A Moment of Hope by Simmon Keith [Comp99]

IFDB page: A Moment Of Hope
Final placement: 18th place (of 37) in the 1999 Interactive Fiction Competition

Remember how one-room puzzlefests were the big trend of the 1998 competition? Well, I think I’m getting a handle on what it is for ’99: non-interactive fiction. It’s the legacy of Photopia, I suppose. But how little we knew, when we played that one short, brilliant Red Planet section of Photopia where every chosen direction advances the plot, that in a year we’d be playing entire games that operate like that. So far I’ve seen Halothane, which enforces its plot fairly rigidly; Remembrance, which limits the player’s options severely by restricting them to a very short menu; and Life on Beal Street, which is no more interactive than a book. Perhaps the worst offender yet, though, is A Moment of Hope. At least Beal and Remembrance didn’t pretend to be anything but linear roads with no detours available. At least Halothane allowed some freedom of action. Because A Moment of Hope is a TADS game with the appearance of an unrestricted parser, it gives a very believable facade of interactivity, when in fact it’s anything but. Here’s a sample from towards the end of the game:

You flip your pillow upside down, and hope you can go to sleep.

Turning to your other side, you give it another try.

You kick at the tangled blanket, convinced it's what is preventing your

In a valiant attempt to block out the sun, you vainly cover your head
with your pillow and try to relax. ...It doesn't work.

You finally decide to give in. It's time to get up.

This is the most drastically non-interactive section of the game, but every section of it crowds that side of the continuum. There is only one exit from each location — even if others are described, the game forbids travel in all but one direction. When the game wants you to, for example, read an email, any other command is met with something along the lines of “Not right now, you’re busy.” Adding to the aggravation, sometimes commands have to be repeated multiple times in order to get the parser to accept them. At one point you have to repeat a command eight times in order for it to actually work.

Let’s take a moment to think about this. It seems clear that what the game wants to do is to tell me a specific story. It seems equally clear that the game isn’t much interested in what I want to do. Why, then, was this written as interactive fiction and entered into the IF competition? To really delve into the reasons would be an essay in itself, but one that comes to mind is, as I said earlier, Photopia. After all, the big winner from last year was a game that heavily emphasized the “fiction” side of the IF equation, so that must be the way to win competitions, right? Well, not necessarily. Even setting aside the fact that the three previous competitions were won by games with prominent and interesting puzzles (Edifice, Meteor, Weather/Zebulon), there’s also the fact that Photopia restricted interactivity strategically rather than just doing it indiscriminately. To take one small example, think about the Red Planet section of Photopia compared to the section of A Moment of Hope I’ve quoted above. [PHOTOPIA SPOILERS AHEAD] The Red Planet section of Photopia is part of a story being told to a small child. Even though the player may not know it at the time, the responses of the parser are really Alley’s responses, and the player’s input really Wendy’s participation in the story. This fact constitutes a sensible, cogent reason why every direction taken advances that section’s plot: Alley is telling a story to a small child, and using a clever technique to move the story along so that Wendy won’t find herself pointlessly wandering around the landscape. No such fictional level is present in A Moment of Hope. The game’s responses and player’s input are no more or less than they seem, and as such, when the game uses Alley’s trick on the player it seems rather condescending. After all, we’re not small children with five-minute attention spans. A range of choices and a landscape to traverse won’t lose us.

The game doesn’t take that risk, though, perhaps because its main character is so unsympathetic that it can’t afford to allow any player input that might make him less pathetic. The basic plot here is that an incredibly insecure guy has gotten an email from a matchmaking website. The site has matched him up with somebody he really likes, but how serious is she about him? The game is unrelenting with the constant reminders of just how strung out this guy is. Especially in the first section, almost every single turn yields multiple messages about the PC’s deep, deep depression. No wonder, then, that the game wants to restrict player action. What if a player came along who wanted to make the choice to just forget about this girl and call a friend instead? What if a player wanted to just turn off the computer (the computer in the game, I mean) and read a good book? Hell, what if a player wanted to at least make the damn bed? Nope, wouldn’t fit the story. Wouldn’t fit the character. So it’s not allowed. But a player can’t help wondering: what am I doing in this short story? It’s written well, with no mechanical errors (or coding errors), but if A Moment of Hope were straight fiction, I wouldn’t much want to read it. But I did read this game. Come to think of it, because it was a competition entry, the whole group of judges was a bit of a captive audience, wasn’t it? Hmmm, maybe the choice to write the story as IF rather than straight fiction isn’t so mysterious after all…

