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About the Story
Another day wasted as guest of the Empress, a wretchedly long tour of the breath-taking Boreal Falls, conducted as ever by the Lady Amilia. As if she weren't bad enough, an honour guard of soldiers, their breast-plates red in the setting sun, march ahead of the procession and protect you from seeing anything unrehearsed. It's a dog's life being an Ambassador.
Nominee, Best Game; Nominee, Best Writing; Nominee, Best Puzzles; Nominee - The elephant, Best Individual Puzzle - 1996 XYZZY Awards
Another of the growing pile of games set in the Zork universe (or its twin brother), this time long after the Old Underground Empire has faded from memory. As an ambassador and spy from a small duchy, you must investigate rumors of the rediscovery of magic, and ultimately master its power in order to destroy it. Set mostly underground, but with enough plot to give it a sense of intrigue. Good design, with nicely cohesive geography. Features in-game hints.
-- Carl Muckenhoupt
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Number of Reviews: 5
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It was 1996, and Graham Nelson -- creator of the Inform language and the father of modern IF -- had just released Inform 6 in April. The Second Annual IF Competition was underway. What better chance to show off the new stuff? Professor Nelson completed the intriguingly-titled piece known as The Meteor, the Stone and a Long Glass of Sherbet and submitted it to the IF Comp under the pseudonym (and anagram) "Angela M. Horns".
This is a game in the old-school style. That means the pastiche of elements that are assembled into the story is contrived, but the beauty of it lies in the assembly. It's like a patchwork quilt: You can clearly see the seams attaching various unrelated flights of fancy together, but if that's where you focus your attention, you'll miss the striking overall pattern.
At the outset, you play a diplomat, caught in an interminable "tour" of the land you are assigned to. Before long the setting changes to what long-time IF players would consider more familiar territory -- almost literally. Allusions are made to a secret mission, but it's up to the player to figure out what the mission is and how to accomplish it as you go along.
This work predates the modern style of detailed implementation, and its object and room descriptions are remarkably spare. This is clearly not carelessness, however; a rich world is presented as your imagination fills in the artfully-carved blanks. Perhaps it is the nature of a mathematician like Nelson to pay such close attention to negative information, as this same tendency shows through in the design of several puzzles. There is often as much of a clue provided by what is not said as there is by that which is.
Echoes of Zork abound, but they do not define the experience. The story comes into its own towards the end. If you, like me, find yourself completing the game without achieving the maximum score, then you'll also find yourself diving right back in to see how to dredge up those last few points. And if you, like me, find yourself looking at the built-in hints to speed that process, it's only proof that you've been well and truly hooked.
There are a few bugs (including one I found that crashed Frotz), a few quirks (potentially unplanned "solutions" to puzzles) and a couple of instances of find-the-syntax, but on the whole gameplay was smooth and of professional quality. If you enjoyed the original Infocom Zork and Enchanter series, or the more recent Enlightenment, this is a must-play. Three stars for this work from a five-star contributor to the art.
Related reviews: graham nelson
Play it if: you have a strong love for the old Infocom classics and want to re-live the experience with a slightly shinier veneer.
Don't play it if: you expect the narrative element of the story to be developed in much of any sense.
Maybe we've been spoiled by modern IF. My first experiences with the medium were on Ye Olde Classics such as Zork and Planetfall, but it wasn't very long before I stumbled onto the more contemporary literature and, to be honest, I haven't really looked back since. I can handle basically anything up to fifteen years old, and before that it tends to get a little rocky in terms of whether or not I'm likely to have the patience to enjoy it.
The shame of playing Sherbet is that it feels like a bit of a bait-and-switch. At first, it looks like this is going to be a creatively structured game: you're limited to a single location, there's strong effort being put into describing objects, characters, the passage of time. The hints menu has a fairly detailed explanation of the world the game inhabits. The main character is actually a character - yes, not a very vivid one, but bearing the signs of personality nonetheless.
