Archive for January 2020

Hezarin: The End   11 comments

I’ve finished the game, so the usual extreme spoiler warnings apply (also, I refer to previous events quite a bit, so if you landed here from elsewhere you are better off reading my entries about Hezarin in order).

And before I really dive in, a word about this page in the manual. It spells Alex Shipp as “Alex Ship”, twice. I was going with the Ship spelling when I first started but it appears Shipp everywhere else; the manual writer was just confused. Also note they spell the sorcerer’s name as Arijith. It’s supposed to be Anjith! I got the original spelling locked in my head and even though the game itself constantly spells it as Anjith, I kept reading it the wrong way.

One thing Hezarin has been strong at — and somewhat uniquely, up to 1980, although I’m guessing we may see more of this in 1981 — is elaborate action set-pieces where puzzles stretch over multiple turns. The ivory temple segment I mentioned in my previous posts qualifies, where there are three types of enemies and the type of response you need to use changes based on what disguise you’re using.

There’s also a mostly-excellent section near Gilgamesh’s tomb I haven’t mentioned yet where you outrun a tiger. I’ll quote the segment in its entirety.


As you open the door you catch sight of a sudden movement from one corner of the room, and on looking round you see a large tiger which takes a few paces towards you and snarls angrily.


The tiger pads closer, and growls again, baring his yellowed fangs.
You run down the corridor to the crossroads and the tiger starts to chase after you, anxious not to let a good meal escape.
You’re at a crossroads with doors to the north, east, and south, and a corridor west.


Persued hotly by the tiger, you go straight on south.
You are at the south door. The door is open.


Through the southern door into the straw-floored chamber, the tiger hurtling after you.
You are in the straw chamber.
There is a metal ring about 6″ diameter attached to the wall here.


As you dive desperately into the secret passage, the tiger pauses fractionally with instinctive suspicion of this dark hole.
You’re in a secret passage which turns sharply so the entrance door is to the west, and it then runs north. On the wall is a metal ring about 6″ in diameter.
The secret door is open.


You dash to the ring on the wall, and almost rip it from its socket, so desperate are you to escape. The heavy door begins to close agonisingly slowly, and as the tiger overcomes his initial wariness, he moves in for the kill. But he’s too late. The door gathers pace and swings smartly shut, leaving the tiger snarling with disappointment. You escaped the tiger. Well done!
You are in the secret passage. The secret door is closed.


You’re in a small room with a three foot square hole in the middle, which presumably connects to another room. IF you were to go down I don’t think you’d get up again.


You jump down into the tiger’s lair.
You’re in the large dank chamber which is the tiger’s lair. The door is open.
There is a finely crafted eight-pointed star here, set with a gem large enough to pick it up by.


Star taken


When I said you had escaped the tiger I wasn’t actually telling the whole truth. As you step through the door of the tiger’s lair you find that he is waiting for you at the crossroads.
You are at the north door. The door is open.


You hurl the star at the tiger with all your might, and it glitters and spins as it flies down the corridor, striking the tiger right between the eyes and felling it before it has a chance to move.

With one absurdly hard to find verb stopping the action in the middle, the endgame of Hezarin is essentially an extended action sequence. I can say it came near to being good, but it undermined itself by trying too hard to be Endgame Hard™.

Last I left off right below Anjith’s castle.

You are standing on a narrow road which winds its way before you up and around a steep mountain. To the left the cliff rises sheer, to the right it drops away just as steeply. Miles below you to the south you can see a tiny ramshackle village nestling in a patchwork of fields, hemmed in by wild forest, a vast plain, and a deep ravine. You know that now your work lies not down there, but high above in the foreboding castle that dominates the mountain top. The castle which houses the power which it is now your duty to fight…the castle of the sorcerer Anjith.
The full moon casts eerie shadows over the land.

Climbing up leads to an extended scene of danger.

You continue up the path – it can really no longer be described as a road – and as you do so you are showered with small bits of rubble.
You are on the path halfway up the wizard’s mountain. The cliff is sheer above you, and only slightly less sheer below.

Anjith, rather than zapping us with lightning bolts (that will come later) has gone the traditional “rockslide avalanche” method. The only method of survival is to JUMP (which lands you on a tree branch), SWING (which sets you swinging back and forth, gymnast-style) followed by another JUMP.

At the peak of your swing, you let go of the tree, and launch yourself at the ledge. As you do so, the tree roots finally give up their hold on the mountain side, and you catch a fleeting glimpse of the tree falling away into oblivion as you scramble to safety.
You are on a narrow ledge high on the cliffs on Anjith’s mountain. The only possible continuation of the ledge lies to the east.

So far, so good, but…

You are in a low cave. At one end the mouth is blocked, at the other a narrow shaft rises vertically up into the heart of the mountain. The rock in here is very smooth, and offers no handholds.

…Hezarin being its own worst enemy decides to stop things here for a screeching halt.


You try to climb one wall of the shaft, but are immediately defeated by the aforementioned lack of handholds.


OK. You jumped. Hope you enjoyed that.


I can’t see any walls here.

I flailed about for half an hour before deciding to peek at the hints.

A little mountaineering expertise is required here.
Do you want another hint from this set?

Ahem. YES, I WANT ANOTHER HINT. (I don’t have anything against mountains, just out of the 4000 different hobbies I could be doing I haven’t tried that one.)


The hazy memories of your beginners’ Adventuring classes flood back as you brace yourself between the walls of the shaft and worm your way up it. After an ascent of some distance you find yourself at the entrance to a low passage which, glad of the rest, you dive into without further ado. The passage is so low that you have to stoop to get through it, but this does not stop you.


The next section is on the small map above. There’s one lever in each of the “Laboratory” rooms, and if you pull a lever, a staircase appears north of the Great Hall. Trying to go up the staircase sets off an alarm

Even as you set foot on the stairs a claxon wails soulfully in the distance, and there is a loud crackling from one corner of the room. Moments later the auto-defence looses off a lightning bolt which there is no escaping.

Pulling a second lever (or the same lever) seems to cause the staircase to close. You can attempt to run upstairs but you don’t have enough time.

Though you dash at the closing stairs and try as best you can to scramble up them, you manage no more than half a dozen before they close completely, throwing you back to the floor.

I say “seems to” because of the events that happen in a moment. I’m still not quite sure what’s going on. The right action here is to summon Anjith. This was apparently doable at any point in the entire game just by speaking his name. (Really!)


Even as the first syllable passes your lips there is a violent shaking (of the space-time continuum) and the wizard Anjith appears before you.
“So,” he cries, “you have the box, then!” You know you do not have the power to use it, though, so give it to me…come, do not resist…”
His eyes seem suddenly brighter, and it is only with difficulty that you can resist his command. However, you manage to start to back away from him…

The game at least makes it clear you need to run away. If you take the semi-circle path along the laboratories (W. SE. E. NE. from the Great Hall) you get a moment where you can do something…


No time to lose, you dash through here too, and are out before Anjith has even reached the room.
You are in part of one of Anjith’s disused laboratory complexes. Swing doors lead southwest, in the angled southwest wall; and west in the curved west wall. There is a wooden lever attached to the wall.

…but otherwise I was very stumped, because the staircase behavior worked just like before. I was clearly missing some gimmick.

Apparently, the key is to BREAK three out of the four levers, but leave the last one to break while fleeing Anjith. And … look, I’m still honestly not sure what happened, so let me just quote first:

You break the lever off. It vanishes in a puff of smoke.
There is a click and a quiet grinding sound from not far off.


Now you take flight again, dashing out of the lab just as Anjith enters it.
You are in the great hall. The northern end of the room is taken up by a rapidly closing staircase of stone blocks.


You hammer across the hall and scramble frantically at the closing stairs. A claxon wails soulfully in the distance, and there is a loud crackling from the corner of the room but fear, it is said, lends wings to the hunted and you are no exception. You fairly fly upwards through the ever-diminishing gap in the ceiling, narrowly avoiding even the auto-defence lightning bolt which spends itself against the hard stonework that has now closed beneath your feet.
You are at the top of a huge flight of stairs, at the southern end of a dimly lit corridor. There is a wooden lever attached to the wall here.

I *think* the implication is that breaking a lever also pulls it (once). But why did the security system not get set off this time? And why does breaking a lever and trying to enter the staircase directly without Anjith being summoned at all work? I’m fairly sure there is some logic to the sequence here, I’m just not seeing it. I really like the idea of setting things up beforehand for the chase, and having the path itself you take give you a little room in running away from the wizard, but the actual mechanism of the levers wasn’t explained well enough to make the sequence satisfying.