Rating: 3.8

Spodgeville Murphy and the Jewelled Eye Of Wossname by David Fillmore [Comp99]

IFDB page: Spodgeville Murphy and the Jewelled Eye Of Wossname
Final placement: 25th place (of 37) in the 1999 Interactive Fiction Competition

The 1996 IF competition was won by a Graham Nelson game with the highly improbable name The Meteor, the Stone, and a Long Glass of Sherbet. Since then, every year we’ve had at least one entrant with a long, silly name. In 1997, there was The Obscene Quest of Dr. Aardvarkbarf and Phred Phontious and the Quest for Pizza. In 1998, we had I Didn’t Know You Could Yodel. And this year, David Fillmore brings us Spodgeville Murphy and the Jewelled Eye of Wossname. Is there a causal relationship here? Probably not. More likely, a long and goofy title allows the author to set up some basic expectations about the work at hand. In essence, titles like this say: “Check me out! Boy, am I wacky! Prepare to be taken on a zany and madcap adventure through an absurd universe!” However, the comparison with Meteor is instructive in the following way: having set up the above expectation, Nelson subverted it by using a silly and comedic scenario (riding an elephant next to an aristocratic airhead) as the entry point into what became a rather atmospheric and austere cave adventure. The surprise value of this shift lent strength to the sense of wonder that the game worked to impart. His successors, on the other hand, have struggled vainly to live up to the wacky promise of their titles, providing a few funny moments along the way but generally falling far short of the joy of coherent absurdity. Wossname, sadly, is no exception.

The game certainly does have its funny moments. Its introduction effectively parodies the genre of Enchanter, Beyond Zork, and Path to Fortune with lines like this: “Another champion must be sought; an idiot unskilled in anything but adventuring…” The title page pulled off a good joke by presenting the game with a dramatic flourish, crowned with a grand-looking box quote from Shakespeare, a quote which turned out to have no relevance at all to the game, and very little meaning in general. (“It is an old coat.”) Finally, typing “Zork” leads to one of the best easter eggs I’ve ever found in a competition game. Go on, try it — I won’t spoil it by trying to describe it. But for every funny moment, there were several more that just fell flat. The “full” score listing might have been funnier if not for the fact that last year’s Enlightenment did the same thing with much more panache. Several allusions to various sources (the Zork games, Indiana Jones) were so obvious as to belie any cleverness. Lots of other attempted jokes were just, well, not that funny, and little is more tedious than unsuccessful attempts at humor (as anybody who has watched a lame sitcom can tell you.)

Adding to this tedium is the fact that the game is plagued with a number of errors, both in writing and coding. Now, the writing errors were much less frequent, and many had to do with formatting — strange line breaks, random strings of spaces and the like. Misspellings and grammar errors were relatively few, though at one point the game does manage to misspell the name of its own main character. Coding errors, however, were abundant. For example, every time you climb a particular object the game dutifully reports that you clamber onto it, reprints the room description with additional information now available to you, then inexplicably protests that you’re already on the object. At another time, the ceiling falls in, but this cataclysmic event has absolutely no effect on anything sitting on the ground. “Drop all” just doesn’t seem to work. Most egregious, though, is the fact that the final puzzle hinges on an item which, as far as I can determine, is never mentioned in any description. I only found it accidentally, through the fact that the parser includes scenery objects in its response to commands like “get all”. I felt clever for solving the puzzle by tricking the parser, but it didn’t make me any more impressed with the game. What’s more, I spent the half-hour before that floundering around in circles, trying to figure out what in the hell I could possibly be missing. Normally I ascribe this sort of thing to lack of beta-testing, but the credits indicate that no less than seven people tested the game, so I don’t know. Perhaps the time it took them to read the title preempted their ability to test the whole game?

Rating: 5.2

The Tempest by Graham Nelson as William Shakespeare [Comp97]

IFDB page: The Tempest
Final placement: 25th place (of 34) in the 1997 Interactive Fiction Competition

“Yet look, how far
The substance of my praise doth wrong this shadow
In underprizing it, so far this shadow
Doth limp behind the substance.”
— William Shakespeare
The Merchant of Venice III.ii.126-129

