Saturday, June 15, 2013

Corruption (Magnetic Scrolls)

I've always thought of Magnetic Scrolls' Corruption has a hybrid of Infocom's Deadline and Bureaucracy. It has Deadline's strict be-in-the-right-place-at-the-right-time timing combined with Bureaucracy's fatalistic the-odds-are-stacked-against-you sense of dread. Now, I can't say I've actually played very far into Bureaucracy so that summation may be incorrect, but that perception has convinced me I hate all games of this type. In fact, I find it hard to believe that these kinds of games have a sizable audience. In Bureaucracy's case, the game was given a free pass just because it's Douglas Adams, but part of me thinks that any author who writes frustration games hates his players and these games only continue to be written because authors continue to hate players. Luckily, it's not a popular sentiment.

How it Begins

The Transcript

I didn't share it, but I played with the game for a bit before deciding I'd jump straight to Stefano Lorenzin's walkthrough (available on the IF archive), so this is a mostly-by-the-solution playthrough:

Final Thoughts

There are some nice elements in this game, but more than anything, it does a good job of illuminating how far IF has come in the last 20+ years. Older games with a bunch of NPCs like this really show the weakness of the ASK/TELL system. While authors have a better shot of stocking one or two NPCs with a ton of responses, it is common to drop the ball when doing more, as is the case here. Only more recently ("recent" is a relative term here) has the system been redeemed by games that also listed available topics. Most of my off-walkthrough playing of the game consisted of NPCs not reacting to my queries (and the ones that did land often had uninteresting responses).

The game almost never lists room exits, forcing you to use the >EXITS command all of the time. Even still, by following the walkthrough, I was led to rooms that I never had found before just because I must have forgotten to type >EXITS a couple places.

Also, the game has no >UNDO, and I really am out of practice when it comes to saving everywhere so I did not enjoy that.

More interestingly, there's a >PRONOUNS meta command that lists all of the current pronoun settings, like:
It - the affidavit
Them - an affidavit
Him - Detective Inspector Goddard
Her - Theresa
It's a curious peek-behind-the-curtain that I'd almost consider adding to my Hugo games if I thought it'd actually help the player, but it feels more like a debugging verb than anything.

In covering this game, I actually looked at two walkthroughs, and the first one had a couple differences and said particularly that some of the actions in the walkthrough I used were red herrings. Of course, my game only got 190 out of 200 points so it's possible that other solution is right, but part of me thinks that there might be optional paths in the midgame. In the other path, you get attacked by a hitman tramp, whom you later tell the inspector about as proof that people are out to kill you. The other solution also did not involve going to jail, but I'm wondering if it's possible to do all of these things in one game. In any case, that aspect of the game is a nice mystery.

The story and writing could have been a lot more engaging, but I respect the game for its ambition. I also have to say, that's probably the best Magnetic Scrolls ending I've ever seen. Most of them are just jaw-droppingly horrible. The graphics have also held up a bit better than some of the other games. The cassette tape feelie that comes with the game was pretty clever, too.

By today's standards, there's a lot wrong with this game, and it's nice to try to imagine what it'd be like if it had the modern expectations of polish and ease-of-play. Also, I can see improvements over other MS games here, and I'm not finishing up this review hating the game as much as I thought I would going in. I don't think I'm going to play it again, but if someone else went through it and captured a "perfect run" that shows as much game content as possible, hey, I'd read it.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Spellcasting 101 (Legend Entertainment)

Yes, Steve Meretzky's Spellcasting 101! Oh, the excitement! Not only that, but this is the first transcript crossover with another site. See, Robb Sherwin over at asked me to review S101 for his site. Somewhere along the way, I thought, huh, I can still share the transcript over here. So, before or after you read the transcript here, go over to caltrops and read my review, which will definitely cover some things I don't talk about here.

How it Begins

"In the corner is a pile of rotting hay -- the only thing you have that passes for a bed."

The Transcript

Final Thoughts

Things I forgot to mention in my review- first off, I made a fair amount of progress into the game using Trizbort's automapping feature (this is why my transcript is peppered with >see commands) before eventually realizing that S101 has a built-in map feature.

Also, it is interesting that despite no longer being burdened by the space limitations of the Z-Machine, S101 has its share of throwaway responses, like the response to >TALK TO <person>, which is "Blah, blah, blah..." On one hand, this is a missed opportunity to present a very polished game, but on the other hand, it shows just how important it is to have priorities when writing responses. Sometimes I wonder if the cross that modern IF bears is its obligation to try to provide a nice response to everything. Maybe we need to take a step back.


Yes, I have noticed that this post has attracted several spam bots, but it is spellcasting spam which I find hilarious so I'm going to just let it accumulate for a while.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Countdown to Doom (Killworth, Topologika)

I'm a fan of Peter Killworth's Doom games. The narrative and game design get better as the series progresses, but all of them have their cool features. Now, I've written a spiel about Killworth and the Doom games before, so instead of reiterating it here, I'll just point you to this write-up:

(To be honest, I didn't re-read the whole thing so I'll probably repeat myself in any case.)