Afterwards: more running.

Some way off down the passage you become aware of a disturbance in the air, which becomes in turn a bright blue light, and then a cloud of smoke. A low whistling sound becomes an unearthly shrieking, and before your eyes Anjith appears. You are only barely able to avoid being completely mesmerized by the sight.
You are at the north end of a long corridor. To the north the corridor opens out into a brightly lit hall.


The wizard screams and takes off in pursuit after you.
You are in a great laboratory. In the middle of the room some arcane looking apparatus is bubbling merrily to itself, producing little puffs of thin purple smoke. There is a doorway to the south, and to the west is a narrow, steep staircase.


You break the bubbling apparatus into thousands of pieces, and within moments a thick purple smoke is issuing forth from the wreckage.
Outside you can hear the chasing footsteps of the wizard Anjith.


You dash up the narrow staircase, hearing Anjith’s gasps below you as he enters the smoke-filled laboratory.
You are in the centre of an octagonal library lined with shelves on all sides.

I predicted (correctly, woot!) last time there was a parchment from underneath Mashu that might come in handy in the endgame. Just to briefly quote the previous find:

The parchment bears the word ‘tar’ on the obverse.

Scrutinising the parchment, you turn it over and over and eventually catch sight of the faintest scrawlings on the reverse. Squinting hard at it you just make out the word ‘APERIR’.

Now is when APERIR is useful. I really do wish there was some sort of feedback when you try it earlier; something like “not yet”? This is a scenario where even though I correctly guessed how things would work out, it was unsatisfying anyway. (Referring back to my post a year ago about deduction vs. abduction; I was using abductive reasoning with what I ballparked as only a 10% likelihood of truth, so it still felt like a lotto win rather than reasoned thought when I turned out to be right. From the author’s perspective, this is the very end of the game so APERIR has to work by process of elimination, but as a player I didn’t know that.)

APERIR gives you a rustling sound in a particular direction (randomized). You go in that direction, and then:

You rummage frantically around amidst the shelves full of scrolls and ancient tomes but it seems impossible to find the source of the rustling. Then, just as you have given up hope a small, tattered fragment of an ancient manuscript practically forces itself into your hands. When you take a closer look at it you find that there is barely room even for the little word which is written on it: the word reads ‘nis’.
“At last!”
You wheel round to find Anjith leaning on the rail at the top of the stairs, breathing hard, but by no means out of control. His face is twisted with hatred, and when he continues his voice is cold and quiet.
“Give me the box. You will never know how to use it!” He begins to advance towards you in his confidence…

Here’s where the “tar” part of the fragment comes in. You’re supposed to put “tar” and “nis” together, but…

Nothing happens.
Your dallying gets you nowhere: Anjith simply appears in the room, raises his arm, and fries you.

…the game has one last cheap trick. The word is five letters and the middle letter is torn through (never mind the game didn’t think to describe that). The “r” and “n” get mashed together to form:


Though you mean to speak the word only once, you repeat it again and again until you feel you are chanting it in a dream. Dimly you see Anjith shrink back, and feel violent shuddering as the box melts flares and transmutes before your unbelieving eyes. No longer in control of yourself you are nevertheless aware that the object in your hands in now a flaming sword whose hilt is crafted with ebony, ivory and great jewels which flare with an energy all of their own. Anjith turns to flee and now you pursue him through the corridors and halls of the castle – stairways, laboratories and libraries are all part of your hazy memories of those few minutes, and then Anjith falling, the sword raised high above your head and the wizard’s last desperate screams before sword and tyrant are immolated together in the final cleaving blow. Exhausted and dazed, you turn away and walk slowly down the winding path of the mountain into the green fields to the thronging welcome of the village’s now liberated folk.

You have scored 1073 out of a maximum possible of 1100.

I could see the very last puzzle working out with some more feedback. “Tar”, “nis”, “nistar” and “tarnis” could all get their own unique failure messages. This is what might be called second-order solving — you need to do one puzzle leap followed by another without feedback in the middle that you’re on the right track, so the combinatorics of possible directions to go becomes too overwhelming.

Let me approach my conclusion laterally, by quoting this review via Home of the Underdogs written by Sarinee Achavanuntaku:

In the spirit of Colossal Cave, there is plenty of treasures you can uncover and pocket along the way, accounting for many optional points you can win out of the whopping 1100 total score.

“Optional” is a thin margin here — I squeaked through missing (I think) two treasures only. Acheton gives more of a margin (at least ten?) to the extent entire sections can be skipped; here it’s more a courtesy if you missed something small.

Unfortunately, most of the puzzles feel like they have been borrowed liberally from other games, e.g. the Zork trilogy, and lacks any exciting new twist to keep adventurers interested.

I admit this sentence baffles me. Other than, hmmm, having a maze, I can’t think of any duplicates with Zork. It’s also not like the authors had much they could steal from; they clearly reference Adventure and Acheton, and they probably played mainframe Zork, but in all likelihood that’s all the models they had to work from.

In contrast to other Topologika games (especially those written by Peter Killworth and Jonathan Partington), many puzzles are not just difficult– they are illogical.

We tend to use the word “illogical” lightly with adventure games, and I don’t think that applies here; every puzzle had some sort of clue. There are some definite frustrations but describing them requires a more exact brush.

Take the rod that both turned you into a frog and shrunk the minotaur; there was a poem that directly referenced this, so not “illogical” exactly, but I do think the text was far too cryptic and was only able to be connected after the puzzle was already solved.

Another instance of this would be using the obsidian bar to open the barrow; the hunting scenes on the bar do seem like a clue after the fact, but beforehand the indication is just too muted a clue to suffice.

Essentially, it’s the deduction vs. abduction issue again; rather than saying the puzzles were illogical one might say the abductive reasoning didn’t have enough evidence to lead to satisfying solutions.

(I incidentally do think the levers puzzle in the endgame might be full-on illogical, but I might be missing something and that’s only one puzzle.)

Fortunately, many puzzles are optional, so if you can stand the thought of finishing the game with less than a perfect score, playing the game is tolerable. Hezarin is definitely one of the weaker Topologika games, and is best avoided unless you simply must play every IF on the market.

Again, the “optional” window is pretty thin, but let’s skim over that and discuss: is Hezarin “stronger” or “weaker” compared to the other Topologika games (or in general, games from the Phoenix mainframe)?

As a piece of plotting, it’s far, far, better. There’s a little bit of randomness in a holistic sense, but each area leads to a kind of story (the ivory temple, the passage through Mashu and the rainbow, the dread Evil Moors, the witches in the forest). Despite the unfair aspects, the endgame was far more satisfying as a story conclusion than any Toplogika game I’ve tried so far.

As a game as a whole, Hezarin is wobblier. At least Quondam (which still came out harder, by the way) had a consistent evilness to every puzzle; Hezarin could have an entirely smooth and intuitive section be kicked in the teeth by another guess-the-verb segment, and the game almost goes out of its way to make sure the player ends up in a softlock (the “tune” at the Music Room that only appears once being a good exemplar of this).

In summation: no, I can’t necessarily recommend it for pleasure, although it does represent quite an achievement in the history-of-Adventures sense. It really tries — much harder than anything else in the era — to tie the treasure hunt together as a continuous narrative, where satisfaction is derived not just from the solving of puzzles but from more standard narrative devices, like climax and denouement.

The Flood Tale from the Epic of Gilgamesh, Harvard Semitic Museum. (Public Domain)

I finished Hezarin ahead of my “schedule”, so I might take a breather, but fairly soon I’ll be diving into two Apple II works which explore the fringes of adventure gameplay, and a mystery that has remained unsolved for 39 years.

Posted January 31, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Hezarin: Four Panels   3 comments

I have all four panels now and am ready to traverse into the battle with Anjith (likely a battle of wits, but a battle nonetheless). I wasn’t far from the panels (a side effect of solving in all directions simultaneously) but almost all the treasure in the game is required to enter the finale. Hence, I still needed to do serious work and came close to having to restart from scratch.

The Adda Seal from the British Museum. (Public Domain) This depicts Shamash, god of truth and justice; he also helped Gilgamesh defeat the ogre Humbaba. The Garden of Shamash — the Sumerian version of paradise — makes an appearance in Hezarin.

Let me rewind from last time to right before entering Gilgamesh’s tomb.

You are at a large door with no handle, lock or hinges. In the centre of the door is a perfect rectangle of clean clay.

The key was an object from near the start of the game, a cylinder seal “about three inches long, half an inch in diameter” with “a hole bored through its length”.