The Tempest attempts a great deal, and achieves much of it despite being somewhat flawed. The work presents itself not as a game, but as an “interactive performance” which asks the player to perform as the magical will of Shakespeare’s Prospero, guiding the spirit Ariel (a.k.a. the parser) through the plot of The Tempest (the play), though not necessarily in the order in which Shakespeare wrote it. Remarkably, this complicated positioning of subjectivity works quite well (and opens some unexplored territory for the mixing of first, second, and third person forms of address in IF). It is blended with a new approach to dialogue which prevents the player character from speaking at all but presents many screenfuls of dialogue between other characters (and sometimes including Ariel himself), the exchanges broken up by pausing for keystrokes between each character’s lines. In a sense, the player’s commands to the parser become essentially stage directions issued to an onstage persona via a magical conduit. This idiom also works beautifully, bestowing the game with a powerful aura of theatrical performance. The Tempest is entertaining and innovative; it often feels quite magical to inhabit the Prospero/Ariel connection, and to take part in a groundbreaking interactive experience. I think that the game also has great potential as an educational tool, allowing readers to experience Shakespeare’s language in a new and thrilling way.

All this being said, however, The Tempest is not without its problems. Actually, perhaps the game just has one major problem which manifests itself in several ways. Although the author does an excellent (sometimes astonishing) job of rearranging Shakespeare’s scenes and lines to fit the interactive mode, the fit is not perfect. Several times during the game I felt faced with responses which, if not complete non sequiturs, were certainly only tenuously connected to the command I had typed. The author wrenches in bits and pieces of dialogue from all over the play for various purposes, pressing them into service as room descriptions, parser rejoinders, and other sundry purposes. Sometimes they are perfectly suited to their purpose and sometimes less so. When I was on the wrong end of this continuum, my relationship with the game became strained — the parser’s responses were beautiful, but didn’t make enough sense, and not because of any opacity in the Elizabethan English. This situation creates a problem with the game’s puzzles: usually interactive fiction prose can be written in such a way as to suggest subtle hints to the problems facing the player. However, when control of the prose escapes the author, those hints become harder and harder for a player to come by. It is to this difficulty with the prose (and, of course, to the lack of any hint system or walkthrough) that I ascribe the problems I’ve seen players having, often with the very first puzzle of the game. With a typical piece of IF, the author could simply tailor the game’s responses to help the player along — The Tempest often achieves this goal, but all too often it falls short.

Before I played The Tempest, I was unlucky enough to run across a USENET conversation which suggested that Graham Nelson is the game’s author. I thought this was a spoiler, and I admit that it did set up a bit of preconception for me before I had even seen the first word of the game. Having said that, several things about the game do have a strong air of Nelson about them. The author’s erudition is clear, from the simple choice of subject matter to the deft interweaving of other Shakespearean and Renaissance phrases into the play’s text when necessary (for example, to the command “throw x at character” the game responds “I have no aim, no, no chance of a palpable hit.”, a phrase echoing Hamlet). Such attention to scholarly detail recalls some of the finer moments of Nelson’s epics, especially Jigsaw. Moreover, the game’s help menu (which it calls its frontispiece) contains fascinating blurbs on lost islands and the play’s history, as well as notes on the game, its creation and characteristics. Such additions are strongly reminiscent of the diplomatic briefings in Nelson’s 1996 1st Place game The Meteor, the Stone, and a Long Glass of Sherbet. Finally, the author’s technical skill and innovations with Inform are tremendous, and who better to code so well than the language’s inventor? It may be that Nelson is in fact not the author of the work (in which case the author should take the comparison as a compliment of the highest order), but even if that is so, the talent behind this game is clearly a major one. The Tempest was Shakespeare’s last play, and as such carries a distinct air of finality — I only hope that whoever authored this work will not allow it to be his or her last as well.

Prose: I suppose this is where I ought to weigh in on the debate over the originality of a work like the IF version of The Tempest. It’s my opinion that the IF Tempest is absolutely a different piece of work from The Tempest, the play. Yes, the author uses almost the entire script of the play, but I would argue that such usage is not plagiarism, because whatever Shakespeare’s intentions, I think it’s safe to say that the play was not written to be adapted into interactive form. Consequently, I don’t see the IF Tempest as any less an original work than Emma Thompson’s Sense and Sensibility or, for that matter, Shakespeare’s MacBeth (whose plot was lifted from Holinshed’s histories.) Yes, the seams do sometimes show between the author’s additions and Shakespeare’s text — these are the work’s weaker moments. However, in judging The Tempest‘s prose, I judge not the quality of Shakespeare’s writing, but the quality of its usage in its new medium — on that basis, more often than not, it succeeds.

