliked Bad Machine, for instance. I kinda enjoyed For a Change.

And I loved Deadline Enchanter.

Supermarket Robbery, by Mister Nose
Peter Pears's Rating:

The Last Laugh, by David Cornelson
Peter Pears's Rating:

Dastardly, by Andy Chase

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
A competent, efficient short story in interactive format, November 30, 2009
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
Someone (I'm pretty sure it was Stephen King, but I can't swear by it) once described short stories in a way I found absolutely delicious. I wish I could quote, but all I can do is paraphrase. Basically, he said that "a short story is like a quick, passionate kiss in the middle of the night" (as opposed to a novel, which would be a strong, comitted relationship).

I love this definition of a short story. It means the story has to be short enough to want us leaving more; has to be passionate enough for us to be satisfied with what we do have. We have to fall in love it with for a little while - passionately, ardently. Then we may try to forget it, but it will always linger because, brief as it was, it was something special.

"Dastardly" could use a bit more polish, but even as it is, it was special enough for me to recall this quote, and apply it to the story.

The author apologizes right at the beginning - he says he's sorry that he knows bugerall about old English and about old England, in which this game is set. Normally, I'd be cross about people who don't bother to do a little research, and just go "Stick to what you know". But in a story this short, it didn't really bother me. Let's say the game didn't have time to sound phony.

"Dastardly" is a piece with one single puzzle. The curious thing about it is that you know nothing about the puzzle. You are clued somewhat to the nature of your goal, but you don't even know exactly what you're trying to achieve. Still, your movements are guided by the atmosphere of the place and... well, and the sparseness of the setting. When there's so few objects available, it's easy enough to put them together.

But here's the thing. Sparse as the game world was, it was very atmospheric. The writing wasn't extraordinary, but it was vivid, effective, colourful. It made me relate to the place (possibly because I've been around theatres, old and new, quite a bit. Oh, didn't I say this was set in a theatre? This game is set in a theatre). Somehow, wandering around it made perfect sense, instead of feeling like I'm just mapping the place out and getting a feel for the layout (which is what I was doing). And when a game gets atmospheric, the sparseness doesn't feel like lack of depth or implementation. Rather, it makes you feel like you're on a stage, with a remarkable scenery all around you - and a spotlight is shining down on those few objects which will be of use to you. Everything else simply feels unimportant.

A funny thing about Dastardly is how it drives the player's actions. As the player learns the background story, he/she'll start to understand what happened - and start to understand how the PC feels about it. In the end, the player will carry out the PC's "dastardly" plan, to avenge the "dastardly" deeds of the "dastardly" man which, the PC feels, is to blame for the current situation (not a pretty one).

I can't praise this enough - with very little actual clueing and more of an "atmospheric guidance", I somehow went straight to end of the game. No over-clueing. No under-hinted problems. It felt perfectly natural.

Of course, due to the nature of the puzzle, it could be considered unflattering that I thought it was so natural. But ah well.

So, the writing is nothing to write home about. Neither is the puzzle, and the almost-nonexistant NPC interaction. Implementation is only as deep as it needs be.

But what we have here is a short piece that *works*. The separate parts are rather uninteresting; the sum of the parts is a quick diversion, a brief, passionate kiss in the deepest of the night. It may not have been the best kiss of your life, or the most passionate night, but you're bound to taste it on your lips for quite awhile before it fades from your memory... if it ever completely does.

The Mystery of the Darkhaven Caves, by David Whyld
Peter Pears's Rating:

Vicious Cycles, by Simon Mark

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Very good concept, rather uninteresting execution, November 14, 2009
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
"Vicious Cycles" is a game built around a single concept and a single puzzle. It's not a one-puzzle game, but once you do finish the puzzle (which, to be honest, is rather elegant in some ways, especially as it ties in with the concept - more on that later) the game has precious little to show you, and what it does have to show you is rather subpar.

The story is set in... well, in some sort of future. That much is certain, and alongside the clichès of hologramatic phones you get subtle social nudges like the presence of respirators for everyday use and the little logos on the back of the perfect-looking brother and sister, showing the world their perfection was bought and genetically engineered, reminiscent of Gattaca.

But apart from this, it's all deliberately vague. Much too vague for my tastes, in fact. Almost shrapnel-style vague, and in the beginning it certainly is a Shrapnel-ish experience. But Shrapnel had a solid ground - solid footing - from which to build up. The world you enter in Vicious Cycles seems as flimsy as a japanese paper-house. The house is very nicely decorated, and evocative, but you can see through the walls. And keeping up the metaphor, you watch the plot happen from behind the walls, in a sort of shadow-play which wants to be reminiscent of... well, a bit of Memento, a bit of Chancellor, a bit of Babel, a bit of all those stories where you're shown flashes and are left to piece them together. Sometimes it works. This time it didn't.

The reason it didn't, I get more and more convinced, is because the game is at its heart a one-concept, almost one-puzzle game. The characters are ill-defined, and you consequently stop caring about them. The situation flashes past you so quickly you have no time to connect emotionally.

But again - one-concept game. Maybe we're not *supposed* to connect. But I'm sorry, I *want* to connect to a game when it tries to give me a story, especially in a fractured way as it does. Otherwise, what's the point of having a story at all?

So - the concept. The concept borrows from one-move games and from a game called Shadow of Destiny, or Shadow of Memories (multiple releases = increasing player confusion). Basically, you have to accomplish something within a certain time-frame. But if you don't, you get sent back to the beginning of the scenario. Here's the catch - the meta-knowledge you, as the player, gain from these past playthroughs is essential to winning the game.

Very good concept, very hard to execute. And I am glad to say that it was very, very well executed, despite some puzzle-solutions I don't think I'd have ever have thought of (unless maybe I had been "drawn into" the game a bit more, in which case I'd have persevered). In fact, if the game didn't try to be more than that, it would probably have gotten a solid 5/5 from me.

But, well... it really overstays its welcome, with a lot of story that doesn't, ultimately, matter. It doesn't really reach out to you. It should - the story isn't devoid of interest. But it certainly isn't well told.

That said, this is certainly a game worth playing - if for nothing else, just to enjoy the single concept/puzzle. It is very competently done, coded and written. Also, it's while you're trying to solve the puzzle that you'll come across many of those little subtle details to which I alluded in the beginning of this review.

Vigilante, by p0wn3d Games
Peter Pears's Rating:

Condemned, by Mark Jones

10 of 12 people found the following review helpful:
Disturbing, and too ambitious for its own good, October 8, 2009
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
This game is unhealthily disturbing. It's what I have to say first and foremost.

Second and, er, secondmost: this game is an excellent example of what it is to have an abmitious project, a dramatic story, and simply not having the skill to completely pull it off.

The story, revealed to the player in two different levels (Spoiler - click to show) (one real and the other one symbolic. Not that this is much of a spoiler - it's pretty obvious) , is a dark, bleak affair. It's so filled with despair, I feel like I've just watched Requiem For a Dream twice in a row, followed by Pi and Saw.

Ok, ok, bit of an exaggeration. Make it just Requiem for a Dream twice.

It's a story which, truth be told, has a lot going for it. The pacing isn't bad, and the elements of the story are recognizable enough to be effective. We can easily relate to the PC's background, or at least recognize it: his relationship with his sister is common enough, and while his parents feel overly dramatized, it's still rather believable. So, there's a good, solid starting point for all that comes later, which I won't go into as it would spoil the whole thing.

But the author was too ambitious, and couldn't carry it off. For starters, either he isn't an English native speaker (not a problem per se, of course) or he just needs to practice his writing. A lot. Too many of the sentences are just too awkward, and dialogues in particular are rarely realistic - they feel extremely artificial, and many words and expressions feel way out of place. It looked like it was written by someone who knew the language very well, but had never actually spoken it out loud, or hear it in action, or read it often outside the grammar books.

Another thing that really grated me was background exposition. It was very badly done, in a very artifical manner (a long dialogue with your sister). The golden rule "show, don't tell" would have helped the author here. Yes, exposition is a notoriously hard thing to manage. This game didn't manage it, sorry.

These are common enough mistakes, of course. Only further writing - and a lot of reading - will help the author here. It's a shame, too, because he clearly knew where he wanted to go, and what he wanted to achieve with each sentence. The concept was good. The execution needed extensive input from a couple of... er... beta-readers.

The problem with the game's ambition, apart from it having helped cripple the writing...

...at least so it seems: it looks like a typical case (and I know, I've been there) of an author going 'Wow, what a red-hot story I'm writing, this is big, this is huge, this is the best thing I've ever done', and in the ensuing excitement the writing's usually the first thing to go...

...is that it falls a bit flat. The game works best when it's not trying to overdo it, and because of the game's tendency - like so many others - to go back and forth between the two levels of the story with little explanation, it rarely overdoes anything, leaving us to piece it all together (not a difficult task. This game isn't Photopia; the story is very clear from the word go).

And then, near the end sequences, the game feels that the player has figured it out all (which is true) and then starts rambling about the collision of the two worlds, and starts trying to symbolize way more than it's good for itself.

Now, I kinda like this sort of stuff, especially in Chancellor, which I've recently played. But "Condemned" really overdoes it all. A lot of the endgame, the climatic conclusion, while visually interesting, feels tacked-on. It's like the game feel it has to justify itself and its existence.

As a result, the very final scene, which was supposed to feel cathartic, just feels "meh". The obvious symbolism was powerful enough, it didn't need all that clarification, and it certainly didn't need that mystical-ish merging of the worlds. Without it, the story would have worked a lot better.

Ah well. Maybe I *just didn't get it* (which is doubtless what the author must be thinking). Fair enough. We each have our own tastes, and do our own readings. My reading of this story brought me to these conclusions. Other people might think differently, and think that the story would be lessened without that which I thought was too much. Everything's game.

Apart from all that, there isn't much to add. Detail and implementation are pleasantly thorough, even if the odd first-level noun isn't accounted for (a rare ocorrence (sp?) ). Puzzles are pretty much non-existent.

Bottom line - the story is disturbing, and for me the catharsis didn't work, leaving me feeling hopelessly bleak. It overreached itself (in my opinion, of course), past the point where it should have stopped (in terms of scope, not in terms of "the point where the story actually ends"). It was mostly because of this, and because of the writing, that I couldn't rate it any higher than 2/5.

PS - Then again, one could argue that if a game manages to leave such an impression, it must have done *something* right. I agree. My main gripe is with the things it didn't.

Beta Tester, by Darren Ingram
Peter Pears's Rating:

Choices, by David Whyld

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
That rare breed of AIF, October 6, 2009
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
A rating of 5/5 may surprise many people when it comes to an AIF (Adult Interactive Fiction) game. Part of the reason I rated it 5/5 is because the game certainly surprised me, as it got better and better.

"Choices" is that rare breed of AIF. It's too graphic, at times too explicit, not to be AIF; but it's also too serious and way too well written to be dismissed as "merely AIF".

As the name might imply, it plays as a CYOA format. A very forgiving one in which you can undo at will, and where some choices score higher than others. So it is understandable that most players - both the ones looking for the sex and the ones looking for the story - will undo a lot in the first few situations, trying to score the highest so they'll be sure to get the best ending.

I'm not normally a fan of CYOA. I'm not normally a fan of AIF. But look: Whyld can *write*. He's not my number one all-time most favourite author, but he ranks up there, and is certainly my favourite Adrift author. I have many games left to play, but the ones I already did never failed to amuse me and surprise me. I seriously like his style, even if there are others whose style I even like better.

In "Choices", Whyld has managed to use the CYOA format to it's greatest advantage: he was unencumbered to tell the story, without many of the pitfalls that come with the limitless possibilities of standard IF. He also exploits the CYOA format to what it's worth, so that early choices might well impact later choices.

And he writes well enough that, at a certain point in the game, you stop worrying about the score or about completing the game, and start actually choosing.

Which brings me around to the AIF/story of this game. The sex starts off as very prominent, but after a while it gives way to something a lot more interesting. The PC is interesting, but even more interesting is her background. Her homosexuality, and how she deals with it - and especially how her family deals (or doesn't) with it. The dying marriage of her parents. Her brother, intent on a road to self-destruction. In a way these are all clichès, but everything's always a clichè. Everything's already been done. What's interesting is the way it's done, and this is why Whyld provides us with such a good story.

But sensitive readers need fair warning at this point, especially after all the praise I just gave the game. The main plot turns into something more sinister, more scary, always very graphically described. It's all the more sinister because it's something that actually happens in this wild, unfair world of ours.

The AIF scenes aren't too long, but they're graphic enough that you might want to give it a miss if you really dislike that sort of thing - or you can just skim-read those bits, and lose nothing. The most intense parts of the story are more disturbing, and if those affect you then I reccommend you stay away from this game, especially as the punch it delivers is a surprise with little to prepare you.

If neither of these things bother you, though, you might like to give it a go. It might surprise you.

Back To Life... Unfortunately, by David Whyld
Peter Pears's Rating:

The Cellar, by David Whyld

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Should have been a short story, October 2, 2009
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
"The Cellar", an entry in the Lovecraft Commonplace Book project (in which authors chose from various unfinished ideas from Lovecraft himself), is a good story, but not a good game.

The thing about "games" is that they need some level of interactivity. I don't even mention puzzles, because of the trend for puzzleless IF (of which I'm actually a fan), but even Photopia had interactivity, even though you couldn't change the outcome, even though it was amazingly linear, even though it was pretty much "type the correct command to get to the next portion of the story".

In "The Cellar", gameplay consists essentially of listening to a character talk. And "talk" becomes your oft-used command.

It's a good story (which I won't spoil, though it's hardly a surprise). It's very well told. I especially like the way Whyld breaks up the main story with little side-trips, or questions that the PC asks. It's just... not a game, and it would have benefitted more from the static fiction format than interactive fiction. I basically felt like I was reading a book. I never felt so passive while playing IF as I did when playing "The Cellar".

This alone knocked one star out of my rating. The other star was knocked because... well, let's talk about the climax.

The climax to this story is a curious thing, as well. It hinges on a certain action done by an NPC, which reveals something. Pretty standard climax material. But in the end sequence, that revelation is foreshadowed in a way to make you suspect it. By the time it comes, you're creeped, but it's not the climax which the author probably intended. Which is by no means a bad thing - it's less startling, but way creepier.

...and after it's happened, the author itself appears and says "Gosh, that was a good twist, wasn't it? Bet you weren't expecting that!".

All-time mood-killer.

There's also a couple of bugs, but if you remember only to type "yes/no" *when the game specifically asks you to*, you'll be fine. Anyway, it's nothing an UNDO or two won't handle.

Bottom line, it's a good story. It's a good read. It's definitely worth your time. Just don't expect a game - expect a short story.

The Plague - Redux, by Laurence Moore

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
A B-movie, October 2, 2009
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
If you like B-movies, you'll like this game. That's pretty much the bottom line, and everything in this review can be summed up to that statement.

Now, considering the B-movie... there is a tendency to undermine and undervalue the B-movie, because it's often silly, or overdone, or has no artistic merit whatsoever. Still, B-movies do have their audience, and they do provide with solid entertainment. Sometimes we're entertained by laughing *at* the movie because it's so over the top it's bad (Peter Jackson's early "Braindeath", in which an Irish priest screams "I kick ass for the Lord!", being very much a case in point). Sometimes we laugh *with* the movie because, despite such lines as "I came here to kick ass and chew bubblegum, and I'm all outta gum!", there is a certain underlining seriousness that makes us take notice (John Carpenter's "They Live!"). Sometimes we are entertained because the film really creeps us out - Romero's "Creepshow" and "... of the Dead", for instance.

B-movies have the potential to become good movies, or at least good ways to pass the time, even if they aren't "quality" movies, "serious" movies. To me, John Carpenter was the master of taking the B-movie and raising it to an art form - inasmuch as a B-movie can be art, which it can't almost by definition.

So - enter "The Plague - Redux".

Fans of... well, fans of any B-movie will quickly recognize the setting. A strange infection turned everyone into zombies. You are to survive for one night, much like the aforementioned Romero zombie movies, and then the future will take care of itself. It is the "claustrophobic" sort of B-movie, taking inspiration from "Night of the Living Dead", "The Thing" and "Assault on Precint 13", rather than "John Carpenter's Vampires", "They Live!" or "Prince of Darkness".

The exception, of course, is that you're mostly alone. Although there will be other characters.

Speaking of characters, it seems the ideal point to mention the clichès. Everything about this game is a clichè. The setting. The concept. The characters. The plot, and the way it unfolds (yes, there IS a narrative). It's all clichèd.

But let's be fair - it's effective. The author clearly knew what he wanted to do, and he went and did it. He did it seriously. Often, that's all it takes to transform mediocrity into entertainment. Hey, Ed Wood really believed, and we still talk about Plan 9! Sure, not for the reasons he intended, but at least we remember him and him film!

By which I don't mean this game is a "Plan 9". It isn't. Not at all.

The puzzles are a mixed bunch, but they have the advantage of going with the flow. Apart from the odd "quest for the coins so you can buy a water bottle" (which, to be fair, does eventually have a very logical use), it flows naturally from the situation. You're unlikely to get stuck, which is a bonus in these sort of games.

Also, you can't get the game into an unwinnable state. And, curiously, you can't die. This is an odd decision in a "survival horror" game, as the author terms it, but it worked wonders for me.

There's a couple of bugs, though. Nothing major, but annoying. Once, I tried to go a certain direction, when I could also have typed "in" to enter the same location. The direction I typed didn't trigger what was supposed to be triggered, though - not correctly. A bit of bafflement, a bit of UNDOing, a bit of typing "in", and all was well.

More annoying is a common newbie fault. The game enforces weight limits, but doesn't bother to check them when the game gives you an item you cam across while doing some other action (e.g., "examine whatsit" gives you item X and puts it in your inv regardless of weight restrictions). So when you actually do want to pick something up, you're likely to discover you'll have to leave half your inventory behind, because you're already way overburdened. This is the reason I didn't actually finish the game - near the very end, I found I needed an item, but to get it I would have to leave almost everything I had behind. Since everything about the game was so predictable (although enjoyable, in a B-movie way), I didn't go through that extra bother and just quit. A peek at the walkthrough showed me I didn't miss anything I couldn't foresee.

There's only one more thing I have to point out, and it's the one thing this game does excellently and which more IF authors should do.

This game establishes a "before", and even shows the moment in which "before" becomes "the hideous present", so that the "after" is waaaay more effective. Yes, he could have started a bit earlier, but the care he took in the bits he did include more than make up for it. This is something many authors neglect, and put the player right in the middle of things. Granted, sometimes it's the best approach, but giving the player a little time, a little calm, a little break, BEFORE turning his world upside down, is always a good move. "Axe of Kolt" did something similar, in which your quest became apparent only after you found yourself a room for the night - a move hardly seen at all in those Spectrum games.

So, bottom line, it's worth your time if you liked Romero and Carpenter. If you didn't, though, move on. You won't much care for the game - you're simply not the intended audience.

Coffins, by Christopher Huang
Peter Pears's Rating:

Your Choice, by J. Robinson Wheeler
Peter Pears's Rating:

Chancellor, by Kevin Venzke

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
A mixed experience, but still quality stuff, September 23, 2009
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
This is going to be a toughie to nonspoilarize, but I'm going to try anyway. :)

The first time I played Chancellor, I thought it was going down a certain direction. Said direction pleased me, because it was rather fresh. The setting wasn't, and some of the aspects of that direction were rather stereotyped, but there was quite a bit of detail; solid, deep implementation; coherence; and the prose was good enough to keep me hooked. At a certain point, I found myself forced to do a certain action. (Spoiler - click to show)It sent shivers down my spine. I didn't want to do it. But it was clear that I had to do it if I wanted to move on. I felt guilty all the time as I did it, and after it was done I just sat there for a while. No, I'm not going to tell you what it was - this is enough of a spoiiler. The consequences of that thing seemed to hover around for what would seem the rest of the game...

...and then suddenly, an abrupt change and the game seems to turn into a campus version of "My house".

I quit then, and it was awhile before I got back. In the meantime, I read other people's reviews. I wanted to know, beforehand, if the switch had been total and complete. I wanted to know if the first part, which had affected me deeply (mostly because of that one action, and because of the replies I had when I conversed with the one talkable NPC), was disconnected from the rest.

It wasn't. So I kept playing. Wisest thing I've ever done.