Then you do a thing, and basically all of that goes away. And with what is it replaced? A sprawling, disconnected, Zorkian cave adventure starring our old amorphous friend AFGNCAAP.
Enthusiasts of Zorkian gameplay will be delighted. Me, not so much.
It feels a bit churlish to express this sort of disappointment at a work by Graham Nelson - who kind of literally wrote the book on IF. Nevertheless, Sherbet feels like two entirely different games stuck together: a detailed fantasy story of political intrigue with a comedic touch, and a standard (though not uncreative) under-implemented hunt-the-treasure romp.
A certain someone compared IF to a narrative at war with a crossword. A more accurate statement would be that the process of writing IF is like a narrative at war with a crossword - IF itself should be a harmonious relationship between the two. As it is, the relationship between the narrative and puzzles here is not unlike a tense Cold War-esque standoff: they flirt with reconciliation, but never get there before one side runs out of steam and lets the other have the last laugh.
Sherbet could have been enjoyable, excellent even, as a tale of diplomatic intrigue. It could have been enjoyable, excellent even, as a loving homage to Zork. As both, it's the result of crashing a Ferrari into an Aston Martin to get a super-car: in practice, you just get a rather disappointing mess.
The three stars are for the puzzles, which are creative and worthy of the tradition they inhabit, as well as the writing, which is sharp, witty, and evocative (when it knows what it's about).
The Meteor, the Stone and a Long Glass of Sherbet, Graham Nelson's 1996 IF Comp winning game, was in my opinion a pretty bad example of having to play "find-the-verb." There were many instances in which I reasoned out the solution to a puzzle, but couldn't easily solve it because I couldn't figure out what I was supposed to type. Here's an example:
(Spoiler - click to show)
>put rope on hook
The hook's too high for you to touch, even on tiptoe.
>throw rope on hook
The hook's too high for you to touch, even on tiptoe.
>throw rope at hook
You throw the rope up. Its two ends are now hanging from the hook.
[Your score has just gone up by one point.]
I mean, come on! Of course, playing the game the first time I didn't type things out this quickly, and if you take a look at the Club Floyd transcript, you see that they, too try to "put rope on hook," and when that fails, they experiment with other alternatives for fourteen moves. Granted, this isn't THAT bad, but it isn't the worst example of "guess the verb" in the game. It's just the first one that really felt annoying. And I'm not the only one who has played the game and had issues with this aspect of the game, apparently.
But enough criticism for now. Overall I did enjoy the game, even though it isn't exactly to my tastes: it's another puzzle-heavy game, a tribute to Zork (which, to be honest, I did not particularly enjoy either). The setting, small as it was, really captured my imagination: the upside-down tree inside a cave was really neat. The puzzles are generally not THAT hard to figure out, but it really helps to have played or at least dabbled in older Infocom games (not just Zork but also Enchanter); in fact, I'd say that the game assumes prior knowledge.
Some other reviewers have complained about the way the game opens. You're riding atop an elephant with an annoying woman who loves to gossip, sipping a long glass of sherbet ("chilled in a wooden cask of ice...an effervescent fruit syrup, much prized in these lands"), and you can't do much at first, other than WAIT. I didn't mind this at all, because it set a tone of reading. However, after you disrupt the procession of elephants, the game turns into a simple dungeon crawl. While there's more of a framing context for your dungeon crawling than in Zork, the frame narrative is weirdly joined to the rest of the game. There may as well have not been any procession of elephants at all. There could have just been in info-dump text prologue telling the player why they've decided to search the dungeon in the first place.
I feel like I'm being a bit harsh on this game, and I suppose I am. The primary issue is that it isn't to my taste, but it was a fine game. Since it was small, there wasn't much opportunity for exploration really. This game is suited for players interested in solving a series of puzzles for their own sake, but not uncovering a plot. Because the plot is pretty thin, it was hard for me to care about forging on.
(taken from my blog, gentle hart desire
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"Will you read me a story?" "Read you a story? What fun would that be? I've got a better idea: let's tell a story together."
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