Archive for February 2016

Philosopher’s Quest (1979)   6 comments

Last we saw of the folks at Cambridge was Acheton, an extremely long and somewhat unfair attempt to one-up Adventure.

Philosopher’s Quest (originally Brand X) was written as if the authors (Peter Killworth and Jonathan Mestel) had played Adventure, Zork, and Acheton, and felt like what the world needed was a “master quest” version.

This is yet another “grab the treasures” type plot, although I am unclear at the moment where the treasures go. There’s a “purple star” which was last seen in Acheton. In that game it teleported treasures to the vault. I’m not sure if it’s the same effect here because I haven’t found a treasure yet.

You are at the south end of the long passage. There is a tunnel to the south through which light is faintly visible. Someone has scratched the word ‘BLACH’ on the wall!
> s
You are on a sandy beach to the east of an enormous cliff which bars the way to the north everywhere except a small cave entrance at its base. Rocks to the south and east block these routes effectively. There is a ledge vertically above you on the cliff, but far too high to reach. A track exits west, parallel to the cliff. There is a purple star drawn on the face of the cliff.
> say blach
A wizened old dwarf appears in a flash of light. Before you can react, he disappears as rapidly as he came.
> say blach
There is a vast explosion! On picking yourself up, however, you find that nothing seems to have happened to you.
> say blach
There is a loud < < S N A P ! ! > >
> w

I actually played this game about 7 years ago, but I hit difficulty so quickly I relied almost entirely on a walkthrough. The upshot of that is the only puzzle I remember the solution to is chronicled below as Unfair Twist #1. Of the rest I only remember that a.) the game is relatively small but b.) also ridiculously hard.

Unfair Twist #1:

Welcome to Brand X (Version 0.00)!
You don’t need instructions, so you won’t get any.
Problems, comments and suggestions to PDK1 or AJM8.
You are standing in a small shop which normally has various goods
displayed for sale. There are areas of the shop
obviously intended for the display of treasure.
There is an exit south, above which hangs
a large sign, which reads:


There is an aqualung with a full tank of oxygen here. It
turns on automatically upon contact with water.
There is a fluffy lace-edged cushion here.
There is a bunch of keys here.
A piece of sausage is curled up here.
There is a small teabag on the floor here.

The conceit of being allowed only a set number of items from a pile is sort of interesting, since you don’t actually need to grab the objects right away but can return for them as needed. There’s a locked door that needs keys I found early but I worry the keys are a red herring there’s some alternate way through the locked door.

In any case, here’s the unfair twist:

> get keys
> throw keys
You throw the keys neatly through the exit.
A thunderous voice from nowhere intones:


Yes, you can take three items out. This would be clever if it represented an actual loophole in the sign above, but the specific phrasing is “only two implements may be removed” which seems to disallow the trick above. If the phrasing had been “you can only carry out two items” or “you can only walk out with two of the items” or something of that sort I can see this being a genuine loophole puzzle, but as given it strikes me as reading the author’s mind.

Unfair Twist #2:

From the very first room (which you might notice has no light source item):

> s
It is pitch dark.

At first I assumed you were supposed to wander in the dark a bit until finding a light source. If you go straight south you do get outside (although there is a chance of falling down a pit and dying), but still: no light source. I did solve this on my own, but it was through such a meta method the puzzle easily still falls in the unfair category.

You are standing in the kitchen of the bungalow, which is usually lit by some rather dubious-looking electric wiring high up. The windows are all boarded up. There is a door to the larder to the east, and another room to the north. The house entrance is to the south.
There is a dubious-looking power source here.
There is an empty cup here.
The door is closed.
There is an empty electric kettle here.
> turn on power
You’re not holding the lamp!

I’m pretty sure the parser took only the first two words, so I was just misunderstood. (I still have no idea how to interact with the power source.) This led me to realize there was a lamp somewhere. I took a wild guess and went back to the very first dark room.

It is pitch dark.
> get lamp

I remember now why I hit the walkthrough so early. I’ll try to give this game more of a chance this time.

Posted February 4, 2016 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Warp: Fancy/stupid parser tricks   8 comments

There are two ways to look for creative innovation.

The conventional way is to look at recent efforts in a field (see, for example, Emily Short’s post Experimentation in the Parser Domain).

The paradoxical way is to look at older work. Many times a work’s innovation is lost because the work itself is obscure or the implementation of a promising concept was badly done. Often you can find the future in the past.


