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Busted

Parser: Inform
Authors: Jon Drukman (jsd@cyborganic.com), Derek Pizzutto, and Mike Wertheim for Scumbag Software
Availability: ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/infocom; CompuServe
Supports: Inform ports

Review by Eileen Mullin

When you're ready to tune in, turn on, and drop out to play computer games, "Busted" from Scumbag Software is a very appropriate choice. Written in Inform, this release is an updated port of an earlier ADVSYS version by Jon Drukman. "Busted" is set in a collegiate environment where police crackdowns on drug possession are rampant. The game begins as you return to your dorm room and listen to a disturbing answering machine message. The police have just busted your friend Keith and will be on the lookout for you next. In order to save your butt, you need to track down and get rid of Keith's address book, plus any incriminating evidence that you may have left around campus. Along the way, you'll need to solve a series of highly aggravating but rather original puzzles in order to progress to other parts of the game.

As in many other text adventures, "Busted" forces you to fulfill some basic human needs--in this case, eating and sleeping--before you can do much else. Beginners are likely to get fed up very quickly. But if you get past this point of the game, you'll probably have invested so much time and effort into solving these two tedious little problems that you'll feel compelled to play it through to the end! After those initial troubles, you must still avoid lingering in dangerous locations or having a bad trip.

A little prior knowledge of popular recreational drugs and their effects will take you far in playing "Busted." As I played, my ignorance in this area proved a liability (especially embarrassing because the college I went to had such a pervasive druggie atmosphere). But there are some fun references to popular culture, such as the Cheech 'n' Chong lunch box and the allusions to "Tommy" in the pinball arcade.

Many of the puzzles hinge on interacting with or acquiring objects from the numerous NPCs that populate the game. You'll run across other students, workers, mindless bureaucrats, and others in positions of authority. There's also a mysterious stranger roaming the campus, injecting people with a hallucinogenic substance, and even the police are puzzled about his motives. As might be expected, you can't really talk extensively with any of the NPCs, and their characters run pretty true to stereotype. Some, such as the nose-picking Dining Commons line lady, have amusing traits. You'll need to either possess or conceal certain items before accessing several rooms in the game. Most of the locations reflect ordinary college locales, such as a dismal cafeteria, dreary campus center, and an antiseptic heath center. Unfortunately, too few of the items mentioned in the room descriptions could be accessed or described at any length.

There are no online hints, which was exasperating when trying to guess the proper syntax for executing an action or the proper order for making a series of moves. In the library, for example, there's no indication that you must put your ID in the computer slot before typing the code for the book you want. I typed first, then put in the ID; when that didn't work, I spent the next hour thinking I must've had the wrong code. If you type HELP, the response begins, "This game is pretty damned easy if you ask me," but does go on to list how to contact the game's author for hints.

By far, the most frustrating aspect of playing "Busted" centers on the wildly uneven quality of the parser. For example, when the line lady says "Let's see some ID," why does SHOW ID TO LADY work but GIVE ID TO LADY produces "The Dining Commons line lady doesn't seem interested"? Why does LOOK IN ASHTRAY produce nothing, when LOOK AT ASHTRAY or EXAMINE ASHTRAY does? Complex sentences had to be abandoned entirely. When my efforts failed, I could never be sure if it was because I had the wrong solution in mind or if it was because I hadn't yet hit upon the single acceptable way to phrase that action.

Somehow, though, it was enormously satisfying to solve each logistical problem and make even the slightest headway. Despite some initial turbulence, the game is a lot of fun when you get immersed in it. If you can tolerate the limited parser and subject matter, you'll find the game fairly enjoyable. Although Nancy Reagan would urge you to just say no, "Busted" is an entertaining way to enjoy the vicarious thrills of outsmarting the vice squad.


CosmoServe

Parser: Adventure Game Toolkit
Author: Judith Pintar(76636.2067@compuserve.com)
Availability: CompuServe
Supports: AGT ports (PCs, some early Macs, Atari ST)

Review by Melissa Katz

If you spend your days compulsively logging on and offline, or if you regularly find yourself at the mercy of your computer for completing an important project by a fast-approaching deadline, you'll appreciate "CosmoServe: An Adventure Game for the BBS-Enslaved." An AGT game written by Judith Pintar, "CosmoServe" combines a compelling story of the perils of a freelance computer programmer with a wry parody of the chat culture found on CompuServe and other online services.

