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Ratings and Reviews by Jonathan Blask

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Hoist Sail for the Heliopause and Home, by Andrew Plotkin
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Babel, by Ian Finley
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The Hugo Clock, by Jason McWright
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Escape from Ice Station Hippo, by Jason McWright

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A fun romp, September 11, 2012
by Jonathan Blask (Milwaukee, WI, USA)
Escape from Ice Station Hippo was originally written to show off a Hugo pathfinding extension, but it joins the ranks of sample games that are entertaining in their own right. The writing is fun, and like his previous work, The Hugo Clock, there is one puzzle that should appeal to those nostalgic for "old school" puzzles.

In the version I originally played, I missed the clues as to what objects I should be looking for first. The game, at the time, was distributed with its own source so this wasn't much of a problem. Since then, I know McWright has finessed the game to better clue the player, but knowing what to do, I've pretty much lost all objectivity on the current difficulty. Just the same, I'd encourage others to try it out and see for themselves.

Dragon Hunt, by Joachim Froholt and Markus Merilainen
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Everybody Dies, by Jim Munroe
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In the End, by Joe Mason
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Rameses, by Stephen Bond
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The Binary, by Bloomengine
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Theatre, by Brendon Wyber
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Anchorhead, by Michael Gentry
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Fine-Tuned, by Dennis Jerz
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Infidel, by Michael Berlyn
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Cabin Fever, by Dr. Froth
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The King of Shreds and Patches, by Jimmy Maher
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Dead Like Ants, by C.E.J. Pacian
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Trading Punches, by Mike Snyder
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Muggle Studies, by M. Flourish Klink
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Last Days of Doom, by Peter D. Killworth

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Victory at Last!, March 31, 2012
by Jonathan Blask (Milwaukee, WI, USA)
Years before “Doom” was associated with a hell-gate on a Martian moon, it stood for Doomawangara, a remote, dangerous planet that has been the final resting place of adventurers foolish enough to seek out its treasures. Of course, in the Doom trilogy, you play just another fool in that queue, but you have advantages over those previous visitors- namely: game restarts, game saves, and unlimited UNDOs (depending on your interpreter).

The Doom trilogy is not fair by today’s standards. You will not beat the games on the first playthrough (nor the 30th, most likely), and each of the games has at least one puzzle edging on “completely insane”. Still, if you are okay with insta-deaths, mapping (including some mazes), and don’t get too ornery when you have to hit up a walkthrough (luckily, there is one for each game on the IF archive written by Richard Bos), there are enough nice, satisfying moments that I’d still recommend it to people looking for a fun, old-school distraction.

Still, it’d probably be best to give some advice on how to play these games-

1. These games continue the Phoenix tradition of not using “EXAMINE” (or any variation thereof) for looking at objects. Everything you need to know about an object is listed in its room or inventory listing.

2. Map everything, even when it costs you life to do so. The games are very much designed for trial-by-error.

3. “Rods” are supposed to be wands, I guess, and as such, they are meant to be waved.

4. There are several chemistry-related puzzles, so keep that in mind.

5. Read closely. Sometimes your one hint concerning something will be some throwaway bit of text that is printed and never mentioned again.

6. Figuring out the order of doing things is often part of the puzzle.

7. Type “HELP” early on to get an overview of any game-specific notes or commands.

Ok, let’s get to the game itself.

Last Days of Doom

Here we are at the final chapter of the Doomawangara trilogy. The help text describes the game as the darkest chapter yet. Maybe fittingly, the story moves the focus away from the wilds and towards Doomawangara’s civilization. Like the previous game, the intro has a fair amount of frustration but nothing that a bit of exploration and perseverance won’t solve, and exploration is a bit more lax in the midgame. Overall, this game is, by far, the fairest of the three.

It is always interesting to see narrative and characterization explored in old games, and in this case, it is done to good effect. Not only that, but there’s a nice range of puzzles and adventurous, action-packed scenes. There is not a shortage of imagination. All in all, it’s a good payoff for sticking with a difficult series.

I imagine Killworth already saw his game as making steps towards interactive-fiction-as-literature. Even the original 1990 version doesn’t keep a game score for the first time in the series. Honestly, I found myself missing scoring points when solving puzzles, but one has to respect the ambition just the same.

