Archive for February 2019

Reality Ends: The City Falls   5 comments

I thought for a while I definitely would have to bail on this one, but I had a lightning soaked victory in the end.

A somewhat relevant public domain picture for spoiler space.

I had two sticking points:

(a.) something close to guess-the-verb, although it was more like guess-the-chain-of-events
and
(b.) me reading a word incorrectly.

Let’s start with the more inglorious (b.)

Early on I found a “deep ravine” in a room with “mail”. The game suggested you need to jump over the ravine to get to the mail, but doing so led to falling and death. Fortunately, I quickly realized a horse elsewhere in the map was useful here, and after I did RIDE HORSE I was able to jump the ravine and retrieve the mail. And then … nothing. I tried >READ MAIL. I tried >OPEN MAIL. I tried >DEILVER MAIL. I tried all sorts of strange things, but the purpose of the mail eluded me most of the game.

Later in the game, I was trying to work out how to fight a “fanatic leader”. I had a sword but trying to do battle led to “NICE SWORDSMANSHIP, BUT YOU CAUGHT A CHEST WOUND” and death.

Much later in the game … well, perhaps you’ve already put these parts together, but it dawned on me that “mail” was NOT the kind of mail you open and read and find coupons in. No, this was mail as in armor that you wear. After WEAR MAIL:

To be fair, this is a good reason why it helps to be able to examine your objects! But I was still just a little sheepish.

So, for (a.):

Trying to get the plants just led to sinking in quicksand.

I had some rope that I had tried to use in many ways, including attaching to other things and the like, until I finally hit upon THROW ROPE:

THE GRAPPLE END HAS ATTACHED TO A LARGE SHRUB.

The next appropriate command is PULL ROPE

YOU ARE NO LONGER SINKING AND THE PLANTS ARE IN REACH

whereupon then you can finally GET PLANTS.

After getting the plants, I went back to a tavern where I previously came across a fatal brew.

This time I did EAT PLANTS beforehand

TASTES BITTER, BUT AT LEAST IT DID NOT KILL ME.

and I was able to safely drink the brew.

YOU GET HEARTBURN BUT DO NOT DIE. THE KEEPER IS IN FEAR FOR HIS MISERABLE LIFE.

I ignored the suggestion for revenge and just took the empty stein. All that process was to be able to go to a place that had acid rain and FILL STEIN. Then I could take the acid to a locked box and POUR ACID breaking it open, revealing some silver.

Back in the acid rain place I also got some diamonds, and was able to go to Israel to trade them for guns. No, really:

Remember, the conceit here is you are not traveling through “rooms”, but “parallel universes”, including, apparently, an Israeli gun market circa 1980.

My next task was going to the “City of Margon” which had an “Amulet of Sangi” and fight Margon to be able to get the Amulet. It turns out if you hire marksman and give them guns you can try to put up a fight … and he kills you because “GUNPOWDER DOESN’T WORK IN THIS UNIVERSE”.

???!?

The solution turns out to be: after you buy the guns in Israel, you can USE POLISH to have them make gunpowder out of some jeweler’s polish you find in a different universe. It turns out Margon will *still* kill you unless the bullets are also silver, so you can USE SILVER (the silver from the locked box) and the gun shop will helpfully turn those into silver bullets for you.

Finally, being prepared with an army of marksmen using silver bullets, you can go back to the city and KILL MARGON:

Let’s skip ahead a bit: once you get the Amulet of Sangi, you just need the fanatics (that I mentioned earlier), a staff (which happens to be sitting on the ground next to the endgame room) and a magic word CIMAL (which you can get by stealing a book of lore from a minotaur). Then it’s just a matter of going to the CITADEL OF BALDIR which threatens the DISSOLUTION OF REALITY and letting fury reign:

So, that was a curious introduction to the library of Med Systems, to say the least. They’re going to appear twice more in 1980 with first-person 3D perspective adventure games Labyrinth and Deathmaze 5000.

Yes, 3D first-person perspective in 1980. If you’re dying with anticipation, the Adventure Gamer covered Deathmaze 5000 in their “missed classic” series so you can see some glorious screenshots.

Posted February 28, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Reality Ends: Text Landscape Generator   Leave a comment

I’m still prodding without much luck at the main game, so I’d rather make a bit more progress before I report on that. However, I worked out how the room descriptions were generated, and I thought it was worth recording for posterity.