You roll the seal across the clay, making a perfect impression which shines with some mystical light of its own. Then the door disappears silently and a short corridor is revealed.

Again the game shows its penchant for hard-to-find verb uses, although I at least had this one on my list. ROLL is usually used in a different sense, though.

This is the main burial chamber. In the centre of the room is a massive sarcophagus decorated with reliefs of warlike deeds. All around the tomb lie the remains of the servants, guards, ministers and wives of the king, committed by a suicide pact to serving their lord in the afterlife.
North, south and east are low passages leading to other galleries.
A golden helmet is lying close at hand.

I had previously walked by the panel without realizing; I hadn’t opened the sarcophagus in the main burial chamber.

Lying on the chest of the dead king is a small square panel, carved out of jade and fitted with a clasp and chain to make it a pendant!

So, that’s panel #2! (In other words, it was nearly out in the open and I had just passed by it — I did say I wasn’t far.)

It’s possible to leave right here, but this misses out on some treasure, plus I really wanted to see what was in Mashu. The seal is also the key for passing the guardians of the mountain. The problem is the flying on the carpet causes all held objects to get tossed into the void, so only worn items can be brought. Fortunately, there’s a way to wear the seal.

You are holding:
A jamjar of glow worms
A cylinder seal
A leather thong


You thread the seal on the thong and knot it neatly before hanging it around your neck.

I admit to liking this puzzle; there’s enough in the description of the object to hint at this use (the hole inside doesn’t get used in rolling, so it has to come up later) although as usual, the parser tilts the problem to the unfair (TIE THONG doesn’t work, you have to TIE SEAL; I could see the failure of the former lead a player away from trying the latter).

Once you have the seal, the guardians let you pass…

You walk towards the Scorpion-men, and they stare unflinchingly at you, until after some moments one of the Scorpion-men points at you and asks:
“Who are you, stranger, that wishes to enter the Way of Darkness?”

“Pass, Gilgamesh, Bearer of the Seal of Life; pass into the Way of Darkness and the wonders beyond.”
Mist swirls around the rocks and cave entrance, enveloping all and making it impossible to see even a few yards. When the mist clears, the Scorpion-men are nowhere to be seen, and you are free to enter the cave.
You are at the head of the gully.


You are at the entrance to the Way of Darkness: ahead the path runs into impenetrable gloom.


You are treading the Way of Darkness, far below Mashu.

…straight into a maze. I was fully prepared in my conclusion to write my admiration of Hezarin subverting the maze paradigm, by including the obligatory mazes yet having none of them be the kind you mapped or even dropped items in. Alas, this maze is traditional. You have to map this one out by dropping an item in each room, and trying to TAKE ALL (or just TAKE) after you change locations to see where you end up; if there’s no item in that location, it’s a new room. There’s also more rooms than items that can be taken to the mountain (remember, no carried objects) so a relay system is required where earlier objects must be moved to later rooms, and I started marking my map with names like “Boots 2” and “Boots 3”.

Or, if you don’t like mapping, you can just follow these directions:


This is the first stop, a “little orange walled chamber” with an “ancient fragment of parchment”.

The parchment bears the word ‘tar’ on the obverse.

Scrutinising the parchment, you turn it over and over and eventually catch sight of the faintest scrawlings on the reverse. Squinting hard at it you just make out the word ‘APERIR’.

I have yet to use either of these words. I don’t know if they’re useful in the endgame, or if I solved a puzzle elsewhere in a different way.


This is the second stop, an “orange walled corridor”. Heading north leads by some fungi which give off choking spores; if you aren’t wearing a yashmak (a concealing veil) from elsewhere, you will die.

However, with the yashmak wrapped tightly around nose and mouth, you escape their terrible effect and live to penetrate the inner chamber.

The inner chamber has a treasure (“a finely wrought and very valuable brooch”).


The end of the maze leads to the Garden of Shamash.

You are standing at a junction of paths in the Garden of Shamash. All around grow jewel-baring shrubs of various species. The sun beats mercilessly down upon this inhospitable allotment, and even the hardiest varieties yearn for some respite. The paths lead east, west, north and south.

Not a typical lush paradise, but one suffering and dried-out, and where jewels grow from the ground.

It has a couple very random puzzles, including a bit with gnomes by a pond where you have to grab a “fishing gnome” and then FISH to grab an item in the pond. It also has a treasure which has one of the worst verb finesses in the game.

The path ends here in a patch of lush red Rubies.

>get rubies

You can’t take the beautiful rubies.

>pick rubies

You pluck some fine ripe jewels from the easily yielding bushes.

From my taxonomy in my last post this counts as Receiving Bad Information, but not by accident; requiring PICK strikes me as an intentional guess-the-verb puzzle.

Eventually, you can get past a magic sword via a magic word…

As you utter this forgotten relic of a long dead language all time itself slows down. You watch entranced as the sword moves less and less until, now barely quivering, it raises itself up and without further warning explodes radially in a searing flash of light.

…then climb atop a rainbow.

You are about half way up the rainbow with the Garden of Shamash now a tiny patchwork far below you. The sun is noticeably warmer and each bit of climbing seems to take more out of you.


The rainbow begins to flatten out a little but progress is still tiring and the sun is uncomfortably hot. Looking down just makes you dizzy, so you can only fix your eyes on the rainbow and try to concentrate on the job at hand.


You’re almost at the top of the rainbow, and a good thing too. You are breathing at least twice the normal rate, and your clothes are soaked through with perspiration.


At last! You have reached the top of the rainbow. The ground is no longer visible – and even if it were your head swims too much with oxygen deficiency, heat exposure and vertigo to be able to focus at all. I’d get off this thing, fast, if I were you.

Notice how in a parser game this nonetheless achieves strict linearity, and manages dramatic build through repeated action (the sort of trick more associated with a modern Twine game). Also notice that the game can’t resist another hard-to-find verb, although I’d call this one fair:


Your addled mind struggling to control unresponsive limbs you gingerly straddle the rainbow and begin to slide, first slowly, then with growing momentum. You black out for a minute or so, but come to just as the rainbow curls up its foot and softly cushions your descent. When the rainbow shimmers and fades, you are left breathless but unharmed, flat out on the ground.

(Looks like they forgot a comma, but still lovely.)

Don’t forget to DIG where you land!

You dig frantically at the foot of the rainbow, and – surprise! surprise! – you unearth a little crock of gold.

Let’s take a breather with this rainbow picture taken in Mongolia. (Public Domain)

Panel #3 was hiding in the ivory temple (map below). Just as a reminder, it had people in white robes and red gowns and a room I could not enter.

You are in the antechamber to the main sanctum. Identical doors are opposite each other in the east and west walls, and in the north and south ends of the room are stone water troughs set into the floor.


As you pass through the doorway the ground apparently starts to burn beneath your feet, and as you cry out in agony two Guardians appear and despatch you instantly.

I admit to being sort of an idiot here; I was visualizing the water troughs as not containing water but just being the empty troughs. Gah. Keeping in mind this is a sacred place, I removed my boots and did WASH FEET, then put them back on again to find:

This is the main shrine, although it doesn’t seem to be much of a shrine really. More a big stone flagged hall, burnished by centuries of the most humiliating prostration imaginable. To the east is a low, narrow doorway.


You step reverently through the doorway into the shrine beyond
This is the sanctum sanctorum for the main temple cult. A huge marble altar slab takes up the eastern end of the shrine, and the walls are painted with scenes of clean shaven, peace-loving monks doing over Millwall fans.
Unfortunately, you are separated from the altar by a fairly wide pit which is full of various pretty mean looking snakes.
A great salver is lying close at hand!

I was then able to JUMP and find the third panel

You leap bravely into the pit crushing a number of the snakes underfoot. You then waste no time in crossing the pit and climbing out the other side.
You are standing on the eastern side of the snake pit, beside the huge altar.
The ivory panel is here.

and use a magical word I learned back in Gilgamesh’s Tomb to escape.


There is a quivering in your feet; you look down to see that your boots seem to be having an epileptic fit, and then you are off, powerless to resist – seven leagues per step (at least), straight through walls and other obstacles with one unstoppable kick, bound, bound, bound.

So, three panels, where’s the fourth? Right at the center of the game, the inn.

You are standing outside the Adventurers’ Arms.


You are perched at the top of the inn sign. The sign is of wood, and naturally enough depicts a brave Adventurer fighting a huge lion. From here you can see for several miles in every direction. To the north lie the moors, broken only by a small quarry to the northeast. To the south stretches an immense wild-looking wood. Eastwards, you can see a fast moving river.

