John Sweeney looks at Infocom's latest while our regular
columnist Garry Francis takes a break
LEATHER GODDESSES OF PHOBOS
All from INFOCOM on diskette
Prices around £25 on 8-bit and £30 on ST
Infocom continue to produce an unrelenting flow of
superb text adventures, or as they call them 'Interactive Fiction'.
After the arduous Spellbreaker and the entertaining Ballyhoo in the
first half of 1986, they released Trinity (ST only) in September,
The Leather Goddesses of Phobos in October, and Moonmist in
November. All of the games have the unmistakable stamp of Infocom
quality, even down to the packaging (the Leather Goddesses actually
includes a 3-D Comic with 3-D glasses and a Scratch 'n' Sniff
WHAT IS AN INFOCOM?
Just in case anyone out there hasn't had a chance
to try an Infocom adventure, let me try briefly to explain some of
their features. As I said, the quality starts with the packaging,
this always includes a few novelties which may or may not contain
clues to the adventure. It also contains a comprehensive instruction
manual, which not only provides an introduction to the adventure and
a description of the types of sentences which the program can
understand, but also some tips for novices on how to enjoy and solve
adventures, and a sample transcript and map of part of an adventure,
so that, even if you have never played anything like this before,
you can very quickly get a good understanding of what it is all
about. Even experienced adventurers can benefit from reading the
sample transcript, as it nearly always contains some ideas which are
relevant to the adventure!
The quality continues into the playing. Since it
is primarily a game, and games are supposed to be fun, Infocom take
care to ensure that all their games have a liberal sprinkling of
humour. It is very rare that you won't get a few laughs out of every
session. The other aspect of the fun in an Infocom game is that you
can type in virtually anything which is relevant to the game and
follows the syntactical rules described in the manual, and you will
get a sensible answer. The vocabulary is always enormous and the
ability to understand different ways of saying things is excellent.
One of the best aspects of Infocom is that they are fairly
exhaustive in thinking of all the things that you might try and do
and supplying responses to them - often in a humorous or misleading
As you play an Infocom Interactive Novel the story
unfolds around you, confronting you with puzzles at every turn. Any
frustration you experience will normally be due to your own
limitations rather than the program's! Infocom are usually
reasonably fair as well in that the problems you will meet will
normally have logical solutions and they do try to provide clues to
most of them somewhere in the game.
So, if you have been frustrated in the past with
other adventures where you knew exactly what you wanted to try but
you couldn't guess the right words to tell the program what you
wanted to do, try an Infocom - if IT doesn't understand you then you
are trying the wrong thing.
So to the individual games.
Moonmist is an Introductory level Mystery, written
by Stu Galley and Jim Lawrence who wrote Witness and Seastalker.
This is Infocom's third Introductory story "written for everyone
from age 9 up". I believe it is their best attempt yet at producing
an adventure which a young child can play and enjoy easily. As usual
with their Introductory games they provide a map of most of the
locations - in this case the rooms of an old Cornish Castle.
Movement is made very easy since the program will accept commands
such as 'GO TO DRAWING ROOM', and a lot of redundant commands are
eliminated, e.g. if you are outside a secret door and you have found
the lever then a simple directional command such as 'E' will work -
the program will automatically pull the lever and open the door for
The game starts with you outside Tresyllian
Castle. Once you have solved the first problem (or even if you
haven't - it is Introductory level after all!) the butler will ask
you for your name and title. Your response to this will determine
your sex for the rest of the game - the various characters will
address you appropriately by name and title. Your friend Tamara will
then welcome you to the castle and introduce you to the other
guests. She is the fiancée of the Lord of the Castle and is rather
worried by the attempts on her life that have taken place recently,
especially since the Lord's previous fiancée, Deirdre, is missing
believed dead! The legendary Ghost of the White Lady has been seen
around the castle lately, and over dinner you discover that there is
a treasure hidden somewhere in the castle as well.
So there is plenty for you to do! Apart from
exploring the parts of the castle not shown on the map and searching
for the secret passages hinted at in the brochure, you must follow a
trail of clues to find the treasure, unmask whoever has been
threatening Tamara, and discover who or what the Ghost is. There are
seven other people in the castle, not to mention the butler and the
maid, and is Deirdre really dead - her body was never discovered?
The game gives plenty of help along the way and
none of it is particularly hard, so experienced adventurers should
find it fairly easy but nonetheless very enjoyable. However, once
you have finished you are only a quarter of the way through the
game! There are actually four different scenarios - each one
involving a different treasure, villain and ghost! You determine
which variation you are playing by telling the butler what your
favourite colour is at the beginning of the game. Although the
variations follow fairly similar patterns, there are enough twists
to keep you busy for many more hours. All in all an excellent
introduction to the art of adventuring.