The game is entirely on a grid 12 rows high and 18 columns across. You start in the lower left corner and the endgame (the Citadel of Baldir) is 1 room down from the upper right corner. Starting from the beginning and going east, the room descriptions look like this:

YOU ARE IN A FOREST. IT IS MOUNTAINOUS AND VERY COLD. THE AIR IS CRYSTAL CLEAR. PERPETUAL TWILIGHT PREVAILS.

YOU ARE IN A FOREST. IT IS MOUNTAINOUS AND WARM. THE FOG IS VERY THICK. PERPETUAL TWILIGHT PREVAILS.

YOU ARE IN A FOREST. IT IS HILLY HERE AND VERY COLD. THE AIR IS CRYSTAL CLEAR. PERPETUAL TWILIGHT PREVAILS.

YOU ARE IN A FOREST. IT IS HILLY HERE AND WARM. THE FOG IS VERY THICK. PERPETUAL TWILIGHT PREVAILS.

There are some repeating patterns here: the description is really five parts, filled in Mad Libs-style:

YOU ARE {A}. IT IS {B} HERE AND {C}. THE {D}. {E}.

They aren’t filled in at random; it’s based mathematically on where you are in the grid, in a way easy for the computer to calculate.

Position {A}

The grid has a “forest zone”, “grasslands zone”, and “dead place zone” each taking up a third of the map.

Left: YOU ARE IN A FOREST. Middle: YOU ARE ON GRASSLANDS. Right: YOU ARE IN A DEAD PLACE.

This makes a fair amount of sense, giving the impression as one approaches the Citadel of Baldir (the place of dooooooom and all that) the landscape gets steadily worse.

Position {B}

This time the grid is divided into strips two columns wide each, and there is a repeat every six columns.

The blue areas: IT IS MOUNTAINOUS. The pink areas:
IT IS HILLY HERE. The yellow areas: THE LAND IS FLAT.

Perhaps this is meant to suggest some sort of rippling earthquake that originated at the far east of each biome.

Position {C}

The “AND ” that comes after the “level of hilliness” part of the description is a repeat every two columns.

Dark blue: AND VERY COLD. Light yellow: AND WARM. Dark red: AND QUITE HOT.

Even though this one was a regular pattern, during gameplay it was the one I felt most was switching at random due to the asymmetry in placement.

Position {D}

The descriptions of biome, hilliness, and temperature are followed here by air thickness. The pattern repeats every two columns.

Light blue: THE AIR IS CRYSTAL CLEAR. Grey: THE RAIN IS FALLING STEADILY. Black: THE FOG IS VERY THICK. Green: THE WIND IS BLOWING.

Position {E}

This position reflects whether the sun can be seen or not, and is a simple alternating pattern by rows.

Grey: PERPETUAL TWILIGHT PREVAILS. Orange: THE SUN CAN BE SEEN FAINTLY.

Thoughts

The setup here feels related to procedural generation, the algorithmic generation of content. I suppose, technically, it is? — but usually, procedural generation is done in a way that simulates naturalness and hides pattern, and here the intent is to create pattern, and at least some of the patterns are done to provide a logic to the story (progressing from Forest to Dead Place, flickering between visible sun and darkness). You could say this is standard procedural generation, but without the usual addition of a random element to twist things out of place.

Theoretically, really quite something for 1980! In practice … well, the landscape description is unimportant to gameplay, so I fairly quickly started to ignore all the description text. Still, I would call it a worthwhile experiment.

For Further Reading

James Ryan recently posted his dissertation Curating Simulated Storyworlds dealing with the generative world problem in regards to narrative. It’s nearly 800 pages long, but if you’re short on time, jump to Chapter 13 (the Conclusion) which gives a good idea of what both game designers and theoreticians are dealing with.

Posted February 27, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Reality Ends (1980)   6 comments

For the first time, I don’t have a name of an author. Reality Ends is an even-more-obscure-than-usual title from Med Systems Software, most famous for Asylum from 1981. This particular game isn’t listed on Mobygames, Wikipedia, or The Interactive Fiction Database. It’s only indexed on the Casa Solution Archive because the crew over there is even more obsessive than I am.

Given how many of these companies started as one or two person operations, the author could be Frank Corr, Jr. of Deathmaze 5000 from the same year, but since I haven’t played that game yet, I’ll shelve my suspicions for now. (ADD: I got confirmation from someone who owns a copy — the author is William F. Denman, Jr. who wrote quite a few of the other Med Systems games.)

My first encounter with Reality Ends was the clip above, via the Med Systems Spring 1981 Catalog. The “over 200 parallel universes” bit definitely had me puzzled until I opened the game itself.

The room description fills the top of the screen, your inventory is in the lower left, and the lower right has a map. The actual grid is 12 by 18, so there are 216 “parallel universes”, one for each “room” in the game.