Gripes-
There were only a couple things that really stuck in my craw this time, like the (Spoiler - click to show)glass enclosure that you have to >BREAK (but can’t >HIT) or some mysterious objects whose utility are only discovered by dropping.

Mapping-
Now, I mapped Countdown to Doom in GUEmap and Return to Doom in Trizbort. This time around, I made a map of LDoD in each, so people can get a idea of how the two programs compare. Personally, I think maps are quicker to throw together in GUEmap, and if you are looking to print out your maps, GUEmap will print your map out on fewer sheets of paper (it is possible to compress the PDF that Trizbort makes to use fewer sheets- at decreasing quality, of course). Trizbort, on the other hand, is somewhat more useful in its ability to list objects, and being able to have different sized shapes for rooms helps lend itself towards art-ier maps. I can’t say that I am ready to commit to one or the other. Anyhow, here is the Trizbort version (Trizbort file, Trizbort PDF) and the GUEmap version (GUEmap file, GUEmap PDF). As always, the maps contain spoilers.

Final verdict-
This last entry of the series nudges its way up to three-star territory. It still has a lot of the trial-by-error design that would prevent me from recommending it to someone with little patience, but given it largely lacks the screamingly-unfair aspects of its predecessors, I feel content to bump it up to three stars. Of course, ideally, one would have played through the earlier games to fully appreciate the overall development of the story, but I wouldn’t say it’s even particularly necessary.

(The full write-up of the series can be found at joltcountry.com.)

Return to Doom, by Peter D. Killworth

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Return to Planet Death, March 31, 2012
by Jonathan Blask (Milwaukee, WI, USA)
Years before “Doom” was associated with a hell-gate on a Martian moon, it stood for Doomawangara, a remote, dangerous planet that has been the final resting place of adventurers foolish enough to seek out its treasures. Of course, in the Doom trilogy, you play just another fool in that queue, but you have advantages over those previous visitors- namely: game restarts, game saves, and unlimited UNDOs (depending on your interpreter).

The Doom trilogy is not fair by today’s standards. You will not beat the games on the first playthrough (nor the 30th, most likely), and each of the games has at least one puzzle edging on “completely insane”. Still, if you are okay with insta-deaths, mapping (including some mazes), and don’t get too ornery when you have to hit up a walkthrough (luckily, there is one for each game on the IF archive written by Richard Bos), there are enough nice, satisfying moments that I’d still recommend it to people looking for a fun, old-school distraction.

Still, it’d probably be best to give some advice on how to play these games-

1. These games continue the Phoenix tradition of not using “EXAMINE” (or any variation thereof) for looking at objects. Everything you need to know about an object is listed in its room or inventory listing.

2. Map everything, even when it costs you life to do so. The games are very much designed for trial-by-error.

3. “Rods” are supposed to be wands, I guess, and as such, they are meant to be waved.

4. There are several chemistry-related puzzles, so keep that in mind.

5. Read closely. Sometimes your one hint concerning something will be some throwaway bit of text that is printed and never mentioned again.

6. Figuring out the order of doing things is often part of the puzzle.

7. Type “HELP” early on to get an overview of any game-specific notes or commands.

Ok, let’s get to the game itself.

Return to Doom

Return to Doom, as one might expect, continues our adventures on Doomawangara. This time, though, it’s a rescue mission. Early on, the game is injected with death- and not just deaths of our fair protagonist- which successfully ratchets up the sense of dread. Getting to the midgame is quite an ordeal in itself.

Once there, there’s a nice Wishbringer-esque mechanic that allows the player to get past puzzles he or she otherwise can’t, but that mechanic can only be used once (and in most case, shouldn’t be used at all). Still, it’s an interesting way to inform the player of normally-inaccessible areas.

The game *must* be played with a transcript on, or at least, keep certain info available in your scrollback, as several puzzles (some horribly obscure) hinge on several facts given in one infodump (a repeatable infodump, but still). Also, there are a lot of options to explore when one gets to the midgame, and finding the areas to solve first takes a somewhat unfair amount of floundering.

