Haunt: Descendants   13 comments

I have “finished” with one puzzle left undone (the combination safe). I’m going to spoil three puzzles. One of them threw off my entire conception of what is possible in a game.

From Brenda Starr #1 (1947) via the Digital Comic Museum. We’ll get to this shortly.

There’s a library where the response to >GET BOOK led me astray.

You get a book but discover it has only virtual pages.
The book disappears.

I assumed that meant the books were a decoy and moved on. I should have remembered the rule that in any game involving books or textual materials, to always try reading multiple times. I don’t know why so many adventure game writers have settled on this as a thing to do. In any case, after a second GET BOOK:

The title of the book is ‘Vampires I have known’

Vampires can only be destroyed by a stake through the heart, or by the light of day. They are invunerable to all other attacks. They dislike garlic and fear crosses. They are known to frequent dark rooms.

Even though the book seems generic, this is a strong hint as to how to deal with this guy:

When you open the casket you notice that a well dressed man
with pale skin is inside. He appears dead.
There is a huge diamond ring on his left hand.
Suddenly his eyes blink open, you notice the irises are red.
It is Dracula. Oops.
The casket is open.
Dracula has left his casket and is approaching you.

I have trouble categorizing this puzzle. It requires a step that is so out of the norm for a regular text adventure that it has never occurred to me before. I’m reminded a little of the game +=3 from 1994, which was created in response to the question “it is possible for a puzzle to have a completely logical solution, and yet be nearly impossible to solve except by randomly guessing commands?”

This isn’t quite that, and it might even be a “fair puzzle”, but it feels like the same territory. Since I’ve dripped a few hints already, I am fairly confident one of my readers can figure it out, as long as I also provide an inventory list:

piece of valuable jade
empty bottle
silver candlesticks
diamond corkscrew
old chair

. . .

Getting out of the house: hoo boy. While the previous puzzle was marginally solvable, this one required a hint from the author because of how the game uses the parser. Things start in the elevator:

You are in the elevator.
There are a bunch of buttons on the wall.
They are labeled: P, H, B, HALT, OPEN DOOR.
Scrawled on a wall is ‘Homer kisses dead goats’
and ‘Homer turns my head’
On the floor it says, ‘L__t g_e_ _ere!’
The H is lit.

To be fair, the entire game the HALT button has been taunting me. If you push one of the regular floor buttons the elevator makes it there before you have time to push HALT, and the button does nothing if the elevator is already at a floor. I assumed that perhaps you slowed the elevator down with a heavy enough load, giving enough time for an extra button press.

This was not the case. The parser, while not taking unlimited sentences, does take up to five words, and you were supposed to type:


The elevator doors close. BOOM!
The elevator bounces to a halt. SCREEEECH!
The H is lit.

I just want to be clear that NO OTHER SYNTAX WORKS. Even though PUSH B BUTTON works, for instance, PUSH B BUTTON THEN PUSH HALT BUTTON does not because it is longer than 5 words. Especially bad is


because it gives the HALT command which is one of the ways of quitting the game. I first thought I hit a crash, but no: the game was interpreting my input “correctly”.

In any case, after the elevator halt, you can make it here:

You are atop the elevator. The machinery is of alien creation
On the side of it is a small decal.
The decal reads ‘afihYwn Matter Transmission, Inc’
There are two buttons on the machine, one says NORMAL.
The other says WAY OUT.

After activating WAY OUT and getting back in the elevator, using it leads to escape.

The doors squeek close.
The elevator shakes and starts to move down.
You feel like you are in free fall.
You hit a bump, and start to slow down.
You made it. The elevator has stopped.
The doors open.
You suddenly feel very ill. Your body seems to be dematerializing.
You can’t hold on to the stuff you were carrying.
You’re on the front walk.

Sadly, because of the parser troubles, this was the worst puzzle in the game, although it was to be followed by the most astonishing. (I don’t necessarily mean the next puzzle was “good”, but … you’ll see.)

. . .

The other main dilemma of the game, other than escaping the house, was that the house gives madness. I mentioned this at my first post about Haunt and it has remained a central mystery of the whole game. Specifically, it seems like only “your family” is capable of surviving the madness, so I had studied this clue:

This is a tiny closet. Against the wall is a skeleton.
Scrawled on the wall, next to the skeleton is:
Dear Bas,
So the mystery man finally decides to come home.
Well you’re a little late.
I was never able to resurrect your mother, but I saw in the paper that you have a beautiful redheaded wife, and a lovely child. I only hope she hasn’t inherited our disease.
I finally succumbed to the illness when I was unable to take care of the crop.
Good luck,

“I was unable to take care of the crop” suggested something about the dead garden outside, but watering it required getting a bottle from the house (which required me solving the elevator puzzle first). After watering the garden, an black orchid came out, and on a hunch, I tried to >EAT ORCHID:

Chomp! chomp. I don’t think your real family had a taste for orchids.
It looks like you aren’t one of those that knows how to digest orchids.