Back when I was writing about Haunt I referenced adventure games that play roughly on a grid. There was an underwater section on a giant cube that I got out graph paper for. This time I went a step farther and went full spreadsheet.

Making a spreadsheet to play a game crosses a threshold of some sort, but I’m not sure what from or what to.

You’ll notice a lot of blank space; this is a compact way for the game to claim more than 200 locations when only some of them are implemented. Fortunately, navigation is less irritating than you’d think because there are no NORTH / SOUTH / EAST / WEST commands, you navigate by just pressing arrow keys.

Besides the map, I haven’t made much progress other than a few early pick-offs. I got food and did >FEED DOG to get a loyal companion, I went to >HIRE MARKSMEN and managed to >USE GOLD to get them to follow me around, and I used an umbrella to fend off some acid rain and pick up some diamonds. Technically speaking, the game doesn’t seem like it has to be a long one (excluding rooms with just objects out in the open, there are only twelve of significance) but we’ll see what kind of new frustrations this can conjure up.

Like this one. Ow!

Posted February 26, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Gargoyle Castle: Finished!   2 comments

I managed to get the last four treasures and victory; three were all related to the same issue.

Here’s a public domain picture of a gargoyle at Windsor Castle for some spoiler space.

First, the gargoyle: last time I had found a green and purple gargoyle that let me pick it up and carry it around as long as I had heavy armor. I found that if I was holding the rope and did TIE GARGOYLE the gargoyle became “much more friendly” and now counted as a treasure (!?). (I guess a “ROPE BOUND GARGOYLE” that would otherwise want to kill you makes a good rich person decoration?)

After that I continued being stuck for a while, until Voltgloss mentioned in the comments:

Question: you mentioned in your post before this one that you were able to dig everywhere outside – I think you said everywhere that was “reasonable.” Can you dig anywhere inside? Or otherwise UNreasonable?

Well, it was worth a try! So I did the lawnmower thing and tried >DIG in every location, to hit paydirt (so to speak) in a tomb:

I suppose it sort of make sense that the tomb might have some bits of floor that are diggable, although it’d have been nice to put in the description. In any case, I added some TRIANGULAR GOLD COINS to my haul and kept looking. I found another dig-spot in a more logical place:

Ok, that’s fair. Not only did I find a “DISCARDED, BLACKENED CROWN” that was easy to polish into a “GLISTENING SILVER CROWN”, the act of digging created compost. I was then able to use the compost to plant the tulip bulb from my last post. Fortunately, it was some kind of fast-grow formula, because I only needed to leave once and come back to find:

I stored all the treasures away, and put the remaining junk in the trash pit.

I was hoping for some last lingering clever object interaction, but I suppose I already had everything sussed out; winning was just a matter of digging to the two secret locations.

This game is sort of a proto-proto-proto-version of Emily Short’s Metamorphoses from 20 years later. There’s a little bit of exploring and opening up of the map, but almost nothing in the way of characters; the focus is really on objects and their transformations into other objects.

There’s even a little bit of unnecessary detail packed in just for object fidelity. The “hot coals” can be moved around as long as the player is holding an “urn” and the urn is open. There are two items (a trowel and an antique shovel) that both work equally well for digging. There’s a lighter and a flashlight that can be used as a light source; there’s also a “Tiffany lamp” treasure that is an appropriate light source as well once a light bulb is put in. While the death in water while wearing heavy armor was comedic and possibly bad game design, it at least reinforced that the heavy property of the armor was unique. And even though the “dig anywhere” theme led to some secret places it really felt like an extension of object actions rather than a set of location puzzles.

While I can point out lots of objective flaws, I still enjoyed Gargoyle Castle; it knew what it wanted to be and stuck to its themes. Kit Domenico’s only other game has been called “one of the finer examples of Basic adventuring from the early 80s” with the note that “Kit Domenico is surely one of the greats of the early 8-bit Basic game phenomenon” so I’m looking forward to it … but I’ll need to get to 1981 first. (For the curious, I’ve got somewhere around 45 games to go.)

Posted February 25, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Gargoyle Castle: Stuck   7 comments

I haven’t written a “stuck” post in a while. This is because a lot of my latest points-of-stuckness were accompanied by reasons to think the game was playing unfair, so I resorted to hints / walkthroughs / poking at source code / etc.

Even though Gargoyle Castle hardly has an expansive or intelligent parser, and even though I’m still missing 4 of the needed 10 treasures, I’m not quite giving up yet. Part of this is because I was able to leverage the trash-on-the-floor-deducts points trick (I mentioned it in my last post about this game) to my advantage.