How it Begins

(The above screenshots are from the original Topologika release even though I played the Inform port for my transcript. There are probably small differences between the two, but I thought screenshots of the original would look cooler.)

The Transcript

Now, when I played the game, I found mapping to be one of the fun elements. Still, if anyone is just curious about the game layout or wants to skip that part when playing themselves, here are some maps made be me (well, one map in two formats):

GUEmap file:

Final Thoughts

So, there isn't a whole lot of story, and the game design largely depends on trial-by-error. Still, it's such an interesting environment that I enjoyed exploring its mysteries despite the numerous deaths and game restarts. Even once you have figured out all of the individual puzzles, there is one final puzzle as you determine the best order. Once you know what to do, there is plenty of time to get through everything under the allotted number of turns, too.

Not every puzzle in this game is a keeper, but between the good ones and the memorable environment, I look back fondly on this game (and I look forward to sharing the great things about the other games, too).

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Ballyhoo (O'Neill, Infocom)

Now, when I started this blog (so many days ago), I hadn't intended to cover any Infocom games. Still, it was suggested to me that the next game I covered be one that I enjoyed. Also, sometime earlier, another friend wondered why, in this day and age, Infocom transcripts aren't available online (there are some but not many). Lastly, most of the transcripts on here will have a lot of dead space since I don't edit them (much) to strip away the parts where I flail around helplessly. Of course, this results in largely bloated transcripts, so it'd be a nice change of pace to have comparatively lean transcripts that milk these games for their content.

I chose to start off with Ballyhoo since it and The Lurking Horror were the first two Infocom games I legally owned, having received them for Christmas in '87, and Ballyhoo is   (rightfully) the less well-regarded of the two. Still, I think it has its charms that separate it from other Infocom adventures and am happy to try to share them with the world. In doing Ballyhoo, I even took a look at the "reformed" decompiled source of Ballyhoo, uncovering a few responses I was previously unaware of.

Also, yeah, I know, this is the third entry in less than a week. I probably should space these out since there are going to be weeks and months where I don't update this blog at all, but eh, this has been a fun project lately and I feel like sharing the results.

How it Begins

Ballyhoo, in Filfre intepreter

The Transcript

Now, despite its somewhat later release (1986) in Infocom's timeline, Ballyhoo doesn't support UNDO. Since I wanted to share some of the failing endings and it's a make a wrong turn sometimes, I used the Bocfel interpreter to force UNDO support (they don't show up in the transcript).

UPDATE: Ok, the number of comments or something is preventing me from being able to do a Google Doc version of the transcript, so for this one, I had to make a .ODT file. I could have also done a PDF , but neither format supports showing comments in a browser (at least for me) and with .ODT, you can change the font and margins as you please. I'd be happy to hear people's opinions on this, if anyone cares.

In any case, the transcript:

UPDATE #2: I meant to share the following links in the first place but forgot. You may want to peruse the documentation alongside the transcript. In that case, you are covered by the Infocom Documentation Project:

manual and feelies
Invisiclues map

Final Thoughts

Storywise, the game could use some help with chronological order. Like, I get the impression that the part where Comrade Thumb is doing tricks for you gives you time to fake his "Hello, Harry" and go through the turnstile with him. The problem is, you don't know Harry's name unless Thumb has gone through (or you've played the game before), and why would you want to go into the performer camp without having been in the prop tent and found out about the kidnapped daughter, a scene you can't get to without triggering Thumb's performance.

It's also strange that you have to find the scrap of newspaper in Chuckle's trailer before you can get the ransom note that you can compare it to.

Also, if we connect the dots, are we to understand that at some point, Chelsea was kept in a compartment in a gorilla cage, moved to a suitcase kept in a smoky gambling room (only to be thrown on top of a tent), and finally deposited in a crawlspace in a trailer?  Man, that's harsh, and this from people who know her! Good thing that girl didn't have her own hunger daemon.

Now that I'm much older and somewhat wiser, I can admit that some of the writing in Ballyhoo could be better (the handling of Tina is a particular sore point for me now), and the depth of implementation and puzzle-hinting could use a workover. Just the same, I'm still a fan of some other elements. Several scenes have, to me, fantastic imagery despite sometimes terse wording, successfully playing off of familiar icons. For instance, Mahler has obvious hints of King Kong and Mighty Joe Young. Scenes like the one where you are avoiding the prod on the top of the tent, while not mechanically challenging, provide an interesting narrative flow to the game not often seen in Infocom games.

The game also has a crazy amount of playful-banter-with-the-parser (like the egress stuff or the mousetrap scene). Other Infocom games have this, too, but not any take the banter this far. Between that and the fake death, Ballyhoo does a nice job of playing with parser expectations. One might find these things insufferable, but personally I think it's a nice addition to the right game with the right genre.