THE LEATHER GODDESSES OF PHOBOS
The Leather Goddesses is intended for a rather
different audience! It is a Standard Level Fantasy written by Steve
Meretzky who wrote Planetfall, Sorceror, The Hitchhiker's Guide to
the Galaxy (with Douglas Adams) and A Mind Forever Voyaging (ST
only). With a pedigree like that you can be sure you are in for a
treat. The narrative is very much in the style of the pulp magazines
of the thirties, and very reminiscent of Edgar Rice Burroughs'
'Princess of Mars'. The game has three modes: Tame, Suggestive, and
Lewd! You have to tell it your age if you want to play in Lewd mode!
The game starts in Joe's Bar in Upper Sandusky,
Ohio, in 1936. Assuming that you manage to get to the toilet in
time, you will visit the jungles of Venus, the Deserts of Mars, the
cold reaches of Outer Space, and the arching towers and curving
domes of the notorious Pleasure Palace of the Leather Goddesses of
Phobos (do be sure to ask the assassin about them in order to learn
the origin of the name). Oh yes, you get to visit Cleveland too!
After determining your sex by visiting the
appropriate toilet you are captured as an experimental subject
doomed to an unspeakably painful death to help the Leather Goddesses
in their efforts to enslave humanity. Naturally you escape. You also
rescue another prisoner who has a plan to build a Super Duper
Anti-Leather Goddesses Attack machine, if only you can provide a
common household blender, six feet of rubber hose, a pair of cotton
balls, an 82 degree angle, a headlight from any 1933 Ford, a white
mouse, a photo of Douglas Fairbanks or Jean Harlow, and a copy of
the Cleveland Phone Book! Simple, eh?
So off you go on an interplanetary scavenger hunt.
The situations, problems and puzzles are all up to Infocom's usual
standard. The humour is even better than usual, as you would expect
if you have played any of Meretzky's other games. And you can have
even more fun by comparing the text and responses in the three
One excellent feature of the game is the maze.
When Infocom put a maze in a game they always make it just a little
bit different in some way. This one is no exception. It appears at
first attempt to be completely insoluble. At second attempt you will
probably decide that it really is insoluble, despite the fact that
the package actually contains a complete map of it! The fact that
you keep being attacked by beetles and crabs doesn't help, but the
main problem is the Martian alligators that keep swallowing you!
There is of course a solution and you will eventually discover the
fabulous treasure stored in the Burial Chamber of the Secret
Catacombs - won't you?
The game's finale is truly amazing. Be sure to
play it both with and without all eight items - it is completely
different! I can thoroughly recommend this to all adventurers
everywhere. This is yet another of those marvellous adventures which
have been known to finally persuade Atari owners that they really do
need a disk drive!
Last, but not least, is Trinity. The bad news, for
those of you who have only got eight bits, is that this is an
Interactive Fiction Plus. It will not run on an 800XL or 130XE. You
will need an ST. The good news, for those of you with nine bits or
more, is that it is even better than Infocom's usual standard in
richness of vocabulary, responses, text, etc. It is a Standard Level
Fantasy written by Brian Moriarty of Wishbringer fame.
It looks like a standard Infocom Interactive Novel
in most respects, but they do make slightly more use of the screen's
capabilities, for example certain of your actions will cause
quotations to appear in a small window in the middle of the screen,
and the name of the location you have entered is highlighted so as
to stand out better from the masses of text found in all Infocom
Trinity was the code name for the first atomic
experiments. The game starts at the beginning of World War III.
Assuming that you succeed in escaping from the holocaust you will
find yourself in a strange land full of strange artifacts and
numerous enormous mushrooms. Once you have discovered the secret of
the mushrooms and the giant sundial which dominates the landscape
you will be able to visit six other times and places at which atomic
explosions took place, including, finally, the McDonald Ranch where
the very first Atomic Explosion took place.
The problems are as ingenious as ever. I
especially enjoyed working out how to survive after stepping through
a mushroom door and finding myself either falling from a height of
1400 feet towards Nagasaki, or in orbit around the Earth with no
None of the Infocom games are perfect, there is
always some sentence that you think they should understand, or some
problem that you think has a slightly dubious solution (although in
hindsight you can't really see why you didn't think of trying it
sooner!), but I have yet to find any other adventures which give so
much pleasure, both in the experience of playing them and in the
satisfaction gained from solving the problems. Infocom now have
three Introductory Level, nine Standard Level, six Advanced Level,
and four Expert Level Interactive Novels - a total of 22 games. Five
of them are Mysteries, nine are Fantasy, five are Science Fiction,
and three are Tales of Adventure. I have no hesitation in
recommending any of them to anyone interested in an entertaining
challenge. I look forward eagerly to their next Interactive Novel,
Hollywood Hijinks, in early 1987.