Specifically, if I dump every item I can find into one room (with a few in my inventory), I have a deduction of 9 points, and there are 9 items in the room. So it appears I have found every object in the game, and all that remains is to transform them into treasures somehow.

This isn’t absolutely the case — maybe a treasure object gets “created” somewhere — but that doesn’t happen anywhere else in the game. Also, the ability to reference “non-objects” in room descriptions is very limited; in the “throne room” there is a plaque that’s readable

>READ PLAQUE
GLOWING LETTERS SAY DROP TREASURES HERE AND SAY SCORE.

but otherwise, I haven’t found any instance like this in the game.

Here is the complete object list:

an unrolled scroll
a lighter
a faintly lettered cloth
a bottle full of polish
a coiled rope
a mound of trash
a garden trowel
some greenish ice
some glowing coals
an antique shovel
a tulip bulb
a lit flashlight
an open funerary urn
some very, very heavy armour

You can turn the “greenish ice” into “thawed water” using the coals. I’m not quite unthawing it yet because the hot coals can be carted around with the funerary urn, suggesting that maybe it’s important to the thaw the water somewhere specific. (After the water thaws, the coals become cold and can be carried around without any help.)

I can try to PLANT BULB but anywhere I’ve attempted it gives me the message “I DON’T HAVE EVERYTHING I NEED.” This is while holding the trowel, shovel, and thawed ice.

Also, here are the treasures I’ve found, in case any come into play:

a huge ruby
a complete Gutenberg bible
a shimmering ring
a crystal bird locked in a cage
a Tiffany lamp
a platinum smoking pipe

Here are the verbs that seem to work, although this may not be a complete list. (Note that ATTACK and HIT and similar words are unrecognized.)

GET, DROP, PUT, BURN, OPEN, CLIMB, READ, EAT, REMOVE, LIGHT, RUB, SCREW, COVER, TIE, PLANT, DIG, POLISH, MELT, UNROLL

Finally, I should note I seem to be able to visit the VICIOUS GREEN AND PURPLE GARGOYLE that killed me last session, as long as I’m wearing the heavy armour. I am able to pick it up and walk around with it. I haven’t been able to get any reaction out of it yet.

You’re welcome to post theories or even spoilers, but mark which is which, and use rot13 to encode spoilers; I’m going to try struggling a bit longer.

Posted February 22, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Treasure Hunt: The True Map   4 comments

I first wrote about Treasure Hunt 4 years ago. For this post, you don’t have to know much about it (although you’re welcome to read or re-read the original posts) other than it was a game from 1978 with a freeform map that only gave room numbers (as opposed to compass points or some other indicator of direction). It was very hard to figure out if there was some kind of regular arrangement, but I suspected there was. It was, after all, based on Wumpus, itself based on a dodecahedron shape (just squashed on a plane):

squash

Not knowing the shape beforehand, beating Treasure Hunt required making a full map, which looked random as I drew it but had some tantalizing features, like “rings” of rooms linking to each other.

The full map I made -- click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

I made a few attempts to turn the map into something regular, and even inquired with the author himself (Lance Micklus) who couldn’t help.

Enter the commenter Peter, who just posted this yesterday. As he describes it, it’s a “very regular design, consisting of a number of interlocking circles on two levels.”

Wow!

If you’re the type interested in resolving mysteries, there are a few more recent ones:

1. How do you open the safe in Haunt? The author thought it had something to do with the wine area, but he didn’t exactly remember.

2. What’s the answer to the third riddle in the Ringen section of VikingMUD?

3. Is there a way to get to the island in Marooned or is the game too buggy to make it there?

Posted February 21, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Gargoyle Castle (1980)   8 comments

I am constantly surprised by what keeps coming up in these games. From a distance, the adventures of this era blur together, and might as well be one mass of guess-the-verb puzzles and questionable spelling. Up close, especially after playing enough of them, it starts to be easier to pick up on unique ideas and clever finesses. Every one of the creators was human and wanted to make something that included their own vision, even if there was a lot of copying going on.

I was hoping for a quick knockdown from 1980 with an obscure TRS-80 game by an author (Kit Domenico) who only has two games to his credit (this one and Ice World War from 1981). I figured Gargoyle Castle would be simple and wouldn’t have much to say about it. This was reinforced by the game being another treasure hunt (find the 10 treasures and win, attain glory, etc.)

The very start also seemed straightforward:

TAKE BIRD is a fail — the bird flies away. Ok, that’s at least predictable. I then tried to go WEST and got trolled hard, and then things started to get very unusual.

