Wizard and the Princess: Finished!   7 comments

Cover of the Atari version of the game, via Mobygames. There’s something in this picture that really doesn’t make sense with the game, but I’ll get to that later.

My tingly puzzle-sense helped. I had, in fact, gone down a wrong path.

Last time, I mentioned using flying to get by a lion, and that feeling like overkill. The actual solution needed was

>GIVE BREAD
THE LION WOLFS DOWN THE BREAD AND THEN WALKS AWAY.

I should have figured: adventure games are notorious for zoological oddities. Lions are carnivores, but I should have tried the bread anyway. At least it wasn’t quite as painful as feeding dried camel jerky to an oyster.

I think this may be the first puzzle I’ve encountered chronologically with a “you can solve the puzzle with the wrong item” sort of resource-management puzzle. (I think this sort of thing is ok as long as you’re in the right mentality for it; I could see why it would irritate someone who was stuck for a long time. It also has the feature that some people wouldn’t realize the puzzle existed at all, since anyone who tried the bread first wouldn’t have used up the power of flight.)

In any case, by getting past the lion without using up my power of flight, I was able to use it on the north beach of the island to get to another beach, and some mountains.

After a brief scene with the woman above (where she just warns you about a giant in the mountains, and seems to be in the game purely for flavor) I came across a bridge that reminded me of King’s Quest II.

I remember that game having a limit to the number of crossings; probably it had a weight limit too (it’s been a while since I played). In any case, my instinct was that I couldn’t carry any items across at all without dying, and I was correct.

But, you need your stuff. What to do? There was a locket I had found earlier with LUCY written inside, where saying LUCY led to

EVERYTHING YOU ARE CARRYING DISAPPEARS.
YOU HAVE NOTHING LEFT.

I guessed this wasn’t just a trap and filed it for later. Upon finding the chasm (and remembering the business with the gnome where you lose some items and then find them again) I decided to try LUCY out and keep going. Lo and behold, all my stuff ended up just past the chasm in a nearby cave. How … convenient?

Fortunately GET ALL works in this case so I didn’t have to remember the names of all my items.

Fairly soon after, I came across a “peddler”, selling a set of items for one gold coin each.

The problem is you only have one gold coin, and the peddler disappears after you buy an item (or even just leave without buying anything).

This could have so much cruelty if it were not for the fact the puzzle you need the item for occurs immediately after this scene.

To the game’s credit, after seeing the moat obstacle, I realized immediately what item I needed from the peddler. (I’ll spoil the puzzle, but in a little bit – try to work it out on your own first.)

In any case! Inside the castle, there was a bit of a maze, although fortunately one where everything was “oriented normally”…

… and occasionally the wizard would ZAP me over to another room. (I liked the flavor here – it led to an “active antagonist” without having to code in all the bells and whistles of an actual moving NPC.)

I found a spot where I could PICK LOCK to unlock a door in the maze, and came across this scene in a tower:

… followed by one of the most ignominious boss deaths in the history of video games.

I had been toting a ring around where RUB RING would briefly give my character fur. I wasn’t trying take out the bird here, I was just curious what would happen.

It wasn’t clear to me at all what happened until I started wandering and found the wizard zaps had stopped. The wizard was in the form of a bird, and I had just eaten him. Burp.

Well! This was followed by kissing a frog (who was the princess), and using some magic shoes.

Wait, wasn’t I supposed to get half the kingdom, or something? Oh well. (I strongly suspect that “prologue” text which mentioned the kingdom thing was written after the game. Either that, or the king was lying.)

In any case! I found this fairly light and breezy after the suffering that was Goblins. (Incidentally, regarding the charge that this game borrowed from Goblins? I found nothing plausible in this sense. Previous games had used magic words. There’s a harp in both games you can use to befriend an NPC, but that’s not a strong similarity at all. I really tried to stretch and find some comparisons, but I think the angle’s a dud.)

I was fairly startled when Matt W. mentioned in the comments how much trouble Jimmy Maher had with the game. In his post about playing the game, Mr Maher goes through Graham Nelson’s Player’s Bill of Rights and finds 15 out of the 17 rules violated.

Er, I suppose? To some extent? The parser is vastly better than Mystery House and I don’t recall any point I had to fight with it. There are certainly places you can “bust” your game and make it unwinnable, but with nearly every instance the issue is immediately obvious, and the two cases where it isn’t (the lion and the peddler) have the consequence very shortly after the mistake. He had trouble with both the “split note” puzzle (from my last post) and getting through the drawbridge (which was the trumpet; yes, it has to be “magic” for the puzzle to make sense), both puzzles which I solved almost immediately.

I’m hardly a super-expert at this, despite my experience; for example, the only Scott Adams game I’ve ever beaten hintless (of the 9 I’ve tried so far) remains Pirate Adventure. I think it’s just: interactive media is hard to evaluate, and everyone will have a different experience. A puzzle that is endless frustration for one person can be a mild conundrum for another.

That sounds almost trivial written out, so let’s pick on a specific example from Maher’s post. There is a scene where you need to feed a parrot a cracker, and he points out the parrot-cracker cliche is US-specific. Fair enough.

Although: if you give the parrot another item other than the correct one, it says “YUK!” So there’s a strong clue a food-type item is needed. Parrots are even willing in real life to eat crackers (although they aren’t recommended), so at least it’s an improvement over lions eating bread.