To your delight the bottom corner of the sign slides off, and you discover that it is in fact the long lost wooden panel of the ancients

If you try to take the panel early you can’t (“I don’t think the innkeeper will take too kindly to you taking his sign unless you really need it.”). And to be clear, no, I did not figure this out on my own. Nor did I figure out on my own the next part: I have the box and four panels needed to beat Anjith; now what?

First off, you need to know the right verb (of course). Even though FIX is recognized by the game (and I long had it on my possible verb list!) the correct verb is MEND, which is never a word I use for anything.

Try as you may, you cannot get the panels to stick to the side of the box.

The score is important. The score is out of 1100, and if you hit 950, you get a significant hint in the RATING command (!!).

You are now a Master Adventurer (Class 87b). This qualifies you for free drinks at the Adventurers’ Bar and first refusal at passing dragons.

This is the signal to start drinking. You can go to the Inn beforehand and BUY DRINKS but it loses you score

OK. That cost you 2 points.
The nearest serving wench brings you your favorite tipple, which you drink unsociably alone.

Once you hit the magic 950 it does not lose score, but still isn’t very helpful.

Let me do another “can you solve it” pause, because I’m really, really curious if anyone can come up with the solution to this. You can have something useful happen here; what’s the right action, and how would you phrase it for the parser?

Just to give you time to think about it, here is my final treasure list:

small glass vial, obsidian bar, carved ceremonial mace, copper axe, jeweled ceremonial dagger, valuable feathers, great salver, crock of gold, rug, brooch, rare black orchid, ripe rubies, anklet, golden helmet, eight-pointed star, scarab, odd stone tablet, quartz, first issue of 2000AD, rare fossil, chunky bracelet, silk sash, Acheton database, tiny perfume, coral ornament, vorpal blade, silver tiara, imitation fly, pearl necklace, peridot, statuette of a minotaur, firestone, crown, sceptre, vintage wine, royal lavulite, rare manuscripts, harp, large emerald, garnets, alabaster vase, crystal key, wiffinweed

The treasures that I know I missed entirely (via the walkthrough) are

  • A tiepin out in the open right past the two doors puzzle; I just went through only one room and didn’t check the other (and I had found the treasure on a prior run, so I was really just being sloppy)
  • A spangle, which you could get in the dragon area right after applying the vorpal sword; this one’s tricky and very easy to miss

The treasures from my list that were hard to find were

  • The rubies and pot of gold from the garden that I already discussed
  • The royal lavulite which is on top of the elevator (the Fountain Room area lets you access floor 1 and 2, so you can put the elevator at level 1 and try to enter at level 2)
  • The anklet which is hiding in a pot in Gilgamesh’s tomb (you have to BREAK it)
  • Finally, the wiffinweed, which I had lying around but doesn’t look like a treasure at all; I was at 947 (3 measly points away!) and tried every item I had, pushing my count just over the mark to 956

Ok, enough stalling: you’re in the tavern and can buy unlimited drinks, what do you do?

For spoiler space, an Assyrian banquet from Nineveh. (Mary Harrsch, CC BY-SA 4.0.)

You have to buy drinks for everyone, that is, BUY ROUND. This incidentally “works” even when you have less than 950 points, but it dings you and gives a random (but not plot-critical) hint…

OK. That cost you 10 points.
Suddenly the bar becomes a much friendlier place, and many well-weathered Adventurers raise their glasses to you. One particularly unsteady old salt engages you in an interesting if slightly slurred monologue, in which he tells of his job as a lift mechanic, and how he lost a rather valuable jewel one day.

…and your score needs to be larger than 950 to get this message, which triggers the endgame process.

Suddenly the bar becomes a much friendlier place, and many well-weathered Adventurers raise their glasses to you. One particularly unsteady old salt engages you in an interesting if slightly slurred monologue, in which he tells you all about the amazing restorative effect that the full moon has. He attempts to demonstrate with a small jig on top of the table, but luckily you are able to dissuade him with another drink.

After this, if you go outside and WAIT, the sun sets. (It is unclear why time does not pass until these very specific game conditions are met; it’s sort of a evil-dark-side variation on the standard technique of stalling time until the player solves a puzzle.)

Then you can fix the box.


Bathed in the light of the moon the panels seem to adhere magically to the side of the box. There is a loud >>CRACK<<, clouds roll over and lightning bolts streak down from the sky. You are almost immediately struck down by one – the box seems instead to absorb the power of the blast. Eventually you black out, and when you come to again you find that…
You are standing on a narrow road which winds its way before you up and around a steep mountain. To the left the cliff rises sheer, to the right it drops away just as steeply. Miles below you to the south you can see a tiny ramshackle village nestling in a patchwork of fields, hemmed in by wild forest, a vast plain, and a deep ravine. You know that now your work lies not down there, but high above in the foreboding castle that dominates the mountain top. The castle which houses the power which it is now your duty to fight…the castle of the sorceror Anjith.
The full moon casts eerie shadows over the land.

This lands you near the start of the game, but you can only go up.

No. Going down now would be an act of cowardice, and I can’t allow it.

Next time I will make my finale post, where either the parser will murder me or I will emerge triumphant.

Posted January 29, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Hezarin: Darkly out of the Moorland Fog   6 comments

If there’s any theme to this progress report, it’s “following loose threads”, so I’ll be quoting some things I’ve already posted.

I found one of the four panels needed for the Box to Defeat the Bad Guy (Anjith, otherwise known as He Whose Name is Easy to Misspell).

When I had gotten past the witches using a dragon head, I had reached a small set of rooms including a boulder that blocked my path:

You are in an east-west passage. The ground is pock marked with pits, several of which are filled with a nasty oily looking substance.
A large boulder blocks the way west.

>hit boulder

Hiyaaaaaaaaa >oof< You smash your bare hands to pieces on the boulder. Shortly later a pack of Hezarin super-gremlins happen to chance along and, seeing you defenceless, (though not entirely 'armless), take great pleasure in finishing you off.

Going by the rule that such an elaborate custom response message likely means the action is right, just the implementation is wrong, I intended to wait until I found some sort of strength-boosting potion, but on an experimental run I played a bit with the “oil” from the room description…

>take oil

You attempt to pick up some oil, but it just drains out of your hands.

…and I left it at that, intending again to return later with a container. I experimented with the glowing-magic-vial to see if I could empty the water out, use it for something else, then come back and re-fill it with water; unfortunately, this caused it to stop working as a light source.

Much later I found this:

>sip oil

You sip a small amount of the oil and suddenly feel quite vigorous.

(You can “drink oil” but your heart bursts from all the vigor. Oops.)

Is this fair? I could see how one could quaff some of the oil without picking it up at all, but still, grump grump. If I were writing the game I’d probably put a little more detail on “it just drains out of your hands”; even “it drains slowly” would help get across you can still do things with the oil.

Dead end.
The selnium panel is here.

I would have expected the hidden place for a panel to be a bit shinier. But still, sound fireworks, game progress!

Several posts back I had mentioned a “music room” with a “bonger”.

As you walk in through the door you are greeted by the hideous clash of long out of tune clarinets, bassoons and a euphonium.
The room is covered with scenes of people playing various instruments, some of them very odd. The only exit is to the south.
Lying on the floor here is an object which I find myself unable to describe as anything other than a ‘bonger’.

Amongst my recent travels I found this room:

You’re in a large chamber filled with stalactites and stalagmites. Its only exit is the northwest. Eight of the stalactites along one wall are unusual in that nature has seen fit to form them in a straight line in ascending order of size. In the centre of the room is a thick limestone column.

I knew immediately this must be the place for the bonger.

With what?

What tune would you like to play on the stalactites? (Please give your answer as a string of notes.)

This is one of those particularly British puzzles that blurs the line between objects and the words for those objects. Take a look at the “hideous clash” line from the music line which involves “Clarinets, Bassoons and a Euphonium.”

Yep, the tune is the initial letters. That message also only appears once, upon entering the music room, so I hope you were taking notes!

Even as you hit the first stalactite you realise your mistake but even then it is too late. The stalactites crumble and fall to the ground with a series of purple flashes and loud bangs. When the last stalactite falls, any hope of survival is dashed as most of Hezarin, it seems, crashes down upon you.

It dawned on me then that the message in the music room is randomized and I had seen it differently on another playthrough. However, I did not have any notes from the playthrough I was currently on (it was a restart to get past that darkness/pit puzzle). So, I had to start yet another completely new game from scratch. (Given how familiar Graham Nelson would later be with the Phoenix mainframe and its accompanying text adventures, I could see why he would be able to think up the Bill of Player’s Rights. #2: Not to be given horribly unclear hints. #3: To be able to win without experience of past lives. #4: To be able to win without knowledge of future events. #5: Not to have the game closed off without warning.)