After recovering from ignominious death via the very first room exit, I noticed the “points for sloppiness”. What’s that about?

It turns out not only do you get positive points for storing treasures in a designated area, as usual (10 points each) you get deducted points for non-treasures that just happen to be lying around. After some experimentation, any “non-treasure” item causes a 1 point deduction while lying on the ground, unless it’s in the “Pit of Garbage” room.

In other words, to get a full score you need to properly discard of trash. The only game I can think of off the top of my head with a comparable idea is Sub Rosa, 35 years later in 2015.

The general effect has been for me to keep caring about every object in the game, even after it’s been used to solve a puzzle. Nice bit of continuity, that.

I marked the “opening area” in purple.

Structurally, Gargoyle Castle starts with a small area that opens up fairly soon after to the entire map. The opening segment gave enough structure I didn’t feel weirdly aimless like in Ghost Town.

The puzzles seem to be more along the lines of “converting ordinary items into treasures” than “beat obstacles and scoop up the shiny things in the rooms that follow”. For example, you find an “OLD BOOK” and an “EMPTY BOOKCOVER”. If you then “COVER BOOK” the book is now a GUTENBERG BIBLE and officially becomes a treasure. (I’m pretty sure none of the real Gutenberg Bibles have covers so this was slightly silly, but the puzzle still gives a good idea of the sort of conversion going on.)

I switched from a TRS-80 emulator to a TRS-80 MC-10 one once I realized I needed to save my game (the emulator linked here, I find it more stable for saving games to tape than any of the black-and-white emulators).

This structure is leading me not to necessarily wonder “what puzzle would this thing solve” but “which two things could be combined?” or “which thing could be converted after some act into a treasure?” For example, there’s a “mound of trash” in one room — is there some nugget of treasure hidden within, and if so, how do I find it? Even though an “antique shovel” isn’t considered a treasure is there a way to make it one (it is, after all, an antique). Does a tulip bulb combine with anything?

One other curious aspect: you can dig a hole anywhere outside. Not only that, but in each case, it makes a new room that you can go down in. There are not that many outdoor spaces, so this wasn’t a giant leap, but this is literally the first text adventure I’ve played where you can dig essentially anywhere that would be reasonable.

Of course, one of the holes led to another ignominious death.

I’ve found 6 out of the 10 treasures, and I’ve been having fun so far, so hopefully the fun holds out for the last 4? The “exploration of object interactions” emphasized over “exploration of space” really does make the game feel like something different.

Posted February 20, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Ringen: Digital Archaeology   2 comments

I have occasionally heard the word “archaeology” applied to the rescue and documentation of old games. (This very blog is even mentioned in a book titled Retrogame Archaeology.)

I’m not going to quibble; however, if I think of “real” archaeology, I think of exploring and digging in sites that may have other things built on top of them, and where the entirety of the original is not recoverable but where inferences can be made based on that which remains. So far, nothing I’ve done (like helping preserve Wander or Journey) has been like that. It’s been more like finding some secret book in an archive and placing it on display.

Playing Ringen is the closest to archaeology I’ve done. It was translated and ported to a MUD, where expansions and additions were made, so trying to work out what Ringen from 1979 was like is necessarily uncertain.

There’s enough clues I can make some guesses, so let’s give it a try.

VikingMUD (based on the more general LPMud codebase) has a variety of built-in verbs that have to do with combat and social interaction. You can attack monsters or wield and unwield equipment; you can form parties with other players and DEFEND them from attack; you can smile, wave, comfort, and so forth, and the general effect is to produce an effect other players in the room can see.

This is essentially different than the standard text adventure model, where verbs are more universally related to object interaction. In such a model, if you can RUB RING, you can try the verb RUB on any item in the game (and may get an unhelpful response, but it’s still clear the verb exists as an action).

You can do puzzle use of verbs in the LPMud, but they’re specific and custom to a room (or object), not universal across the game. The game might allow UNLOCK DOOR in a room specifically oriented for it, but UNLOCK anywhere else will get a response of “What?” (The only comparable games I’ve played are the Wander ones, like how in Aldebaran III there’s a BRIBE verb that exists while in jail.)

The fact all verbs are custom means, in practice, that puzzles reliant on verb-object interaction are heavily curtailed. One hurdle is technical difficulties. Suppose the game author wanted the player to WAVE FEATHER. WAVE is a social verb and expects to be used in that fashion (WAVE AT FRIEND) so the desired format may not even be parsed correctly.