Plot: I predict that a certain contingent of voices will raise the hue and cry over what they perceive to be The Tempest‘s lack of interactivity. I wasn’t able to finish the game in two hours (far from it, in fact — I got only six points, another example of an excellent competition game which breaks the two-hour rule), but the parts I saw made it pretty clear that the game leads you along rather carefully from one plot point to the next, allowing for very little branching. My own opinion is that this structure is not a problem — after all, the piece bills itself as “more a ‘performance’ than a ‘game’,” and as such it’s perfectly appropriate for The Tempest to enforce a certain degree of rigidity to accommodate the exigencies of its plot. In fact, what this achieves is the inclusion of a much more complicated plot than is common in interactive fiction; by limiting the player’s ability to affect the narrative stream, the game allows the complexity of Shakespeare’s plotting to shine through even in this challenging new form. I’m satisfied with the trade-off.

Puzzles: As noted above, this is where I identify the major weakness of The Tempest. [SPOILERS AHEAD] I cite as an example the first puzzle of the game, where Ariel must blow a storm to upset the boat and set the plot into motion. The reason that players are finding this puzzle so difficult is that it requires rather close knowledge of the play (and not just of the play’s first scene), which most players, even very well educated ones, are not likely to have at their fingertips. No hint is given of Ariel’s powers or of his purpose in regard to the ship. [SPOILERS END] Now, in a typical IF game, there might be a sentence or two in the introductory paragraph which introduces the idea and sets players on their way. However, because of the constraints imposed by using a collage of prewritten text, these hints are unavailable and thus players flounder in a “read-the-playwright/designer’s-mind” sort of puzzle. It won’t be the last time.

Technical (writing): The prose did an excellent job with handling a number of difficult technical tasks with regard to writing and using Elizabethan English.

Technical (coding): I found only one bug in The Tempest (at least, I think it was a bug), among a thoroughly reworked library of Inform responses and the introduction of a number of excellent devices for the presentation of dialogue and clarification of the plot.


Travels In The Land Of Erden by Laura A. Knauth [Comp97]

IFDB page: Travels in the Land of Erden
Final placement: 14th place (of 34) in the 1997 Interactive Fiction Competition

Erden is a sprawling, ambitious game which probably does not belong in the competition. This isn’t to imply that the game is without merit; on the contrary, it seems to have the potential to become an enjoyable fantasy excursion. However, the game is huge — I played for two hours and I didn’t even visit every location, let alone solve many puzzles. Moreover, Erden could use another few rounds of testing; I found several coding bugs and a plethora of grammar and spelling errors. In my opinion, the best thing that could happen to this game is thorough testing and proofing, then release in the spring of 1998, when we’ve all recovered from our competition hangover and hunger for substantial new adventures.

I can see why there’s a temptation to submit longer games to the competition. For one thing, there seems to be ongoing debate about the meaning of the “two-hour” rule: is it that your game can be any size but will simply be judged after two hours of play, or does it mean that your game should be winnable in two hours? And if it’s the latter, what do we mean with an imprecise term like “winnable?” Hell, with a walkthrough and a good headwind even Curses is winnable in two hours — that doesn’t make it a two hour game! Then also there’s the fact that historically, the games that have won or placed high in the competition (Weather, Sherbet, Delusions… the list goes on) have strained or outright flouted the two-hour convention. According to Whizzard, the idea behind the rule is to prevent new authors from having to be intimidated by the prospect of going up against a Jigsaw or Christminster, an epic game with a huge scope, and I think that this rule still has value, despite the beating it’s taken over the years. I tend to be of the opinion that the ideal size for a competition game is something that I (an experienced IF player, but no great shakes as a puzzle solver) can see 90-100% of in a two-hour sitting. I designed Wearing the Claw this way, and I appreciate competition games that do the same. However, the way it’s worked out in practice is that the large-scope games still slip in — perhaps not epics, but much more than vignettes, and they often succeed. And perhaps that’s for the best; after all, in a competition like this one (where the works are labors of love and the financial stakes are rather low) it’s better to have fewer rules and more flexibility, thus to encourage more entrants.

Still, what Erden demonstrates is that there is another advantage of keeping your competition entry small: focus. I don’t have an accurate idea of how big Erden is (since I didn’t see the whole thing, probably not even half of it, in my two hours), but it seems to me that if the author had concentrated her energies on a game perhaps a quarter of the size of this one, she would have had time for much more extensive proofing and beta-testing, and the result might have been a tight, polished gem rather than the rough and gangly work she submitted. In addition, she’d have had the opportunity to implement a taut and crystalline design structure, which is beneficial to any game writer. I think that after serious and detailed revision, Erden could be a fantasy odyssey on a par with Path To Fortune; at the moment, however, it is neither that nor a particularly thrilling competition entry.