"Chancellor" is a quality game and no mistake. The prose is spot on, striking a middle ground between utilitarian and elaborate. It's very evocative, and manages to lead the player. It's no good just saying "You feel scared"; the author has to write enough so that he DOES scare the player, so that by the time he says "You feel scared", you already do. It can't be news to you, after all, otherwise the game fails.

Venzke, IMO, suceeded wonderfully in this. The only thing he didn't foresee was how strongly I reacted to the very first important thing I had to do. :)

Game design is also perfectly suited to my tastes. Until the end of the game, you can't die or make the game unwinnable. You are subtly hinted as to some actions, but at some point you'll find yourself having to rely on your gut instinct. In particular, you'll need to make a rather distant connection in order to elliminate one foe... but the connection is possible to make, and the game is well made enough that I made the connection almost at once.

When my gut instinct gets in synch with the game, that means the game must have done something right.

The story, now... that's where the mixed stuff lies. It's a wonderful story. It's masterfully told. It's a sombre, grim experience, which puzzles you and get to you as you explore the merging of two unrelated worlds. When the dream and reality start converging, you feel the ground shift beneath you, you lose your bearings, and find you have to hold on to whatever seems familiar in this waking nightmare.

Thing is, by the end it all feels a bit strained. The very final scene rings false, when compared to the rest of the game. In that final scene, things feel like they're done for effect, rather then coherence...

...and then, of course, there's the ending. Now, don't get me wrong, the game is well-made enough that it makes sense, and indeed a replay can show you all the subtle clues, but I hate that kind of ending. After "cliffhanger" endings, I think it's the worst cop-out ever.

That ending would be enough for me to rate this game very low. But I can't, really. It was a wonderful, gripping experience. I felt my heart beat faster and louder. I was by turns intrigued, amazed, horrified, baffled, and all the other things you like IF to make you feel. And others you don't particularly like, but which are here anyway.

It's maybe not a game for the ages, but in many respects it's certainly a classic. There's a lot here to learn from. And it's a great gaming experience, that'll certainly stick with you. Even if the ending is a cop-out.

PS - I apologize about not talking about the story more, but it's the sort of story that's too easy to spoil. You have to play it and experience it without really knowing anything beforehand. As it is, I've said too much already.

The Chasing, by Anssi Räisänen
Peter Pears's Rating:

Infidel, by Michael Berlyn

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
A Tale of Adventure, September 13, 2009
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
Sometimes, I get to play a long string of games that leave me frustrated, or annoyed, or confused, or feeling nothing at all. At those times I wonder where the problem lies - are those games really as bad as I thought they were? They mostly had great qualities, but also some fatal flaw in gameplay, or puzzle design. And some of these games had great reviews, and I even recognized their merit. Then I would get worried, and wonder where the fault was - with the games, or with me as a player. Maybe I just didn't really like IF anymore.

Infidel managed to set me right on that aspect. I can still get completely engrossed in IF. I can still love every minute of it. It can still increase my heartbeat. And it can still leave me not feeling like the dumbest person in the world.

One of Infocom's "Tales of Adventure" series, the other one being Berlyn's (IMO) vastly inferior Cutthroats, Infidel does a very neat trick right from the start, which is noteworthy even if nowadays many other games have done it and also done it well: you get to play a rather despicable PC. The personality you piece together from the feelies is so realistic it hurts - it's not that he's a bad person... well, in fact, like all people, he's rationalized away all the reasons why he's not a bad person. But there's a streak of greed, anger and frustration welling up inside him that make him a most unlikable character.

And it's this greed and frustration that lead him to this adventure - seeking out a lost pyramid. Except that he angered his workers so completely they drugged him and left him there. Except that he didn't inform his "partner" (who is his superior and his better in so many ways, and in another sort of game would, in fact, be the PC), so he can only rely on himself. Except that he had just written a letter where he lied through his teeth to his employer, telling her how stupendous everything was going. Except that the black box which would tell him the exact latitude and longitude of the pyramid is broken, and the replacement still isn't here.

Thankfully, you don't see these character traits, or even much of the PC's character at all, once you're properly in the game. Why should you? You saw it as an outsider when you read the feelies, but in-game, you just have to go with the flow. You don't even have the chance to notice his failings, because at that point you are, just like him, trying to get to the heart of the adventure. So you aren't reminded (as you'd probably be in a more modern game) of the unpleasant character of the PC. Which is one of the reasons why playing this game is so enjoyable. If I was being constantly reminded of the PC's character, I'd probably have quit very soon.

Gameplay is strictly puzzle oriented. One of the puzzles in rather mechanical in nature, and is rather broad, having about three game areas in scope. The others are more about interacting with your environment. In true old-school style, you are left to your own devices, with no hand-holding whatsoever.

Nowadays, people are trying to emulate that. I've just played Cacophony, for instance, and it tried to do the same thing: "Here you are, explore, have fun, it will become clear if you do". But rarely do modern games actually manage to get it clear. Cacophony certainly didn't, not for me, at least, and it seemed quintessentially "Here you are, figure it out".

In Infidel, it works wonders. Maybe it's because Infidel actually gives you something to work with, without actually spelling anything out for you. You have a series of hieroglyphs which, onde decoded, will help you out. You find a series of situations which may not be straightforward at first, but further exploration will allow you to start making connections.

And of course, making the connections is the really rewarding thing about IF. At least, about puzzle-based IF. Actually solving the puzzle isn't really as good as the moment of figuring it out.

The pacing is simply great. From the moment when you enter the pyramid, you will go through the various stages of exploration - checking it out, then thinking about what you see, then overcoming obstacles, eventually getting more and more excited as you realize the exact things you have to do. By the time you reach the endgame sequence, you have that wonderful feeling which seems to have left the modern-day-IFer.

The feeling that it's time, this is it, this is the final puzzle, the showdown, and *you know exactly what to do.*

Sure, maybe not exactly, but you know what you're going to do. I can't stress this enough, and if I may be permitted a bit of a rant, I've had enough of games with extra-hard ending sequences. There is nothing as satisfying as entering the final sequence with a clear image of what's going to happen - an image that I built myself, from the various pieces of information I've gathered throughout the game. I feel like I'm going in, and I'm going in armed. I feel like I can do it. I feel the urge to move on, and the satisfaction of everything going as I knew it would is just too big for words.

This doesn't mean there can't be surprises, or twists. In fact, the entire finale of Spellbreaker is played by ear. But as far as gameplay goes, this has to be the most satisfying way to finish a game. Rarely seen, because it's hard to do right.

Well, Infidel does it right. Infidel does it wonderfully. That is enough for me to give it a 5/5 rating.

The puzzles themselves aren't too hard, either. A couple of sticking points, to be sure, but it's nothing a persistent adventurer won't overcome quickly. The inventory limit is more relaxed than in many Infocom games. THe mechanics of working the knapsack and lighting the torch take some getting used to, but it will eventually feel perfectly natural because, really, it's not gratuitous. It feels real.

The prose is among the best I've seen in Infocom. Berlyn succeeded in making me feel as though I was truly exploring the pyramid, matching wits with the ancient Egyptians.

I'm fond of saying that, despite all that Sokoban-style crate-pushing, "Broken Sword III" puts the "Adventure" back in "adventure game" - because it feels really adventurous, as opposed to just going around collecting items and using them properly. Infidel is also an "adventure" game, in exactly the same way.

And the very final twist, of course, is so apt it feels satisfying, even if the PC disagrees with you.

Brimstone, by James Paul
Peter Pears's Rating:

Sorcerer, by Steve Meretzky

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
And now for something almost completely different!, September 11, 2009
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
The original Dungeon, which begat Zork, was essentially written by four people. Two of these people, Marc Blanc and Dave Lebling, would eventually split the original Dungeon into three parts (of course, they did more than a simple split, but I'm starting this review on a tangent as it is).

So we have the original Zork Trilogy by Marc Blanc and Dave Lebling. And a player who goes through all three will notice some differences in game design, surely, subtle changes of direction, but it will recognizably have the same author. Or rather - there won't be clashing differences.

"Enchanter" was the first in a different saga also set in the world of Zork, in a different time. It is an entirely new kettle of fish, with other concerns, other atmosphere, and other ways of solving puzzles. Still written by Marc Blanc and Dave Lebling. "Spellbreaker", the third, would eventually be written by Dave Lebling alone.

Enter "Sorcerer", the second of the series. Written by Steve Meretzky, who is an accomplished writer in his own right but nevertheless has his own way of doing things (as all writers should).

I haven't played Planetfall yet, it's on my list - if I had, I'm sure I would have found it easy to compare the games. But I *have* played Zork Zero, also written by Steve Meretzky at a much later date. After having played, almost in a row, Zork I, Zork II, Enchanter and Zork III, I felt the difference of styles almost immediately. It felt as though Enchanter had taken a turn towards Zork Zero.

Ok, long comparative history lesson over. Here's where I wanted to get to - this game sticks out in the whole series like a sore thumb. The series, and even the writers, had clearly been working things out for themselves in a certain direction. Sorcerer is a brief diversion into another direction.

One of the most striking things in Sorcerer is how often you can die, and in what ways. Meretzky is known for his humourous approach to gaming, which is fine in, say, Leather Godesses of Phobos... but the Zorkian universe had already been established, and had its own brand of humour (and even that humour dwindled a bit as the games started getting more serious and atmospheric - see the gloom in Zork III and the senge or desolation and urgency in Enchanter). Meretzky came in out of the blue and added a slot machine where if you hit the jackpot you get killed under tons of zorkmids, deadly vines, and an amazing amount of red-herring rooms, objects and puzzles, such as a floor waxer which does polish the floor... for whatever good it's worth.

As I mentioned, the humouristic side of Meretzky (which really abounds in the game) wouldn't be out of sorts in a different game, but it really breaks the flow in this game. It's much too easy to forget you're looking for Belboz, the Necromancer, who had been acting strangely and suddenly disappeared. The sense of urgency dwindles to nothing when there's a series of three consecutive rooms where you will die if you linger there too long. And unless you're using a certain spell, you're likely to die just by entering the room. It's simply too much.

Does that mean the game is bad? Hell no! The atmosphere isn't gone, merely replaced. Personally I don't like the replacement, but it's there, and it's certainly effective. This is partly because, as I mentioned, Meretzky loves putting in red herrings - but these herrings aren't empty rooms or useless objects. The red herring rooms have life, and you can even enjoy some rides on an amusement park. Will do nothing to advance the story, but you're sure to remember that rollercoaster ride! The red herring objects do have uses, even if their use is, er, useless - the floor waxer does waxe the floor, for instance.

I realize all this talk about the floor waxer is a possible spoiler, but it's deliberate. It's a red herring and a heavy item, which will force you to juggle inventory if you want to take it anywhere. That's a mean trick.

And while there aren't many mean tricks in Sorcerer, the matchbook puzzle is a classicly *mean* trick, comparable to the earthquake puzzle in Zork III. And of course it's always possible to lock yourself out of victory. But, truth be told, you'll often realize when this has happened.

Going back to atmosphere, I would just like to mention that the intro is a most interesting idea, fraught with the same sense of urgency and fated doom that the situation requires. It is a shining example of the talent that Meretzky *does* have in creating atmosphere - it is merely a pity that his talent runs a bit contrary to the direction the series was going.

Puzzlewise, the game is a mixed bag - but a high quality mixed bag. I can't get the matchbook puzzle out of my mind - misinterpretation of the clues would have meant I would have had to wonder through the whole game and then restart if I hadn't checked the hints just to make sure I had all I could get from a certain location. Nevertheless, the rest of the puzzles, while not being too hard, are challenging enough, and two puzzles stand out in glory: the glass maze and the coal mine.

Throughout the Zorkian and Enchanter sagas, Infocom has seemingly done the impossible *many times over* - it has turned the classic maze (Zork I) into an interesting, fun to navigate, challenging, NON-BORRING puzzle (possibly the caroussel room in Zork II, the diamond maze in Zork II [yeah, it was a bad idea, but it was novel], the Land of Shadow in Zork III [more maze-ish than a maze, but still], the Royal Puzzle in Zork III and the translucent room in Enchanter [again, more mazeish than a maze]). The same happens here with the Glass Maze, a maze you'll have to traverse *TWICE* (it really makes you groan when you realize it)... but it's much less painful than it sounds. It is, in fact, a triumph of ingenuity on Meretzky's part.

Then again, maybe it isn't. Because if it is, what could we call the coal mine puzzle, with it's time travel? That puzzle is indescribable, and is worth playing the entire game just to see it. It is a beauty.

This game retains the spellbook system, though now you also collect potions as well as scrolls - one-quaff-potions,as it were. You get a lot of spells, and in effect most spells are fully implemented. It's just a bit discouraging when you try to PULVER (evaporate liquid) MOAT, just to find out that the castle has a moat refiller. I mean, sure, it worked, but it didn't really change anything. It might as well have been an error message, for all the effect it gave. The message was clear: "Good try, but you're barking at the wrong tree". Same with the minefield and trying to traverse it in a different way. If in Enchanter you felt you could really change your surroundings (and I hear that Spellbreaker, on my to-play-list, played that particular card for all it was worth, with astounding results), here you feel that a spell is only as good as a key, and you have to find the correct locked door (taking PULVER as an example, you can try to PULVER any liquid, but the trick is finding the *correct* liquid that it is *meant* to be cast on).

(however, honesty compells me to add that if you like hunting for these little things, seeing how far you can change your world, there's plenty to amuse you. It won't advance the plot - the key word here is *amuse*. Think of a failed spells as an easter egg. "MALYON", for instance, is a great spell to have fun with, especially if the target is lifeless but humanoid... <wink>)

Overall, it is a good game, very solid - but very different from the others in the series. On the other hand, it shares the feel from the much later Zork Zero, so if you consider the series as a whole instead of the two trilogies, there's some room for cohesion. The difference in style doesn't always work in the game's favour, but it has many other things to reccomend it - puzzles, atmosphere, the quality of the red herrings. It is, all in all, a worthy (if excentric) addition to the series.

Cutthroats, by Michael Berlyn, Jerry Wolper

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful:
Probably the least inspired Infocom game, September 8, 2009
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
Infocom games have a deserved reputation for good storytelling, good character interaction, a wonderful parser, little to no guess the verb issues, and creating rather remarkable world models in which to lose oneself - all within certain limitation, of course. For instance, you'd never expect any given Infocom character to be as deeply implemented as, say, Galatea, Progue (BLue Lacuna) or pretty much any character in "City of Secrets"... but Infocom has churned out remarkable, memorable characters, nonetheless.

Cutthroats does have all of these, but the end result is a sub-par Infocom game.

Oh, it's a nice way to waste some hours, to be sure. But gameplay very, VERY quickly turns into "Be at spot X at time Y, and bring along Z". This isn't very worriesome in terms of time constraints, but it does put you off exploration. And indeed, there is little to explore. The game is a sort of "diving sim", given a very specific context and situation - a deal which you are offered, and presumably take.

That's it, that's the whole story - go dive and retrieve treasures. Yes, there is more than one shipwreck and the one you're diving for is randomly chosen each time. Yes, each shipwreck is a unique set of puzzles. But in the end, it's all it is. While it's not bad per se, it *is*, on the whole, unsatisfactory.

The characters are as lively as ever, no worries about that. They move around, they have their own agenda, and if you're not careful you may end up in deel trouble indeed. But you have, at first, little time to communicate or interact with them... and soon enough you realize that there is, in fact, little point to even trying. The game feels so much like it's on rails, it's uncanny.

Thing is, at one point, you do have to step off the rails, unless you want to get your throat cut. I bemoan this design choice. I understand that it means "Ok, now you have some time for yourself - explore around, see what you can see, and maybe, just maybe, you'll avoid some grief much later on!".

But after no less than four pre-arranged meetings at certain times - and after having made sure that there is very little to do at any given time than attending such meetings - there is exactly zero motivation to do any such thing. Especially considering the place in which this event takes place.

The game attempts to create an atmosphere of tension of the sort "Who can you trust?". But it doesn't have the story or even the technical depth to pull it off, and if you *do* get betrayed, you just feel bored at the idea of having to restore, and probably decide to quit instead.

It also attempts to emulate diving for treasure, but that's also frustrating when you get to a shop and want to suit up. What do you need to buy? Everything looks so darn useful! Sure, there are things that will certainly not be necessary, but maybe the PC knows that! But we probably don't!

And I do have a pet peeve about the game. My version decided not to recognize any syntax for filling up the air tanks with the air compressor. Every walkthrough I read offered commands, which my version sistematically rejected. That tends to put one a bit grumpy, but I had been disappointed with the game much, much earlier.

On the whole, it's a decent enough game, I suppose. But I wouldn't reccommend it, not with the quality stuff Infocom usually churned out.

Blighted Isle, by Eric Eve
Peter Pears's Rating:

The Beetmonger's Journal, by Scott Starkey
Peter Pears's Rating:

Bolivia By Night, by Aidan Doyle
Peter Pears's Rating:

Bureaucracy, by Douglas Adams, The Staff of Infocom

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
Billed as one of the hardest Infocom titles - and rightly so!, August 10, 2009
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
Second only to Spellbreaker in difficulty, Bureaucracy is, according to the manual, "Adams' doomed attempt to have the last laugh on bureaucrats everywhere". The key words here are "Adams", "Bureaucrats", certainly "Everywhere" and definitely "Laugh".

The story begins very promisingly. Well, for you, at least. After all, you've changed jobs and address, and are about to receive a money order from the company you now work on. With that money and a free ticket to Paris, where you shall attend a training seminar, what could possible go wrong?

The answer, of course, is everything. It starts as a little screw-up: the bank sent your "change-of-address" form to your old address, where you can't go to and from where no one bothers to send you anything. And the bank can't send another one until the one they sent has been filled in and delivered. Policy, you know.

This causes all sorts of complications, as you'll soon find out, but there's a more pressing matter at hand. When the mailman comes, he delivers you your order, all right - or in fact, someone's order. It's not yours. And that means that your money is somewhere out there, and you'll have to think your way through an excentric deaf old woman, a stamp collector and a true personification of Paranoia himself. And if you find what you're looking for, then your adventure has just begun...

Right at the beginning, Bureaucracy does something great: it collects data from you. A lot of data. It will then proceed to misuse that data as often as possible, with hilarious results... well, hilarious to the player, as the PC's blood pressure just keeps rising and rising. And if the blood pressure goes too high - game over, you're dead. The game will use that information more liberally in the very start, to set the mood and background. It has no practical information, but it's *that extra mile* that makes it all worth it.

The game is designed to instill paranoia. To make you feel as though someone is out to get you. Hence it will become more and more surreal as you advance, and as more and more things start to go wrong. You will need your wits about you to thwart all those "company policies", and deal with all sorts of mis-haps, where you'll eventually learn that Yikes, They Must Really Be Out To Get Me! Or Anyone They Can Lay Hands On! Pass The Suicide Pill, Please!

Complementing it all is a nerdy character who follows you around everywhere. And I mean *everywhere.* And I mean *nerdy*, the epitome of nerdiness. Always trying to sell you something great for just a little more than you can afford.

The atmosphere is amazing, more so because so much of it is stuff we can recognize. Getting lost in the airport, for instance, is something we can all relate to. And when you're trying desperatly to find the right ticket desk, going around in circles, being forced to listen to the same arrangements of the same muzak, and being fed the same PA announcements over and over again, some of which concern YOU, and then up comes the nerd...

...it will make you throw your hands in the air, crying, sobbing, helpless against this terrible machinery of bureaucracy. And if you do, then the game has managed the almost impossible: it got to you in a personal level, grabbed all your levers and buttons and *won't let go*.

It's so rare for a game to do this, don't you think?

And you just keep on and on, sure that at the end all rights will be wronged. Or maybe all wrongs will be righted, who knows. It's that slim hope that keeps you going. The same hope that you feel when you've been on hold for thirty minutes at a stretch and when someone finally picks up the line he tells you "I'm sorry, but we don't deal with that sort of thing at this number"...

What I don't care for is half of the puzzles. There are two types of puzzles in this game - and indeed, I've come to realize, in many Infocom games intended to be hard.

The titles of "standard" difficulty usually have, essentially, IF-puzzles. Roam around, see what you can see, combine what you can, and give all the powers of evil a good thwarting.