This seemed neat, but I had trouble making it work until I tried to ride a bus. The bus moves about the map at three stops travelling back and forth, and if you want to get on the bus it sometimes takes a long wait. Several times I accidentally waited past the bus arriving. I made a macro.


Now every time I type “X”, the game will first check there is a bus. If so it will ride the bus (in needs to be in that exact syntax; for all the advanced tricks the parser can do it misses some obvious synonyms). If not then it takes inventory to wait a turn. (While WAIT is an actual command it causes a real-time delay.) The game still takes inventory when successfully getting on the bus, but it doesn’t cause an issue with timing.

Here’s the macro in action:


You are carrying the following:
Transit Pass


The roar of an engine and squealing tires can be heard up the street.

You are carrying the following:
Transit Pass
You look in the distance and see a large bus approaching. The bus
pulls to a stop before you and its doors open with a loud hiss.


There is a large bus here that looks like it’s getting ready to leave.

You wave your bus pass and the bus driver smiles as you climb aboard the bus.
Easy Street. (on bus)

The bus door closes and you hear the grind of gears as it pulls away
from the stop.
The bus rattles somewhat as it carries you ahead.
Easy Street. (on bus)

The bus rattles somewhat as it carries you ahead.
Easy Street. (on bus)

Now I can just rattle of Xs until the bus arrives and the player character hops on automatically as opposed to spamming just a wait command and missing the bus altogether.

ADD: I realized this would be a better way to write the macro:


This way there’s not the extra turn taken after riding the bus. This required a bit of a programmer’s sensibility; the player won’t see the “bus object” after getting on the bus, meaning if the statements are in reverse order the NOT SEE statement will still trigger after boarding the bus.

This is so convoluted it only seems thematically appropriate in a “robot character” game like Dan Shiovitz’s Bad Machine or Paul O’Brian’s LASH. I’m not convinced the “IF” command is that helpful in more standard text adventure games.

Posted February 3, 2016 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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imaginary games reminder   Leave a comment

Phase 2 (That One Where You Have Produced Something That Can Be Called Interactive Fiction) ends February 7th, midnight EST; that’s midnight at the end of the day.

Most of the questions I’ve received have been along the lines of “is this too weird for the gamejam?” at which the answer is definitely “no”.

Posted February 3, 2016 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

Voodoo Castle: Finished!   4 comments

I was indeed quite close to the end.

Image via eBay.

Image via eBay.

I needed to move a soup kettle (which was described as having a hole underneath, but I somehow originally assumed the soup was in the hole; text-minimalism strikes again) and get a rabbit foot, and soon I had everything I needed, using the ritual described in my last post.

What's with lots of the As being in caps? This happens through the whole game and this sort of text glitch happens in other Adams games too.

What’s with lots of the As being in caps? This happens through the whole game and this sort of text glitch happens in other Adams games too.

I had fun out of proportion to the puzzle quality, which was decent but not spectacular. I think this was due to the implicit plot, which I realize I’ve never defined very well, so now is as good a time as any.

EXPLICIT PLOT: The main plot events as described in the text; if you read a transcript which does a straight-to-the-end walkthrough you are just experiencing explicit plot.

IMPLICIT PLOT: The story the emerges from the actual actions done in the game (successful or not). If you wandering around every room in the game trying to DIG with the shovel but not getting any response, that’s part of the implicit plot (imagine your character frustratedly hitting each spot of ground) but not the explicit plot (since it advances nothing).

While we are at it, I’d also include:

LITERAL PLOT: The plot that includes meta-commands like saving and restoring. Occasionally this can be reflected in the main game — in Quondam (1980) the game kills you if you try to save too early, and a very recent game I will leave unnamed to avoid spoilers (it’s one word, nine letters) uses the literal plot quite extensively and remembers what you did in prior save games.

In any case, the process of playing Voodoo Castle involved criss-crossing over locations multiple times, in some cases (the chimney, the lower area with the medium) revealing new things at each pass. The implicit plot of the adventure was a good fit, and the game felt like genuine investigating as opposed to just finding the right key for the right lock.

In other news, Emily Short linked my initial post about Warp to her blog, which I’ll take as a hint I need to get back to writing about it. I did finally find a use for those crazy IF-THEN statements in the parser. I’ll try to explain next time I post.

Posted February 1, 2016 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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