Getting the tune correctly reveals an obsidian bar “decorated with engravings of wild men hunting wild beasts”. I stashed the bar dutifully in my bag and assumed that perhaps the puzzle was optional (it was not, as you’ll see).

Next up: The Evil Moors of Hezarin. I’ve mentioned finding this location before, but allow me to re-quote:

You are wandering in a bleak and extensive area of moorland. The hillsides are a mixture of thick purple heather and sparse gorse bushes which scratch you at any opportunity. A chill wind howls eerily around the tors and vales and a demoralising drizzle hangs in the air.

[…after some walking…]

You’re in the centre of an ancient circle of huge monoliths, the focal point of which is an arrangement of three stones in the middle of the ring. The three stones consist of two pillars and a flat irregular slab set between them and lying on one of its long edges. The two pillars are oriented along a northeast-southwest axis.

Usually walking in the wrong way kills you. I suspected based on the setup (and the fact the game didn’t let me refer to any of the objects in the description) that this was a navigational puzzle, that is, that walking the right path would lead somewhere without having to use any extra items.

I just did enough brute-force tests until I found a new area:

Numbed and downcast by the demoralising mist which shrouds everything around you, you have almost given up hope when you see ahead of you a dark figure. Initially your instinct is to stay well back, but somehow sensing that there is no danger you approach to find that……

You are standing beside a solitary dolmen which looms darkly out of the moorland fog.

The right solution seems to be to walk perpendicular to the axis the pillars are at (it’s randomized) but I can’t swear to that; I know at least if the pillars are east-west going NORTH multiple times works.

I was unable to do anything at the dolmen. You can’t refer to the dolmen directly, so any action would have to be a stand-alone one, like PRAY (which is an unrecognized verb). It did lead me down an interesting hour of distracting research (see image below).

A 19th century drawing of Zennor Quoit, a dolmen at the West Penwith moors of Cornwall dated to the Bronze Age. Bones were found inside, although archaeological evidence suggests that when in active use the bones were occasionally changed; hence it was likely not intended as a final resting place but rather a location to commune with the dead.(Source.)

Continuing north leads to a barrow.

You are standing outside an ancient barrow which is swathed in mists of the Moors of Hezarin.


You start scratching at the side of the barrow, finding to your surprise that the earth comes away quite easily. After excavating a fairly large hole your fingers strike something very hard and rough, and when you have cleared around the object you find that it is a large granite slab.

You can refer to the slab, so I underwent a lawnmower process of trying every item I had, in order, until I came across:

>hit slab with bar

You rap the slab sharply with the bar, producing a resounding clanging noise.

>hit slab with bar

At the second time of asking the slab emits a thunderous >>> BOOM <<ne

You’re in the burial chamber of an ancient round barrow. Amid an assortment of broken pots and neolithic miscellanea lies the yellow rotted skeleton of the dead chief, a sorry tribute to man’s ephemerality. In the skeletal fingers of the chief’s left hand is a mace.
There is an extremely rare and perfectly preserved copper axe here!

I suppose the “wild men hunting wild beasts” was supposed to be a hint of sorts, and I can at least understand the game is trying to invoke rituals from the deep past. The atmosphere was haunting enough I was able to give this puzzle a shrug once I solved it.

Taking the mace teleports oneself to safety (and it has a “lanyard” so can be worn). I haven’t worked out what to do with it yet. I would suspect it’s something to do with the temple area past the surfing scene (remember that it causes any non-worn items to be lost) but my dilemma there is getting burned up, not a lack of pummelling devices.

I made one last big revelation via use of in-game hints. I was getting mad at the quarry (a room I haven’t mentioned yet, but is in between the wild wood and the moorland).

You are standing in a horseshoe shaped quarry whose walls somewhat resemble a natural amphitheatre.

It was too prominent to just be scenery, but there’s no items to refer to.


One problem with adventure critiques (including, at times, my own) is that variations of bad gameplay are often lumped when they could be separated. “Guess-the-verb” is a prominent example; sometimes you might be certain of an action and it just requires a slight verb adjustment; call this Struggling to Communicate. Past that there might be deceptive messages provided by other verbs; I’ll refer back to the bear in Enchanted Island where typing HIT BEAR leads to the message “I’d rather not. It might hit me back!” but ATTACK BEAR works and drives the bear away. Call this Receiving Bad Information.

Somewhere between the two is the kind of puzzle where a verb that ought to solve a puzzle is unrecognized, but it’s unclear a puzzle is being solved in the first place so the player is in a guess-the-verb situation without even realizing it. Call this type of guess-the-verb Hidden.


I don’t understand what you mean by “yell”.

I don’t understand what you mean by “scream”.

I don’t understand what you mean by “sing”.

Nothing to see here, move on? Note that I hadn’t even tried these verbs at the quarry; I already knew they didn’t work from testing verbs earlier.

According to the in-game hints:

You take a deep breath and bellow out a chrous of “I’m an Adventurer and I’m OK,” which ecoes round the quarry, at first surprisingly quietly but then quickly gathering volume to reach a tremendous crescendo which causes rock and rubble to fall from all directions. When the dust clears, you see that a cave has opened up in the east side of the quarry.

I don’t use a scoring system like a lot of play-through blogs do, but I’m going to make up one right now for this game, start it at zero, then subtract ONE BILLION POINTS, then keep subtracting more numbers until the score leaps off the real number line altogether and enters the Cursed Numbers.

Here is the Cursed Number between six and seven: ṕ̵̪̝͖͕̳̭͔̭̣̪̯̤͔͒̄l̷̡͓̞̫͚̖̟͕̱͓͐͒̈́̀̎̎͂̈́̾͜͝ȩ̴̯̉̉̓́̏̐̏͐͠a̶̯̲͎̠̮̝̤̭̞̅̀̾͝͠s̷͛̅̃̏̇ͅȩ̵̠̯̹̜͖̤̖̳͔͓͉̠̿͗ḿ̸̢̢͓̘̟͈̖̤̦̣̺̩͔̣́̍̂̃͝͝͝a̶̛͈͚̫̐͊̄͋̓͂̃̊̿̎͠k̶̨̰̼̪̳͋̽̀̿͑̀̽̚͘̚͝͝ͅe̶͇͊̐͆̓́͑̈́́̂͊̕͝i̶̢̛̱͇̽̉͌͜t̵̞̀͆ş̶̻͚̥̪̖͔̞̑̆̔̇̉̇ͅţ̷̼̠̝́̈́͒͑̅̆̈͌̍̈͌̒̚̚͝ơ̶̧̤̫̮̟͍̗̗̈̑̂̓͒͐̓̉̒p̶̨͍̮̗̤͓̘̼̝̞͚̙̖̯̣̊̀̊̅́

Banging open the cave led to a new large area. I haven’t even explored thoroughly yet, but I wanted to show off the part with Gilgamesh’s tomb.

This is the antechamber to the Tomb of Gilgamesh. It is piled high with various pots and cauldrons associated with cult and ritual, and even after the millenia which have passed since the last offering was made here for the soul of the dead king, the smell of incense lingers. The only exit is a low tunnel to the east.

At the eastmost point there’s a “carpet”, and of course, in any magic-based adventure game involving a carpet, it can fly.

You are in the eastern alcove of the eastern gallery.
Spread out on the floor is an ancient and magnificently patterned carpet.

But how to use it? Well, this is Gilgamesh’s place, and the game already indicated earlier (in the long plot-dump when I opened the box) I needed to go to Mashu, so

>say mashu
The carpet ripples slightly, then hovers along the ground and slides under your feet. As it does so the east wall of the alcove opens up to reveal a long passage sloping upwards to a patch of light. When the carpet accelerates up this passage and into the open sky, you are thrown off balance and when you sit up you find that you are flying at speed over hill and dale.

The carpet flies to a gully with another cave, but trying to enter leads to one of the most awesome deaths I’ve seen in a videogame (using the old sense of the word).

As you move toward the entrance of the cave, two large figures step out and stand shoulder to shoulder, blocking the way completely. Peering into the gloom it becomes clear that these are no ordinary giants: although they have human faces with pointed beards, their lower bodies merge into the tails of scorpions. They stand silent and uncompromising, their arms calmly folded, and their cold eyes unblinkingly fixed on you.
There is a moment when time seems to stand still, as you gaze unbelivingly into the monsters’ eyes. Then you collapse into a crumpled heap, and die an unknown death.