As R.J. Wright, a programmer who also fixes indoor plumbing to make ends meet, you have several problems you must solve--and quickly. The major task at hand is completing the code for a program you must deliver to an important client first thing tomorrow morning. You're so seriously in debt (all those CosmoServe charges!) that it may be the end of your business if you let down this client. The clock is ticking, but the code won't compile. Is it a hardware problem or is it the Pascal? And now you've forgotten your new CosmoServe password; how are you going to check your email to see if the technical support sysop has replied to your plea for help? You must also contend with mysterious computer viruses, gaining access to virtual reality mode, fraudulent charges on your CosmoServe account, and a dangerous online stalker.

Almost all of the game's 86 locations are online on the CosmoServe service or otherwise in the plane of virtual reality; you can also putter around R.J.'s house or the C: drive on your computer. Examining all the files in all directories on your hard drive is crucial to finding clues, as is entering each area on CosmoServe. The faux DOS interface was as much fun as the inside jokes about CompuServe. I especially liked the replication of CompuServe's electronic mall and being accused of "lurking" on an online conference. You must also keep an eye on the ticking clock so that you can be on time to rendezvous with online contacts at scheduled conferences. The game has some limited sound capabilities, which consist of differently toned beeps for logging on, when a virus takes over your computer, etc.

The game's scoring system is vast (up to 1,000 points). Points are awarded generously, even for such actions as reading useful files or messages. The parser does not return a message when points are awarded, so players should keep checking their points in the status line or they may not even realize when or why they've been rewarded.

In "CosmoServe," getting ahead hinges upon your ability to absorb information and put it to use. While the initial puzzles are fairly easy, the online portion of gameplay is complicated by malevolent forces such as the online stalker and the impending time deadline. Limited hints are available, nicely incorporated into the theme of online services. When you're logged on to CosmoServe you can type GO HINTS and leave a message for the hints sysop, choosing from an menu of available hints. But naturally, it's frustrating when the question you need help with isn't listed on the menu. Help is also available through a nosy NPC named Aunt Edna, who appears if you have trouble with initial game play and assists with the various steps you must take to find your lost password.

Although the game's hints are charitable, they are at best only mild spoilers. And there are still many, many ways to get into trouble. It's extremely easy, for example, for your computer to be destroyed by a virus, or for you to reach your credit limit due to too much shopping or fraudulent charges to your account. You might also find yourself the target of a police sting operation, or so overwhelmed by the VR experience that you conk out for the rest of the night.

You can save your game at any point, and it's very helpful to do so, in case of unexpected crises, such as an unauthorized intruder who changes your password and locks you out of using your own account. It can also take a number of false starts or second-guessing your better instincts to decide who you can trust online and whose posts you should respond to.

"CosmoServe" was a first place winner in the annual AGT game writing contest for 1992. The game is freeware, but you can register your game by sending the game's author your name, address, and the meaning of life in 20 words or less. It's an excellent intermediate game with broad appeal for all hackers, text adventurers and BBS addicts.


Curses

Parser: Inform
Author: Graham Nelson (nelson@vax.oxford.ac.uk)
Availability: ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games; CompuServe; America Online
Requires: ZIP interpreter

Review by Conrad Wong

The family's going on a vacation trip to Paris, France, and everyone's busy packing for the trip. Soon you'll be seeing historical monuments up close and personal, wandering through beautiful gardens, taking pictures for a slide show back home... But wait--there's that tourist map from your trip five years ago. You could save a few francs by digging that old thing up, and you could use a bit of a break from packing. It should only take a few minutes to find the dratted thing in the attic...

That's what you think.

As the story of "Curses" unfolds, you'll indeed find historical monuments (good as new), beautiful gardens (your own), and slide shows (as you've never before seen them). You'll also find numerous puzzles ranging from simple (not many of those) to difficult (lots) and hair-tearingly frustrating, spread across the years from ancient Egypt to the present. And you will find literary allusions, references to historical events and legends, and a family history that literally meanders all over the map, but remains centered about the ancestral Meldrew Hall in England...