Prose: The prose in Erden is often awkward, and can be difficult to read. Misplaced modifiers, unmarked appositives, and endless strings of prepositional phrases abound. The author also seems to have a particular dislike for commas, stringing clause after clause breathlessly together. I often reached the end of a sentence and found myself wondering how it had started. There are times in which this turgid prose style makes for some nice effects, as it gives a baroque feel to some of the game’s ornate artifacts. Other times, it’s just confusing. Overall, Erden could be made a much more evocative game with the help of some serious editing.

Plot: One interesting aspect of Erden‘s plot is that it feels much more “in medias res” than most interactive fiction. You enter the mysterious fantasy land after the dragon has already been vanquished. Of course, there are other quests to be undertaken, but the absence of the dragon helps to give the milieu a satisfying sense of history. That being said, I’m not sure that I gleaned much more about the plot. Certainly the retrieval of a mystical ruby is your main goal, and several subquests pop up along the way, some of which I didn’t even begin before my two hours ran out. However, what the meaning of the ruby is, or whether the plot offers any twists, turns, or even character development of any kind is still opaque to me.

Puzzles: I spent enough time traversing the land that I’m not sure I even encountered any puzzles. There’s apparently a lantern to be obtained, but the parameters of doing so were so broad that I have no idea how long it would have taken to succeed. I collected several objects whose use was not immediately apparent, but I’m not sure if they ever come in handy or not. There was one area of the game that seemed pretty clearly to hide a gateway to underground caverns, but once I thought I had found the answer to opening the gate, the parser was stubbornly unresponsive to my ideas. So I have no idea whether what I was seeing was an unsolved puzzle or a red herring. What’s more, the game lacked a scoring system so I wasn’t ever sure when I had done something important, but let me put it this way: I didn’t feel like I had done anything clever. Because of all this, I can’t venture much of an opinion about the puzzles in the game.

Technical (writing): There were dozens of writing errors in the game. Beyond the awkward, overloaded prose there were any number of misspellings and misplaced modifiers.

Technical (coding): Erden suffered from many niggling coding errors, especially missing or added new_lines. Some important scenery objects are missing (for example, the game describes huge hieroglyphics carved into a cliffside, the examination of which returns “You can’t see any such thing.”). Like the writing, the coding would benefit from an attentive overhaul.


About my 1997 IF Competition reviews

Playing and reviewing every game from the 1996 competition was a bit of a journey for me. At first, I was checking them out with an eye toward assessing the competitors to my own entry. That faded pretty quickly after I played Delusions, which was so much better than Wearing The Claw that I gave up all hope of winning then and there.

Delusions remained my favorite game of all the entries that year. It just blew me away. Once I played it and wrote about it, I knew that I wanted to share what I’d written, and in the spirit of fairness I committed to playing and writing about all the games. (The spirit of fairness did not extend so far as to rewriting the notes-y reviews I’d already completed. The deadline was a tough one.)

Some of my other favorites came toward the end of that queue, including Tapestry, Small World, and the ponderously named eventual comp winner The Meteor, The Stone, and a Long Glass of Sherbet. I had started playing these games to check out my competition, but I finished them in love with the competition. Sure, there were clunkers, and some outright painful experiences, but for a kid enchanted by Infocom, there was also this bouquet of brilliant new Infocom-like games, and even more thrilling, some games that opened up territory that Infocom had never touched.

So well before the 1997 comp, I was excited to play all the games, and write much more definitive reviews of each one from the outset. I settled on a format of three paragraphs, plus a similar breakdown to what I’d provided in ’96 — sections on prose, plot, puzzles, and technical prowess for both writing and coding. I discarded “difficulty” as a category, because it had proven irrelevant for so many of the Comp96 games.

Well, I bit off a little more than I could chew. By the time I got to the end of the judging period for all 34 comp games (10 more than I’d reviewed the previous year!), that format had beaten me up pretty well. But again, out of a sense of fairness, I didn’t want to alter it midway through the journey. I knew, though, that I’d need to take a more scaled-down approach in the future. I also grappled a lot with how to handle spoilers in my Comp97 reviews. I kept finding myself wanting to reinforce my points with specific evidence from the games, but doing so meant spoiling puzzles or plot.

