Quondam: Horror Vacui   12 comments

So: you’re a budding author determined to produce the most difficult text adventure ever made. How do you proceed?

If you’re Rod Underwood, by horror vacui.

Horror vacui (“fear of empty space”) refers to the artistic practice of filling every nook and cranny on a page or painting, most famously exemplified by the Book of Kells above.

In the sense of this game, it’s filling every space possible with a puzzle. Nearly every location and object has some aspect that can either a.) kill you outright or b.) cause you to make the game unwinnable.

Like this item adjacent to the very first room:

The star snaps out on a chain. The morningstar is a tricky weapon and you bash your brains out.
Your life is over.

Nearby, you find an elixir on a spider web. While you are predictably killed by the spiders …

A horde of spiders swarms over you and eats you.
You are very dead.

… you are also killed by the elixir itself.

You drink the elixir. You start to shrink… you’re changing .. Hey, where did you go?
You’ve passed away.

So far, this feels like the Philosopher’s Quest strategy, but that map was sprawling compared to this one.

The right half of the map that I have so far. The left half has an arrangement of hexagons making a spider web, but most of the rooms aren’t useful.

I’ve found 13 locations of significance, and I count 11 open puzzles. Here are all of them:

1. There is a sword in a stone (the REJECT one I quoted in my last post). I can eat a sandwich to gain strength and pull out the sword, although it breaks off at the hilt (I have no idea if the breaking is a puzzle, but the hilt counts as a treasure). However, the sandwich causes nausea and death shortly afterwards.

2. There is a “fungi room” with a “rapidly growing vegetable being”. You can JUMP to avoid immediate death (“You leap over the creature’s limbs just before they close over your legs!”) but after a few turns the being grows too large and kills you.

3. I found (via use of magic word) a customs room.

You are at the customs. The only exit is a portal pulsing red-green to the north. There is a notice here: Any goods left here are stored and will be restored when you leave. Items needed for survival are allowed. Duty is charged.
A fanged customs official waits for you to declare your goods.

Saving your game is safe here. I presumed storing treasures might work as well, but if I try to “declare” one it just disappears. I don’t know what that business about things being “restored when you leave” is. Also, if you’re carrying a rucksack with items inside and you try to leave the room all the items in the rucksack disappear.

4. There’s a desert area where you quickly die of thirst. You have a flask which presumably contains water, but it just breaks and gets you wet if you try to open it.

5. There’s the previously mentioned spiders, which trigger when you try to leave the center of a large spider web.

6. There’s a dragon that outright fries you if you try to go by.

7. There’s a knight that “challenges” you and blocks your way. You can distract by handing him your morningstar (see the first excerpt in this post). If you go back to the same room he returns to his normal behavior, and you can’t get the morningstar back.

8. There’s a cave blocked by an illusion of fire. I was able to pass through and rescue a harp, but there’s also a mirror in there that I can’t take out (if I do, I spot an image of the fire in the mirror that causes the character to pause, and the fire becomes real).

9. There’s a bird in a forest that I don’t know what to do with; if I try to pick the bird up it dies immediately.

10. The forest itself is a maze, and I am unclear if there’s a way to navigate it or if you’re just supposed to stumble at random.

11. It’s unclear how to drink the elixir while surviving it, or if you’re even supposed to (I’m guessing either you get rid of the inside and just use the bottle it came in, or you give it to someone else to drink).

I won’t count it as a #12, but I may or may not have incorrectly gotten past a lock. I was able to BREAK LOCK with ease but knowing this game you need to keep the lock for something later. Strangely, the same room had a key, but no verb that resembled UNLOCK LOCK or PUT KEY or the like was even recognized. This game is so unnerving that even after solving a puzzle I wonder if I’ve really solved the puzzle.

Posted September 13, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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12 responses to “Quondam: Horror Vacui

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  1. >WAVE ROD
    The star snaps out on a chain. The morningstar is a tricky weapon and you bash your brains out.
    Your life is over.

