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Reviews by MathBrush

Infocom

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Seastalker, by Stu Galley, Jim Lawrence
A sci-fi game with hints and friendly features. Made for kids/teens by Infocom, February 3, 2016
by MathBrush
Related reviews: Infocom
Seastalker was Oneida my least favorite Infocom games, but part of that is my own fault. The game is fairly simple, and I didn't need a walkthrough, until about halfway through the game I started some kind of timer and would die after 40 or 50 turns. It turned out that (Spoiler - click to show)there was some sort of black box I didn't fix that lead a monster to the base. So that made me lose interest, until I went through with a walkthrough.

The game comes with some hint cards that are missing some information. When the time comes in the game, the game itself will fill in the blanks in the hint cards.

There are some tricky parts to the game like using sonar to pilot a sub, and the endgame, but over all it was pretty fun.

Note: The GO TO command makes this game MUCH more enjoyable.

Suspect, by Dave Lebling
A costume-party murder mystery with timed events, February 3, 2016
by MathBrush
Related reviews: Infocom
Suspect is an Infocom mystery game. It resembles Deadline more than Witness or Ballyhoo. You are at a party with a large crowd of people, and you are set up for the murder of the hostess.

This game features a large number of NPCs with independent actions. You have to figure out who committed the murder, and we, and who helped them.

Overall, it seemed difficult, but I just used a walkthrough after playing around a bit. I don't enjoy replaying long games over and over, (except for Adventure and Zork I, where you really just need to optimize your lantern use). The story was fun, and I enjoyed the feelies.

The game does give you clues on the actions you need to perform, usually by seeing something happen and saying to yourself "Oh! If I had done such and such EARLIER, I would have been fine!"

Cutthroats, by Michael Berlyn, Jerry Wolper
A fiddly Infocom game about deep sea diving for Titanic/pirate ships, February 3, 2016
by MathBrush
Related reviews: Infocom
This game is by the author of Infidels, plus Jerry Wolper. To a greater extent than most Infocom games, this game is full of small, tiny choices that will keep you from winning much, much later.

The game at first is fairly straightforward. You are a diver on an island who discovers the existence of sunken treasure (in one version of the game, it's in the Titanic; in the other, it's in a pirate ship). You're given a sequence of instructions telling you to go to different places at different times, and you just have to follow them.

Eventually, you dive, and search the wreck, finding treasure.

So where can you go wrong? You can be carrying the wrong things around the wrong people, shutting you out of victory. I think you can have stuff stolen. You can buy the wrong equipment. You can guess the wrong wreck. You can neglect to do certain activities when everyone else is busy.

So this game must be replayed over and over, following the same directions each time.

I enjoyed the story. I ended up using eristic's walk through.

Border Zone, by Marc Blank

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Intense Infocom spy game where the clock runs between actions, February 3, 2016
by MathBrush
Related reviews: Infocom
Border zone is stressful for me. Unlike most IF, you have to type very fast, as the clock keeps running and running. I had to type super fast on the iPad and I kept dying from typos, even using slow time and the walkthrough.

The story and puzzles are actually really fun. I enjoyed the game a lot, especially the first act (where you have to smuggle information out of a train) and the third act (where you are a double agent, and have to stop an assassination without people knowing you did it). The three acts can be started at any time, and each follows a different person.

Stressful, but rewarding.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams and Steve Meretzky

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Frankly, I just used a walkthrough and enjoyed the show, February 3, 2016
by MathBrush
Related reviews: Infocom
Hitchhiker's guide to the Galaxy is co-written by Douglas Adams, and the strong prose shows this. The game is very imaginative and vibrant.

On the other hand, the puzzles are (I assume) by Steve Meretzky, who is one of my least favorite puzzle writers from Infocom. Sorcerer, though great, was my least favorite Enchanter game, and I get tired of Planetfall early on. So when I started this game, I was scared of any misstep sending me on a wild goose chase into an unsavable state.

So I just used a walkthrough and sailed through the game, enjoying the witty prose. I plan to go back and read more of the room descriptions and the actual guide. I often find that this approach works with very difficult or unfair games, because the second playthrough can be done without a walkthrough, allowing your memory to help you on some puzzles but still having fun with those you forgot.

The game has several puzzles that are frequently referenced in interactive fiction reviews and forums: the Babel-fish puzzle, and the tea. It may be worthwhile to play through with a walkthrough just to see these.

Note that Douglas Adams released this game for free when Activision went a long time without selling it. I don't know the current status of it, but he intended to freely distribute it at least once in the past. It is not available on Lost Treasures of Infocom for iPad, my usual go-to place for Infocom games.

Moonmist, by Stu Galley, Jim Lawrence
A weaker Infocom title; a mystery for kids with four modes (UPDATED), February 3, 2016
by MathBrush
Related reviews: Infocom
Edit:I found the reason the game felt weaker to me in another review:

The room descriptions are in the feelies!

This explains why the game felt so lame. Random objects seemed to appear out of nowhere, and major rooms seemed to have no description at all. But the feelies seemed rich and interesting. I didn't realize that you were supposed to constantly refer to the feelies as you go.

I wonder if this was a way to make the game fit on a smaller disk with four variants.

This makes the game SO much better. Thanks for the tip, Victor!

*****************************************************

For those who have access to the feelies (such as in the iPad Lost Treasures of Infocom app), the backstories in the manual for this game were very enjoyable, much more than the game itself. I thought I should throw that out there.