Those IF-puzzles are great in Bureaucracy. The entire first and second part is all about them. I solved every single one of those, and felt great. It was for feelings like that, I feel, that God saw fit to create Bishop, Crowther and Woods.

Then there's the pattern puzzles, the "puzzly" puzzles, and the "WTF?!" puzzles. The game doesn't go as far adding a Towers of Hanoi, like Zork Zero did, but it's a near thing. There are puzzles that require you to move around a lot, fiddle around a lot, grasp complicated patterns (press button X situated at F-H causes the seat three seats behind you and two to the left to recline, for instance). I never cared for those, which is why I had to pass up on such great games as "Not Just an Ordinary Ballerina", a wonderful game that is, essentially, puzzles.

The "WTF" puzzles are just too much. I reccommend reading the following spoiler. (Spoiler - click to show)Later in the game you receive a cartridge for your computer, and you have to display four files "B, C, D and E" in the correct order. Now, when you were going through other people's mail, you collected some postal stickers with these same letters on. The order in which to display the files is the order in which you got those stickers! I mean, a real WTF?! moment. And even then, you have to read the output vertically, which is a real strain!

So for these puzzles, it's best to have the hints ready. But apart from that... apart from that, the game is really something special. And the ending, while not spectacular, makes it all worth it - you get your comeuppance.

I definitely would have given this game a 5/5, if it weren't for those types of puzzles. As it is, it's 4/5 from me. If you *like* that type of puzzle, then by all means, get this game! If you don't, get the game anyway - just be sure to get the hints as well!

Amnesia, by Thomas M. Disch

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Compelling, intriguing - but oh the simulationism!, August 3, 2009
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
As computers got better and better, game designers got more and more ambitious. That's a fact, and mostly it turned out for the best. Infocom's parser, which was to become the standard, is an example - ability to use sound and graphics is another. And nowadays you can do pretty much anything you like, which is just grand.

But sometimes, Infocom would come up with a Border Zone, which had a real-time clock feature - it kept ticking even when you weren't typing. Now, the good folks at Infocom managed this feature in such a way that it worked *with* the player and not *against* him, but it would have been so easy for them not to manage that. It didn't become the standard, because - essentially - if people wanted that kind of game, they'd play it instead of text adventures.

Then there was another trend, which you can say evolved from the earliest hunger/thirst/sleep puzzles: simulationism. The idea being that, since IF was so powerful, it would be best to cram as much simulation as possible to make the player feel he's really there.

Except in a couple of cases, notably Infocom's, where such puzzles tied in with the story perfectly (Enchanter and Planetfall spring to mind), such puzzles became obsolete because they were just a pain in the dèrriere.

Amnesia's simulationism is also a pain in the dèrriere. A big, huge, throbbing pain. It's all the worse because it renders unplayable one of the best written Interactive Fiction titles I've ever seen.

You start in a hotel in New York, with amnesia (hardly a spoiler). From then on, you are led (sometimes gently, sometimes roughly) into a series of events which will lead you out into the street, on the run, with no money, no food, no shelter.

Here's the catch: it's all wonderfully written. There's a degree of "dryness" to the text that's just right. The scenes, as they unfold, are so surreal they're gorgeous. And it's written in a "novelistic" way, instead of an "IFistic way". By which I mean: if, in the intro, you go down a certain path you shouldn't, then you have a long sequence ahead of you, with some interactivity. Depending on a choice you make, you can have one of four different flashbacks that will explain the whole mistery to you! But none of it matters, because you're about to be executed. And no, those flashbacks are not "real", meaning they don't relate to the real game, but as far as that narrative is concerned (seeing as the narrative is about to end), they're as real as anything.

Similarly, there's a certain degree of simulationism; but when you emerge from the hotel, you'll eventually find a certain place which is randomly placed every time you play, to make sure you'll find it soon.

My point: you are gently led. In a game like this, it's a good thing. And it makes for a coherent whole. And it does make you feel as though every action matters and has its own outcome.

To finish about the writing: in the beginning of the game, you can just WAIT until, about, 5 o'clock, for one of the best death messages I've ever seen.

So what's the problem with this game? Hint: it's not the puzzles.

Well, this game emulates the whole of Manhattan. Seriously. A working subway station, even, which you'll need. No taxis, because they're conveniently on strike - taxis would have been too much to program, on top of the subway system, I guess. You'll have to survive while you try to unravel the mystery. You'll have to sleep. Earn money, by begging, washing windshields, or what have you. Eat.

Now, here's the thing: the in-game clock moves way too quickly, and your "energy" decreases way too quickly, and I felt like a headless chicken running around trying to keep my energy level up, with no time to spare, and certainly no time to devote to the mystery. That's when I quit.

...which is a feat in itself. In an outstandingly bad decision, Electronic Arts does not provide a RESTORE command. You have to reboot if you want to restore, because only at the beginning are you given the option. And I do mean reboot. Their instructions for quitting the game are "Remove the disk and press Ctrl-Alt-Del". Seriously.

Apart from that... well, the parser is very good. The writing is gorgeous. Gameplay is astounding, apart from the simulation bits. This is a game everyone should play, though I doubt many people will get much further than the intro. But it gets to a point where you just can't enjoy it anymore.

Still, the knowledge remains that the effort was worth it. Peter Nepstad's "1893 - A World Fair Mystery", a much more recent game, takes the detail of Amnesia and integrates it in a much better fashion. Even if lacking Thomas M. Disch's brilliant prose, and with a relatively more banal story, it's a must-play for everyone who played Amnesia and came out feeling that the simulation could have been done much better.

Agatha's Folly, by Linda Wright

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
New-school(ish) game in the old-school days, July 20, 2009
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
Linda Wright is indeed a name to be reckoned with, for Agatha's Folly, written in the olden days, is extremely representative of what IF would one day turn out to be. It removes those little things modern players have come to abhor and which were the standard in those days: a huge game map with little to no plausible connection between rooms; gratuitous time limits; severely limiting the player's movement; cruelty and unfairness of a high degree; insipid writing; weak verb-noun parser.

Let's face it, too many Spectrum games are exactly like this. Even games like After Shock, whose writing is surprisingly evocative, has an extremely finicky parser which makes it nearly unplayable.

Let's be fair, though - it's not surprising. IF wasn't in its infancy anymore, but it was still barely more than a toddler. It went through puberty with Graham Nelson's works, and is now reaching adulthood with games such as Blue Lacuna and Alabaster. So back then, it was still experimenting, experimenting, experimenting.

And so, Linda Wright gave us a game which could have been written today, and is likely to appeal to modern gamers. The map is moderately-sized, and you'll eventually come to regard it as quite small - but detailedly implemented, insofar as a Spectrum game can be detailedly implemented with a 48k limit. There are no time limits, you can't even die in the first part, and the game is, on the Zarfian scale, merciful. The writing is not extraordinary, but it's good. Damn good. Makes-me-wanna-keep-on-playing good.

The parser is a tad more advanced than verb-noun, allowing you for more intricate solutions to puzzles, which you'll need. This game is so well coded, you feel like you can try anything you like that might bring you closer to a solution - and more often than not, it works. The stalactite puzzle in the second part is a beautiful sequence which I would never had thought possible in a Spectrum game. Mind you, I've had rotten luck with Spectrum adventure games lately - maybe I'm biased now.

The story is the weakest part - not because it isn't good or interesting, but because it doesn't develop. The game is in two parts. In the first part you uncover the mystery of Agatha's Folly, by solving a lot of puzzles around your new-bought house. It's a most satisfying sequence to play. In the second part, you are... well, elsewhere, I'm not going to spoil it. But the actual story happens mostly between the two parts, and the game ends in a mother of a cliffhanger. The only reason I didn't feel immensely frustrated at this was because the gameplay has been so damn *good!*

So the game isn't perfect - what else is new. But for its time, and especially for its platform, it was very advanced - in style and especially in design. Not all puzzles are as fair as they could be, but they are all worthy and coherent within the gameworld. I feel the game itself is good for 4 stars. The extra star is there because of this... well, let's call it avant-gard-ism - it was certainly ahead of its time.

Bottom line: this is a Spectrum game I can even reccommend to modern players, and God knows, there aren't many of *those* around.

Spectrum games I can recommend, I mean. Not the modern players. Those abound, thank God.

PS - The game does have the nasty habit of not giving you all the information it could, so when you look at a window and see mention of "beamed rafters in the ceiling", be sure to X RAFTERS, X BEAMS and X CEILING (I don't recall, but I think X works as an abbreviation). On the flip side, the parser will never pretend to know more than it does, and if it says "Ok, but you see nothing special.", then you *know* it's because there really IS nothing special about it; not because the game designer was too lazy to add a response.

2112, by George K. Algire

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
Could be better, June 10, 2009
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
It's sad when you can sum up a whole game in "could be better". That means it's certainly not bad, it means it's engaged our attention, it means it's going somewhere - but it doesn't quite make it there, and is brought down by a number of things.

Sometimes I feel as though I've become overly harsh on IF, especially since my review on "Above and Beyond!". My point of principle is, "if I'm not enjoying it, I'll stop playing, there's a mountain of other games waiting for my attention." In the case of Above and Beyond, it was a hard decision to reach, because of all the qualities of the game, but I just wasn't having fun.

And now there's this review. Thank good I've played "At Witt's End" in between, a game which I simply loved - by the same author of AaB, no less.

First things first: 2112 is made on what Paul O'Brian calls a "homebrew parser". Coded from scratch. Susprisingly, the parser's one of the best technical features of the game. It's solid and powerful. I didn't try multicommand-separated-by-punctuation, but it seemed to be at least as good as the TADS or Inform parser. Now, that's very high praise indeed. The game also has sound effects that do enchance the atmosphere considerably.

But the other technical aspects are not so good. The aforementioned sound effects sometimes just keep going when they should have stopped. Restoring is a *chore* - there's a needless waiting period as the game restores. And the longer you've been playing, the longer it takes. Once it didn't even restore me to the point where I had saved, which was a beaut. Scripting (which I'm using with IFMapper so as to have a handy automap) has to be resumed after undo (yes, it has undo! Another good point), restore or restart - which would be ok, if trying to restart scripting at that point didn't crash the game. Also, scripting keeps overwriting the same file, withought giving you the choice. The game offers a choice between "small-sized text" and "large-sized text", but the change apparently only works for a couple of commands, as very soon it goes back to small-sized (although it's legible enough).

Finally, the game gives you 4 slots for save games. Or maybe it was 5. Shows how distraught I was that I can't distinguish 4 from 5.

Now, here's the thing: this game, with it's 4 slots, advises you to save often, and well it should, because in the very first ten moves you can easily overlook an important item; and afterwards you'll have a limited number of times to access a certain area of the game.

This is *not* compatible with 4 save slots. And it's not compatible with a long-delay-restore, and the inability to resume scripting afterwards (for those using IFMapper, which works great with this game).

The game itself is engaging enough. You're on a field trip to mars. Once you get there, you wake up in the middle of the night, utterly non-sleepy, and get to explore the place. If you get stuck at this point, before the plot kicks off, you'll have a tendency to think "Go back to sleep, you dumb kid. There's no reason to be awake for this. Tomorrow there'll be more to do." But eventually things do pick up.

The puzzles are... not bad, on the whole. Some make good use of lateral thinking. Some are just plain weird. Some hinge on details that the game is sparse on giving. On the whole, it's a good thing that the game comes with a walkthrough.

Then there's the game's tone. It can't seem to decide whether it was to be serious or sarcastic. Everything around you seems to be definitely serious, although that doesn't mean you can't have the odd piece of humour; but then you read some psych records that have to be sarcastic, as the writer prescribed absurd medication ("Three square meals a day") to a patient whom he believes to be bordering on lunacy. The tone he adopts is also extremely colloquial and non-caring - which could work, I suppose, but it doesn't fit with the tone you find while exploration.(Spoiler - click to show) And then when you have a personification of a Goddess incarnated in a little girl for the benefit of a teenage boy who can't seem to get a girlfriend, plus the fact that said personification swears like a sailor... major clash of tones. Left me positively bewildered.

The problem with undecision of tone is that you don't know how to solve puzzles anymore. The piranha puzzle is fine in both contexts. How to befriend the cockroach is certainly not a solution to be found in a "serious" tone. Scraping the bacteria off the tank in the hotel's bathroom makes sense, given a "serious" context.

Eventually, it was all too much. I could have stood for all these things, but combined with long restore times, few save slots and limited access to an important area... too much. I quit. Not without regrets - overall, I was enjoying the game. But its flaws overweigh its qualities. Do they ever.

Endgame, by Samuel T. Denton
Peter Pears's Rating:

Babel, by Ian Finley
Peter Pears's Rating:

At Wit's End Again, by Mike Sousa
Peter Pears's Rating:

At Wit's End, by Mike Sousa
Peter Pears's Rating:

Doom, Death, Destruction and All That, by Jason Dyer
Peter Pears's Rating:

Augustine, by Terrence V. Koch
Peter Pears's Rating:

Fun and Games, by Ian Finley
Peter Pears's Rating:

Time Place People Water Way, by Anonymous
Peter Pears's Rating:

Episode in the Life of an Artist, by Peter Eastman
Peter Pears's Rating:

Artifiction, by Mikko Vuorinen
Peter Pears's Rating:

Sir Arthur, by Lyn Strachan
Peter Pears's Rating:

SpeedApocalypse, by Peter Berman
Peter Pears's Rating:

A Matter of Importance, by Valentine Kopteltsev
Peter Pears's Rating:

Poor Zefron's Almanac, by Carl Klutzke
Peter Pears's Rating:

Dining With the Alien, by R. N. Dominick
Peter Pears's Rating:

All Hope Abandon, by Eric Eve
Peter Pears's Rating:

The Adventures of Alice who Went Through the Looking-Glass and Came Back Though Not Much Changed, by D. A. Asherman
Peter Pears's Rating:

Castle of the Alchemists, by Anonymous
Peter Pears's Rating:

A Flustered Duck, by Jim Aikin
Peter Pears's Rating:

The Search for Princess Alandria, by Jason Billard
Peter Pears's Rating:

A Broken Man, by Geoff Fortytwo
Peter Pears's Rating:

Above and Beyond!, by Mike Sousa

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Does everything right - but still lacks something..., April 4, 2009
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
You know that voice in your head? Sure you do. The one you sometimes have the oddest conversations with. Yeah, that's the one. Well, mine started talking to me while I was playing Above and Beyond, and the conversation went something like this:

'Why are you still playing this game?'
'Oh, hello, voice in my head. Dashed pleasure to see you again, I'm sure. Well, hear you, anyway. What was that again?'
'Why are you still playing this game?'
'What an odd question. Because I'm enjoying it.'
'Are you?'
'...well, yeah. Sure. I mean, what's not to enjoy? It does many things right.'
'Does it, now? Do tell.'
'Well, for starters, there are two meta-game features that are a beaut. The hint system is great for telling me where I should focus next, and never gives out outright answers.'
'That's good, is it?'
'For me, it is, yes. I like to have direction, but give me the possibility of the full answer and I'm too tempted to check it out.'
'And the other feature was...?'
'Oh, a brilliant thing - a command that lets you know whether the game is still winnable.'
'That does sound remarkable.'
'It is.'
'So that's why you're still playing, is it?'
'Well, no, of course not. The story's good...'
'Good?'
'Well, ok, not too much to my liking. A bit dry. But well told...'
'How well told?'
'Efficiently. It gets its point across.'
Silence from my voice.
'Well, it does,' I continued. 'It's functional prose.'
'Do you like functional prose?'
My turn to pause before I finally replied:
'Well, functional, yes. But I see what you mean - not this functional. Not this practical. Not this dry.'
'But it's not bad, is it?'
'Good heavens, no! I wish many other games were this wellwritten, and with this obvious care.'
'Oh? So the game is detailed, is it?'
'As detailed as it needs to be and then some, yes. Definite work of care we have here.'
'Labour of love, is it?'
Aha. We seem to have gotten to the point.
'Well... labour of care... possibly a labour of... oh all right. If it's a labour of love, it's a very dry love. It's possible, and makes for a detailed game, but not all that fun to play.'
'So you're *not* having fun, then?'
'Well... it passes the time. I mean, it *is* getting boring to play a game with so many characters who are so flimsily developed, to the point where I just don't care who is who...'
'I thought you said implementation was detailed?'
'Not as concerns the characters, no. Well, this is unfair - the characters are always the hardest thing to detail.'
'True.'
A brief pause while I consider the layout of the game in GUEMap.
'So you're having fun then?', the voice asks.
'Not as such, no.'
'Just checking.'

At which point I quit the game. I might give it a shot some other time, but... well, you know, for all the things it does right, this game is still lacking something. Pizzaz. Substance. Fun. It's lacking fun. Its head's in the right place, but I don't know where its heart went.

Accourse, that's just my opinion. Mine, and the voice in my head's.

Four Seconds, by Jason Reigstad

1 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Promising, but barely playable, March 30, 2009
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
The theme of "4 Seconds" may be reminiscent of many other games or stories - but nowadays, most everything is. There is so little new under the sun, it's not the concept anymore - it's what you do with it. So far, the only person I know who can still come up with truly original concepts is Neil Gaiman, who does it by taking a couple of unrelated concepts and fitting them together in a wildly unpredictable way.

Neil Gaiman Jason Reigstad ain't, but he still had something here. And he obviously believed in it. The story is interesting, and it's reasonably fleshed out. The story's structure is the best thing about the game, in fact. It's what kept me wanting to play.

But honestly, the prose makes the game unplayable.

It's not *bad* prose, and it's not *mistake-riddled* prose, but it's just... weird. It feels way too dense, while at the same time there's nothing dense about it. Lack of commas in some places make sentences too long and too hard to read. It was, at a certain point, a mental strain to read the text, and I kinda shut down on the prose and started skimming all the text.

Which obviously sent me right to the walkthrough in no time flat. Only to find that the next actions were a bit obscure and unmotivated.

At which time I quit.

I did so with a certain amount of pity. The story isn't bad, and it was being well told - in terms of structure. It was the actual prose that made it an obstacle. Implementation wasn't up to par either - too many sensible actions had blank lines as a result, and the dialog was simply... overdone and flat. A certain climatic scene works because it forces you to take immediate action - but only because of that; the writing made it look extremely flat.

Character implementation is flimsy. They're flat as well, and interacting with them proves to be discouraging.

The author had something here, and I wouldn't be averse to playing a beta-tested version of this game. THOROUGLY beta tested. I think there might be something special in this game. But as it is, it's buried under flat prose, uninteresting and unmotivated puzzles and flat characters.

Alien Abduction?, by Charles Gerlach

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A clichèd plot can still look good and play well, March 29, 2009
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
Really. Even the old "alien abduction" routine, done to death in any genre and any medium, can prove to be a good story and a good game if done properly. If done seriously.

What we have in "Alien Abduction?" is a carefully constructed gem. It's not a diamond, hardly a ruby, not even an emerald. It lacks the glamour of any of these gems. But it is somewhat like finely polished crystal - flawless crystal, reflecting the incoming light in many beautiful ways (read: rewarding the player's insights with good prose, good story and good puzzles), even as it remains relatively transparent the whole time.

Better drop the metaphors before this gets really confusing.

"Alien Abduction?" merits the question mark at the end. It strives to provide some general ambiguity about the subject matter, and does so very well. To achieve that ambiguity it delves into the PC's past, and forces the PC to confront it at all times, especially since the game takes place... ah, but that would be telling.

It's not a big game, but what there *is* is polished to a high degree. Oh sure, it had the potential for, say, a bigger story and a bigger world map, but the author has clearly decided to stick to the story he wanted to tell, and tell it the best way he could. The result may not be amazing, not extraordinary, but it's solid and rewarding. A lesson many could benefit from.

The atmosphere is particularly good. Many parts of the game are... creepy. Just plain creepy. There's nothing special going on, not overtly (well, apart from the whole "what the hell is going on" theme), but there are plenty low-key factors that are just... unnerving.

Pacing is excellent. I don't often have cause to say this, but this time I do. Both story-wise and game-wise (in particular, the way you find out about... ah, but that would be telling), the game keeps moving you along, feeding you little signs, leaving you to ask questions and explore - and rewarding you with information that might not be game-critical but can certainly be... unnerving. It's a constant build-up.