Posted January 27, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Hezarin: WARE THE MINOTAUR   19 comments

Hezarin has definitely exceeded Acheton in difficulty, and while I don’t think it quite has hit the Quondam threshold, it’s gunning for it hard.

The commercial release of Hezarin was in a “double game pack” with The Last Days of Doom, a science fiction game which is third in the Doomawangara trilogy. Picture via Museum of Comptuer Adventure Games.

I wanted to tie up loose ends on the “Fountain Room” portion of the map. In particular, there was a section with a rope bridge and a “Minotaur Lair”.

You are on the south side of the rope bridge. The bridge sways unexpectedly below your feet, and it is all you can do to maintain your balance in this precarious position above the raging torrent. The bridge continues uninvitingly to the north, whilst to the south is a shelf of rock offering firmer footing.


You are on a shelf of rock high above a seething underground river. On the
rock wall at the rear of the shelf is blazed in letters three feet high:
Passages lead southeast and southwest, and a frail rope bridge spans the gorge,
disappearing into the darkness.
A pearl necklace is lying here!


You are in the minotaur’s lair. Passages lead in several directions.


[… this is another “random” maze …]

Your compass is spinning like a demented top.
OK I think this is the way …..

You are in the minotaur’s den. The ground is littered with straw and old bones. A dark for is just visible in the gloom in the corner of the room; it appears as yet to be unaware of your presence.

>kill minotaur

You move toward the dark form in the corner, and discover to your relief that it is only a statue. Obviously the statue is far too heavy to move.

This is what the map around the minotaur area looks like at first, although there’s a hidden area.

The minotaur statue fake-out was amusing but I was clueless how to proceed. I did have this poem scrawled on a different part of the map…

Not the making of the beast
And Adventurer’s despair
But the taking of the beast
In the Minotaur’s lair

…but I admit to needing to check hints here (and multiple times for what followed). Before I get to that, I need to mention a magic item:

A three foot black rod with a rusty star on the end lies nearby.

Yes, this is getting a cameo from Adventure. WAVE ROD has a somewhat different effect from the original game:

As you wave the rod it emits a loud WHOOOoooosh, like the sound of a firework being let off, and clouds of black smoke issue forth from the end. You suddenly feel distinctly queasy; your limbs no longer respond to your commands, and you collapse to the floor. When the smoke clears you find that you have turned into a frog.

This is useful getting into a small crack and finding a treasure (a fly that you can eat in frog form, but it turns out to be a jeweled treasure rather than a real fly so you spit it out). Making it back to the Fountain Room and typing DRINK WATER is sufficient to change back to human form.

I was happy enough to have figured this out, but I didn’t make the connection between the rod and the poem. The first two lines refer to the froggificaiton of our hero (“the making of the beast”). The second two lines mean the rod has a different effect when waved at the statue.

As you wave the rod the statue shudders and begins to emit a terrifying creaking sound. The surface ripples and begins to shrink in upon itself, as if it were being sucked in by some unseen force. You are unable to turn away and watch, spellbound as the statue grows ever smaller. Finally all that remains is a tiny statuette, a fraction of the size of the original. The statuette is lying on a previously invisible trapdoor.

Any attempt to open the trapdoor was stymied; the game said it was bolted on the other side. So what was the purpose of all this, then? Was this trapdoor only going to come up again much later?

I had previously tested out CUT BRIDGE (with the vorpal sword in hand) because it was described as wobbly, but the right action was to cut the rope while standing on the bridge.

With one slash you cut right through the bridge, and you are forced to hang on for dear life as the bridge plummets towards the far canyon wall. Just as it appears that you are about to bash your brains out at high speed you notice a dark opening in the gorge wall, which fortunately you appear to be heading straight for. As the bridge is brought up short you let go and hurtle into the cave. When you have recovered sufficient compsure to look around you discover….
You are in a secret cave underneath the minotaur’s lair. A large stalactite forms a pillar in the centre of the cave running from floor to ceiling. and other smaller ones grow nearby. To the north is a 60 foot drop down to a narrow ledge, while a winding tunnel leads south. There is a rope bridge hanging outside the cave entrance.
There is a large stone here, made of a strange black substance.

Oho. This led to a treasure (a silver tiara) and allowed me to unbolt the trapdoor and get back up to the Minotaur Den, but I was now trapped. The key was to untie the remains of the rope bridge and re-tie them down farther at the secret cave.

OK. You fasten the bridge to the stalactite.


You shinny deftly down the bridge, jumping the last few feet down to the ground You are on a narrow east-west ledge just above a fast flowing river. The ledge quickly peters out to the west. A rope bridge dangles down from the cave above, ending about 15 feet above your head.

If you try to go west, the ledge ends; if you try to go east, you lose your balance and fall in the river … unless you’ve reduced your inventory as much as possible (basically, a light source and your treasure-holding bag; fortunately the vorpal sword counts as a treasure). This puzzle wasn’t illogical, but there was no textual indication the possessions were causing the imbalance.

The ledge is followed by some steps which lead to an area I’ve seen before, from the other side.

You are on a large landing. Two close set doors decorated with scenes of brave Adventurers fighting huge lions, exit northwest and northeast. The only other exit is down the steps.

Here’s a map of my earlier visit of the same place just as a reminder:

This is from the first underground cavern of the game and shows the north side of the lion and leopard rooms.

Previously the rooms were separate, but looking from the south side they are “close set”, so trying to OPEN DOOR results in a disambiguation prompt.

Which door do you wish to open (left or right) ?

Let’s try typing RIGHT.


As you open the door a large and ferocious lion leaps out. Against his superior bulk and razor sharp claws you stand no chance…..

No, maybe LEFT?


>As you open the door a large and ferocious leopard leaps out. (Obviously the painter of the murals only knew how to do lions.) Against his superior bulk and razor sharp claws you stand no chance.

I will be revealing the final result after the picture, but you (yes, you, the one reading this right now) might want to stop and think how you’d solve this one; you technically have enough information to solve the puzzle.

The Hero Overpowering a Lion. Picture via Thierry Ollivier at the Musée du Louvre. (Image permission is for non-commercial use only.)


You yank open both doors simultaneously, barricading yourself in the triangle so formed. As you do so two large and ferocious animals leap out, and the noise of their combat reverberates throughout the caves. Obviously they had not eaten for days. Eventually the noise ceases and you feel confident enough to close the doors. The bodies of the big cats lie in pieces around the landing, obviously quite dead.

Just for emphasis, yes, you have to type something entirely different than what the prompt tells you is an option. This is meta at the level of answering the rhetorical question about fighting a dragon in Adventure.

Posted January 24, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Hezarin: The Crowd Are Delirious, the Judges Can’t Believe It   23 comments

If you ask an adventure fan what the worst gameplay situation is in their favorite genre, you might get a reasonable answer like “moon-logic puzzles” or “pixel hunting”. While it’s a rare scenario, for me the absolute worst is “having the correct solution to a puzzle, but the game refuses to recognize it as such causing hours to be wasted”.

I finally narrowed down my troubles with the pits/jumping puzzle (the one with the vial and magic word “WOZX” at the end).

Just as a reminder, this is a long dark east/west corridor where a map (hidden in a broken lantern) indicates the locations of pits, and you need to JUMP at the right positions. I had trouble getting back because one of the pits then moved, making jumping back impossible. I assumed this aspect was a puzzle.

It appears I was caught by the game’s “we really *really* want to make sure you’re using the map” mechanism which broke my runs. I finally dug into the hints and was mystified when there didn’t seem to be anything I didn’t already know, so I made another go from a fresh start and made it through (the pit isn’t supposed to move at all on the way back, if things work properly you can just retrace your steps).

For the aid of any Future Readers who hit this post via search result, here was my process.

1.) I finished the first section of the game all the up to where you go in the hole and get blasted to the next section, and saved my game before going in.

2.) After getting blasted, I made a beeline for the long dark corridor, stopping at the “fork” right before. Then I opened my broken lantern and only then read the map.

3.) I used the map (note the pit locations randomize for each game) to figure out when to go EAST and when to JUMP. After making it to the end (and scooping up the vial you get as a reward) I did the same steps but backwards with WEST and JUMP. (Paranoid addition: if you try this and mess up, don’t reload your game directly; quit out the program first, then go back in and reload. I cannot say for sure whether this helped, but my experience was bad enough I went nuclear.)

4.) Only after making it out of the dark did I save my game again.