This game is similar to An Act of Murder, where there are numerous possible suspects, multiple clues, and a variety of possible variations determined at the beginning of the game.

Both games were weaker, I feel, because they had to be adapted to work with multiple endings. For instance, in Moonmist, you find 'clues' that are just called 'clues'. Not scraps of paper, shreds of fabric, cards, etc. Just 'clues'. I assume they are different in each of the variations when you examine them (I only felt like playing through the 'green' version).

Moonmist is a kids game. This makes the game a bit harder at time; for instance, the room descriptions and directions get annoying at times.

The game is on a tight schedule, so you may have to restart before some characters leave.

The game has a cute idea where it calls you by your first name, and also by your title and last name when appropriate.

You play in a large castle with seven guests, investigating a supposed ghost that haunts the castle. Several mysterious deaths have occurred recently, and your friend is marrying the new Lord of the castle.

I don't recommend this game. I do recommend the manual.

Infidel, by Michael Berlyn
Wonderful Infocom puzzlefest in a pyramid with coded language, February 3, 2016
by MathBrush
Related reviews: Infocom
I loved Infidel. You play a jerk adventurer who has alienated everyone he knows as he searches for a hidden pyramid. The game has a long intro sequence in your camp before reaching the actual pyramid.

The game is very Indiana-Jonesish, although there are no NPC's. Every few rooms, there is a death trap waiting to destroy you. Hieroglyphics on the wall tell you how to avoid some traps, but they sometimes describe things far away, and you have to puzzle out the meaning of the hieroglyphics yourself.

This game is advanced, but I got much further between hints than I usually do in an Infocom game (although Emily Short mentioned two guess-the-verb problems in her review that I found helpful before I even played the game).

This game has a great flavor and style, similar to Ballyhoo's dark circus theme. I strongly recommend this game.

Hollywood Hijinx, by Dave Anderson, Liz Cyr-Jones
Long, intricate, mostly fair Infocom treasure hunt set in Malibu house., February 3, 2016
by MathBrush
Related reviews: Infocom
Hollywood Hijinx is long and complex, more so than Zork. You play the nephew of a famous movie producing couple who have died and left you their fortune, on the condition that you are smart enough to find all ten of their movie treasures.

The premise didn't really excite me, but as I read the feelies, I began to be more interested. Also, I had heard many people mention this as a favorite Infocom game. Later, during the game, I began to really get into it, especially with the (Spoiler - click to show)remote controlled model of the Atomic Chihuahua set in Tokyo.

The game is hard. I literally couldn't solve the first problem: getting into the house. I had to look up the invisiclues. The game in general was complex, and I honestly just explored the house once, then relied on the walkthrough to see the rest of the game.

Only a few puzzles seemed really unfair, especially the 'last' big puzzle. But the creativity of this game is outstanding. If I had been looking for a long game to play over a month, this would have been it.

Zork II, by Dave Lebling, Marc Blank

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A fantastic retooling of material from MIT Zork, with some new material, February 3, 2016
by MathBrush
Related reviews: Infocom
Zork II incorporates my favorite puzzles from MIT Zork: the palantirs, the tea room, the round room, the robot, the volcano, the glacier room. The dragon (a callback to Adventure) was a fun challenge, and the two or three NPCs made the game quite fun. I enjoyed watching the wizard travel around zapping me.

I prefer Zork I's treasure drop off system, however. It was annoying having a huge pile of treasure, not knowing what to do with it.

I used a walkthrough on a few places (especially the oddly-angled room), because I wanted to see the whole game. Having completed MIT Zork before made some of the hardest puzzles trivial.

The Lurking Horror, by Dave Lebling
Infocom's Lovecraftian game set on a campus: mixed puzzles, great creatures, February 3, 2016
by MathBrush
Related reviews: Infocom
It's hard for me to review this game (the first horror IF game by Infocom, and one of the first horror games ever) without comparing it to later Interactive Fiction based on Lovecraft's work. Specifically, Theatre, Anchorhead, and Lydia's Heart come to mind. How does this one compare?

First, size. The Lurking Horror is on the small side, due to PC capabilities at the time of publication. It is about the same size as Theatre, and much smaller than Anchorhead or Lydia's Heart.

Next, setting. The game is set in an alternate version of the MIT campus called GUE Tech during the winter. This worked well for me in the end, with the creepy Department of Alchemy, dark buildings and deep basements, and the gross muddy areas. It gave them game a more campy feel though, like Theatre, as opposed to the bigger games.

NPC's and enemies. While The Lurking Horror has a few okay PC's, it really shines in the creature department. I had played for a few hours without encountering more than one 'creature', and nothing that threatened me, so I was quite shocked when I (Spoiler - click to show)buried an axe in the chest of the maintenance man without any reaction from him. The further the game got, the more disturbing the creatures got. The enemies are more like Theatre's than the later games.

Puzzles. The Lurking Horror has some puzzles that are just dumb (especially the carton in the fridge). Later on, though, the puzzles get more fun, especially as you use the same objects in more and more ways. In the end, the puzzles are more like Lydia's Heart than the other two games, although there are much less puzzles overall.

Overall, it seems to me that the Lurking Horror was a great success that became eclipsed by later games. Theatre ('95) seems to be strongly inspired by The Lurking Horror, while Anchorhead ('98) seems to be inspired at least partially by Theatre (as it includes some similar puzzles). Lydia's Heart ('07) was more of a successful reboot of the Lovecraft idea using newer technology.


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