Ballyhoo doesn't show up on many "Favorite Infocom Games" lists, but that isn't to say that this candy apple's fruit is rotten.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Demon's Tomb

Demon's Tomb was brought to my attention by a "what game am I thinking of?" thread over at the Interactive Fiction Communty Forum. The poster remembered a game that begins an archaeologist saving his findings from an inferno that he would not survive, but those saved findings will be useful to the protagonist of the main game. Someone quickly recognized this as Demon's Tomb. I believe they went on to point out that it was a deeply flawed game, but whatever, I was hooked. I thought it sounded interesting.

How it Begins

The Best Stuff

The interface for Demon's Tomb is actually pretty good. The parser, while not perfect, is better than most, and the layout of the screen has several optional configurations, including a play-by-menu mode. Several rooms have an optional graphic to check out (not that the graphics are especially nice). One of the best features is the fact that you can define synonyms, so while the game doesn't understand X as EXAMINE initially it is an easy thing to fix.

Besides regular save and restore, there are also RAMSAVE and RAMLOAD commands which do a quick one-slot state-saving thing. I probably should have used that feature more, myself.

The game also uses THINK ABOUT <object or person>. Granted, that is not one of my favorite IF tropes, but it shows some foresight as that shows up a good deal more in later years.

The nicest thing is probably the fact that the game (with documentation) is provided for free by its author on the web, easily found by a web search. It is nice to see authors appreciate their own work.

The Bad

Ok, to be honest, I have a lot of issues with the game itself. Here is the transcript:

(As I do more of these transcripts, I'm finding not every one is going to be very comment-heavy. Some of them- like this one- will have the bulk of my thoughts in the section below.)

Final Thoughts

Ok, let's break it down into sections:

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Indiana Jones and the Revenge of the Ancients (Angelsoft)

Indiana Jones and the Revenge of the Ancients, according to, was the last game released by Angelsoft, Inc., a company that had a fairly decent run from 1985-1987. I call it a fairly decent run because *I* was aware of some of their games, which can't be said about some of the other games I'll cover in this blog. It probably helped a lot that Angelsoft did a lot of licensed games. Besides Indiana Jones, they covered Stephen King, James Bond, and even Dick Francis.

I've long known that one of the games was written by Mercer Mayer, an author I knew from my youth because of his "Me and My Dad" books (the protagonists were porcupines or something). What I've learned in more recent years is that he co-founded the company. I can only imagine that he and his partner thought they could do the literary aspect of IF better than Infocom. I mean, most of the Infocom authors (except for Berlyn) weren't even published authors.

If that was indeed the case, from what I've seen of Angelsoft games, they never really reached that goal. Most prose in Angelsoft games is not that exceptional, but the games really fall apart in other areas like the interface and the game design.

Still, given the licenses involved and what not, I would like to play through all of the Angelsoft games just to see if there are worthwhile moments.

That brings us to my transcript today.

How it Begins

(I'm going to have beginning screenshots for each game covered. For some games, I'll use this method to share pre-game text that can't be caught by the transcript function. In today's transcript, I already thoughtfully typed it in for you. You're welcome.)

The Transcript

You'll notice that the transcript's text width is the same as it was on the Apple II. Yes, this blog will have plenty of ugly transcripts:

Final Thoughts

So, there aren't many parts in this game that I liked, and I find not being about to GET things infuriatingly awful (if you missed it, you must TAKE things). While the game makes an effort to incorporate Indiana Jones tropes, it doesn't make the required effort to properly translate it to IF (of course, Angelsoft was even worse with some of its earlier games, and if I really hate you, I'll cover their Rambo game here, too.).

Still, there was one section that I thought had some charm. Particularly, it's the section after the intro (man, what a horrible intro) where the player can either go south and talk to the Belloq-type bad guy or go north and talk to the snake dude and learn about what's going on. If you go south earlier enough, you actually can be saved by Marion and her plane even though it's not the optimal route (you need the snake dude's snake-charming commands to win the game).

For a game that is marred by things like randomly marching Nazi troops, the multiple-route part there is pretty nice. Of course, while jumping into Marion's plane while it passes under the bridge is hinted at, I'm not sure if I would have thought such a command was worth trying, even with Indiana Jones logic applied to it.

Hmm, yeah, I can't think of any other good things. 'Til next time!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


In this blog, I intend to share transcripts of games from interactive fiction's commercial era. Specifically, I want to analyze what non-Infocom companies and individual authors did right or wrong. Using Google Doc's commenting features, I will narrate my own progression through games. I intend to hit up walkthroughs when needed, and after each transcript, I will give my overall thoughts on each game.

Just compiling the list of possible games for this blog was an interesting process, as a lot of old text adventures don't offer the ability to record scripts. If you look at that fact alone, one can infer a dichotomy between companies who saw the medium as an experience worth recording and ones that didn't. To some extent, it comes down to that old distinction between "interactive fiction" and "text adventures" that some believe in.

In some cases, I have found ways to make transcriptions even where the game didn't originally allow it, but I'm going to try to only cover games with at least some narrative qualities. To some extent, I'll be judging each game's puzzles, but mostly, I hope to explore these early game's approaches to storytelling. It is my hope that this era has more to offer than we often give it credit for, but if anything, I think we can learn from its mistakes.

If I can keep up with it, it should be an interesting journey.