Additionally, in a game design sense, an act like WAVE FEATHER in a specific spot would be too hard for the player to come up in practice without heavy text-hinting. There is an early spot in the Ringen portion of VikingMUD with this kind of text hint:

Long road. You are walking along a hard and flat path through the Hollin forest.
There is a big sign here saying something important. An old root of a tree.
There are two obvious exits: east and west
A wicked woman with her nose stuck in (he he) the tree-stump
The woman says: If you aid me, I’ll reward you, I promise!
>PULL WOMAN FROM TREE
You try to pull her out, but you fail!
You’re simply not strong enough!
The woman says: If you aid me, I’ll reward you, I promise!

Note that only this very specific phrasing (PULL WOMAN FROM TREE) is even recognized. I suspect the solution simply involves raising the “strength” statistic of my character. This happens to also be the first quest given in the Adventurer’s Guild in the game.

1: Witch quest (unsolved, 59)
2: Orc Slayer (unsolved, 69)
3: Forgotten Word (unsolved, 82)
4: Bright boy (m/f) needed! (unsolved, 82)
5: A girl and her teddybear (unsolved, 94)
6: Quest for the murderer (unsolved, 97)
7: Sheriffs key (unsolved, 98)

These facts combined together suggest to me the task here was designed solely for the MUD system. That’s not to say it’s impossible this scenario didn’t appear in Ringen (maybe there was no “strength check” and the action automatically worked?) but it feels very MUD-specific.

The ogress with the riddles who I mentioned in my last post probably also wasn’t in the original game. The character is most likely Fuithluin (with a misspelled name?) who didn’t appear in known Tolkien lore until the Book of Lost Tales in 1983. Ringen was made in 1979. ADD: See this comment; in an old Usenet post, Pål-Kristian Engstad confirms he added the ogress himself, although he didn’t get the idea from Tolkien:

I can’t help feeling a bit touched by your friends information. I have coded Moria in two MUDs; Genesis and VikingMUD, where I have placed an ogress as a part of a quest.

There is nothing in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien which supports this idea, and I have only made this creature up from my imagination. It might or might not be very Tolkienish, but it always made the players wonder. I have personally always felt that the passing through of Moria was too briefly explained in Tolkien’s works, but that is in a way nice, since it allows to _imagine_ what actually is there (or might be there).

This leaves the dragon puzzle, which I’ll quote the full context of:

You have entered a big hall. On the walls hang some faded flannel carpets, and there is a huge wall-to-wall carpet on the floor. The air is filled with a stinching smell of sulfid, and thick smoke streams out of an opening in the northern wall. There are two additional openings in the western and eastern walls, though not as frightening as the one in the north.
There are three obvious exits: east, north and west
>n
You are in the dragons lair!
A dragon, fifty yards long, lies here sleeping in a huge room. Fire and sulfur streams out of its big nostrils as it breathes. It grunts and stirs asleep, but if you value your life, you should not disturb it. Instead of passing it, consider retreating slowly to the south, through the opening. It looks like there is an opening northwards too, behind the dragon, but I do not advice you to try to go there!

There are two obvious exits: north and south

The dragon fums with rage and sends a cload of fire towards you.

You’re blown back into the big hall!

You are badly hurt as you hit the cold wall…
It did not even open its eyes, so it is evident that it has a very keen sense of smell.
It is impossible to pass the dragon now, so I propose you find a way of fooling its nose, that is, if you really want to pass.

In a text adventure, I’d be tempted to find some mud I could roll around in, or masking perfume to wear, or even somehow capture the smoke smell from the big hall. There aren’t any manipulatable items in Moria I’ve been able to use, and the verb >RUB is considered a social one (that is, it wouldn’t normally be overridden by a bespoke puzzle use).

(Also, of all the puzzles, I’d really like to know the solution to this one, so if anyone knowledgable happens to be stopping by, drop a line in the comments?)

Taking out the puzzles, that leaves the geography: what was part of the original game? My source indicates the game was expanded in addition to translated.

The general layout does feel more MUD-like than adventure-like. What I mean is that there are portions of the map that look like this:

It’s not the presence of a dead end here that’s at issue as much as how long the path leading to it is. This is perfectly normal layout in MUD design, because you might have some jockeying with monsters where having nine rooms of space to maneuver is genuinely different than just two. Additionally, social interaction means that “plain” locations may become important, as the players create their own meaning.

However, this is still a shot-in-the-dark guess; the expansions made when the game was translated may consist only of adding rooms “along the edges” and not making hallways longer or the like.

