Tales of Imagination

By John Sweeney


Issue 26

Mar/Apr 87

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John Sweeney looks at Infocom's latest while our regular columnist Garry Francis takes a break


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 sheet!).


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 way!

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 you.

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 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 different modes!

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 games.

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 protection!


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.