"Curses" is rooted in the traditions of Infocom games where you must wander about your house and the various scenes you'll be able to unlock, picking up objects and using them to aid your quest, answer riddles, and above all else, examine everything you see so that you won't miss vital clues. As with other works of interactive fiction, you'll be able to save the game at any point, which will come in handy...You aren't likely to die very often in this game, but some scenes can only be entered once: this means that if you miss something important and realize it later, you'll want to go back to before that scene.

"Curses" well qualifies for the title of "interactive fiction" as compared to the "adventure game" which strings together puzzles with little relation to the storyline. Apart from the descriptions, which are generally well written with an eye to atmospherics, you'll find bits and pieces of family lore that weave back and forth across a historical canvas, sewn together by your efforts. When (if) you finish the game, it should all make sense... more or less.

Most puzzles depend on the traditional verbs: opening and closing things, unlocking things with other things, pushing, pulling, moving things, inserting things in other things, or turning things on or off. There area few NPCs, such as Austin, Jemima's cat, but don't expect to be able to converse intelligently with them--you can give them things, occasionally--manipulate them in other ways, or ask about various things, but they aren't much for talk.

The parser gets most of the things that Infocom games will, but there are some points at which you must use correct phrasing -- if you think that something OUGHT to work a certain way, try phrasing it differently or using a different verb.

Mercifully, "Curses" manages to be original in its puzzles, which will depend in large part on the history that you can uncover with the help of a few references (some of which are even included in the game). Clues to these puzzles can come from surprising sources, that appear at first blush to be unrelated. (when I say you must examine everything, I'm not kidding) The game's on-line hint system has been personified in the form of supernatural agencies--alas, the hints present are rather cryptic, and if you can't figure out a puzzle from the hint, there won't be any more hints. These agencies also may not recognize some puzzles you want to ask about, which can be frustrating.

"Curses" release 12 expands its map and puzzles in many ways over previous versions, which makes this game even tougher and more frustrating. If you can beat "Curses" single-handedly on this version, then you may accredit yourself a most accomplished gamer. If not... Don't feel bad, almost everyone else had to ask for help. There are 550 points, and the score system is annotated -- if you ask for a 'full' score, you'll be told what points you got from what source. Some of the annotations can be rather amusing.

If you liked the Zork trilogy, and you have a fondness for mythology and obscure things, then you will probably enjoy "Curses". But beware! This is no game where you can sit back and watch the daisies grow--keep your mind sharp, and above all...examine everything.


Veritas

Parser: TADS
Author: Jim Reese (jreese@leland.stanford.edu)
Availability: ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games/TADS
Supports: TADS ports

Review by Neil deMause

"Veritas" -- which, this game tells us, is Latin for "truth," as well as being the Harvard motto -- is set at, where else, Harvard University, as you attempt to meet the standards for graduation. And with standards like these, no wonder I didn't go to an Ivy League school; to graduate (and, not so coincidentally, win the game) you must present your senior tutor with a list of items that ranges from the expected (a senior thesis) to the bizarre (an edition of the Gutenberg Bible), all of which can be obtained through your travels in, around, and under the Harvard campus.

The puzzles you must solve to complete this scavenger hunt range from the mundane to the harder-than-average--a couple I wouldn't classify as puzzles at all, since you can easily solve them without even trying. (Others, such as one involving creative uses for a yardstick, are quite clever.) If I have one complaint about this game, it's that there's a bit too much brute searching involved; it seemed like one too many times that I knew just what I needed, but wasn't sure what object I still needed to look behind, or under, or inside to find it.

But this is nit-picking, because the true genius of "Veritas" isn't in the puzzles, but in the details. Writer/programmer James Reese has worked up an incredibly detailed virtual Harvard, with intricate descriptions of everything from the tapestries in the Harvard Lampoon castle to the works of art in the Fogg Art Museum (or, after you've swiped them, wry commentary on the sad times we live in that have left nothing but blank spaces on the walls).