Other than that, I would guess the “main rooms” are essentially like their originals. This one in particular (which I’ve quoted before) feels much more adventure-like than MUD-like due to the reference to the main character’s feelings:

You are standing by the window. You have a majestic view over the scenery from here. From this spot high up in the mountain you can see past mountains and valleys out in the free, and the clear full moon shines upon the landscape. Southwards the Misty Mountains extend, and to the west there are the grassy plains of your homeland. (Sniff!) You cannot squeeze yourself through the window, but there is a hole in the floor here, and a spiral staircase in the south end of the room.

The lore details also strike me as someone trying to “write from a book” so to speak. For comparison, here’s a portion of the first fully extant Lord of the Rings-based adventure (LORD, from 1981, made in Finland but written in English):

You are now in the great living-room. On one wall, there hangs the picture of Old Took’s great-grand-uncle Bullroarer, who was so huge (for a hobbit) that he could ride a horse. He charged the ranks of the goblins of Mount Gram in the Battle of the Green Fields, and knocked their king Golfiabul’s head clean off with a wooden club. It sailed a hundred yards through the air and went down in a rabbit-hole, and in this way the battle was won and the game of Golf invented at the same moment.
There is an exit to the east. Delightfull odours can be smelled from the western end of the room.

(Text courtesy Juhana Leinonen, who was at the Finnish Museum of Games and sent some pictures; the game isn’t available anywhere else at the moment.)

I’m closing the case on this one for now. I have a lead on a contact so I may write about this game more in the future, but I’m happy at the moment to flee to the comfort of single-player gaming.

Posted February 19, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Ringen: Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained   7 comments

The opening graphic when logging into VikingMUD.

I managed to find a torch and do a little mapping, this time with the actual names of places attached.

I didn’t find anything that remarkable, but here’s some of the scenery. Upon entering the main complex:

This must once have been the main junction in the Mines of Moria. There are exits everywhere. Westwards there is a rough opening which leads to the top of a wide stairway. To the north and south there are wide openings. To the east, there is a small round hole, which may be 6 feet (2 meters) wide, but it is still small when compared to the other exits. In the floor, just near your feet, a steep shaft leads down into the deep. Small steps have been made out of the rock, but it looks dangerous all the same. A steep spiral staircase rises from a corner of the room.
There are five obvious exits: down, east, north, up and west

After a bit of exploring:

You are standing by the window. You have a majestic view over the scenery from here. From this spot high up in the mountain you can see past mountains and valleys out in the free, and the clear full moon shines upon the landscape. Southwards the Misty Mountains extend, and to the west there are the grassy plains of your homeland. (Sniff!) You cannot squeeze yourself through the window, but there is a hole in the floor here, and a spiral staircase in the south end of the room.

I found King Durin’s Hall, but it was already raided.

King Durin’s Throne Hall! It is said that the King of the Mountains used to keep his court here, before the trolls took over almost all parts of Moria, and made it uninhabitable for dwarfs and humans. By the western wall there still is standing the grand throne of the King, but no one is ever here. To the south is a portal to a smaller room, and to the east a wide passage.

I also ran across an ogress who wanted to pose riddles; I declined as I was still mapping at the time.

You’re in the rat trap. Left-overs lie scattered on the floor and hords of small mucky rats run to and fro. West there is a white-clothed opening of pentagonal cross-section, but a little down to the south, there is a square door. On the door there is a little yellow sign:
“Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
There are two obvious exits: south and west
>SOUTH
This is the dwelling of the ogress. It is a dark cave with a crackling fire-place in a corner of the room. The walls are covered with soft carpets, and the only exit is to the north, where you came from.
There is one obvious exit: north
An old wicked ogress
>
The ogress turns her hideous face into a grotesque grin.
The ogress asks: Are you prepared to answer three difficult and fatal riddles?

I found the eastmost point of Moria and the exit, which is a little more ignominious than you might imagine.

The corridor ends! The corridor gets aborted here, due to a peculiar looking wall. There is a shimmering curtain in the north wall.
There is one obvious exit: west
a bulletin board (7 unread)
>
examine curtain
It is the exit out of the Mines, since it is not finished. Just enter it, and you will end up in the village.

Indeed, testing the curtain, it leaves the whole Ringen area. In case you are curious about the bulletin board (a built in system for the MUD) …

Thread: YEAH!!!

FIRST!!!

lol

… you aren’t missing anything.

Finally, I suffered death by bat.

The Bat Cave. Up under the roof there hangs thousands of small vampire bats. The floor is covered with bad-smelling excrements, and it is an intense vapour here. Some of them beasts moves and and wheezes load. I would higly recommend you to get out of here, or else you would end up being a non-volantary blood-donator.
There are four obvious exits: east, north, south and west
a big bat
a bat
a bat
a bat
a bat
You notice Big bat approaching you with murder in its eyes.
You notice Bat approaching you with murder in its eyes.
You notice Bat approaching you with murder in its eyes.