This was obnoxious to the point I can declare it likely the lowest point of the entirety of Hezarin (even though I’m only 1/4 of the way in!) Fortunately, the gameplay got a lot more enjoyable after that, so let’s pretend none of that happened and pick up from there.

Look, let’s be distracted by this weird title screen! Via the RISC OS version. Alex’s name is spelled Ship in the manual and Shipp on this screen.

Now, when I say much more enjoyable I do still mean an old-school mindset is required. Structurally, this game is open world with one-way gates. That’s both helpful and stressful.

A “structural map” of the game. It’s quite possible there are more connections I haven’t found yet, but functionally, the one-way trips currently make it so I can’t use a item in a later area in a previous one. Even if it turns out a loop is possible (I’m fairly certain returning to the opening is needed, because there’s a whole castle I skipped where I think Arijith is) it puts some restrictions on what can be used to solve a particular puzzle.

Most of the puzzles in the “first underground region” are entirely solvable before moving on (this is helpful), but it is quite possible to softlock the game by missing some item or clue (this is stressful). It’s quite easy, for example, to miss wiffinweed (an object in the first outdoor area), which is definitely required for the second outdoor area (I will discuss why a little later).

After finally getting the vial, I might have been stuck again were it not for a comment by solar penguin who observed that the secret word next to the vial (WOZX) spells something upside down (XZOM).

The vial starts to glow faintly, then as if it had won some unseen combat against the laws of nature it suddenly bursts forth with a brilliant light, temporarly dazzling you.

The vial counts as a light source, but it also has a special property that triggers in another area; if you go down in the elevator by the Fountain area, you find a sort-of-maze where dragons roam (“Dragon underground” on the structural map).

Your vial is glowing with a green light!

You are in a large chamber whose walls glow bright ping. Passages lead north, south, northeast, southeast, and southwest.


Your vial is glowing a sober shade of grey!

You are in a large chamber whose walls glow bright green. Passages lead north, south, northeast, southeast, northwest and southwest.

This involves a set of color-coded rooms; the vial glows the color of the room you’re supposed to go in. If you go in the wrong room a dragon melts you. At the end of the rooms is a rainbow room.

You are in a large chamber whose walls pulsate with multicoloured spots.
Passages lead northwest and southwest.
There is a huge firestone here, pulsating with inner life!
There is a suit of asbestos clothing lying in a crumpled heap on the floor.

Once you get the asbestos clothing you can take on a dragon.

As you enter the cavern you notice a large dragon napping in the centre of the chamber.
The dragon opens a beady eye and snarls “How am I meant to get any beauty sleep with all these Adventurers traipsing around?!”
There then ensues a long and epic battle. The dragon almost manages to burn through your asbestos suit when once again your trusty vorpal blade comes good, and the duel culminates with the beheading of the beast.

The elevator that went down to dragons goes up to some “shifting halls”, random rooms with random exits…

This is the hall of achievement. Inscribed on vast wooden plaques surrounding the room are the names of all the former successful Adventurers. You read for some time, but do not recognise any of the names.


This is the hall of perseverance. All who find this room receive due reward. A small clerk hurries in and hands you a package before hurrying out again.

…a “bear” who I can’t even get a reaction from…

You are in a large bare room with exits northwest, south and east. The eastern exit has ‘ENTRANCE TO THE SHIFTING HALLS’ written above.
There is a large bear here.


The bear seems amiable enough, though you are unable to force a way past him.

…a “Morlock” who kills me…

You are in a darkened room piled high with rusting machinery. The only exit lies to the west.
A coral ornament is lying on the ground!
A shadowy figure flits to and fro between the junk, always keeping well out of reach.

>get ornament

As you move towards the Morlock, it pounces and slits your throat.

…and an Inn with other adventurers, which makes this game 10 times livelier than Acheton, Philosopher’s Quest, and Quondam combined.

You are in the Adventurers’ Bar. The place is a hive of activity, filled almost to capacity with hordes of thirsty Adventurers. Scantily clad serving wenches shuttle back and forth with huge steins of frothing ale, and the room is a hubbub of laughter and merriment. Everybody is far too busy drinking to take any notice of you.
A lone, haggard Adventurer strides in from the moor and says: “Shrik yabba wa remmin da dabas! Heks takking Gremlins yekka do pontwers! Yo skibble-weed da polins kerwirligurls.” I think he is trying to tell you something, but the point goes over your head, and eventually he lopes off to the bar.

There’s also a Vault nearby where you can deposit items, which is curious since I already have the bag which counts for getting points from treasures. I suspect (only 60/40 though) if you deposit enough treasure in the vault you get some special item.

The Inn has a door leading outside.

Exploring just a little leads to some Hezarin Gremlins surrounding you and stealing (some of) your stuff. This is where I needed the “wiffinweed” I promised I would get back to. You might note from the comment at the Inn (if you mumble a bit and say the adventurer’s words out loud) that gremlins dislike wiffinweed. Holding it was everything needed to solve the puzzle.

The ground around you boils with frenzied activity, and hundreds of tiny holes appear. Out streams a veritable horde of Hezarin Gremlins, intent on doing as much mischief as they can! They crowd around you then suddenly one shrieks “EEK! He’s got wiffinweed! He’s got wiffinweed” and they zoom off into the distance at high speed. One of them is in such a state that he leaves all his belongings behind.

From here I found three significant branches:

1.) The Evil Moors of Hezarin.

You are wandering in a bleak and extensive area of moorland. The hillsides are a mixture of thick purple heather and sparse gorse bushes which scratch you at any opportunity. A chill wind howls eerily around the tors and vales and a demoralising drizzle hangs in the air.

If you walk in far enough you see some pillars laid in a curious manner.

You’re in the centre of an ancient circle of huge monoliths, the focal point of which is an arrangement of three stones in the middle of the ring. The three stones consist of two pillars and a flat irregular slab set between them and lying on one of its long edges. The two pillars are oriented along a northeast-southwest axis.

(The orientation of the pillars is randomized, so I’m sure that’s some sort of hint.) Unfortunately, hanging out in the moors eventually brings death via either evil wolf or banshee. I don’t know if it’s due to too much time elapsing, me not having the right magic item, me not taking the right geographic movements, or a combination of all three.

While struggling up a particularly steep hillside you stumble across the grisly remains of some poor unfortunates. Even as you ask yourself the question “What did this?”, a howling Banshee confronts you, first scaring you out of your wits and then sucking out your soul.

2.) The Wild Wood.

If you are not carrying a torch, the trees to the southwest will let you in the Wild Wood.

You are in the wild wood: a dark and mysterious forest seemingly with a will all of its own. Branches pluck at your clothing and scratch your face, and the roots appear to grab at your feet trying to trip you up. Although you never see them move, the trees appear to shift position constantly, so that it is impossible ever to retrace your exact steps.

You can CLIMB TREE and SNIFF (not SMELL, only SNIFF [*]) to get oriented and eventually find some witches.

You are on the edge of a small clearing. In the centre is a large cauldron smelling of various nasty and unpleasant ingredients. AA group of witches are squabbling round the cooking fire:
“It was your turn to bring the maggots!”
“I brought them last week! Anyway we can do without the maggots! What about the dead rats?”
“They’re not decayed enough. We’ll have to use spinach instead. Pass me the dragon’s head.”
“I haven’t got a dragon’s head!
“Could have fooled me dearie, hee, hee, hee!”
“Fishcakes! It won’t work properly without a dragon’s head. We’ll just have to use lots of spinach.”

You may recall from my dragon escapades I did manage to behead a dragon, and the witches were willing to trade the dragon head for teleportation “somewhere which could be in your interests” which turned out to be a small extra underground area.

A boulder blocks passage to the west, taking the “topaz bracelet” to the east results in a slab blocking the way out, and leaving deposits the player back in the Inn area. I haven’t tried talking to the witches and getting teleportation again, so it may be a one-trip-only deal.

3.) River Surfing

I am so astonished I figured this one out on my own. There’s a river that you can go in for exactly one turn before a wave wipes you out.

Some way up the river you may see what you think is a wave starting to form…but is it?

While doing an unrelated part of the game the thought popped up “what if I could surf the wave?” I noticed the “plank” in my inventory. Previously I had visualized it as rather small and thin (it came from a treehouse) but if it was a little larger than my visualization it would work as a surfboard (failure to visualize as the author intended has been long one of my nemeses).

However, going out with the plank and typing SURF kills you.

Good idea: badly executed. Too bad.
Oh dear, you seem to have terminated your existence.

I had to rely on outside knowledge a little; what does surfing look like? Well, sometimes you KNEEL on the board.