On the plus side, this game has even more dinosaurs and even (Spoiler - click to show)EVIL ROBOTS. There’s even some quite exciting action sequences, given you have the right objects to survive them. Without saying too much about it, Return to Doom adds a Floyd-like character that brings its own usefulness and personality to the table. Despite the lack of direction in the midgame, lost time spent exploring the wrong area is still decently enjoyable.

Still, Return to Doom has probably the most unforgiveable puzzles. I’ll take some time here to list the worst to save future players the trouble:

1. I seesaw what you did there.(Spoiler - click to show) For a game series that has a fair amount of chemistry and physics (although admittedly, it doesn’t take either very seriously), I was particularly annoyed by a seesaw mechanic where you have to throw a heavy rock to the other end of the seesaw, where this rock is supposedly heavy enough to force the seesaw to propel you across a gap.

2. Oh, look, another rod!(Spoiler - click to show)It’s not a big spoiler to say that in this game, waving the magic rod produces some oily black smoke. At least one of the locations you use it was fairly nonsensical, I thought.

3. No you tornadon’t!(Spoiler - click to show) There is one scene where you are walking among poisonous, thorny bushes while a cyclone is approaching. Somehow, walking in the right direction protects you from getting pushed into poisonous thorns. Even with a walkthrough in hand, I couldn’t understand the logic of the scene and it was largely trial-and-error.

4. Unfair weather fiend.(Spoiler - click to show) There is a machine with several unmarked buttons. Pushing each button will cause a weather phenomenon X turns later. Of course, this is only visible in outside locations, of which the weather-machine is not among. Worse yet, each button can only be used once.

5. Pterribly unclued.(Spoiler - click to show) At another part, you are being attacked by a pterodactyl-esque dinosaur. The correct way to survive this encounter is to >THROW a glass disc, which is basically a CD-ROM in the game world. Completely unintuitive.

6. The Daffodil maze.(Spoiler - click to show) At one point, you are traversing a maze of giant plants. Stay in any room for longer than a turn and you die, and there’s basically no logic as to which direction you can successfully go in. Luckily, it’s not a very large grid, but it’s still a pretty dumb part that can only be solved by trial-and-error.

7. Passwords.(Spoiler - click to show) There are a couple passwords in the game. How one is used is adequately clued, but the other just seems to be “use on a random forcefield 20 rooms away.” If there was a clue, I missed it.

This list ended up being longer than I initially thought it would be. That said, I’d still say that, for the most part, they didn’t detract from my enjoyment too much.

Notes about the port-
Not being familiar with the original, there *were* some messages that seemed a bit like porting mistakes, including one important bit of text that was missing completely (judging by what happens afterwards, it’s easy to guess what the missing text was about). If one cared, they could play the original (which is also available for free on the IF Archive) in DOSbox. That said, I doubt it’d be worth it to be deprived of various z-code interpreters’ unlimited UNDO capabilities.

My rating-
As I did with Countdown to Doom, I can’t give this game more than two stars as I think it’ll only appeal to a certain type of player. Still, despite its weaknesses, I’d say the high points are even better than the previous game.

Mapping-
This time around, I used Trizbort to map the game. Trizbort allows for writing objects on the map and generally makes prettier maps. You can download the Trizbort file itself here or a PDF of it here. Warning: the map will contain spoilers.

(The full write-up of the series can be found at joltcountry.com.)

Countdown to Doom, by Peter D. Killworth

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Inspired but Infuriating, March 31, 2012
by Jonathan Blask (Milwaukee, WI, USA)
Years before “Doom” was associated with a hell-gate on a Martian moon, it stood for Doomawangara, a remote, dangerous planet that has been the final resting place of adventurers foolish enough to seek out its treasures. Of course, in the Doom trilogy, you play just another fool in that queue, but you have advantages over those previous visitors- namely: game restarts, game saves, and unlimited UNDOs (depending on your interpreter).

The Doom trilogy is not fair by today’s standards. You will not beat the games on the first playthrough (nor the 30th, most likely), and each of the games has at least one puzzle edging on “completely insane”. Still, if you are okay with insta-deaths, mapping (including some mazes), and don’t get too ornery when you have to hit up a walkthrough (luckily, there is one for each game on the IF archive written by Richard Bos), there are enough nice, satisfying moments that I’d still recommend it to people looking for a fun, old-school distraction.