Which has a suitable climax, and that's another thing I - unfortunately - don't often have cause to say. In so many games, the ending just seems to feel... short. Unworthy of what came before. Obviously happy or obviously sad - too obviously. In "Alien Abduction?", the ending retains the ambiguity that is a constant in the whole game.

The central theme of AA? is a psychological one.

Really. Not, it's not just aliens. There's more than that going on. Weren't you listening to my metaphors?

...anyway, a psychological theme. Which is done very, very well. Oh, it would have been too easy to either overdo or, er, "underdo" that theme. Mr. Gerlach, however, has found a good balance - which holds true throughout the entire game. It makes the gaming experience so much more rewarding.

Also, the game as a rather gratuitous puzzle that you can skip without being penalized. Kudos for that! A bold move that should be emulated!

It's not a big game. It's not something that'll you play over and over. In fact, you might never replay it. But after you finished it, it might come back to you, at times. It will never really leave you again, because it *really* gets under your skin, thus making it much more of a "horror" game (and of much higher quality!) than many other games out there which proudly bear that label only to bitterly disappoint.

Aayela, by Magnus Olsson
Peter Pears's Rating:

The Obscene Quest of Dr. Aardvarkbarf, by Gary Roggin
Peter Pears's Rating:

Three Steps to the Left, by Lucian P. Smith
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Snowman Sextet Part I: But For A Single Flake, by Roger Carbol
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Zero One, by Edward Plant
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Dangerous Curves, by Irene Callaci

18 of 20 people found the following review helpful:
Proof that writing and implementation are paramount, March 19, 2009
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
...and everything else is secondary. Yes. Plot, characters, puzzles. If a bad plot and bad characters are well written (not so in this game - the plot may not be groundbreaking but it's not bad, and the characters are very interesting, very fleshed out) then we're halfway to an enjoyable experience.

Really, the writing in a lot of IF boils down to mere descriptions - lists of what you see. That gets very boring very soon, and eventually becomes equivalent to reading a grocery list. Even if it's the grocery list of a deranged psycopath, the grocery list per se just isn't interesting.

What Irene Callaci has in Dangerous Curves is a prose style heavily inspired by the Noir greats. Rough metaphors, alliterations in small sentences almost bursting like gunfire, a literary style that shapes a small world and a mystery that will have you feeling like a run-down, sleazy detective scooping up all you can in the most run-down, sleazy parts of town.

Truly, I've never really experienced what it must be like being a Philip Marlowe until I played this game. I'd played mysteries, but never this firmly placed in a corresponding environment.

Said environment is amazingly detailed. If the prose is inspired by Chandler, then the world is inspired by Meretzky's A Mind Forever Voyaging - and that should tell you something! This city's got a church (with scheduled masses you can attend), a library, a post office, a mechanic, a diner, a bar, a cinema... everything's working, in such a manner that *could* make you feel as though you were dredging along a huge world, looking for stuff to fit together, being bored, mapping being almost a chore - I believe that sums up the experience of Zork Zero for some players. But not so in Dangerous Curves! Instead, you feel like a character in that world, which accomodates your every action.

The implementation is *deep*, and goes down to such niceties as automatic actions and putting disambiguations in the mouth of NPCs (>ASK FRANK ABOUT PAPER might wields '"Do you mean the torn newspaper or the stack of newspapers?", asks Frank Thibodeaux'). In a game like this, you're pretty much dumped in the middle of the mys.tery in a town you don't know (but the PC does). If the implementation isn't top-notch, allowing you to run around and amok, you'll break something or it will become less like fun and more like a chore. Well, that doesn't happen in this game.

The game also has in-game hints, which are great for nudging you towards the right direction, in shape of a mysterious informer. See? Even the hint system is non-mimesis-breaking!

The conversations are well written and very well coded - as they have to be, since we're talking about a mystery game. You have to be able to ask questions and pass your suspicions along (sometimes "tell" worked the same as "ask" and sometimes it didn't - that was weird, but eventually it all worked out for me). Well, you certainly can. You'll get all sorts of responses, which flesh the characters all the more.

Ah, the cast. What can I say? You have the tight librarian and her stripper sister, the always-on-the-lookout reporter Frank Thibodeaux, the muscled mechanic, the dame whose legs go all the way up to Cape Cod (paraphrasing the game), even the cop at the duty desk has a story and a personality.

The game is quite big as it is, and yet I only regret it is so short. Not that the conclusion is anything less than satisfying and rewarding - it's extremely satisfying and rewarding. I just wish there was more to it all. At a certain point you have a cloudy idea, which only gets more detailed as the game goes along, of what must have happened, and then all you have to do is find corraborating evidence, unlikely to stumble on anything new.

Hey, this approach *worked*. It made the game and the mystery manageable. It also emulates the PI's job, pretty much - suspicions aren't enough, after all. I just wish there was more to it.

Which doesn't mean the solution is simple. It's not convoluted, but it's not clear-cut either. You'll end up tracking every step of the plan, talking to everyone who knows anything. By the end you'll have absolute knowledge, backed with proof, of everything that happened.

All of this while having to eat and sleep - but really, it quickly became second nature. I got to enjoy my morning donut and cup of coffe at Rosies'. :)

What we have in Dangerous Curves is a heck of a treat. Solid, top-notch implementation. Enticing writing that never lets down. Interesting, fleshed characters. A finely-knit mystery. Fans of the genre can't afford to miss this one, and everyone else may just find, here, a reason to *become* a fan.

Border Zone, by Marc Blank

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Episodic realtime spy goodness, March 16, 2009
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
When people think of Border Zone, they think of the realtime clock, more often than not. Heck, I did the same thing. I actually asked around on RGIF for an interpreter which would *not* support real-time, so I could take my time reading during each turn.

Good thing for me there *isn't* such an interpreter. Really, I should have known better. Infocom was at the top of their game even before 1987, and had consistently proved they could ally hunger-puzzles, sleep-puzzles, timed sessions and even mazes with the smallest amount of frustration, and maximum possible fun. I should have known that the real-time clock of Border Zone would be more likely to enhance my adrenalin than to enhance my frustration.

Although taking place mostly in the border zone of a fictitious country (and in the first and third scenarios, taking place in moral border zones - more on that later), the game sends you straight to the Cold War. The big countries are the same, it's only the little places that are fictitious, and the people who are part of this adventure... but then, who's to say this scenario didn't play itself with other people, in different circumstances, in real life? It's certainly possible, and more than likely. Thus when you start to play Border Zone, you actually experience what other men may have experienced during the Cold War.

Unsurprisingly, Infocom's approach to Border Zone is surprising - like so many of their games were. Infocom kept exploring the medium, and on this one they decided to divide the game into three scenarios, each with its own main character. You could play them in any order, and on the whole they formed the complete story.

Each scenario is amazingly deeply detailed and implemented, and makes us realize why this "scenario-based gameplay" was such a good idea. Without having to worry about long-lasting changes, without having to make each episode rely on each other, the implementation of each scenario coul go as deep as possible. Which is vital in this game, where the clock's your real enemy - as well as the agents who are out to thwart your attempts to thwart *them*.

The first scenario takes place on a train, and involves an American businessman who is suddenly faced with the task of helping out an American agent - so you either join in the fray, or you just step back and say "leave me out of this, it's none of my business". Except it IS your business when they plan to murder an American embassador. Except you were only going on a routine business trip, and don't need this heat...

...a moral Border Zone that we see again in the third scenario, in which you play a Russian agent - who is, in fact, a double agent, bent both of preventing the assassination *and* making it look like it was none of his doing.

These scenarios are very exciting - the first because it's of the "damn, gotta dispose of this hot potato and everyone's looking at me! Think fast!" variety, and the third because everything's set in motion and you have only minutes to bring the scenario to a sucessfull conclusion. But the second scenario is possibly the most vivid, the most challenging. In the second scenario, your character is trying to cross the border. Hurt, cold and hungry, he has to face the guards of the border zone, dodge the searchlights, and eventually make his nothing-short-of-spectacular escape. And THIS is where the realtime really kicks in, where you can WATCH the searchlights or the guards to see them patrolling in real-time, represented as appropriate characters in your status line. I do not know of any game that used this technique again.

It might be argued that the technique wasn't such a good idea anyway - that it might have better suited a graphic adventure. It's a point of view, surely. I agree with that point of view... but it still remains a wonderful technique that *worked* very well in this game, and was never over-used (*that* would have been problematic and would have turned the feature into an unwelcome gimmick).

Like most Infocom, the prose is quick and to the point. Unfortunately, the epilogues aren't always satisfying in this style - especially the epilogue to the third scenario, which I felt was so unsatisfying that cost the game a whole star in my rating - but the gameplay is. The environment is only as detailed as it needs to be, something that new authors should aim for. I have played too many games in which the writer has tried to fully implement the room, making the description a dry list of interactible items. In Border Zone, as well as in most Infocom games, the lack of disk space they had forced them to be brilliant about this. Does this mean that most rooms are devoid of interaction? Sure. Does this mean they're just fodder? Well, I suppose they are, but they don't feel like fodder at all. They feel like part of the action, part of the map. And really, if you're being chased by cars and dogs, do you really want a whole forest to be painstakingly detailed? What for, so you can try to search every nook just to find that in room B7 there was a tree with a hole in which there was something you'd need? Woulnd't make sense. Detail is nice, nay, detail is great, but only as much detail as there needs be.

The previous paragraph turned into a bit of a rant. Apologies.

Border Zone is a game I reccommend. It is exciting, it is well written, and above all it is fun, a common trend in Infocom games. Well worth playing.

Cry Wolf, by Clare Parker
Peter Pears's Rating:

A Day in Life, by John Goettle
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Capture Santa!, by James Higgins
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Blue Lacuna, by Aaron A. Reed

15 of 19 people found the following review helpful:
A PC that deserves its name, March 7, 2009
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
How long has it been since you played an IF game that really reacted to your actions and shaped itself accordingly, offering you a wide gamut of choices - some of them don't even look like choices - which allow you to shape the course of the story in uncountable ways? A game that didn't just try to be non-linear, or feature optional puzzles or multiple endings? A game where what you did and chose actually impacted the story?

I'd seen bits of this - in The Baron, and most of Emily Short's experiments with conversation-based games. But Blue Lacuna is the first time I see it applied to a full game. A full story.

The game's beginning is remarkable - even before the prologue begins, you are prompted for your gender and some other little things. The way you are prompted, however, is imaginative and rather poetic (if you're in that sort of mood), and the text at that point sets the tone for the rest of the game.

What tone is that? Exploration, essentially. Both of a fascinating, vividly described island and of an intriguing inhabitant, and of the past of two people and two races - at least.

This is a game for people who want to savor the journey, because not only it is well written (in my opinion) and tells a great story, it has a *lot* of content - worth seeing, worth hearing, worth smelling, worth experiencing... all of this while fine machinery is ticking in the background, in the shape of Reed's "Drama Manager", which guesses when you're bored and need a little nudge - and the nudges are simply brilliant. Let's just say that when you're playing and suddenly come across text like (paraphrased), "A small, furry creature darts through the bushes, heading northeast. It occurs to you that you have not yet explored that direction"... well, then you *know* you're in for a treat. You *know* the pains the author took to make this game a seamless experience, a wondrous journey.

There are some innovations, which almost make the game feel like a graphic adventure - the ones where the mouse doesn't change, and where you can just click on something to see what happens. There are highlighted items and exits in room descriptions; the game is played mostly by writing these items. Other interactions are always possible, of course - this is still IF, and not CYOA or a point-and-click-wannabe.

The game's main strength is that it encourages you to explore, in such a way that you will soon know the layout of the Lacuna inside out, feeling as though you're truly exploring a fascinating island. During the exploration, you will unearth the plot - at your own time, in your own way, and in your own terms. *You* make the story unfold, by *your* actions - and the relationship you establish between yourself and the other characters will directly affect the ending of the game.

Which will always be the right ending, I am sure. Reed has written it so that the end is the direct result of our actions. We will only be displeased with that if we didn't act the way we thought we should have. As long as we act according to our wishes, we can not possibly see an ending we did not want, did not like, did not wish, wanted to be different.

This is a game for people who want to savor the journey. This is for people who want to explore and discover. It's also for people who liked Myst - I kept imagining the scenery in Myst-style, for some reason, and am not surprised to know that Myst was one of Reed's main sources of inspiration.

A great story, a great playing experience, great puzzles (there was one puzzle(Spoiler - click to show), involving opening the pyramid, I absolutely loved), great characters, and a gripping dillema to boot. What more is there to say? Great game? No, the whole is possibly better than the sum of its parts - excellent game! Excellent experience! Bravo, Mr. Reed!

The Mysterious Case of the Acrobat and His Peers, by Amanda Tien
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Dead of Winter, by Gunther Schmidl
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Crusade, by John Gorenfeld
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The Crouton Caper, by Andrew Schepler
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The Crescent City at the Edge of Disaster, by Emily Short
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The Courier Who Missed Me, by Christopher Huang
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Being Andrew Plotkin, by J. Robinson Wheeler
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Special Detective Agent, by Pradeep Baral
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The Count of Monte Cristo, by Duchess
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Constraints, by Martin Bays
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Connect, by James Hudson
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Colours, by J. Robinson Wheeler
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An Exploration of Colour, by Neil James Brown
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Channel Surfing, by Mike Vollmer
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Orpington, by William J. Shlaer
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Behavior, by William J. Shlaer
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The one about the chicken, the lion and the monkey?, by Sam Barlow
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Saied, by Robb Sherwin
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The Lesson of the Chicken, by Rob Noyes
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Hey, I'm Supposed to be Free Range, by Anonymous
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Are you Too Chicken to Make a Deal?, by Mitchell Taylor
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Chickens of Distinction, by Liza Daly
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The Epitome of Toastlessness, by Jason Love
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Pollo y Camino, by Jay Goemmer
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d2d, by Simon Lamont
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Chicken!, by Gunther Schmidl
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The X Chicken, by David Cornelson
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Chicken and Egg, by Adam Thornton
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Cheiron, by Elisabeth Polli and Sarah Clelland
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Cheer Up, by Sam Thursfield
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Revenge of the Chalupa, by Dan Schmidt
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Centipede, by J. Robinson Wheeler
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Carmen Devine: Supernatural Troubleshooter, by Rob Myall
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WUZ, by Wayne McWilliams
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CASK, by Harry M. Hardjono
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ASCII Cars!!, by Jorge Arroyo
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Carnival, by Admiral Jota
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The Canapés of Death, by Cedric Knight
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Camping, by Gunther Schmidl
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Calliope, by Jason McIntosh
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Caffeination, by Michael Loegering
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The Unfortunate Training of Frank Lee, Monkey Butler to Be, by Josh Giesbrecht
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Beat the Devil, by Robert M. Camisa
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Help! My Vacuum Cleaner Is Broken, by Admiral Jota
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A Stegosaur's Night Out, by Ravi Rajkumar
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The Circus of Sadness, by Duncan Cross
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The Body, by Sean Barrett
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Bob's Garage, by A. Bomire
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Blue Sky, by Hans Fugal
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Book of the Dead, by Mel Davies, A. Dean, L. Hodgson
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Blink, by Ian Waddell
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Buried In Shoes, by Kazuki Mishima
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The Big Mama, by Brendan Barnwell
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Best of Three, by Emily Short
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Lord Bellwater's Secret, by Sam Gordon
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Bellclap, by Tommy Herbert
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Behold!, by Admiral Jota
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Bedtime story, by Taleslinger
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Bears, Bears, Bears, by Admiral Jota
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The Blair Bee Project, by Adam Biltcliffe
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Bane of the Builders, by Bogdan Baliuc
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Ballyhoo, by Jeff O'Neill

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Not Infocom's best, but solid and enjoyable, January 16, 2009
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
The thing is, when you've reached a certain point in your career, everything you produce and develop has to be at least as good as the last thing you produced/developed. You have a standard to maintain, and people will keep expecting better and better.

Ballyhoo keeps the standard... but fails to raise it, and in the end, the overall experience is of having played an inferior Infocom game. An inferior Infocom game is still heaps of fun, but it still feels... inferior.

Ballyhoo is authored by Jeff O'Neil, who would later on create Nord and Bert.

Well, that sort of says a lot, doesn't it? From the creator of Nord and Bert, you can pretty much expect lots of fun with words and expressions, and maybe some nice parser replies.

And in fact, that is the strongest, best thing in this game. Not to put the atmosphere and puzzles and characters down - more on those in a bit - the absolute best part of this game has to be the parser, which is pretty much the Infocom standard, and stock full of little wonderful jokes - the egress, "curse the pain", the monkey on the detective's back, the exaggerated reports of your death, the gorilla's own "curse the pain" moment... Little, subtle things, that make all the difference in the gameplay experience. Mr. O'Neill clearly had a lot of fun writing this game, and it shows, and the game is the better for it.

The characters are all astoundingly vivid, even if the only real conversationalist is the guard outside the camp (and you can have a really good time talking to him, too). Their descriptions are the usual Infocom fare - rather terse but always evoking, at times startling (again, the guard is a case in point - just try asking him about himself). It's the typical circus fare, on the outside - the hugely fat lady, the magician, the animal tamer, the clowns, and of course Andrew Jenny... but when you get to strip away the makeup and greasepaint, when you look underneath, you also see the sweat behind the smile, the harshness in the dream. You face the gritty soil of Spangleland.

So I started talking about characters and veered off into atmosphere. That's because Mr. O'Neill succeeded in making the characters very atmospheric, and the whole setting very realistic and yet very... dramatic. It's not exactly a snapshot of circus life, it feels more like a dramatized version of circus life. It's like the opera really - of course no one who is dying of consumption can sing for 30 minutes saying "I'm dying, I'm dying, oh I love you but I'm dying but I love you" and so on, hitting all those high notes, but it's not supposed to be realistic. It's supposed to be a dramatization, a sort of exaggeration, somethat stilized, somewhat symbolized.

"Are you saying Ballyhoo is the opera equivalent of a game?" No, of course not, let's not be silly. But like so many other works of fiction, it adds an extra dash of flair, style and nastiness that turns a realistic picture into a compelling, climatic experience. Which somehow brings it closer to the spirit of the circus, and in the end what you get is truly a "circus experience".

The puzzles are all fairly good and solid. As usual, I had to turn to the hintbook only a couple of times to clarify a couple of things, and when I did I had to stick to it. In the later half of the game, some of the puzzles seem to be rather more unclear, and at times the protagonist's method is certainly not the method *I* would use.

Unlike the other Infocom mystery games, Ballyhoo makes sure that the right time is usually whenever you arrive at the right place. I don't care if it breaks mimesis, it's great for the player. It's only a problem when you mean to confront your prime suspect - if you don't confront him with all the evidence (and honestly, some of the evidence is sketchy, and one would never have known it was evidence at all), he just walks into the trailer you want to break into. Then you leave, wait awhile and come back, and there is is, standing guard again, as if nothing had happened. Honestly, I'd rather he just didn't walk away at all.

Also, at one point you find yourself having to sacrifice an item which promises to be of further use. It isn't - it just had a little extra bit of information, but it would have been of no further use. But in a game so carefully designed to prevent player frustration and to keep the player of undoable moves, even severely limiting the ways you can lock yourself out of victory (the game is, in fact, quite polite and forviging), this stands out a bit.

The very final puzzle is a bad one. :P It spoils a climatic scene - and I mean truly climatic, in an over-the-top way, but well done and fitting with everything that came before, so that over-the-top is a *good* thing in this sense. The final puzzle interrupts that climax. It fits in with the humour of the rest of the game, but at that point we didn't NEED nor WANT humour, not any more than the situation itself prompts by means of being so *over-the-top dramatic*.

All in all, Ballyhoo is a forgiving and polite Infocom title. It's fun. It's not all that long. It's vivid. It's logical, mostly. But it lacks something, and this is a subjective experience of mine, and I can't say exactly why I feel this way. But there's definitely something amiss. My gameplay experience became stilted and jagged after a certain point, when the game started wanting me to do very specific things. Case in point: if I discover a new item, I'll go around showing it to everyone, pretty much, to see what gives a response. It so happens I might overlook the one character who seems to stay out of trouble, but he's the only character who tells me what I want to know, and until I do show him the item...

Well, let's put it like this: item A belongs to person B. But when I show it to person B, I get a standard "It's doubtful person B would be interested" response. I have to show it to person C, who says "That's B's", and THEN can I show it to person B.