I actually managed to run away before all my hit points were gone, but later on when mapping I came back to The Bat Cave from a different way (without realizing the exit went that direction!) and was thusly slain.

I was then without a torch, but I had a suspicion that I could visit the ogress of riddles even in the dark, so I went back with a “guest” character and found her dwelling was lit. I was then challenged to what turned out to be Tolkien trivia.

The ogress turns her hideous face into a grotesque grin.
The ogress asks: Are you prepared to answer three difficult and fatal riddles?
>say yes
You say: yes
The ogress says: Thank you, here comes the first:
Round it is, made of purest gold.
A creature covets it more than anyone other.
The Lord of Darkness. What is his name?
>say Sauron
You say: Sauron
The ogress says: Excellent! Here’s the second:
A dwarf made The Great Western Gate.
What was his name?
>say Narvi
You say: Narvi
The ogress says: You know your things, I hear.
Now to the last, and decisive riddle:
Deep in the Mountains, in the heart of Moria.
Ogress and witch, what is my name?
>say Fuithluin
You say: Fuithluin
Ogress says: Wrong, so wrong fool!
Ogress says: Hmm, what should the punish be? Hmm… What?! Do I not have the
mushroom?
Ogress says: This must be your lucky day. I can’t transform you to a toad,
yet…
Ogress says: Out, out! You miserably fool!

That last one’s pretty obscure and only from the Book of Lost Tales (ogres don’t come up as a topic in the main Lord of the Rings books, and they get only a passing mention in The Hobbit). I’m fairly sure my answer is correct but I haven’t been able to find any alternate spellings. Anyone have an idea? I may be wrapping this one up soon even if I can’t resolve this puzzle (or the dragon one I mentioned last time) just because there’s not really a “quest” to solve in order to escape Moria.

Posted February 18, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Ringen: Into the Dark   1 comment

Part of the depiction of the door from the book Fellowship of the Ring.

Last time I left off at this famous door:

You are standing under a polished vertical wall.
As the moon shines upon the grey face of the rock, faint lines appear, like slender veins of silver running in the stone. At first they are no more than pale gossamer-threads, so fine that they only twinkle fitfully where the moon catch them, but steadily they grow broader and clearer, until their design can be guessed!

In the book and movie, the Fellowship opens the door using the Elvish word for “friend”. (Quoting from the book, “the elven-tongue of the West of Middle-earth in the Elder Days.”) Thanks to Mike Taylor, I realized I couldn’t spell Elvish correctly.

>say mellon

Suddenly the star shines out briefly and fades again. Then silently a great doorway gets outlined, though not a crack or joint has been visible before. Slowly it divides in the middle and swings outwards inch by inch, until both doors lay back aginst the wall.

>east

You run into the mountain!
A dark place.
A deep sound roams through the room, followed by a shock of damp air! Something has shut the Hollin Gate! You are trapped in the Mines of Moria! The only way out seems to be on the other side of Moria, the Eastern Gate by the Dimrill valley.

The problem: this is the total kind of darkness, and I had no torch. Fortunately, there were no pits for me to fall into or grues to eat me or the like, so I did some mapping by “feel”, that is testing every direction in every room.

>w
A dark place.
>w
You can not go that way.
>u
You can not go that way.
>d
You can not go that way.
>n
You can not go that way.

I have no idea the room names, but “Cave” is the default in Trizbort, and that seemed as good a name as any.

The map is of course so far incomplete, and I got stopped by a dragon (I couldn’t see the dragon in a description, but I still saw the result):

The dragon fums with rage and sends a cload of fire towards you.

You’re blown back into the big hall!

You are badly hurt as you hit the cold wall…
It did not even open its eyes, so it is evident that it has a very keen sense of smell.
It is impossible to pass the dragon now, so I propose you find a way of fooling its nose, that is, if you really want to pass.

Now, VikingMUD (which I’ve been playing on) does have torches, but you have to buy them … which means I need a real character, not a guest … which means I have to get some money … which means playing the “main” part of the game … which means I might (gasp) have to interact with other players. Eek!

Actually, it’s ok — I’ve played many MUDs in the past — but it does feel a little weird trying to document a single-player old text adventure embedded in a multi-player social game, so I was a bit thrown for a loop. It looks like I’ll need to slay at least a few monsters before I can go back into Moria.

Posted February 15, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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