The Meteor, the Stone and a Long Glass of Sherbet

by Graham Nelson (as Angela M. Horns)

Cave crawl/Zorkian
1996

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Number of Reviews: 7
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1-5 of 5


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Cave crawling Ambassador, April 18, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Fantasy

After three weeks as a guest of the Northland Empire, you've had it with these carefully guided official visits and tours designed to show you absolutely nothing of what is really going on in the land. Fortunately, due to a small mishap during an elephant tour, which you had nothing to do with of course, you get an opportunity to search around your lodgings and sniff out the secrets they do not want you to know.

And soon you find the entrance to a cave...

The Meteor, The Stone and a Long Glass of Sherbet sets itself firmly in Zorkian territory. It's a classic and very well done cave-crawl with some explicit references to the caves of Zork.

As soon as you enter the cave halls, you are welcomed by an overwhelming view. Truly one of the most surprising cave-descriptions I have read so far. From here, you explore a small but exquisitely crafted map. There are many differences in level, and you have to be very resourceful to get up or down from one to the other. I prefer this over a 100-room NESW sprawler any day.

The puzzles are clever without being too hard.
A few depend on unusual object-manipulation, many need you to learn a simple magic system with spells that just happen to be tailor-made for the problems you encounter.
I had the strong impression that the author did have a particular order of traversal in mind. If you should skip one of the early locations, choosing to explore deeper first, the puzzles become a lot harder to understand.

The intro and the first part of the midgame are very relaxed, getting the player to trust the game that they can explore and experiment at their leisure. And then Zarfian cruelty strikes. I won't elaborate, but just watch you inventory, okay?

There's a nice shift in pace in the endgame, where you need to make your escape by making a mental *click* to know how to behave under the new circumstances.

A cool game that leans on the cave-crawling tropes and uses them in fun and surprising ways.


3 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A kind of patchy but well-written followup to the Enchanter series., February 3, 2016

This is a mid-to-long game that follows long after the events in Spellbreaker, an Infocom game.

Graham Nelson is my favorite author, because of Curses! and Jigsaw, and for inventing Inform 7. However, I never really liked this game, partially because it takes so long to set it up. The first scene is totally linear, and the next takes a while to get going.

This is a fantasy game, and includes many Infocom themes, such as spell scrolls, complicated devices, etc. Most if not all the spells are spells mentioned in Infocom games.

The game is intricate and has well-developed puzzles, but it doesn't feel like a cohesive whole.

I haven't played this game for a few years, and I hadn't played any Infocom games when I did. If I replay it and enjoy it more with the references, I'll come back and revise my review.


7 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
Schizophrenic, June 14, 2013
by Jim Kaplan (Jim Kaplan has a room called the location. The location of Jim Kaplan is variable.)
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).


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Old School Throwback with "find the verb" fun!, April 23, 2012
by Rymbeld (Greensboro, NC)

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


14 of 14 people found the following review helpful:
Graham Nelson's Homage to the Start of It All, March 15, 2009

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.



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