This is odd. Very odd. I hate it with a passion, especially if I forget that person C (Spoiler - click to show) is blind and being shown things prompts no response, nor a reminder that "showing" might not be the best course of action with a blind person. I just get a standard "He doesn't react" response. Sure, it's very accurate - he doesn't react because he doesn't see it, so I have to *give* it to him so he can feel it. But I don't want to *give* it to him, it was hard enough getting it, I just wanted him to take a look (as it were) and tell me what he knew, and despite the visual implications of "show", it was the verb that best described what I wanted to do. Since I got no response, I assumed he didn't have anything to say. Enter the hintbook.

All in all, is Ballyhoo worth your time? Yes, certainly. It's up to the Infocom standard. It doesn't excell, but it doesn't let you down either. It will entertain you and make you smile. It won't draw you in as much as you'd hoped, maybe, but then, sometimes it's fine to play a game just for some entertainment value as opposed to a fiercely gripping experience, you know?

Spellbreaker, by Dave Lebling

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
For experienced Spellbreakers only, January 14, 2009
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
A certain type of player will enjoy this game, up to about halfway through. A certain type of player will hugely enjoy the initial presentation and exposition, as well as the first half of the game's puzzles. A certain type of player will become entranced, and will feel rewarded at every single step, at every single puzzle solved. A certain type of player, who enjoys the story first and the puzzles last (but still enjoys *good* puzzles), will turn to the walkthrough at a certain point in the game, and then never look back.

I am that certain type of player, so of course this review will be heavily biased. But now you know my bias. :)

The last of the Enchanter trilogy, Spellbreaker is without a doubt the most ambitious title in the series, and the most serious one. Gone is the lighthearted touch of Meretzky's "Sorcerer" - you will spend all your time following a nameless foe, who seems to be the reason why magic is failing in all the land. He looks just like you, is much more powerful, and he holds all the answers. And hopefully some of the questions. NPCs are scarce, but among them is Belboz, and it's an honor to be able to chat with him at last (Spoiler - click to show) - even if the circumstances aren't the best, and he has reasons not to trust you too much. The rest of the cast is mostly non-human, but very memorable - that serpent is an animal you won't forget for a while, for instance, and that orc (or maybe it was a goblin, I forget) with a case of hayfever is downright comical.

But NPCs aren't the main feature in Spellbreaker.

The spells in Spellbreaker affect the world in startlingly varied ways, with such power that was merely hinted at in previous Enchanter games. You will spend all your time collecting them, and then having a hell of a time casting them, experimenting wildly, and being persistently reward for your effort. As said before, magic is now failing - and you will feel the blacklash. Your own spells won't necessarily work every time you cast them.

Thus, Infocom has dared to mess with the standard gameplay experience, and indeed, the thing Spellbreaker does more is "messing". It messes with how you expect the gameplay experience to go, by giving you small doses of power (as you progress in the game, your spells become more reliable, because of a very sensible reason I won't tell you but is related to those cubes you end up hunting), and then, near the very end, it gives you a huge burst of power like you've never experienced. Spellbreaker also messes with the standard spacial boundaries of IF - you'll be travelling in the air, in the water, amidst lava streams and fields of green, and explore dank caverns and open plains and ruined temples - it's all here! Somewhat condensed, to fit in the z3 format, but it's still here!

But the spells aren't the main feature in Spellbreaker. Nor, despite their brilliance, their wonderful descriptions and their variety, are the locations you get to visit.

Let's get this straight: Spellbreaker is a puzzle game.

The first half of the game offers puzzles beautifully integrated with the story and the game world, from all sorts - even puzzles of the "I wonder what happens if I try to do this... oh, wow, amazing!" variety, which reward experimentation and force you to think beyond the box... not to mention giving a use to all the spells.

I love those.

The second half becomes rather more transparent, as "Odd and even" puzzles and "weight" puzzles make their appearance - a couple of puzzles for the sake of puzzles. Also, the workings of a certain inventory items are so veiled, so hidden, so unclued, it's very unlikely one will learn that the item is even magical at all. Some experimentation will quickly show that the item IS magical, but to experience the results you have to do a certain action that you'd been taught, throughout the game, does not work. (Spoiler - click to show) The action is going through one of those exits you can't pass through. There is nothing to indicate that you can now pass through those exits, and at any rate, you're unlikely to just drop the item in question, and while you're carrying it you CERTAINLY can't go through those exits. It's a dead end.

But even with hints (NO walkthrough - too many of the puzzles are still worth experiencing!), the brilliance of the puzzles shines through. Oh, that wonderful maze-ish maze! Ah, the beauty of the stone idol! And the final Time puzzle! The good folks at Infocom must really like Time puzzles. Not time-based puzzles (though there's a few share of those, but all well clued and with sufficient time), but Time puzzles, puzzles involving going back and forth in Time. The penultimate puzzle in Spellbreaker is such a puzzle, and it is of such elegance, of such beauty, that it's impossible not to like - and as a result, confounds your gameplay experience completely (Spoiler - click to show) by stripping you of your spellbook, giving you access to a spell you couldn't GNUSTO and had already used before, so you get to use it twice (!), and doing this when you have pretty much ultimate power , and that's a good thing! I DID say Spellbreaker messed with you, didn't I? It does.

The very final puzzle is much too hard, I believe, but hey, you're guaranteed to feel positively *glowing* if you solve it by yourself - which IS possible, it just requires precise understanding of what's going on. Plus you have a *NARROW* window of time to work in - blink, and you've missed it.

All in all, Spellbreaker is a wonderful game, but it's not for the faint of heart. The puzzles are wildly creative and cohese (apart from the dreadful weight puzzle, that's just gratuitous, as inexcusable as the peg solitair in Zork Zero. There were also Towers of Hanoi in Zork Zero, but those had a twist. It didn't make the puzzle less boring, but it -barely- saved it). You'll be taken to places undreamed of. In the end, the journey you started when you went to Egreth Castle, there to confront Krill, as a lowly enchanter, has in Spellbreaker its epic conclusion. And I don't use the word "epic" lightly.

Greensboro Sit-In, by Abby Kreines, Sara Tanzer, and Becca Moura
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The Twelve Heads of St. John the Baptist, by Jake Wildstrom
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The Tale of the Kissing Bandit, by J. Robinson Wheeler
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Pass the Banana, by Admiral Jota
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DEATH DEATH DEATH DEATH, by Gunther Schmidl
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Bad Toast, by Jeffrey MacArthur
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Bad Guys, by David S. Glasser
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Revenge of the Killer Surf Nazi Robot Babes from Hell, by David Dyte
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Authority, by Eva Vikström
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August, by Matt Fendahleen

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful:
Love it or hate it, January 10, 2009
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
And as it happens, I loved it.

"August" is centered around one situation. It's about discovering what the deuce is going on, as it unfolds. Once it's discovered, the game ends.

A game this condensed had better have something to show for it. It had better have a good, solid, gripping story. Had better have a good twist. had better - and this is hugely important - have a solid implementation. And it had better offer you enough freedom to interact.

And you know what? This game does.

"August" sends you to the middle of a party, where it becomes clear that, a) you are controlling a PC who has a history you don't know of, and b) the PC really doesn't want to be there. Everywhere in the game the writing style is verbose, flamboyant at times. You are constantly tantalized by glimpses of the story past - things people say, or things you remember. Thus, piece by piece, you construct the story. And apart from a surprisingly in-depth and well-written conversation near the end, that's pretty much what this game offers.

The thing is, you see, the main thing about this game, is how *gripping* it is. It's careful about how much information you're given - enough to keep you interested and wanting to know more, even if the fantasy theme doesn't really do much for you. If you end up with the least satisfying ending, the game doesn't really tell you that you could have done better - but you *will* end up wanting to replay, wanting to try a different approach... and thus the game encourages you go to on even after you'd already reached a conclusion. I find this a very great feat.

Of particular note is the conversation that happens near the end. What a wonderful conversation. It's not elevated to the standards of Short's magnum opus Galatea, or City of Secrets, but it's certainly drawn inspiration from them - it's a conversation which writes itself, which effortlessly moves on, and at your own prompting. Spoiler follows: (Spoiler - click to show) The character of BLoodwyn, which started of as rather stereotypical, is fleshed out in such a way that would normally also be considered rather stereotypical, but this is the true twist: her actions are never really justified. There is never a grand reason for her murdering impulses. Just a great barrage of anger. Thus she is not fleshed out as the antagonist who at the end turns "good", or whose motives were pure at heart - instead, we learn more of why she is what she is, and the motive is simplicity itself. And at that point, we can always make a choice. We always have the choice of how we want the evening to end, according to how our conscience dictates.

It has a couple of minor bugs (though I did manage to lock myself out of victory on the second playthrough, and that only because I was wildly trying out alternatives in search of yet another conclusion). The linebreaks aren't always formatted in the best of ways.

But really, who cares. "Crystal and Stone, Beetle and Bone" also had odd, sloppy-looking lines, but, like "August", was richly implemented, and obviously had a lot of care, a lot of effort, a lot of love put into it.

Ultimately, this game will only appeal to those who like the style, and that is very easily settled. Play two, three turns. If you don't like it, then go away. If, on the other hand, you are intrigued, curious, and like that writing style (and I absolutely love that style)... why, then you're in for a treat.

And the Waves Choke the Wind, by Gunther Schmidl
Peter Pears's Rating:

The Atomic Heart, by Stefan Blixt
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One Night in the North Atlantic, by Christopher Huang
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Practical Astrology, by Admiral Jota
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Rox, by L. Ross Raszewski

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Little things make all the difference, January 5, 2009
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
I've written this review after having played version 1 of this game - only then did I realize there was a second version out. It only changed one thing - which boosted my rating up a star and gave this second version of the review its name. I'll keep the old review, and put relevant new information in parenthesis.

***
What a hard game to rate - the technical implementation is top-notch (apart from a bug where you get repeatedly told shields are down if they're fully drained, an annoying redundancy), creating an amazing simulation of a 3D environment in deep space (ok, ok, 2D, but in a FP view), and that alone is worth four stars...

...but it fails as a game - it's not fun, in such a way that it merits two stars, or even one.

I guess "3 stars" is the right average, then. (*2nd version* - it's now actually fun to play. You have all the elements you need to plan, search and destroy)

"Rox!" is, simply put, asteroids - but asteroids as you've never played it. You'll get to experience what goes on in that tiny rectangle that old computers dared call a "ship", even though it looked nothing like one. The experience is magnified, the urgency escalates - this is a new look at asteroids, and in that sense it is an astounding achievement.

But damn, the learning curve is STEEP. Way too steep. (*2nd version* - it still is) It'll take you quite a while to wade through the unfamiliar interface and controls, especially the ship's movement. You'll need all your bearings for this one, and a good spacial visualization.

And how does it all work, in the end, as a game? Barely, if it works at all.

I know this was supposed to be a sort of spoof/hommage, an adaptation of a game that theoretically could not work, or work well, in IF. In effect, this shows us *why* it could not work.

The ship's movement, with thrusters and brakes, is very detailedly simulated, but a pain to actually navigate. You get reports of where the asteroids are, but in a turn based system, by the time you face to shoot them they can be anywhere. There is only representation of their position, not their direction or speed, which makes predicting their next position impossible. (*2nd version* - However, since you now get told the size of the asteroids, you can focus on the ones you need to track, and even if you can't figure out their path and speed in detail, you can figure more than enough for your purposes).

Once I finally sort of understood how the game worked, I played it with liberal overuse of UNDO, and only turning around in my axis, never daring to move. Otherwise I never would have gotten anywhere.

Not that I *did*, because the game never seemed to end - you have to clear the game of large asteroids (by destroying them or breaking them up in smaller bits), but... well look: navigation is a big pain. You can't see in which direction and at what speed the asteroids move, and in a turn-based interface, you'd need an insane amount of concentration, note-taking and planning-ahead to be where you need to be in order to destroy the asteroid. And at regular intervals, new asteroids come into play. Even if you wanted to focus on the large asteroids so you could break them enough to end the game, you don't *know* the size of each asteroid until they're right in front of you, which makes planning useless. (*2nd version* - now that you know which ones to strike, it gets much easier)

All in all - a superb technical feat. It fails as a game, but it has the advantage of knowing, beforehand, that it was doomed to failure, so it concentrates on making the implementation as solid as possible. That is, in itself, a remarkable attempt.

I would not be averse to playing a game with such a system, if the said game would be so kind as to give me a plot, a better chance at winning and asteroids, planets, etc. that didn't move around as much and which I wasn't required to track down this fervently.

Asendent, by Nate Cull and Doug Jones
Peter Pears's Rating:

jason finds fleece, by Gunther Schmidl
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ASCII and the Argonauts, by J. Robinson Wheeler
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Ascenseur, by Samuel Verschelde
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Aquelarre, el legado Abrapampa, by Pablo D'Amico and Ricard Ibáñez
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An Important Appointment, by Jennifer Earl
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Apollo 11, by Brooke Heinichen
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The Apocalypse Clock, by GlorbWare
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Apocolyptica, by Jake Wildstrom
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98769765, by Adam Biltcliffe
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Jobs for Antioch!, by A O Muniz
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Myth, by Paul Findley

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
A great introduction to Magnetic Scrolls, January 1, 2009
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
"Myth" wasn't ever released as a game, per se. Instead, it was a free offering for members of the Official Secrets association, or so I understand - said association being an adventure game association. Or something.

So, it's a short and sweet one. It's not too hard, and while it may or may not be easy depending on the player's experience, it's certainly not obvious. It is, in fact, much better than you'd expect from a free sampler-ish game...

...but then, the developers aren't just anyone. Magnetic Scrolls has a name for quality. Magnetic Scrolls also has a name for a parser that, although amazingly robust and powerful, could be rather iffy with disambiguation. Well, both of these are ever-present in this game, and the latter is vastly overshadowed by the former.

The concept is very simple - you're Poseidon (though you could have been any God - or indeed, any man, since you're stripped of your godly powers), and Zeus has set on you a task to ensure you deserve your place in Olympus. You are to go down to Hades and steal his invisibility helmet.

The story is no Pulitzer, and what you see is what you get. The puzzles are no prize-winners either, but they are strong, they require creativity, and are well worth the time it might take to track this game down. It is a very pleasant way to idle some time way, on a quality piece.

In fact, the reason it's so pleasant to play may be more related to the writing than the puzzles (certainly more so than the setting). Magnetic Scrolls always had a flair for humour, and for a certain writing style which constantly amuses you.

However, it needs to be said that the game contains two rather gratuitous puzzles - a blackjack game, where you need to win a large amount of obols (and we're talking about real blackjack, randomized), and a variation on the fox-hen-corn- (or fox-cock-worm-, or whatever) across-the-river.

I loathed both these puzzles. The former was boring, the latter is simply not what I look for in IF - which is not a problem, as other people *do* look for such things. But it feels gratuitous, because the rest of the game is more classical IF (and quality stuff at that),to such a degree that in order to win the game you'll have to sucessfully visualize the virtual world you're in, and act in non-obvious ways to achieve obvious results (non-obvious, that is, when compared to more typical ways of solving them)... and in such a game, puzzles of the fox-hen-corn variety often just feel tacked-on.

Still, a quick stroll through the walkthrough got me past that one.

Overall, I reccomend the game, especially for players who want to see what Magnetic Scrolls was about - and why it became known for quality. And in effect, why it became known as the British Infocom - I mean, check out that amazing parser! Finicky or not, it's awesome!

The Angel Curse, by David Welbourn
Peter Pears's Rating:

A Mind Forever Voyaging, by Steve Meretzky

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful:
A masterpiece, December 28, 2008
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
Every once in a while, someone will do something completely unexpected, or will do something for once in a lifetime only... and the result is a memorable event. Hence Harper Lee's only book, or Brian Moriarty's deviation from his usual fantasy themes in "Trinity", or the solid, quality acting of such well-known comic actors as Jim Carrey and Robin Williams in serious, almost atypical roles.

Such is "A Mind Forever Voyaging". Not a turning point in the life of Steve Meretzky, since the future would still herald the Spellcasting series and The Superhero League of Hoboken, not to metion Zork Zero - all titles (even ZZ) which have a good, healthy, serious dose of comedy, with tongues planted firmly in cheeks. No, AMFV is more like a brief hiatus from Meretzky's usual fare... but the writing and game design that is uniquely his is present everywhere in AMFV. For example, Meretzky is known as the "man of a thousand red herrings". Well, what would be the ultimate red herring if not an entire city to explore with no goal other than to experience living it?

In AMFV, you'll experience playing in two planes - the "real life" mode, where you're PRISM, a computer, and in simulation mode, where you are Perry Simms, living in Rockvil. The premise is simple - you're a highly advanced AI machine, and the way you got to be so advanced is masterfully detailed in the magazine which accompanied the game. The world has seen better days, and senator Ryder has a Plan which will bring America back on the track.

Your job is to enter a simulation of a single town, Rockvil, 10 years hence, and see how it holds up, and what effects the Plan has.

Of course, things get even more interesting later on... but that would be telling. Suffice it to say that this is one of those rare IF games that left be breathing hard; that filled me with such emotions as wonderment, despair, and hope; and which at one particular point rewarded me thus: (Spoiler - click to show)after a particularly tragic scene, which moved me, I typed in a word which I didn't expect the game to recognize. Silly me:

>WEEP
The tears come easily.

It is simple. It is elegant. It is tragic, and beautiful. It is one of the most beautiful and amazing interactions I've ever had in an IF game.


This game is, in fact, a pioneer in story-driven AI. The point of the game, for the most part, is to wander around Rockvil. Experience it. And see what happens to it as the years go by. It is an experience, more than a game. Therefore, it approaches a literary status, as opposed to entertainment - but it could not possibly work as well if it were static fiction. YOUR experience is what makes it all come together.

Some people will inevitably be put off by the brevity of the game. Locations are often described in a couple of lines, one of which lists exits. It is an understandable choice, however, considering that the game has other issues to deal with - namely, a HUGE map and other characteristics which I can't really give away, for fear of spoling... suffice it to say that there's an element of "SUSPENDED" in this game, an element which I felt worked better than the entire SUSPENDED. But that's my own biased opinion.

Ah, yes, I was talking about the brevity. Usually, too much brevity means the author didn't bother with all the necessary detail. Not so here - here, there simply wasn't any need for more detail. It's undescribable - like most other Infocom titles, the brevity becomes a strength, and your imagination runs wild, because all the while the game's prodding you, looking for your buttons, and pressing them at just the right moments.

The end of AMFV was a truly cathartic moment, which I wish everyone would experience.

A Mind Forever Voyaging is a masterpiece, and anyone who looks for IF as a more "serious" art form, or looks for an "experience" or "story" above a game, can not possibly overlook this title.

Blast, by Richard Otter
Peter Pears's Rating:

Anchorhead, by Michael Gentry

15 of 17 people found the following review helpful:
Brilliant game with one single flaw, December 25, 2008
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
And that flaw is this - that compared to the rest of the game, the entire ending sequence is too easy to botch up, too easy to die in, WAY too easy to leave the game in an unwinnable situation.

There, I've said the one flaw. Now I am free to point out that this game is a shining example of what a story-driven game should be like. By story-driven, I mean it is the plot and characters that drive the game onwards, not the puzzles. The puzzles do exist, and are, without exception, some of the finest I've ever encountered. However, they serve the plot, instead of having the plot be an excuse for their existence.

I know the game has been out for years and pretty much has already been said, but having just replayed it I simply couldn't *not* come here and praise the quality of the writing, short enough and descriptive enough to make your hair stand up and your flesh crawl on the right spots in the game; the quality of the game design, where you are relatively free to wander about and discover things at your own pace without ever having to worry about unwinnable situations (until the end of the game); the meticulous implementation of the keyring, the umbrella, and all the little details that Michael Gentry felt Anchorhead could not do without; the flesh-and-blood characters, with whom an ASK/TELL system manages to feel like a *conversation*.

It is only a pity that the endgame is not as forgiving as the rest of the game - in effect, the player is taught, throughout the game, not to worry, the game will take care of you and not let you do silly things unwarned. But it's so very easy to miss a couple of actions that will make the game unwinnable. Still, within context, it is a decision that makes sense - the ending is fast-paced, and a sequence of terrible scenes, whose effect might be diminished if the game kept holding our hand.