But there’s definitely a catch: what if someone hasn’t found the cracker in the first place? It’s hidden in a cactus in the desert.

You can >LOOK CACTUS to find THERE IS A HOLE IN ONE CACTUS but the puzzle really requires noticing the visual, which I could see someone missing entirely. So for the player who missed the object, what would their play experience be like? They’d get a lot of YUK, presumably, and maybe try various ways of killing or capturing the parrot. The action could easily devolve into the stereotypical sociopathic adventurer. And this is just with one (relatively straightforward) puzzle! There are plenty of moments where one missed object could cause headaches.

One could argue adventurers should always be on the lookout for hidden items (especially when they’re stuck on a puzzle) but it’s still undeniable the experience of a player who already has the cracker vs. one who does not would be vastly different.

On the (other) other hand, having “safety railings” all throughout adventure games can be irritating and undermine the experience. Part of the joy is in discovery, and part of the appeal of parser games in particular is the freedom to type anything. Every adventure games with puzzles involves a certain level of risk, and perhaps it’s simply impossible to make every player happy. Still, it seems like there should be some objective measure for saying if a puzzle is fair or not, despite reviews often being all over the place. I try my best when evaluating if a puzzle is good or not by putting myself “in the head” of other players who might have had different experiences, but just how wide a latitude do I need to give? How meticulous and patient a player can I assume? My only definitive conclusion from such thoughts has been “I have a headache now.”

I legitimately enjoyed Wizard and the Princess, and I’d say it’s still worth a try for the curious (especially King’s Quest fans). Just save liberally, ok?

(Oh, and the thing that doesn’t make sense with the picture from the top of this post: it looks like the wizard is summoning the bird, or controlling it, or some such. But he’s shapeshifted into the bird in the game and it doesn’t make sense to depict him and the bird at the same time. Small nitpick.)

Posted January 29, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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7 responses to “Wizard and the Princess: Finished!

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  1. Lions are carnivores, but I should have tried the bread anyway. At least it wasn’t quite as painful as feeding dried camel jerky to an oyster.

    Might have been more sensible if the game had let you bring along the snake you killed with a rock? Still not what I’d call prime lion food, but at least it’s meat. (In KQ2 you use a ham to get past a lion, which isn’t too bad, although how the lion got up to the top of the tower it’s in I suppose is left as an exercise for the player.)

    I remember that game having a limit to the number of crossings; probably it had a weight limit too (it’s been a while since I played).

    I don’t think any of the KQs keep track of cumulative weight of what you’re carrying. As far as I know the bridge only responds to number of crossings.

    • Last I played KQ2 was back when it was first released, so my memory is a little foggy on that one. (It’s weird I remember the bridge specifically, it must have annoyed me at the time.)

      I’m willing to accept lions in odd places “because magic put them there”, the problem is when the animal themselves is meant to be “ordinary” but does something out of character. Getting the snake as food would have been an interesting solution!

      • I had at least one cat that would eat bread. Like, if there was a sandwich with meat in it, he would knock the sandwich off the table, ignore the meat, and eat the bread. Not sure if this scales up to lions.

        The trumpet/drawbridge thing isn’t that much of a surprise to me because I’m used in nethack to playing a musical instrument to open the drawbridge. (Spoilers, I guess? I think that’s one of the things in nethack that people want to get spoiled on. It seems like it would be very frustrating to get all the way to the castle and not know how to get inside!)

        In Puss in Boots the cat tricks the wizard into turning into a mouse and eats him, so the ignominious boss death has literary precedent. Though it might have been more effective if you’d previously done something that gave the wizard a reason to turn into a bird.

      • The Puss in Boots inspiration seems likely.

        Some sort of transformation would indeed have been a lot better.

  2. Wizard & The Princess was probably the second adventure game I played, the first being Mystery House. My dad bought these for our new Apple II in the day. I’d say that W+P took months to a year for us to complete, but this has to be qualified by numerous factors. The way we (or people in general?) played games at the time, and used their time. The number of comparable games available at all (very low). Our experience as adventurers (ultra fresh!). The fact that these games were defining how they worked for us as we played them. Overall, W+P is one of the happy experiences of my childhood, and helped get me into adventure games. The split message is probably first puzzle I ever solved on my own.

    I don’t know if fairness can be objectively measured for puzzles. Apart from extreme cases, it’s always contextual to me, and I don’t mean the context of how old a game is, though one may wish to figure that in.

    • A nice memory to have! I’ve been trying but I don’t remember my “first puzzle”.

      Despite 1980 having what looks like a long list (and having a fair number of games before it) most of the “meaty” games have been mainframe games that nobody with a home computer would have access to or type-ins that only are printed with magazines. I can see why a shorter list to choose from would make games last longer. It’s tough sometimes to get into the same “patience zone” people were able to have back then.

  3. Hmm. I’m not sure what was the first adventure game puzzle I solved on my own. My first adventure game was Zork 1. I was six years old. It didn’t go well. (I remember getting stuck getting into the house because I didn’t understand what it meant for a window to be “ajar”.) Possibly it was some of the early bits in King’s Quest 4 (which is much later), although as I recall we almost immediately bought the “King’s Quest Companion” book that was available at the time.

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