Still, it’d probably be best to give some advice on how to play these games-

1. These games continue the Phoenix tradition of not using “EXAMINE” (or any variation thereof) for looking at objects. Everything you need to know about an object is listed in its room or inventory listing.

2. Map everything, even when it costs you life to do so. The games are very much designed for trial-by-error.

3. “Rods” are supposed to be wands, I guess, and as such, they are meant to be waved.

4. There are several chemistry-related puzzles, so keep that in mind.

5. Read closely. Sometimes your one hint concerning something will be some throwaway bit of text that is printed and never mentioned again.

6. Figuring out the order of doing things is often part of the puzzle.

7. Type “HELP” early on to get an overview of any game-specific notes or commands.

Ok, let’s get to the game itself.

Countdown to Doom

Countdown to Doom has its share of issues working against it. Of the three, it’s the only game with an actual timer (400 moves, I think), adding an extra bit of pressure where there is enough already. The timer doesn’t end up being a huge deal, as one spends most of his or her time figuring out how to solve individual puzzles, and figuring out the most efficient order is a kind of fun last puzzle (and the timer isn’t so strict that I felt like my order-planning was even all that necessary).

There are two mazes, but all mazes in the series have a logic to them so figuring out that logic can be satisfying. Still, they will require mapping.

Speaking of mapping, CtD does the thing where exits to one location are not always the opposite direction to get back. That alone can drive me crazy, and in this case, it is exacerbated by the fact that “can’t go” messages often take up a turn (besides the aforementioned mazes, there are several areas that you only visit for a limited amount of turns, and there is annoying trial-and-error as you discover which exits are even available).

Still, the animal life (which, throughout the series, is often comprised of dinosaur-like species or other well-known tropes) and the variety of locales are interesting and imaginative enough to keep one going. There is also some usage of “action sequences” (my term, not the game’s) that are used to even better effect later in the series.

My rating-
I feel like I should only give at least three stars to games that I can recommend to any player. As such, I can only give two stars to Countdown to Doom, as I think its difficulties make it largely inaccessible to the modern IF gamer. That said, though, I’d recommend it to people looking for an engaging but challenging distraction.

Notes on this version-
I personally had to cheat at a couple points, and more so than the other games, I found variations in walkthroughs (because of the different releases) on the net, so if anyone would like a hint or nudge, feel free to send me an e-mail at roody.yogurt at gmail .

Maps-
For anyone who wants to cut down on the mapping (or get an idea on the amount of mapping involved), I’ve uploaded my own map, made in GUEmap 2. You can download the GUEmap version here or as a PDF here. Be warned that the map *is* spoilery, though, and it doesn’t even cover the most devious maze in the game.

(The full write-up of the series can be found at joltcountry.com.)

Book and Volume, by Nick Montfort

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
A Mind Still Voyaging, March 19, 2012
by Jonathan Blask (Milwaukee, WI, USA)
It is easy for me to put down a game after reading its intro, especially if it seems like the game is going to require an above-average amount of concentration. There was something about Nick Montfort’s Book and Volume that met this requirement. In retrospect, I have no idea what prompted this reaction. Just the same, it wasn’t until years later, when ClubFloyd got around to playing it, that I found out that was a big mistake. This is a very fun game.

Whatever worries I had going in were unfounded. If I had thought the game seemed gadget-heavy, everything is pretty easy to use. If the tech-guy-working-for-generic-yet-weirdly-named-tech-company premise worried me, BnV doesn’t use that as a passport to a bland, old school adventure (as some games have). If the early prospect of street mapping worried me, mapping isn’t necessary but becomes quite enjoyable once one gets far enough into the game and really wants to know the city.

And yes, I did say “street mapping.” The city feel is very much like one gets while wandering Rockvil in A Mind Forever Voyaging. BnV’s city is a bit smaller, and all of the main streets keep to a clean grid design, with only the occasional diagonal shortcut between blocks.

In fact, while the overall plot is nothing alike, I’d say playing BnV is the closest anyone is going to get to feeling like he or she is playing a new AMFV. Exploring and getting to know the city is its own reward. In fact, there are several off-the-beaten-main-quest-path things to do in the game that are fun to play with.