This is one of those game that will have you breathing hard as you uncover the mystery (and such a pacing as regards the mystery! You piece it together, piece by piece, and by the end you are astounded by your own deductions - almost at no point does the game actually *tell* you anything, forcing you to make your own connections, and the result is astoundingly immersive). I am unfamiliar with Lovecraft's works, other than a sketchy knowledge of the Cthulhu mythos - which did not in any way diminish my pleasure with this game.

This game is a *must* for anyone even remotely interested in horror IF. If you like Lovecraft as well, that's merely an added bonus - and if you're unfamiliar with Lovecraft, then the story will seem more original and unpredictable... not that it doesn't already have many memorable elements in its own right, (Spoiler - click to show) in particular the tragic figure of William.

What-IF?, by David Ledgard
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Ananachronist, by Joseph Strom
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A Martian Odyssey, by Horatiu Romosan
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Castle Amnos, by John Evans
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Prized Possession, by Kathleen M. Fischer
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Bloodline, by Liza Daly
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Alma Mater, by Roger Carbol
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Alcohol solves everything, by Christos Dimitrakakis
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Secret Agent, by John Cater
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Agency, by Ricardo Signes

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Serves its purpose as an "intro", November 28, 2008
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
If I were to review "Agency" on what it offers, I would give it three stars. Not that I think it's bad, but objectively speaking, there's not much here (even as an intro), and what *is* here is a handful of situations we've seen before in many other games.

But I rate it four stars. The extra star is because I was *interested*. I wanted the game to go on. As an intro/demo, it serves its purpose well.

The game is short enough to be played very quickly - there are no puzzles, a handful of rooms. In fact, there's so little here that talking about what there *is* would spoil it. But I can say that, although -as I've mentioned- none of its premises are actually new, Ricardo Signes has managed to deliver them in an interesting way.

It is not a novel, wildly original way - like the premises of the game, it's the tried and true method of pluging the player into a certain setting, and adopting a writing style that is somewhere on the land of "terse", making the items it *does* describe stand out vividly.

There is a real atmosphere in this little introduction. That's what I liked the most. Not only the pacing was done very well (and a conversation with one of the two NPCs in the game, although short, was perfect - the topics came out of the situation, and the abrupt end of the conversation was textbook), the whole background (familiar and also uttely alien, as most slightly-Sci-Fi settings) felt... real.

I recall someone once said about Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns - "He gets them all dirty and filthy. It's great! It's more real! You can hardly believe in a clean and bathed John Wayne or Dean Martin in a Western after you've seen Eastwood or Eli Wallach dirty, filthy, blistered." This stuck with me, because it rang true - dirt makes it real.

Or in other words, decay makes it real. And for all the shortness of this intro, it does show us the decay of big ambitions for the human race... culminating, of course, in the end of the game.

I can't go into any more detail - a game this short would be utterly spoiled. Overall, it's a strong introduction, a decent "game" in its own right - even if sometimes we wished the parser was just that extra bit better, that the author had gone that little extra mile. Even though we've seen it before, it's always nice to see it well-done. I, for one, would like to see the full game.

Animals, by David Fisher
Peter Pears's Rating:

ZRacer, by David Fisher
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Cryptographer, by David Fisher
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Carma, by Marnie Parker
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The Cross of Fire, by Matthew Carey
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Zork Zero, by Steve Meretzky

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
The final farewell, November 20, 2008
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
Zork I was the very first game Infocom made and released. Zork Zero was the peunltimate (the last one was "Arthur"). Throughout its existence, Infocom has dabbled; experimented; tried out whatever it could think of to enhance the gaming experience. Technology advanced as well, giving Infocom the famous z6 format, which could include graphics. Zork Zero is written by Steve Meretzky.

Obviously, there are going to be some heavy changes from Zork I to Zork Zero.

And well, there are, but curiously enough a single concept remains exactly the same - your overall goal is to find 24 objects, and put them in a certain place. It is too much of a coincidence to ignore, especially after Infocom strayed away from such practice in such obvious form (Beyond Zork at least had you collecting attributes, and while you were at it you would stumble upon the plot). It is much more likely that Steve Meretzky had his tongue fimrly in his cheek even before the game starts.

Meretzky's view of the Zorkian universe didn't really work in Sorcerer - the humour felt out of place. Not so in Zork Zero! Zork Zero takes place before Zork I - hence the name - and is set in the Great Undergroung Empire before its collapse. We're no longer exploring devastated ruins. We are trying to stop a curse that will destroy the empire, and although it seems like just as serious, it manages to be much more fun than it is serious.

Of course, that would largely be because Infocom has eased up a bit on the cruelty in this one, and thank God, because the game is monstruously big. No time limits except where related to puzzles. If you don't make silly mistakes, you never get locked out of anywhere (a blessing in such a big puzzle game!). The inventory limit is a hindrance at first, but it eases up soon enough - as soon as you have a clue of what you're supposed to be doing.

Like the entire Zork and Enchanter trilogy, plus Beyond Zork (and, some may argue, like most IF indeed), Zork Zero lands you straight in the middle of the fray and tells you "Explore. Have fun. Experiment - you'll be glad you did." And experiments are rewarded well, either with helpful or just funny replies, or with actual results. And if something turns out to be dangerous, there is always UNDO. The ability to undo your last move takes the edge out of the game, makes it less of a chore. Undo is standard in IF these days, I'm only pointing it out because it was a relatively late addition to the Infocom standard.

The game features enough graphical prowess to draw you in (especially the illustrated encyclopedia), but not to distract you. This is very good, and surprising for a company that for so long worked exclusively with text. One particularly helpful feature is the on-screen map - mapping would be improved with Arthur, but as it is, it's a godsend, considering the geography you have to navigate.

Indeed, if anything detracts from the enjoyment of the game is the occasional done-to-death puzzle. Towers of Hanoi? Fox, rooster and worm across the river? Pegboard solitaire? I'd rather just have the riddles - *those* tax my imagination, not my patience. Especially since the riddles vary tremendously - no two are alike. There's wordplay, there's think-out-of-the-box, there's physically showing objects, there's you-need-an-object-to-solve-this-one, there's a the-answer's-there-if-you-look... there's all sorts, and they prove to be more fun than a hindrance. Kudos to Mr. Meretzky!

The game also features two marvellous features that gave the game a whole new depth - the Encyclopedia Frobozzica and the... how to put it without spoilerizing... "teleportation device".

You're wandering around a huge empire. You're armed with your calendar, containing "The Lives of the 12 Flatheads", illustrated with Leonardo Flathead's paintings of himself and his siblings. Suddenly you come across, say, a statue of a man holding a flower, and a single word inscribed in an altar. And what do you do?

You turn to the encyclopedia, of course. Numerous entries make it interesting - careful use of the encyclopedia in various puzzles make it fun. It doesn't feel like "Why the hell didn't they just give me the information? Now I've got to trek all the way to the library just to read that!" (the book is so big it can't be carried). No, it really feels like "Ok, I'm new here (and indeed, the character you play is as much a foreigner in Flathedia as you are), I have no idea what they're talking about... so I'll look it up!". It adds a new dimension to the game. And remember, the game is essencially a large treasure romp - it NEEDS new dimensions. It has them aplenty, of course - if you thought the spells in Spellbreaker could make you shape the world around you however you liked, then have some of Zork Zero's cloak, or wand, or green potion, or pigeon!

The "teleportation device" is a true godsend, proof that IF should be FUN, not a CHORE. Once you figure the trick, you can teleport yourself in ways that'll minimize tedious walking around, and even serves as a puzzle solver or other.

There is too much to say about Zork Zero. Essentially, it adds new bells and whistles, which not only LOOK great, they ENHANCE the playing experience. It is the final farewell from Zork, and it seems to know it, and gives us the grandious experience we could hope for in a castle built by Dimwit Flathead. Meretzky's incursion in Sorcerer was an odd one, but it seeded roots which Moriarty would take advantage of... and here, Meretzky proudly gives us the fruits which those seeds bore. And that fruit is a sweet one.

Beyond Zork, by Brian Moriarty

5 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
Just a few other notes, November 16, 2008
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
The SPAG reviews say most everything I wanted to say about this game, so as with other such similar cases I will only list a couple of things I think are worth mentioning. I won't spend time on discussing the random and RPG elements (though I think they were all very good ideas and wonderfully implemented), or the rich and varied use of magic to affect your surroundings (to an extent only before seen in Spellbreaker - not even Enchanter or Sorcerer allowed you this much freedom), or even the way the plot stumbles from one point to another without any real conection (not, might I hasten to add, that it detracts from the overall enjoyment - there's plenty of mini-plots around, it's the big one that's a bit haphazard).

Mostly, what I have to say is:

Up until Beyond Zork, the series had been in the hands of Dave Lebling and Marc Blanc, mostly, with a brief incursion by Steve Meretzky. Blanc and Lebling gave both the Zork and the Enchanter series its own distic setting, ambience, flavour - they experimented along, in true Infocom tradition, and refined their game design and their writing to such an extent that the final titles of each series (though Spellbreaker lacks Marc Blanc) are much more mature, powerful, interesting titles than the previous two, and also rather more difficult.

But Meretzky's lighter touch added a whole new dimension to the Zorkian universe. Lebling barely touched it in Spellbreaker, but the reading material that would later be shipped with the Zork titles reflected it well.

Enter Brian Moriarty, the man behind Wishbringer and Trinity, not to mention the graphical adventure Loom (I have not yet played Trinity, to my shame, so if the rest of the review doesn't fit in with Trinity I shall consider it the exception) who boldly takes Meretzky's view of the Zorkian world... and shapes it to fit his own.

Moriarty's gift is the gift of magic. His tales are magical, and are a pleasure to play. His writing draws us in, his world keeps us there. His stories are fairly simple at heart, but are told with such candidness and simplicity and a even a dash of poetic imagery that you can't help falling in love with the game.

It's no wonder another reviewer claimed BZ had more in common with Enchanter than Zork. It's a world Moriarty is more at ease with, apparently. It gives him a lot to work with, and you can tell he really let his imagination fly. The adorable Minx, the curious Hungus, the dreadful Cruel Puppet and the towering Christmas Trees... I mean, he makes a villain out of Christmas Trees, and he pulls it off with a flourish!

It's just a pity that BZ is as cruel as any other Zork/Enchanter game - case in point, the Tear Jewel puzzle, which you might never solve because you solved another puzzle too early. No indication that you've locked yourself out of victory. Similarly, the game is richly described, but few scenery elements are actually implemented... which is a shame, because after a while you stop bothering to examine your scenery. And then you find out that at one point you had to examine that pile of <whatever>. This issue, and the game's cruelty, have one point in common - the games teaches you to behave one way, and then has you solve some puzzles by behaving in quite different ways. Thankfully it's only on a couple of instances... but they are major instances.

Another curious thing is that the character makes HUGE journeys throughout this game. Three major cities, a set of ruins, plus a city in the jungle. BZ came with a map, and it gave you a sense of perspective. There's *kilometers* there (or miles, if you'd rather) that the character goes through in a couple of rooms. Hey, it helps navigation, for sure, but it's very odd when you try to visualize it all.

Overall, though not as pleasing a game experience as it could be because of those design issues, BZ more than makes up for it with its magical atmosphere, its intriguing puzzles, and even the novelty of mixing IF with RPG.

Plus, of course, all those things those other reviewers at SPAG have said. I second it all.

Three Princes, by Alex Godofsky

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Beginners, take heed, November 10, 2008
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
I almost wasn't going to say anything about this one, but then I thought how useful it might be, from a beginners' enthusiastic point of view. It concentrates some issues which might be worth reminding beginners. Also, it perfectly embodies the result of those issue - a non-existent game.

1) Do NOT rush straight to Glulx.

In fact, do not rush straight to z8. In fact, don't rush at all, but for this particular point, let's keep it "rushing straight to z8/Glulx". Hey, if your game fits under z1, make it z1! This game certainly could have fit in a z1. Of course the limits make one wary, but it's very simple to change target machine at any point in your game development. In Inform 7, often all it takes is a click. Yes, we know your first game is going to blow everyone's mind, and will *need* the full operating power of the Glulx for all those features you can't do without. But why not wait UNTIL you need Glulx, hmmm?

This game has 311 kb, and I think most of that is from the extensions it uses. Dunno what he'd want the extensions for in this mini-mini-thing. :P

2) Give us SOMETHING

Even if this IS an intro-comp entry... we can't read your mind. From a simple room description and a couple of cryptic messages, we can't possibly know how awsome your game will be if you don't give us anything to go on. This game gives you... a couple of things, one of them part of the "END" message. The other is "You have to get a password". Oh joy. I am certainly going to be on the lookout for that game in order to find a password. :P

3) POLISH what you do have.

Extra line breaks, minimalism supreme, not even "help/about" commands, standard library default responses... if that is what you show to promote your game, no one will want to play it. Seriously. It indicated the whole game will probably need polishing, and might even have bugs aplenty. Remember, the audience isn't out to cushion your fall. Your demo should be a good representation of your game - if your demo's slack, people will assume your game is slack.

4) It's for the PLAYERS. It's NOT to indulge your hurry for releasing something

Really. It's NOT. Take your time, or you'll end up releasing a couple of game design notes wrapped in "You won't believe how AWESOME this will be!". We've had enough of AWESOME game ideas. We'd rather have AWESOME games, if you don't mind.

5) What good are GIMMICKS...

...if there's not even enough of the game to use them? In this case, there's third-person tense (only visible in a few pre-set default messages), the extensions Epistemology, Armed, Shipboard directions... I mean, what good is "Armed" if the only things I can hit are the computer and myself, both of which say Violence Isn't The Answer To This One?

Even if the game did use them, I doubt they would make a significant improvement. Think before using gimmicks.

6) Show us what there IS (seeing as there's little enough!)

There are several things which are not mentioned anywhere, apart from GETting ALL and ending the game (by going north). What's the point? If you don't say it's there, no one will know.

***

I honestly thought a good dose of common sense would help prevent making these games, but apparently not, so I felt compelled to write this.

Beginners - take heed. This is what you do NOT want to do, but if you don't stop and think, this is what you WILL do.

And don't assume this doesn't apply to YOU, either.

PS - I have no idea who the author is, and I am merely *assuming*, and in fact *hoping*, this is his first game.

PPS - Oh, how silly me, I completely forgot to tell you about the *game*. There's a room and two or three objects which you can't examine. There's nothing to take, and going north ends the game.

Afflicted, by Doug Egan

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
Very solid. In fact, very solidly gruesome, November 4, 2008
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
Well, it seems I will finally write a short review. I have no choice - this game is best experienced if as little details are known beforehand as possible. Any hint of what is to come would diminish the experience (not that I think it's an amazing experience, but it *is* damn effective).

So what can I talk about, spoiler-free? I can say that the initial premise is a good one - you are a health inspector, about to inspect a dump of a place. The place in question, Nikolai's Bar, is... well, let's put it mildly - disgustingly vile in the extreme.

The prose in this game manages a great balance between descriptive and "sticking-your-nose-in-it". It has to. There are many, many, many unsavory things and situations in the game (though strictly speaking, many are optional), and if the writing gave them too much weight the player would just be grossed out, and with no desire to keep playing. On the other hand, it is not too terse, nor too bland. It is, in fact, perfect for the tone it sets, and for what it wants to achieve.

I did say many things were optional, didn't I? Indeed, the game features 17 endings - true, many of these are variations, but they are nevertheless well implemented and make sense, and are a conclusion, so it's fair to say that the game indeed has 17 endings, as opposed to one ending and sixteen ways to lose the game. In fact, I don't think you can *lose* the game, per se - though you may lock yourself out of the ending you were hoping for.

The multiple endings and their approach, coupled with the richness of the game world (you wouldn't believe what goes on in that dump!), make this game fairly solid. I encountered no bugs. Well, other than the ones all over that bar, anyway. The few characters were as responsive as I'd hope, given the shortness of the game. They were colourful. I think I'll be remembering them for a while, which is always good praise.

It's a short game, which nevertheless manages to tell a story from the beginning to its conclusion. The story does develop, short as it is, and it develops through the actions of the player - thus meriting the title *Interactive Fiction*, indeed.

And I admit - it was FUN writing down all the health hazards and watching the rating of Nikolai's Bar decrease. Sort of reverse treasure hunt - traditional enough to be comfortable, refreshing enough to be fun.

Not for weak stomachs, though. Especially if you find it easy to visualize images.

And sounds.

<shudder>

(Spoiler - click to show)PS: Of course there is more to the game than just being a health inspector, but just knowing that is quite the spoiler. But since you're reading this anyway, here's a hint - this is a "horror" game, not "slice of life".

Zork III, by Dave Lebling, Marc Blank

12 of 14 people found the following review helpful:
"It all comes down to this", November 2, 2008
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
That was the tagline for the game - "It All Comes Down To This". The play on "Down" in a game that is set underground is not an accident - the previous Zork games had such (not really) memorable tags as "Your Greatest Adventure Lies Ahead - And Downwards" and "Your Next Step Downwards to Danger".

Funny thing is, those tags do fit the games like a charm. Zork I is indeed a discovery of a great (meaning "grand", and "big") adventure, and in that game, where you see the Great Underground Empire (henceforth known as GUE), you do start aboveground; you alternate between the caves and the forest; you are allowed some fresh air every now and again. But The point of the game is to take a deep breath, gather all your courage and venture ever downwards, towards your greatest adventure.

Zork II - "Your Next Step Downwards to Danger". Well, ok, so this tag isn't really perfect. It's more of a fantasy tag. Which is ok, because the game is still pretty much a fantasy game, much more so that Zork I. Whereas Zork I was about the cave exploration and discovery, Zork II hinges around magic, underground gardens (a beautiful sight!), senile wizards, demons, crystal balls and EAT ME cakes. So in that less literal sense, hey, the tag does work.

"It All Comes Down To This", now. It certainly does. It most certainly does.

There's a feeling throughout the Zork series that the games become less "light" and more condensed, and possibly more serious. The maps certainly become smaller, and the game certainly becomes more intense. Zork III is the shortest of the Zork trilogy. That doesn't stop it being very hard.

There is a definite feeling of decay on this one. Feeling of loss. Yes, we've had two whole games letting us know we were exploring the remains of a huge underground empire, but it was exciting on the first two. It was discovery. It was exploration. It was a huge playground.

Now, for the first time, the game makes us think (ever so gently) about the great empire that was there, and is now long gone. The inhabitants of the empire are long gone. The land is bare. The crumbling aqueduct serves as a last reminder of the glory of the Flatheads' empire, as founded by Duncanthrax. You are still a sort of tomb raider, but now the keyword is "tomb" - the GUE is a massive grave.

And yet there are spots of amazing beauty, even throughout this darkness. Crossing the land of shadow to arrive at the underground shore of the Flathead Ocean... beholding the mighty acqueduct... seeing the one lush spot in the cave, where natural sunlight does filter in, creating a little patch of life... Descriptions are less terse on Zork III that they have been on the previous Zorks, and it's a good thing, because this is the first Zork that lives and breathes on its atmosphere. My final words about atmosphere, and then I shall say no more: the initial description of the brass lantern is -

"Your old friend, the brass lantern, is at your feet."

"Your old friend". When you first boot up the game it may seem like just a fancy way of putting it, but in fact it's the very first step in making this final trip to the GUE a bit more personal. You and that lamp have been through a lot, and have a lot still to go. You've put up with one another's limitations. You've stuck with each other. Indeed, you are surely old friends by now, ready to undertake one final voyage.

On that subject: time limits.

I'm sure there is a lightsource limit, but I didn't find it, because I found an alternate lightsource relatively early on, and there's quite a few illuminated spots. And there are no inventory limitations (w00t!). The game doesn't need them to be hard. Still, their absence is a clear indication that Infocom was unwilling to let the Zorkian world stagnate - in fact, each Zork installment has been different enough and innovative enough to be a fresh breath of air. Kudos to Infocom! (as if they haven't had enough by now)

There's another sort of limit, though. Yes, the very annoying "solve this puzzle first or you'll get stuck later". An earthquake which occurs within the first hundred moves opens up a path you couldn't previously cross... and closes a path which you have to solve a puzzle to get to. You might not even get there befpre the quake. As you can imagine, it's a huge restart-puzzle.

Still... like the other Zork games, it's a reflection of the time's game design. Modern players should merely be warned beforehand, sigh, and concentrate on solving that puzzle, so as to have plenty of time later on for the rest.