    That’s an argument against eliminating the “examine” verb right there.

    What happens if you eat the sandwich and then drink the elixir? Or pour the elixir on the fungi?

    • To be fair, the author was going for a gag here (taking an item from Adventure and making it deadly) and even with an EXAMINE verb would have written something nondescript.

      I figured out the vegetable monster already since my last post, I’ll discuss it next time – it doesn’t have to do with the elixir – you actually do want it to get bigger.

      Eating sandwich + drink elixir has no good effect.

      It kind of looks like the other thread is attempt to give hints, so I’m averting my eyes for now – I don’t want any just yet.

      • No spoilers in this reply (you’re right to avoid that other thread):

        I’ve found what I understand to be the official hint sheet online. It gives both hints and answers, in a jumbled order to reduce inadvertent spoilers. It does suggest asking a friend to look up hints for you if you really want to minimize possibility of spoilers.

        I won’t link it now unless you request it. I’m happy to pull info from it (rot13’d) in future posts if and when you’d like a hint.

        Finally, I’ve noticed this game has some interesting parser oddities. Have you tried entering just a noun as your command?

      • I have tried just a noun (I first discovered the oddity when trying out WATER as a verb).

  2. Clue: Smørbrød. 😉

    • Actually there is also a clue in the description of the sandwich, but it does require knowledge of the nomenclature of the public train transportation system in the UK before it was privatised and the popular cultural/satirical associations of the on-board catering!

      Yeah. Tough game.

      • (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻

        Not listening to any more complaints about needing to be American to understand that baseball puzzle in Zork, Graham Nelson. (Not that I would’ve been able to figure that out, or any other puzzle in Zork.)

      • Having watched enough of the Let’s Play you linked in the last thread to see what was going on in this puzzle, it’s amazing how much seems to depend on withholding information from you about things that would be in the “examine” description, if there were one. Besides the morningstar (rot13ed):
        gur vffhr vf gung gur fnaqjvpu vf jenccrq va cynfgvp? Gung’q or boivbhf sebz n qrfpevcgvba. Vf guvf fbzrguvat lbh’q vzzrqvngryl xabj sebz gur snpg gung vg’f qrfpevorq nf n “gnxrnjnl”?
        Gur ehpxfnpx unf n ubyr va vg nccneragyl–ntnva, fbzrguvat gung pbhyq or erirnyrq ol na rknzvangvba. Vf gurer n aba-gevny naq reebe jnl gb qvfpbire guvf? Vf gurer n zrffntr gung fbzrguvat snyyf bhg bs vg?
        Gur ovg jvgu hfvat gur shatv gb qvffbyir n ubyr va gur sybbe frrzrq haqrepyhrq ohg nyfb cne sbe gur pbhefr va guvf fbeg bs guvat.

        It is true that “BR takeaway sandwich” did make sense even to a Yank like me.

      • The sandwich cultural reference meant nothing to me, but I managed to figure out that puzzle using another clue provided by the game. (More clues than it provides for most of its puzzles.)

      • gur vffhr vf gung gur fnaqjvpu vf jenccrq va cynfgvp? Gung’q or boivbhf sebz n qrfpevcgvba. Vf guvf fbzrguvat lbh’q vzzrqvngryl xabj sebz gur snpg gung vg’f qrfpevorq nf n “gnxrnjnl”?

        Jryy, gur snpg gung vg’f n “O.E.” (Oevgvfu Envy) gnxrnjnl fnaqjvpu vzcyvrf gung vg’f bar bs gubfr fnaqjvpurf gung ner cnpxntrq va pneqobneq naq/be cynfgvp fb gurl pna or gnxra njnl naq rngra yngre.

      • Seeing “Rail” turn into “Envy” has sent me down a rot13 rabbit hole. abjurer/nowhere and Green/Terra I’d seen in Andrew Schultz’s Ugly Oafs, but gnat/tang! clerk/pyrex! Chechin flipping purpura! Ha ha.

      • My personal favorite rot13 coincidence is vex/irk.

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