The beginning of the game asks for your name. While this is nearly universally always a customization choice, it occurred to me that this was perhaps a puzzle, and tried out “Bas” as the name. Unfortunately, this led to nothing different.

I was close, but not quite; I needed the author’s help here.

Brenda Starr is a soap opera comic that ran from the late 1940s all the way to the early 2010s. (Trivia note: it was written and illustrated by women for the entirety of the run.) The main love interest was (at least until the 1980s) the depicted Basil St. John, with black-orchids-as-medicine often playing a part of the plotlines.

The name “Bas”, the “redheaded wife”, and especially the orchid were supposed to be clues to this specific piece of pop culture. So at the very start of the game, you have to give your name as


‘Oh, so you’re one of my descendants. Come in.’
‘You don’t have to answer any more questions.’
‘Good luck in your quest. Maybe you’ll do better than your father.’

although I should note anything ending with “St. John” or even just “John” works, so you don’t *have* to be the eye-patch character from the comic. If you choose the appropriate last name, the choice of liking “male, female, etc.” gets bypassed and instead the game sets that you are a “redhead” lover.

The door creaks open.
A voice from within says: ‘Welcome, redhead lover.’

This means that you can pick any of the descendants of St. John to get by the puzzle (maybe one that doesn’t have a redheaded wife, but your character still has to like redheads). However, it’s still true that to win the game, you need to name yourself correctly.

I can’t think of any other game which subverts the character creation process quite so completely. (I can think of a recent one that comes close, but I will skip discussing it due to spoilers.) In film, there’s a trick where what appears to be background music turns out to be actual music in the “real cinema world” (Blazing Saddles has a good instance of this); this similarly takes something which appears entirely outside the regular process of the game – just customization – and makes it both an essential puzzle and the thing the entire plot hinges upon.

Posted August 27, 2018 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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13 responses to “Haunt: Descendants

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  1. Since I’ve dripped a few hints already, I am fairly confident one of my readers can figure it out, as long as I also provide an inventory list

    Nothing immediately obvious is jumping out at me. Pebff gur fvyire pnaqyrfgvpxf? Oernx gur fgbby be punve naq ybnq n erfhygvat funeq bs jbbq vagb gur fcrnetha? (somehow I doubt the parser is sophisticated enough for the latter.)

    • Right on the first one.

      • Credit my husband with that one, actually, heh. (Although I still think the other idea, that was mine, would be fun if it could be handled.)

    • I’m not seeing the answer this one, either. I’d like to know it.

    • Just so you can get the satisfaction…

      >cross candlesticks

      The candlesticks are in a cross.

      >open casket

      When you open the casket you notice that a well dressed man
      with pale skin is inside. He appears dead.
      There is a huge diamond ring on his left hand.
      Suddenly his eyes blink open, you notice the irises are red.
      It is Dracula. Oops.
      The casket is open.
      Dracula sees the cross and becomes frightened. He turns into
      a bat and flys toward the highest point he can find.

      . . . .

      The puzzle isn’t quite done yet from here – you then have the break the dome the vampire hides in after the sun has gone up, but the candlesticks ended up being the trickiest part for me.

  2. About your last comment–spoilers for the game I’m going to discuss, obviously–there’s gur synfu tnzr qel ibvprf ol qebdra, which does something of a similar trick, as I recall. I can’t really check this though because my right arrow key is sticking which is minimally intrusive for the things I’m supposed to be doing on my computer but makes about half of the games I play, including this one, unplayable. It’s very frustrating.

  3. The “naming your character” trick is something that some modern games use for easter eggs, such as unlocking “hero characters” in XCOM: http://xcom.wikia.com/wiki/XCOM_Hero . Actually, many of the solutions in Haunt seem to require the kind of actions that unlocks easter eggs these days.

    • Or naming the character/filename ZELDA in the NES Zelda game.

      Haunt does have an easter egg bit. If you try to jump the wall at the start of the game:

      You aren’t the HULK or Dwight Stones.

      You can name yourself either, and get a special response. For Dwight Stones (who held men’s high jump world record 3 times):

      You approach the wall. Up, up you go.
      SPLAT!! You hit the wall right at 8″. That would
      be a new world’s record. Too bad the wall is ten feet tall.

      for Hulk:

      Ha! You aren’t the Hulk, you’re just a little green from the bus ride.

      • There’s a thing in nethack where if you get caught by a vault guard they ask your name, and you can get an alignment penalty for lying. If you tell them your name is Croesus (and you haven’t killed Croesus) they leave, saying “Sorry to have bothered you.” But you get the alignment penalty for lying… unless you did name your character Croesus.

  4. A puzzle that requires you to know about an awful, relatively obscure comic strip: What horrible design. Anyone who knows enough about pop culture to recognize the reference is more likely to try Basil Fawlty or a bass musician than Brenda Starr. Calling yourself Zelda in Zelda or similarly, using the password TGL in The Guardian Legend was something you could reasonably guess without outside information.

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