And what a "rest" it is! Gone is the senseless treasure-hunting, gone is the dreadful Wizard of Frobozz. You will have to hunt down a number of items, for a specific purpose. The items AND the purpose are insufficiently clued, and at several times you'll need to choose between two types of item - and the choice is not obvious at all, especially after playing Zork I/II, where the goal (or the means to achieve it) is to loot, loot, loot. Zork III tries to insert some characterization and feeling in a series which traditionally was all about killing trolls and getting treasure. The innovation bears fruit, and one wonders what they would have done with the current technology and the current views on IF design. And I'm talking about something more ambitious that "The Undiscovered Underground", which is a good game and a nice diversion... but hardly a representative of the Zork series. If anything, it's a representative of Zork Grand Inquisitor. But oh, how I digress...

In my review of Zork II I mentioned that the player needs to be able to visualize and experiment (otherwise he won't ever find out the solution to the Bank of Zork, or the use of that huge cloth bag by the volcano, or even what the pile of plastic in Zork I *is*). The game rewards visualization by nature of its better descriptions, and that visualization will be needed several times. The Temporizer puzzle, the Royal Puzzle (an amazing puzzle, one wouldn't think it could be pulled off in IF) and the mirror box...

...ah, the mirror box. You wouldn't think such a puzzle would work in IF. You'd think it has to be in a graphical environment. Well, the guys were experimenting, remember. And it's a great thing they did. It may be a bit clunky, but it's definitely possible. In fact, it is a section of the game highly reminiscent of any Myst apparatus.

In further fact, it's a trend common throughout the entire Zorkian series, and a defining trend in IF - experimentation, and uncovering the world/plot via experimentation, piecing it all together on your very own. I said that the goal and objects-to-gather were insufficiently clued. This is on purpose, and enhances the immersion, as you're really piecing it all together on your own.

Unfortunately, the true Zork experience - and this is true of Zork III especially - is impossible today. Solving the puzzles is relatively easy, the trick is in knowing what to do. For instance, everyone knows the fundamentals of the Royal Puzzle by now, and all that's left is the trivial (yes, trivial) task of navigating it. The *hard* bit is to recognize that first move within the puzzle, and then understand what you need to move where, and so on. It's easy to navigate the game knowing in advance, as everyone does, that there's a time limit in the form of a quake.

And modern players *need* that information, because time moved on, because people have less patience with unfairness and uncluedness, because people have less time to play games, because of a host of things, players *need* these select spoilers for these games (unless they're die-hard hardcore fans, in which case they've already played the game anyway). So we're really left with a watered-down version of Zork III. That's a shame, because the game is immensely rewarding... but on the other hand, if I had been playing it "hardcorey", I'd have ripped out all my hair by now, being a more modern IF player with very strict ideas on "forgiveness: cruel".

So bottom line, like all the Zork games, this is best enjoyed with the few select spoilers everyone already knows about anyway.

For such a short game, this review is running too long - and there's so much still to be said! Well, this will have to suffice: Zork III is not an easy game, and will tax your imagination in that nice, ticklish way it likes to be taxed, and previous Zork adventurers (who will have to redefine their thinking a bit) are likely to be faced with the greatest challenges. Which is as should be.

Aesthetic Deletions, by Johanna Hunt
Peter Pears's Rating:

Murder at the Aero Club, by Penny Wyatt
Peter Pears's Rating:

Adoo's Stinky Story, by B. Perry
Peter Pears's Rating:

Shrapnel, by Adam Cadre
Peter Pears's Rating:

Assignment, by Matthew A. Murray
Peter Pears's Rating:

Enchanter, by Marc Blank, Dave Lebling

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful:
Enchanting, October 20, 2008
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
"Enchanter" is the first in the Enchanter series, a new series set in the Zorkian universe. So of course, the first question is, how does this compare to Zork?

Not much. There's a treasure hunt, all right, but you're hunting spell scrolls, and doing so in order to advance the game. There's also a general time limit - but not to worry, it's a very lax limit, more on it later. But all in all this is a very different game altogether. For starters, it's set aboveground.

Yes, I know you're thinking "Well, duh. What difference does that make, anyway?". It makes a lot of difference, especially since throughout the Zork Trilogy you don't have a specific foe (the closer you get is the Wizard of Frobozz, but he's never a foe nor really the master of his dominion - instead he's a bumbling senile fool who gets in your way). Here you do, and you're in his domain. It's an entirely different atmosphere. The passing of days and the hunger and thirst limits also enhance the urgency of the situation.

Passing of days, need to sleep, hunger and thirst... these may potentially scare off newcomers. Relax! There's a reason Infocom was a pioneer. Not only it did what others did with better parser and no guess-the-verb, it started experimenting with lax time limitations. As a result, you *know* you'll eventually run out of food, but you'll soon realize it's unlikely to happen before you finish the game.

Unwinabble situations, now, that's another matter. Though they're all well clued, there's a few of them around, and most have to do with a certain spell scroll you acquire and can use most anywhere... but only in one place correctly.

Ah, the spells. If in Zork you had to carry treasures and give them to some demon or something, in Enchanter you have to hunt for spell scrolls. Most of these you can copy onto your spellbook, and they'll be yours to cast forever. In Zork you had to fumble around trying to open locked mechanisms - in Enchanter, you merely have to cast REZROV at them! Man, THAT's a relief, I tell you. If I had the jewelled egg from Zork I in this game, it would have saved me a lot of trouble!

"Hunting for spells" could sound tedious. It does not, because each new spell you acquire lets you solve another puzzle you've been scratching your head about, or allows you to tamper with your environment in a variety of ways, or will leave you staring at something in a room and wondering "Hmmm, wonder what would happen if I...". And the results of spell-casting are very well implemented.

Plus, you're not alone. Of course, there's plenty of bad guys around - and they aren't very good-looking either - but you can also gather a couple of friends. Both of them extremely unlikely. And both of them quite the characters! No deep NPC interaction here - nevertheless, you'll be surprised at the amount of interaction that IS possible.

Enchanter is a story, not a treasure hunt. When days pass, you have dreams that nudge you in the right direction. Your environment will change with each passing day (well, so they say. Honestly, I didn't notice anything). It is a living environment, with people roaming around. The story is painstakingly constructed by you as with each new scroll you get closer and closer to the spells that will allow you to defeat the evil warlock.

Sadly, I was ill when I played Enchanter. As a result, I ended up checking the InvisiClues when I wanted to make sure I wasn't wasting a spell... and although I wasn't needing them up until that point, once I'd seen them I had to keep on using them. That's a flaw of mine as a gamer, once I open the hintbook it stays open. Still, it did help me on a couple of points I wouldn't have otherwise even recognized were puzzles...

...ANYWAY. I was ill, I had the hintbook, and like I said I didn't notice the environment changing. So although I loved the game... it lacked a certain "oomph" for me. Mea culpa, methinks, so it doesn't affect my rating.

Bottom line? "Enchanter" was the first non-Zork Zorkian game, and first of a whole new trilogy. It was a turning point, and in more ways than one - Planetfall players will recognize the gameplay structure, for instance. It remains a good game, an engrossing game. It's not overtly difficult, provided you explore and experiment - and the game is fairer on that account than, say, regarding the clay brick in Zork II. It is, on the whole, a must-play.

A Dino's Night Out, by Aris Katsaris
Peter Pears's Rating:

Augmented Fourth, by Brian Uri!

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful:
Classical, October 13, 2008
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
"Classical?", I hear you ask. "What on earth do you mean? Do you mean it has class?" Well, yes, it does, but that's way beside the point. "Do you mean it features greek mythology?" Not at all. "Then you mean it's an old, ancient game?" Ancient? 8 years old at the time of this review? Even Zork isn't exactly ancient, just... very wise and very sage by now.

No, I mean classical in the textbook sense - in that this is a, er, textbook example of a good game. I mean that this game could, and should, be used to teach basics of IF. Classical.

The whole background story of "Augmented Fourth" is worthy of Terry Pratchett, in that it's silly, funny, and never quite ridiculous enough to put us off. Of course, Pratchett relies on his characters and makes the humour derive from them, whereas Mr. Uri just has his characters behave on a rather skewed reality... still, within that reality, their behaviour is cohesive, coherent, and laugh-out-loud funny.

"Augmented Fourth" isn't a new-style story-heavy game, though. It's not exactly a puzzle-fest either. It's not a cavern romp, exactly. What it is is a tightrope walker, always treading on the fine balance between all of these. Interesting and funny characters; a sizeable game map which truly evokes exploration; good, solid puzzles, including a very nice alphabetic maze in which the trick is really getting out, but not because of any spacial puzzle per se... one has the impression that the author has tried many different games, took out the bits he liked the most about them, and set out to creative a single game where none of these bits would take precedence over the other.

Therefore, this is the most balanced game I've ever seen, in all respects. Even in the way it balances old-school-text-adventure-puzzling-and-exploration and new-school-emphasis-on-characters-and-plot.

This might sound rather humdrum - true balance is boring, not exciting. To counter this, the author has added a wildcard in the form of a trumpet. You are a musician, and you collect sheets of music as an Enchanter player would collect scrolls. Surprisingly, this does not feel like a gimmick, which is enough to heartily congratulate the author. It does add to the experience.

This musical theme surrounds the entire game, but in some places and situations it's less obvious, more subtle... and sometimes it's not there at all, because in that place there's some other theme worth showing, and the author decided not to bludgeon us with a single theme. You see? Balance.

The game is polite, often merciful - it's a game to be enjoyed without fear of being punished. It's sort of a light-Zork. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that this is the new generation Zork, featuring solid gameplay, good puzzles, a true sense of exploration, adding the things the new generation of IFers have come to look for in IF: a good story, or at least an entertaining one; good prose, not too purple, certainly not too terse; fair gameplay; and fun, fun, fun. This game is *fun*.

This game is a textbook example of what makes a game good. Like all textbook examples, it may lack a little "oomph", but I'll still heartily reccommend it to absolutely everyone I meet - especially newcomers who want to get a feel for the old-school games but are daunted by what those games consider to be "fair".

NOTE - It occurs to me that I may have misused the term "classical", and "classic" might have been a better choice. Still, my apologies to the linguists out there, I'll keep "classical" because of the musical conotations of the word.

Across The Stars: The Ralckor Incident, by Dark Star and Peter Mattsson

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
An underrated gem, October 13, 2008
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
You know from the word go that it's going to be something special. The feelies follow the Infocom tradition (and format, and style - not a matter of innovation but simple hommage) - there's an ID badge, two letters, a map of the ship, a sample transcript (which serves as the intro), there's even an off-line blog.

In fact, my only gripe with this game is that the feelies opened up a LOT of doors and possibilities... and then the only thing I really needed, ingame, was the map, and it was a small map at that. The makers of this game went to a lot of trouble to give us background, even going so far as to involve a family disappearance, only to find it had no relation whatsoever to the plot (unless, of course, the victim fell prey to the same danger that faces our protagonist - but that is just speculation, as far as the game is concerned the feelies don't exist, and neither does their content).

This game has rubbed some people off the wrong way, and I believe it's because of the several different ways to approach a game. Most of the people this game exasperated seemed to come from "Ho-hum, another sci-fi spoof", and then don't really feel it's worth putting any effort. This approach always boggles me somewhat, and like in "Crystal and Stone, Beetle and Bone", this approach simply doesn't work here. If you do that, you'll skim the text; as a result, you'll miss clues (almost everything described is implemented, and you often NEED to explore everything in sight - not unreasonable given the game's first urgent and then explorative tone); as a result, your playing experience will be crippled. Some people have, for instance, said "What happened to the crew?". (Spoiler - click to show)I say, "You mean you didn't look at the viewport when you were in the bridge? Then you missed one of the most chilling images in the game."

Another mindset that works against this game is "Oh. I died. I totally didn't see this death coming, so I lost interest in the game, it wasn't much of anything yet anyway." There are possible deaths before the game really kicks in. If you let them discourage you (and the tight limits are fairly lax, considering the circumstances), you'll just miss out.

Now, let me make this very clear - I don't mean to say that everyone who disliked this game was wrong. I mean to say that a certain mindsets don't work with this game. Especially since there's a rather huge info-dump at the middle of the game (but shorter than it seems, well-paced, and pretty much a page-turner, so it's exciting and interesting and at times sorrowful to read).

To sum it all up, my advice is - go with it, not against it. This game is actually fair and polite. It even has a "hint" command which lets you know what your next goal should be (though of course you can do other things if you like). Keep several saved games, as usual, just in case, but if you give to this game, it will give back.

The game itself starts in your ship, and the whole ship is an interesting and curious puzzle all by itself. It's a vivid place, where the loneliness is palbaple. It's like waking up in the Mary Celeste.

My only real gripe with this section is that the authors often attribute emotions to you as the PC ("You feel such and such, you this, you that") in a very direct way, but it doesn't often work. Possibly because it's way too soon in the game to do this - we've just booted up, we're still getting to know the game, and we're already feeling this and that. Are we? I wasn't aware of that. In fact, the single most efffective image in this whole section is when you look out the window and realize what the asteroids around your ship are. In *that* one, the game doesn't tell you how you feel. As a result, you *do* respond to it, emotionally.

In the second part of the game, however, where the Sci-Fi dwindles a bit and gives way to exploration and knowledge of a past civilization (ok, so that's also Sci-Fi, but anyway), the game stops assigning you emotions, and concentrates on telling you about the place you're on. It works great. It's seldom been this easy to imagine the landscape, the rooms, the enemies, the objects.

There's an optional part of this game, which you can skip altogether - but if you do, you'll miss out on what makes this game rich and fun. There's a lot of backstory to this one, and a real sense of exploration. I'm going to go out on a limb here, and say, if Tomb Raider (the *exploration* part of Tomb Raider, which, as you may or may not remember, is what set the original game apart from all the other games at the time - well, that and the technology and the freedom of movement) were an IF, it would probably look pretty much like this. Not the action part, the discovering part.

On the whole, this game is a gem which has gotten less attention that it deserves. It's not perfect, but it's polished to a high degree. It's fair. It's fun. It's challenging. It's enthralling. It's engrossing. In case you can't tell, I loved it, and I think you might, too.

Acid Whiplash, by Ryan Stevens and Cody Sandifer
Peter Pears's Rating:

At the Bottom of the Garden, by Adam Biltcliffe
Peter Pears's Rating:

December 31, 2002, by Christopher Shelton
Peter Pears's Rating:

2604, by Admiral Jota
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Tooth Ow Zunden Won!, by Duncan Cross
Peter Pears's Rating:

Fran and Bart Want a Snowman!, by Tommy Herbert
Peter Pears's Rating:

Kaboot's Story, by Josh Giesbrecht
Peter Pears's Rating:

Snowman Sextet Part II, by Jessica Knoch
Peter Pears's Rating:

Zork: The Undiscovered Underground, by Marc Blank, Michael Berlyn, and G. Kevin Wilson
Peter Pears's Rating:

Zork II, by Dave Lebling, Marc Blank

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful:
Shorter than Zork I, and just as fun, October 4, 2008
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
So, like Zork I and like so many other games of its time, Zork II includes a lightsource limit (which, since the game is set underground, is as good as a game timer), puzzles which must be solved with information you gather by fiddling with stuff, cruel ways of getting stuck, and inventory limits. Surprisingly, it has no mazes. Well, it has a faux maze, which I believe is regarded as the single worst puzzle in Infocom history.

But it's just like playing Zork I when you know how to get rid of the thief and the lightsource limit very early on - if you know what can render your game unwinnable, you can avoid it; if you know that you have a lightsource limit, you can focus; if you know that there's a bug that allows you to carry stuff way beyond your limit (hint - has to do with implicit actions), exploration becomes easier; if you know the solution to the maze, you won't feel the urge to throw Zork II down a deep well.

In short, if you know some select spoilers about the game, you can still have a lot of fun.

Like in Zork I, the point of the game is to explore and solve puzzles. Like in Zork I, the overall goal of the game becomes vaguely apparent but not entirely clear - you know there's a wizard around, who can make your life miserable, and you may stumble into his domain. When you die (and you will), the ensuing sequence will give you even more information. It's pretty much feel-as-you-go-along.

Feel-as-you-go-along is very associated with simple dungeon crawl, but it's way more than that. It's piecing together a whole scenario which you, from the outset, know absolutely nothing about. Feel-as-you-go-along usually has a couple of moments where you are subtly nudged in the right direction. Not in Zork II - but amazingly, it's not necessary. The themes of the game include magical items and colours, and there's a certain simplicity to it which inspires quick connections. Connections the player has to make.

It works amazingly well within the overall theme, and the fate of the Wizard is only satisfying when you've gone through the whole game being hindered by that senile old bat.

Within isolated puzzles, however, it doesn't work as well. The basket, cloth bag and receptacle puzzle, in the volcano, is a very good example of an "identifying what it is and then acting accordingly" puzzle, and is rewarding. The true nature of the clay brick, however, is ridiculously underclued. (Spoiler - click to show) The game relies on experimentation to find out the nature of the brick. The action in question is "burn brick", which would blow it up, revealing it to be plastique explosive. Way back then, this wasn't a bad technique - games should last a long time, and should encourage exploration and active experimentation. But even then, I have to wonder who in their right mind would try to burn a brick. It is the text equivalent of the graphical adventure's "Use everything on everything" brute force.

The wizard himself can indeed be very annoying. He can freeze you for many turns, or hold you in a magical fence. The fence isn't a problem, because you can turn your lamp off (but grues are still a problem) - but if you're frozen, you have to resign yourself to losing precious turns of the lamp life.

But worst off, the wizard can cast a certain spell on you which sounds like a GREAT spell, one you want to keep, and which you only find out at the VERY end of the game renders it unwinnable. In fact, you may never find out at all. (Spoiler - click to show) The spell makes you shine brightly in the darkness. Sounds great, doesn't it? But the last puzzle of the game includes you entering a crypt, closing the door behind you and turning the lamp off, and in the resulting darkness (a state which by now it's unlikely any adventurer would allow himself to enter - the game had taught the player to avoid dark states, and now makes one necessary without previous clueing? That's a major design flaw) the light from behind a secret door is visible.

By the way, if you plan to play this game, I reccommend you read the spoilers. They're the kind of spoiler you should know about, unless you want a fun game to turn into a frustrating experience. Here's the spoiler for the maze, an absolute necessity if you're not american - (Spoiler - click to show) Starting from the baseball bat, go SE, NE, NW, SW. It's like a baseball field, or something. I didn't really understand it either.

And then there's the puzzles that are though but which are logical, rewarding, and offer a twist on what is and isn't in the scope of the player. The Bank of Zork, for instance, is a beautiful puzzle, subtly but fairly clued. It provides you with one of the sweetest "Aha!" moments you can hope for. But getting there can be quite a pain, because... well, because of the same reason that getting the red sphere can be tricky - just because you can't see it, it doesn't mean it's not there.

Of course, to many players today, if you can't see it then it ISN't there. That's the source of the difficulty in these two puzzles. But they are beautiful puzzles, nevertheless.

That's not the only example of this kind of puzzles, though. Pretty much all the puzzles in the game rely on visualization. It's like looking at a lot of dots in a sheet of paper - until you manage to see what the dots form, you won't solve the puzzle. You have to understand what you're seeing. Players who tend to dismiss descriptions and jump to the utilitarian side of things would do well to either adjust their gameplay style or skip this game altogether - and players who are able *see* the dragon even as it's being described to you, and appreciate that a giant chasm can be just a crack on the floor, depending on how big you are... those players might just be in for a real treat.

The GUE remains as vivid, as intriguing and as captivating as ever. The descriptions are terse, but very efficient. The game seems rather more compact than Zork I, in terms of the size of the map, but it's packed full of fun. There are more characters. They appear briefly, you can hardly interact with them, they might as well be objects. Still, they are there, and surprisingly that does make a difference.

Provided you can look past design issues that are simply historical artefacts (and speaking of history, there's a certain puzzle which today is considered done-to-death - could this be its first appearance? You'll know it when you see it), this is a game worth playing, and worth enjoying.

Oh, and don't let go of that mat. You can put stuff on it, you know.