As I revamp these reviews for >INVENTORY, I’ve taken out some spoiler tags that seem overly cautious to me now, but I’ve left quite a few in. Where there’s danger of spoiling major plot or puzzle points, I either provide a warning in red declaring “spoilers from here on out” or some equivalent, or I blank out the text of the spoiler and put red begin and end tags on it. Where I do this, you can highlight the text to see the spoiler. Fair warning, though: if you’re using a screen reader to read these posts, such color trickery obviously won’t work, so you’ll need to rely on the “spoilers begin” and “spoilers end” tags. Apologies for this — I got better over the years.

1997 was also the first year of the cool comp randomizer, meaning that rather than playing the game in filename order, I played them in an entirely random order. As always, I’ll post the reviews in the order that I played the games, since I often find myself referring back to previous reviews in the course of writing new ones. Finally, I apparently found it necessary to post an apology for my occasional irascibility, alongside some further explications of my opinions about unfinished games and cliched settings.

For the 1997 IF Competition games, I’ll provide:

  • IFDB page
  • Final comp placement
  • 3 paragraphs of overall discussion
  • Assessments of the following attributes:
    • Prose
    • Technical achievement, split into writing and coding subcategories
    • Plot
    • Puzzles
  • Overall score

I originally posted my reviews for the 1997 IF Competition games on January 1, 1998.

The Meteor, the Stone, and a Long Glass of Sherbet by Graham Nelson as Angela M. Horns [Comp96]

IFDB page: The Meteor, the Stone, and a Long Glass of Sherbet
Final placement: 1st place (of 26) in the 1996 Interactive Fiction Competition

I was very impressed with Sherbet, a highly inventive adventure which puts yet another imaginative spin on the Zork mythos. The game’s prose is at a very high level of quality, its world is very well-designed, and several aspects of the documentation (the context-sensitive hints and the diplomatic “briefing”) were very well done indeed. I didn’t get through the entire game in the two hours allotted, and I found myself resorting to the hints quite a lot. Often, this was because a logical puzzle had me stumped, but the first two times were due to puzzles which didn’t offer enough alternative syntax. Unfortunately, these two situations inured me to looking at the hints, thinking perhaps that my other obstacles were due to syntax problems as well. Apart from this one flaw, Sherbet was a truly excellent piece of work — well-plotted with clever puzzles, a strong sense of unfolding narrative, and rife with the pleasures of revisiting an old friend in a new context.

Prose: The game’s writing consistently maintains an exceptional level of quality. The vacuous’ Amilia’s ramblings serve exquisitely to define her character, and the “briefings” concisely draw the player’s diplomatic situation while quietly evoking Zorkian echoes. I found myself just a little confused by some of the cave descriptions, but this was mainly due to the sense of scope which the author unerringly conveys.

Difficulty: As I mentioned, the game was too difficult (and large) for me to complete in the two hours allotted for judging time, and part of this difficulty arose from problems with the first two puzzles. After finally summoning the bird of paradise, I spent a good fifteen minutes trying to pour, put, rub, insert, or otherwise attach the sherbet to the elephant before finally resorting to the hints only to discover that the game demanded I “throw” the sherbet glass. However, in other spots the difficulty of the game was quite legitimate and logical, as in the instance of the ladder problem, which was another solution I found in the hints rather than finding it myself.

Technical (coding): On the whole, the game was very well coded, and I never found the kind of irrational flaws which can snap the suspension of disbelief in interactive fiction. There were a few spots where the game suffered from a lack of synonyms, especially the elephant (as described above) and the hook (one must again “throw rope over hook” but cannot stand on the table or hamper, lasso the hook, simply “throw rope” , “put rope on hook”, or even “throw rope onto hook”.) When these problems are eliminated , the game will be very strong indeed.

Technical (writing): Sherbet is a well-written and well-proofed piece of work in which I don’t recall noticing any technical mistakes.

Plot: It was a great pleasure to get embroiled in the plot, and the premise of the main character as a diplomat rather than an adventurer provided a break from cliché married with a plausible reason for the snooping called for by the game’s structure. I’m looking forward to the endgame, which I hope will offer a tie between the game’s diplomatic beginnings and its Zorklike middle.

Puzzles Mostly discussed above in “Technical (coding)” and “Difficulty.” Many of the puzzles were real pleasures (panning and the ladder come to mind) and the twist on treasure collecting (giving all the treasures to the Zork adventurer) was brilliant. Once the puzzles are better coded the game will be really first-rate.