Some objects aren’t entirely clear. For instance, there are several kiosks in the game, and I don’t think it is adequately conveyed that they are electronic kiosks that need to be >TOUCHed. Also, there are sometimes enlightening responses hidden in somewhat inane actions, which is a little unfair to players who don’t happen upon them.

Plot-wise, I don’t want to say too much, for fear of spoiling anything, but the writing is good and it’s a nice ride. Even at its fullest disclosure, BnV’s plot and motivations are intentionally mysterious, which suits me fine. As it is, it gives BnV the feeling that the game world has more stories to be told and even more mysteries to unleash, if only in the player’s mind.

Hallow Eve, by Michael Wayne Phipps Jr.

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
More Treat Than Trick, March 6, 2012
by Jonathan Blask (Milwaukee, WI, USA)
I think, if somebody is going to enjoy this game, they have to be tolerant of uneven games where some aspects are better-honed than others. Let's discuss the things it does well. Well, it's kind of a fun romp. Early on, it reveals a couple different backstories and seeing how they were incorporated into the overall plot was entertaining. Also, most of the puzzles are pretty fair, parser-battling aside.

One of the things I like most is that the game isn't deviously fatal. Most of the baddies (yeah, there are several) are of the Transylvania variety, where you can stand around them indefinitely without receiving any harm (that comparison is a little unfair as some Transylvania enemies were not so kind). The game ends up being more fun than scary.

Personally, the map is a tad larger than I would like. There's a forest just large enough to hide a couple items and make trekking through it somewhat annoying (but not impossible without a map).

As mentioned before, the parser can be pretty unforgiving, like the (Spoiler - click to show)bowl of candies that only accepts >GET CANDY.

"Hallow Eve" won't go on my must-play lists, but I think that people that open it should stick with it long enough to solve at least a couple of its puzzles. To that extent, it is successful popcorn fluff just like the '80s slasher films it draws its inspiration from.

Luster, by Jared Smith

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Needs Polishing To Truly Shine, January 19, 2012
by Jonathan Blask (Milwaukee, WI, USA)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2011
Despite its capitalized objects and oddities, there's enough good things going on here that part of me almost thinks that an established author is having a laugh at us- trying to make his or her own version of, say, a Phoenix-type treasure hunt. The few puzzles I solved really did have a nice sense of accomplishment to them. Also, there is an odd sort of narrative going on (the protagonist has a past that we find out more about throughout the game).

Those nice things are dampened by shoddy implementation and a woeful lack of synoyms (I personally got hung up on (Spoiler - click to show)a goblet, some dye, and some unintuitive liquid management). I probably won't be giving this game another chance until an updated version comes out, but if one did, I'd definitely play it.

Retro-Nemesis, by Robb Sherwin
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World Builder, by Paul Lee
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Tales of a clockwork boy, by Taleslinger
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Spider and Web, by Andrew Plotkin
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Glowgrass, by Nate Cull
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Necrotic Drift, by Robb Sherwin
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Little Blue Men, by Michael S. Gentry
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Hunter, in Darkness, by Andrew Plotkin
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Aotearoa, by Matt Wigdahl
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Shade, by Andrew Plotkin
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Roofed, by Jim Munroe
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Pantomime, by Robb Sherwin
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A Mind Forever Voyaging, by Steve Meretzky
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Wishbringer, by Brian Moriarty
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Fallacy of Dawn, by Robb Sherwin
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Arthur, by Bob Bates
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Plundered Hearts, by Amy Briggs
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The Lurking Horror, by Dave Lebling
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ASCII and the Argonauts, by J. Robinson Wheeler
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Violet, by Jeremy Freese
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Offensive Probing, by Ben Croshaw
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A Crimson Spring, by Robb Sherwin
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Firebird, by Bonnie Montgomery
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Tourist Trap, by Iain Merrick
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Toonesia, by Jacob Weinstein
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Sherlock: The Riddle of the Crown Jewels, by Bob Bates
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Fail-Safe, by Jon Ingold
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Shrapnel, by Adam Cadre
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Heroine's Mantle, by Andy Phillips
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The Mist, by anonymous
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Rematch, by Andrew D. Pontious
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A Bear's Night Out, by David Dyte
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