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Peter Pears's Rating:

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Comp00ter Game, by Brendan Barnwell
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9:05, by Adam Cadre
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Moonmist, by Stu Galley, Jim Lawrence

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
"Moonmist" and "An Act of Murder" - Old and New, October 1, 2008
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
"Moonmist" seems to be one of those Infocom titles rarely talked about. At a glance, it's unfortunately easy to understand why - being one of the few "Introductory" level Infocom games, it's easy enough as to be uninteresting to more experienced players. And it's the experienced people whose voice gets heard.

Then again, that would be because more experienced players have gone through Deadline, Zork, maybe even Suspended, and emerged alive - torn, bleeding, tired, not necessarily triumphant, but alive - to tell the tale. Moonmist is, in comparison, a little stroll.

I don't want a constant life-and-death struggle. I like the occasional stroll. There's a lot to be said about the positive effects of a nice walk in the park, you know.

At any rate, this was just a little intro to Moonmist. What I'd really like to do here is compare "Moonmist" to "An Act of Murder", in a sort of double review. From this point on, this review will be exactly the same as my "An Act of Murder" review.

These two games are amazingly similar. You're a detective; you're in a place you don't know; you've got a mystery to solve; there's either a randomized element or four pre-set different stories to play through; there's a time limit.

That's basically it. Really. This is at the core of both games.

But they are fundamentally different. Why is that? Because IF has changed over the years, and what was the very definition of IF in "Moonmist" has given way to a new definition and gameplay in "An Act of Murder". Curiously, what has changed is a reflection of this evolution, whereas some parts of it - the ones that form the very bulk and core of the game - remain intact.

In Moonmist, part of the whole experience is exploring the castle. It's not a huge castle, but it's very big. Descriptions are terse, but there's more in the brochure that comes with the game. And rooms are mostly empty of interactible objects - though it's very easy to furnish them in your mind.
In Murder, on the other hand, the game map is limited to a handfull of rooms, which are detailedly implemented. The point isn't exploration, it's getting to the bottom of the murder. You are forced to limit your exploration and make connections from what you can get.

Speaking of connections, there's little detective work in Moonmist. There are two puzzles to be solved, and a certain set of hints. Solving the mysteries is essentially a matter of collecting the right evidence - typical old-school style.
In Murder, you are expected to think, and your inventory really becomes unimportant. In fact, the notebook you carry will prove to be far muse useful than any other item, as it fills out as you proceed in your investigation.

The characters in Murder mostly stay in one place, making it easy for you to interact with them. And you'll need to! That's pretty much the bulk of the game - solving the mystery will require piecing together the clues you mostly glean from them, and watching their reactions to the things you show them.
In Moonmist, the characters do exist, and move around, and are life-like enough... but the keyword here is "enough", and no more. You can safely play the game ignoring the characters, focusing on exploration. Nevertheless, they are there, and are likely to surprise you at times, when conducting searches of their own.

The time limit is lax in both games, curiously - in Moonmist because it's an introductory game, surely, and in An Act of Murder because the player doesn't really need any more time than the allotted two hours... because he's not going to walk around a huge place solving quirky puzzles. And in both games it's rather obvious, after the first playthrough, what sort of mechanisms will change in the next session, and which game mechanics will remain the same... but you still want to go back and try something else.

Both games know what they want to deliver - mystery and fun. Both games deliver them amazingly well. The really interesting stuff is how different their deliverance is, and the best Old VS New I've ever seen.

In case my point was lost somewhere, I heavily reccommend these two games.

Zork I, by Marc Blank and Dave Lebling

12 of 15 people found the following review helpful:
A fine, exquisite wine, September 29, 2008
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
Yep, Zork is just like a fine, exquisite, aged wine. It's a bit of an acquired taste for some, not readily accesible for everyone, and believe it or not there are some people who *hate* it and who'll still drink it in and smile just because it's got a tremendous reputation and they don't want to be known as the idiot who can't appreciate good vintages.

I won't bother thinking about the game in terms of when it came out, because my whole point is that it can still be enjoyed today. Maybe it takes a conoisseur, but it can still be done. There's still a chance to have fun.

The game hinges on cave-exploration and treasure-collecting. Yes, that's all there is to this game. But unlike other games since, the exploration doesn't just mean mapping rooms. The amazing thing about Zork, the thing that gets me back again and again, is how vivid the GUE is, by virtue of the map's layout and the rooms' descriptions. Time and again I've tried to understand *why* this game is so much better at it than other games (and I felt this difference the very first time I played it, back when I was nine or so).

Arguably, this would be because of the famous limits issue that arises in all forms of art or entertainment eventually. Back then, they had severe limits. There could only be so many rooms, so many objects, so much text (which, incidently, is why so much scenery of the game is unimplemented to the point where if you "x canyon" at the Great Canyon you get "I don't know the word 'canyon'"). So it had to be juggled a bit, and descriptions had to be kept effective but still vivid.

You know, effective. Like, not *verbose* like my reviews tend to get. I cry foul at my own inaptness, and wish I had the art of brevity and sucintess these guys showed in their games.

The funny thing is, I could quote room descriptions here until I was blue in the face and it still wouldn't show how great Zork is in that department, because taken by themselves, out of context, they look like nothing much. It's by virtue of actually exploring the Great Underground Empire, and keeping track of the geography of the place, that you'll create those images.

The puzzles range from medium to hard, and not all have aged well - it is recommended to play the Solid Gold version of this game, which has built-in hints. Do persevere, but if it gets too tough don't worry about getting the hints. There's stuff there which is simply too underclued. The scepter puzzle, for instance (aha!, didn't even know there WAS a scepter puzzle, did you? That's kinda my point), requires a bit of a leap of logic, and experimentation-just-for-the-sake-of-doing-something just to find the clue. And of course the granite wall puzzle is just plain impossible to figure out - but that one's an optional puzzle, so no trouble.

But most puzzles are still fun, and will have you thinking in concrete, world-altering ways. Fiddle with the dam - what happens as a result? How do you use the mining equipment all around you to get past a combination of mine gas (no naked flames or BOOM!) and a tiqht squeeze no lightsource can go through?

The maze, the lamp's limited life and the thief are the biggest pains of the game, but there's a way to bypass them, which I shall shortly post in this page. It includes solving quite a few puzzles, so there's definite spoilers, but I hope it will make the game a more pleasant experience for the newer generation of IFers. Because, newer generation, this game is what it is for a reason, and the reason is still there.

This game is FUN, and it will reward your efforts.

Then again, if you really do prefer other type of IF entirely, if you just can't get your head around a relatively minimalist (but still complex) cave crawl, feel free to give it a miss. It's silly to say "You HAVE to play this game because it STARTED IT ALL!". I encourage you to take a look, sure, but if you don't like it, you can turn away - there are other games you'll enjoy, no use in sticking to an oldie.

But you look like a brave explorer at heart, and I do believe that once you get down that trapdoor and survive your fight with the troll, you'll want to see the Great Underground Empire with your very own eyes...

The Airport, by Cascadian_Patriot
Peter Pears's Rating:

Gateway, by Mike Verdu, Michael Lindner, and Glen Dahlgren
Peter Pears's Rating:

An Act of Murder, by Christopher Huang

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
"Moonmist" and "An Act of Murder" - Old and New, September 25, 2008
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
Whodunnits are so much more interesting when they have a random element to them, don't you think? And they are *that* much rewarding when there's an element of real-life urgency, an in-game timer... which still leaves you all the time you need to solve the game, provided you get your priorities straight and don't try to, say, solve the puzzle that involves setting all the clocks in the house to a specific time. That puzzle doesn't exist, and if you thought it did then you need a different mind-set to play this game. A man has been murdered, and you have two hours to interrogate the suspects, search a part of the house and apprehend the murderer, so get on with it!

This was just a little intro to "An Act of Murder". What I'd really like to do here is compare "Moonmist" to "An Act of Murder", in a sort of double review. From this point on, this review will be exactly the same as my "Moonmist" review.

These two games are amazingly similar. You're a detective; you're in a place you don't know; you've got a mystery to solve; there's either a randomized element or four pre-set different stories to play through; there's a time limit.

That's basically it. Really. This is at the core of both games.

But they are fundamentally different. Why is that? Because IF has changed over the years, and what was the very definition of IF in "Moonmist" has given way to a new definition and gameplay in "An Act of Murder". Curiously, what has changed is a reflection of this evolution, whereas some parts of it - the ones that form the very bulk and core of the game - remain intact.

In Moonmist, part of the whole experience is exploring the castle. It's not a huge castle, but it's very big. Descriptions are terse, but there's more in the brochure that comes with the game. And rooms are mostly empty of interactible objects - though it's very easy to furnish them in your mind.
In Murder, on the other hand, the game map is limited to a handfull of rooms, which are detailedly implemented. The point isn't exploration, it's getting to the bottom of the murder. You are forced to limit your exploration and make connections from what you can get.

Speaking of connections, there's little detective work in Moonmist. There are two puzzles to be solved, and a certain set of hints. Solving the mysteries is essentially a matter of collecting the right evidence - typical old-school style.
In Murder, you are expected to think, and your inventory really becomes unimportant. In fact, the notebook you carry will prove to be far muse useful than any other item, as it fills out as you proceed in your investigation.

The characters in Murder mostly stay in one place, making it easy for you to interact with them. And you'll need to! That's pretty much the bulk of the game - solving the mystery will require piecing together the clues you mostly glean from them, and watching their reactions to the things you show them.
In Moonmist, the characters do exist, and move around, and are life-like enough... but the keyword here is "enough", and no more. You can safely play the game ignoring the characters, focusing on exploration. Nevertheless, they are there, and are likely to surprise you at times, when conducting searches of their own.

The time limit is lax in both games, curiously - in Moonmist because it's an introductory game, surely, and in An Act of Murder because the player doesn't really need any more time than the allotted two hours... because he's not going to walk around a huge place solving quirky puzzles. And in both games it's rather obvious, after the first playthrough, what sort of mechanisms will change in the next session, and which game mechanics will remain the same... but you still want to go back and try something else.

Both games know what they want to deliver - mystery and fun. Both games deliver them amazingly well. The really interesting stuff is how different their deliverance is, and the best Old VS New I've ever seen.

In case my point was lost somewhere, I heavily reccommend these two games.

Adventurer's Consumer Guide, by Øyvind Thorsby
Peter Pears's Rating:

Curses!, by Graham Nelson

20 of 22 people found the following review helpful:
Overwhelming, September 24, 2008
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
I make a point of not saying something about a well-discussed game unless I have something to add to the discussion. This game is over ten years old, and pretty much everything has be said about it, so I'll just add the one bit of information I didn't find on other reviews.

I won't talk specifically about the puzzles - they are an assorted bunch, of varying fairness but always strung with logic. I won't talk about the atmosphere much, either - I loved it, anyway. I won't even talk about the fairness, or lack off. That's old news, and no one who goes to play "Curses" today expects anything less then a mother of a challenge.

What I'd like to add to the discussion, and especially to any newcomers to the game, is simply how overwhelming the game is.

I don't mean big, though the game map is *huge*. I don't mean complex, thought it certainly is. I don't mean rich - well, not EVERY single mentioned object is implemented, but nevertheless this is one of the richest experiences you could hope for. I don't mean hard - though it is, of course.

I pretty much mean all of the above tied up with an uncanny ease of entering unwinnable states, and it's the first thing I'd say to anyone who wants to give it a go. This game is overwhelming. For many people, this is a compliment. For others, not so much.

Anyone who wants to play this game should know what they're getting into. There's a very rich and colourful history to the family of the PC. There's a huge game world. There are puzzles all around - and some don't even look like puzzles, not until you've looked at a walkthrough, realized that they *were*, and re-tuned your mind for this game. There are many places you can visit only once, and little to no indication of whether you did all you could and should. That means, of course, innumerous chances for dead-ends - often unwarned. There are details which you're likely to miss in the text, unless you get in the habit of careful reading... a habit worth forming for this game, I admit, as it's very rewarding.

Me, I think this is waaaaaaaaaaaaaay too much. I SO wanted to like this game more. I really stuck with it. I could have dealt with the huge geography, the rich and complex history, the enormous inventory list, the ability to discover the past in my own time and way (provided I solve puzzles, of course), even the one-visit-only rooms.

I can't deal with all of these at the same time, though. Especially since the game just gives you more and more and more and more and more. The game just never stops giving. Again, for some people that's perfect, and for some other people that's just too much.

So I'm rating it a 4. The only reason I don't rate it a 5 is because it was too much for me... though that doesn't mean I feel it doesn't deserve a 5.

Hors Catégorie, by Chris Calabro and David Benin
Peter Pears's Rating:

Countdown to Doom, by Peter D. Killworth

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful:
The reason why old IF is gone, September 15, 2008
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
NOTE - This review used to be titled "The reason why old IF is gone (and good riddance)". After much thought I've removed the latter part, not because I'm not glad that the convoluted gameplay of the olden days is gone (I am!), but because it might shed unfortunate light on this game. This game would be a great game if it used modern gameplay, and I want to make that perfectly clear - it's the old-style ganeplay that bogs it down tremendously today.

I really wanted to like this game. No, truly, I did. I'd just played Crobe and re-played Zork, so I was more receptive towards old-style IF than usual. And the premise seemed interesting - explore a world in which glaciers and deserts co-exist side by side. Well, actually the premise is get-the-parts-you-need-in-less-than-400-moves, but you get what I mean.

Maybe my goodwill is the reason I didn't quit even after I'd encountered four mazes (I wasn't to know until later that there's a trick to most), one of which has a time-limit and can't be redone AND can only be solved by brute-force - and one of which is just plain unmappable, as everything you drop gets lost in the undergrowth (and this isn't a linear maze, either). And said goodwill is the reason I kept going even though simply going a direction often killed me without warning. Maybe I'm too kind, as I kept going even though the parser's replies to some of my attempts were bloody infuriating.

I even went along with there being no "examine" or "search" command. What the hey, I thought, Adventurer Consumer's guide didn't either, and I'd loved that game.

But eventually I drew the line between gaming and masochism, and placed this game on the latter. For one thing, this game *needs* to be able to examine. The best feature of the game is the world itself. What's the fun of roaming around such a strange place if you can't examine it? Also, without the chance to examine, some puzzles are only solvable after dying in the first attempt.

Tight limits - and I mean *tight*. A very frustrating puzzle involves (Spoiler - click to show)going around with a levitating platform following you. The platform is a godsend, as it carries one of the things you'll need to win the game which is much too heavy for you to handle. But you have to put it in the hold of your ship. Getting there takes an even number of turns. The platform collapses, out of power, after an odd number of turns. If it didn't collapse in the hold, where it should, tough luck, you've just dead-ended yourself. Also, the counter for the platform is in moves, not turns - so if you keep waiting it won't run out of power, you really have to find that different path which'll take a different number of turns. At this point I cried foul and just gave up.

Even as I write this, though, I'm sorry, because the game is genuinely well made, considering when it was written. Today it's horribly unfair - back then it was standard, and anything else was just not worth the money. The descriptions, while being far from literate, do a good enough job that it's easy for you to imagine the strange planet Doom. A geographical trick and two puzzles make a connection between two distant sections of the game in a most satisfactory way.

Most interesting of all, one maze in the game eschews absolute movement and goes for relative movement - forward, back, right, left. And it pulls it off amazingly well. Mapping involves dropping objects, of course, but it's not just in which room they've been dropped, it's *where* in the room. That maze is undescribable, and it's hell until you wrap your mind around this new concept - but when you do, you can't help but be simply amazed. It's very solid.

And the puzzles are generally logical. That's something you'd be hard pressed to find even nowadays. It's figuring them out, especially without "examine" and in such a hostile, unforgiving, tight-limited environment, that'll make you bang your head on the walls.

This game also features a nice time-travel puzzle which only goes to show that there really is very little new under the sun.

Another great thing is that the original game had built-in hints.
Another dreadful thing is that the author has not ported them to this version. This is especially baffling because the author of this port is the author of the original game, so it can't have been for lack of information.

In short (and I've beem rambling on for quite a while), I can't stress this enough - I really wanted to like this game. And maybe I would, if this were 1982. But today, this game, like so many others from its time, is an exercise in frustration.

Crobe, by Jonathan Partington

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
Surprisingly good, September 12, 2008
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
Sparse descriptions. Two word parser. Carrying limit. Very easy to enter an unwinnable situation with no warning. By all rights I should not like this game.

So why did I have so much fun just five rooms into the game, when I was mapping it?

Modern games work alongside the player, nudging him along, helping him get through to the end without dying or failing (though of course the player is free to make blundering mistakes). These older games do not. These older games are challenges to be conquered. You have to juggle inventory. You have to figure out room-specific commands from a ridiculously terse description (but it does give you all the information you need...). You have to brute-force combinations (at least I did, at one point). At one point you have to map an insane maze while at the same time carrying out instructions from a devilish little imp, and failure to do so will result in instant death.

Even worse, when you die you're asked whether you want to restart, and if you say no the game just quits. If you say yes, the game asks you if you'd like the backstory again. You say no. And only *then* can you restore a game. "Undo" is obviously right out.

But the game is fair, in its way. It makes sense. It does reward. The puzzles are satisfying to solve. The Bedlam maze, for instance, has more rooms than the objects you can carry, so at first it might seem impossible to map, but there's a workaround... and when you figure it out you get this sense of having beaten the game at it's own, er, game.

Yes, make no mistake - this game won't help you out. This game is set out to foil your attempts. You'll have to beat it in the true sense of the word. And when you do, you'll bask in the warm glow of a job well done.

For fairness' sake, I must say I didn't finish it. The frog maze is easy if you get the trick; the bedlam maze is a challenge which I undertook gladly and from which I emerged victorious. But a maze in which my movement causes cave-ins collapsing passages, and in which are more items than I can carry at any given time? At this point I gave up.

If the above paragraph turns you off, you might as well skip this one. But if you like that challenge, then this is a game for you. Be prepared to map extensively and keep good track of what you left where - and what you gave to the wizard for safe-keeping.

Crystal and Stone Beetle and Bone, by Jenny Brennan

15 of 17 people found the following review helpful:
A labour of love, September 11, 2008
by Peter Pears (Lisbon, Portugal)
A 5/5 rating is arguable - it implies perfection. I have yet to see a perfect game, despite holding quite a few titles dear to my heart - and others dear to my brain.

So it's not perfection that makes me rate the game this high, it's finally finding a game I've been looking for for the longest time. A game with vivid images, interesting premise, lively characters... without being a "Cove" (all about the vivid images), a "Shrapnel" (all about the concept) or a City of Secrets / Galatea (all about indepth simulation of NPCs).

This game is a labour of love, and it shows. There are a few little quirks - a few paragraphs aren't properly formatted, and I can think of a couple of sentences which start in lower case. But I've spotted no typos so far, and though the writing may not be to everyone's taste, it *clicked* for me.

A very interesting thing about this game's concept is that you are not the player. You are a God, though your presence is hardly felt these days. You are leading your own Messiah.

What does this mean? It means that Lornedei, usually a PC, becomes an NPC. And it's much easier to care for her, fear for her, because whatever happens to her, *we* did it to her. When I managed to get myself killed (not easy to do at the beginning, the game is very polite and even merciful most times), the "end in death" message that appeared was: (Spoiler - click to show)***The sacrifice was hers, not yours***, give or take.

Lornedei will also see many other NPCs - I haven't played through the entire game yet, but so far none of them have been human. They are *all* noteworthy, each has a personality, each is memorable in his own right, but praise must go especially towards Deini. The interaction between Deini and Lornedei is particularly extraordinary when Lornedei changes.

I won't go into these changes at length, they are best experienced and discovered. Suffice it to say that it changes the way she reacts to Deini. Not only that, it changes the way she reacts to the whole world, and even the way she reacts to your commands. This is a huge undertaking, and as far as I've seen, it was totally sucessfull, to the point where one of said changes made me extremely worried about Lornedei. Such a strong personal emotion for another character I've rarely ever felt in IF.

Again, the game isn't perfect - what game is? But that's from a purely objective point of view. Leaving objectivity aside, I'll say that from where I stand, the game is perfect precisely as it is, and I love it and heavily recommend it.

PS - After finishing the game, I feel I must emphasize that this game does not lend itself to skimming text - it's in your own interest to read it (and enjoy it), and piece together the history of Aarkland as you play. Your initial goal is flimsily and vaguely set - this is intentional. You'll learn as you go along, in a feat of exploration and background-story revelation that makes for a wondrous gaming experience.


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