If you hate red herrings, be forewarned: probably one-third of the items in "Veritas" are there for nothing but atmosphere, but they do a terrific job of providing that -- I feel like I came away from the game with a decent understanding of Harvard culture, and even Cambridge geography. I can't wait to meet a Harvard grad now, so I can ask them if there's a statue of John Harvard, "Harvard founder," that depicts another man altogether, gives the wrong year the college was founded, and even misrepresents that he was the founder of the college...

"Veritas" is a fun play, and well worth the $10 shareware fee which should help encourage Reese, now in med school at Stanford, to finish work on the promised sequel, "Club Med."


Odieus

Parser: Inform; also available in AGT
Author: Inform port by Teo Kwang Liak (bh71139770@ntuvax.ac.sg); AGT version by David Malmberg; original author unknown
Availability: ftp.gmd.de/if-archive/games; AGT version on CompuServe GAMERS forum
Requires: ZIP interpreter

Review by Lauren Meckler

"Odieus" or "Odieus' Quest for the Magic Flingshot" is a much-recycled game, The version currently residing on ftp.gmd.de/if-archives/games was ported to Inform by Teo Kwang Liak. The game (still a beta) was written as an Inform programming exercise; it's a straightforward translation of the AGT version written by David Malmberg some years back, which in turn is an adaptation of a LADS adventure by an unknown author circa 1988. Whew!

So, what's the appeal? Why has this game endured for at least seven years? I wanted to see if Odieus was interesting as a game, not just a coding exercise. I also played both the AGT version and the Inform version to see if there were any noticeable differences in play or in difficulty.

It's easy to see why "Odieus" is a good choice for experiments in programming. It's a very short game (24 locations) with uncomplicated puzzles and every object in the game (except for a red herring, literally) has a single use. As the game's introduction tells you, your name is Odieus and you come from a long line of sorcerers and enchantresses. You're well-educated in the art of spell flinging, but unfortunately your magic flingshot has been stolen by your bitter archenemy Blackwing. Your mission consists of gaining entrance to Blackwing's lair and discovering where he's stashed your prized possession. You have to get past several guarded locations (staffed by a gorilla, a pride of lions, and a sleeping giant, among others). Solutions tend to involve the arbitrary use of objects, rather than logical ones, especially for the final puzzle in the game.

For avid players looking for a new challenge, though, there's little about "Odieus" that's attention-getting. The story is thin, character development is nil, and the puzzles aren't terribly intriguing. In general, magic and sorcery themes leave me cold. But even if you are an fan of "Enchanter"-type games, be forewarned that the sorcery is just for atmosphere and there aren't any scrolls to learn or spells to cast.

The best audience for "Odieus" is probably beginning programmers, which explains its many reincarnations. Every language has its own conventions for ensuring that conditions have been met (i.e., objects are present, objects are used correctly), so I'm sure it is a good exercise to translate what must be a fairly simple program (speaking as someone who knows nothing about programming) into your language of choice.

I did find the Inform version kind of buggy. My first complaint is that the parser can be contradictory. If you try to chop down a tree with an axe in one room you get the stock response to chopping anything: "Cutting things up in this game is never useful," but a tree does come crashing down one room over when you chop at it. A new default answer is definitely needed. Also, most of the room descriptions failed to list all the directions in which you can go.

My biggest problem in playing the Inform port, though, was trying to find the right syntax for solving one problem: cooling off the hot springs. I could do it with no problem in the AGT version, but I couldn't get the parser in the Inform version to accept anything I came up with. So, while I managed to complete the game in the AGT version, I remained stuck at this puzzle (about one-quarter of the way through the game) in the Inform version. The bug is probably something that would be easy to fix.

I didn't find these specific problems in the AGT version, but overall the parser in the AGT version was much more frustrating. The vocabulary was very limited and the parser gave few clues if the names you tried to use for objects were inappropriate.

In both version of "Odieus" you wind up with 150 points, and you need to get all the points to finish the game. (The AGT version, though, will award you an extra 10 points if you print the order form for buying your own copy of the Adventure Game Toolkit!) While the story of "Odieus" won't keep anyone on the edge of their seat, I'm sure it would be interesting to compare the coding challenges from a programmer's perspective. I'm sure the TADS and ALAN versions won't be far behind...


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