Deathmaze 5000: The Monster at the Edge of Sight   Leave a comment

Back in 1996 Andrew Plotkin famously separated “difficulty” and “cruelty” in games with a five-tier system to describe what the latter means:

Merciful: cannot get stuck
Polite: can get stuck or die, but it’s immediately obvious that you’re stuck or dead
Tough: can get stuck, but it’s immediately obvious that you’re about to do something irrevocable
Nasty: can get stuck, but when you do something irrevocable, it’s clear
Cruel: can get stuck by doing something which isn’t obviously irrevocable (even after the act)

A lot of people now associate the cruel category with bad design, and that’s often fair; a good example would be the ningy in Acheton, where it’s possible to block yourself off a large chunk of the game without realizing it.

However, “cruel” design can sometimes accomplish narratively unique goals. Quondam has an instance of where a lot of time passes; if the player plants a “sapling” beforehand, it will have grown into a full-sized tree when they return. This is clearly a one-way trip; there’s no “reverse” mechanism (this isn’t time travel, just time passing) so having it be possible the player gets stuck is a necessity.

Both cases in gameplay terms require loading a save game to a past state, but the flavors of “cruel” feel very different. The system might need a “transparency” axis. There was essentially no way to know something went wrong with the ningy, whereas with the tree in Quondam it’s possible to “retroactively solve” and realize both what you need to do and what the result will be even before testing the action out.

Defeating the monster in Deathmaze 5000 hit a note between the two extremes. I don’t have the theoretical framework to describe exactly where. Let me at least narrate the best I can.

Before getting into the monster, here are two things that will become relevant:

1.) There’s a spot on the wall on the third floor marked “A Perfect Square”.

It turns out you can just walk right through.

This led me to another torch, more food, and a ball of wool.

2.) If you recall from a previous post, on the second floor of the maze there were two attack dogs. One dog was in a “fixed” position and only attacked upon entering the player entering a certain square, and the second dog was based on a timer. Either dog can be removed by throwing the sneaker, but you only have one sneaker. I had to choose between:

a.) defeating the “fixed position” dog, getting a magic staff, but skipping picking up a torch and jar.

b.) defeating the “timed” dog, getting all the items on the second floor except the magic staff.

After some experimentation, I realized KILL DOG also works as long as you have a dagger. The dagger gets used up on the process. This neatly bypassed the issue above and I was able to get past both dogs (one by sneaker, one by dagger).

A monster follows you the entire game. It’s possible to get a fair way in without realizing it.

The first reference I saw was when I tried throwing a frisbee, as I mentioned in an earlier post:

The frisbee magically flies around a convenient corner…

The monster grabs the frisbee, throws it back, and it saws your head off!

(Note the grammar says “the monster” as if you’ve known there was a monster there the whole time.)

On the second floor, the sneaker-dog sequence involves the monster:

A vicious dog attacks you!


The Sneaker magically flies around a convenient corner and is eaten by the monster!!!

The dog chases the sneaker! and is eaten by the monster!!!

I later discovered if you let your torch run out, the monster comes to devour you.

The ground beneath your feet begins to shake!

A disgusting odor permeates the hallway!

The monster attacks you and you are his next meal!

However, the monster is still generally just a nuisance until you try to spend enough time on the fourth floor to gather all the items. (I think it’s just based on a timer and not linked to anything else.) The monster eventually decides, regardless of if you have a strong light or not, to come eat you.

You are another victim of the maze!
Do you want to play another game (Y or N)?

That means surviving any farther requires defeating the monster. The ball of wool turned out helpful:

The Wool magically flies around a convenient corner

and the monster grabs it, gets tangled, and falls over!

However, while you get time for a command as the monster untangles itself, it kills you the next turn. Nothing I tried worked.

It then occurred to me that the dagger should work just as well on a monster as a dog (as long as the monster was tangled). But I no longer had a dagger! I had to go back to reconsider my two-dog situation.

Staring at the map, I realized that all I really needed to do was get to the staff (marked “2”), and if I could move over the pit somehow, that would work as an alternative to fighting the “fixed position” dog.

Somehow … flying … through the air …

Wait. No. Oh No. Would they? Yes, they would.

Farting to victory!

To sum up:

1.) I was able to gather all items on the second floor by defeating one attack dog by throwing a sneaker, and just skipping the second attack dog entirely but still reaching the magic staff.

2.) This let me keep my dagger, so I was able to bring it down to the monster.


The Wool magically flies around a convenient corner

and the monster grabs it, gets tangled, and falls over!


The monster is dead and much blood is spilt!

(Note the “throw wool” maneuver does not work until the monster starts charging, so even though you find the wool on the third floor, you can’t have this scene until after some exploration of the fourth floor. Also, if you are holding the jar and FILL JAR right after killing the monster, you get a jar full of monster blood. I haven’t been able to apply it anywhere useful.)

So, where do I go from here? I’m not sure. There’s no obvious next exit. There’s a pit in the upper right of floor 4 that might be climbable to a new area, but I haven’t had any luck so far.

I’ve got one theory which might be utterly wrong, but let me fire it off anyway. That “perfect square” thing: what if it was referring not the square on the wall but the actual room immediately past it (that is being “framed” like a picture)?

What’s special about that square? Well, if you build a grid as shown below, and go by the system floor-column-row …

… then you get the perfect square 324 (18 times 18 = 324). Thus the purpose of the marking might be to indicate how the coordinates of a teleportation system works (maybe by the calculator).

Far-fetched, but this game has already gone some crazy places.

Posted July 17, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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