Yes, it is! Rearing up its great green bulk and bearing down on you like the four horsemen of the apocalypse.


Now you’ve virtually overshadowed by this, arguably the best breaker of the millennium. What about it?


You hold the plank out in front of you and throw yourself flat out on it.
Perfect timing! The wave curls and breaks around you, and before long you’re out there standing up, sitting down, hanging ten and doing handstands… the crowd are delirious, the judges can’t believe it, who is this man? Now he’s sure to win the Hezarin Surf Festival. Even the Death-Defying Dwarf who’s been practising all year for this event at his home camp near Poohsticks bridge must be out of it now.. but wait.. Oh no! This can’t be true.. Yes, he’s gone – WIPE OUT.. We can only hope that he’s washed up somewhere safe….

Holy hijinks that worked. Doing all this lands the player (sans all inventory except anything being worn) in a new area, with a temple.

You are standing before a huge building which flares white in the brilliant sunlight. When you look closer, you realise that its walls, stairs, columns, turrets, steeply pointed domes and finely carved flying buttresses are covered entirely in highly polished ivory.

Within the temple you can randomly run across a.) acolytes wearing white robes b.) an acolyte wearing a red robe and c.) two guardians. There’s also a way to wander around the back and grab a white robe as a disguise.

If you have the white robe on you can sneak by a.) and b.) Later you can get a red robe and sneak by a.) and c.) There is some randomness here in who you meet and I think the gameplay really is meant to have a little luck thrown in, but eventually, I managed to get a ceremonial dagger and close to an inner sanctum.

You are in the antechamber to the main sanctum. Identical doors are opposite each other in the east and west walls, and in the north and south ends of the room are stone water troughs set into the floor.


As you pass through the doorway the ground apparently starts to burn beneath your feet, and as you cry out in agony two Guardians appear and despatch you instantly.

I’m not sure how to get past the “fire floor”, but since I don’t have any method for escaping the temple area yet, there likely is a way.

[*] How did I know to SNIFF? The parser is unique in that rather than “it only understand the first three letters of a word” (common in 1980s games) or “it only understand the first six letters” (an Infocom standard) it will interpret a word correctly as long as the initial letters map to a unique part of the game’s vocabulary. In my comments, Voltgloss discovered “Z” alone led to the game asking about zirconium. Early in my gameplay I went through every two-letter combination from “AA” to “ZZ” (I was kind of stuck, ok?) and managed to ferret out some odd nouns and verbs in the process, including SNIFF and KNEEL. Not SURF, alas; I just had to summon thinking of that one from the void.

Posted January 22, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Hezarin: Seen Only Once by Gilgamesh, Who Saw All Things   8 comments

THE SCORPION-MEN OF THE MOUNTAINS OF MÂSHU. Source. Stopped on his quest to find immortality, Gilgamesh must first plead his case to the scorpion-men that guard the mountain, then pass through in darkness for a day.

Last I left off on sort of a riddle.

As you take the torch it suddenly flares bright green, and you see a face solidify
in the flame. The face turns to look at you, and pronounces in a solemn chant:
The face then turns away from you, and as it fades so the colour of the flame returns to normal.

I’ve only half-resolved it. Immediately after this room is the Fountain Room that the SKCITSHOOP magic word leads to, and any items that fall in the river also land here. This means you can go to the main Poohsticks bridge and toss most of your inventory, and then find it again upon reaching the Fountain Room.

To the southeast of the Fountain Room, there’s a small bag. It seems to be the “destination room” for any treasures; you can FILL BAG and the only thing that will go in are treasures, and your score goes up once they’re placed in the bag. I’m still unclear if finding them is optional.

A bit east of where the bag is there’s a long stretch of dark smoke-filled rooms — 13 rooms worth. This is what the WAY TO LIGHT/IS THROUGH THE DARK refers to. Additionally, THAT WHICH IS NOW DARK/WAS NOT ALWAYS SO seems to refer to the broken lantern; I had already discovered if you open it there’s a map.

So there’s two pits in the dark hall; if you just try to keep plunging ahead you’ll eventually fall, but if you stop at the right points and JUMP you will leap over the pits instead. At the end there is a Brimstone Cavern.

You are in a long tunnel filled with choking black smoke. It is impossible even to see your hand in front of your face.


You are in a small subterranean cavern, whose only exit is to the west. A large pit filled with bubbling magma casts and eerie red glow over the surroundings, providing sufficient light for you to make out a small word etched at your feet.
There is a small vial here, with decorative (but unreadable) runes etched over the entire surface. The vial is filled with clear water, which shimmers and sparkles in the light.

The word says ‘WOZX’.

Getting back is a problem, though — the pits seem to move so that there are two in a row at the far west end. This makes them impossible to jump over. I’m guessing the way out is entirely different than the way in (and no, WOZX doesn’t work).

I should add I discovered a very nasty bit of meta-game business (before entering the dark hall the first time) involving the save-game feature. If you save nearby there’s a sound of the earth being swallowed up, and the pits move, potentially in such a way it is impossible to jump through them. Again, this is before getting through the first time via jumping; it’s almost comically evil for a game that lets you undo other mistakes.

I was severely stuck enough I went back to previous puzzles. In particular, with the crystals and orcs section…

You creep past the monster, and reach for the crystal, but as you touch it, it emits a bell-like chime, waking the orc. You whirl around just in time to counter its wild leap for your throat, and the orc impales himself on your sword, the blade sinking deep into his soft underbelly. Sword, monster and chain vanish with a loud crack.

…I had killed three out of four orcs, but the last one refused to let me sneak in. The cabinet where I originally got the vorpal sword had another item, even though it looked like it had nothing.

Invisbility cloak taken

Wrr. I admit only being on the alert to this from seeing a reference in the big list of potential hints in the manual to invisibility. (There’s a list of questions with numbers, and you can type HELP (number) to look up a particular hint. I have yet to use them other than this indirect hint I just mentioned.)

This invisibility cloak is enough to defeat the last orc (who tears away the cloak in the process, so you can’t use it elsewhere). From the four orcs I got four crystals that merged into a crystal key. I was then able to unlock the box I’d been toting around (remember it was the first thing I found underground) and was confronted by some serious plot:


You take hold of the crystal key and turn it once. There is a quiet click and the box begins to hum gently. As you turn the key again there is a loud “CRACK” and brilliant shafts of light flash and fade. When your eyes and ears recover, you realise that you are listening to some unearthly voice telling of great feats of bravery from a forgotten past.
“…….and so the casket was lost, and the panels spread around the globe. Your task now, as the opener of the cask, is to find the four panels of light and restore the cask which by its power will aid you in your final struggle with the Darkness which controls the world.
You must journey to lands beyond the ken of living folk. To Mashu, the mountain of the setting of the sun, seen only once by Gilgamesh, who saw all things. You must journey to places far: from wild wood to evil moor, from chilling marsh to unseen sanctum. Fare well, be strong, let not your heart quail. For with the working of your deeds will your quest succeed or fail. With this the voice fades and dies, and you are left in silence, the box open in your trembling hands.


From here I got stuck again until I realized in a room to the west of the Fountain with some grey doors…

You are in a small square room with a polished floor. A pair of featureless grey doors, with no visible handles or keyholes, are set back into the western wall, and are closed firmly together. There is a word written in coloured lights above the doors. The only other exit is to the east.


The word is “G 1 2 3”

…that while efforts to OPEN DOOR and the like are rejected, I could just GO ELEVATOR.

The doors slide open revealing a darkened room. You step gingerly through. You are in the lift.
There is a bottle of vintage wine nearby!

I haven’t mapped the other levels, but I’m guessing there’s a lot more open now for me to work on, in addition to a lot more ways to die.

You are in a large chamber whose walls glow bright pink. Passages lead north, south, northeast, southeast, and southwest.
A large dragon is napping in the centre of the chamber.
The dragon opens a beady eye and snarls “How am I meant to get any beauty sleep with all these Adventurers traipsing around?!”
He then incinerates you with a short burst of flame, but if it’s any consolation he had to count 8,000,036 sheep before he managed to fall asleep again!

Posted January 18, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Hezarin: Such Earthly Considerations Seem Worthless Trifles   6 comments

I always try my best to cajole my game-playing sessions into a narrative form, but vast puzzle-fests like this can be … maybe not anti-narrative, exactly, but they pull in some sideways-diagonal direction which makes my job harder. The story is painted by lore and place as much as the events that happen.

About 30 yards ahead the river disappears over a magnificent waterfall, at least 1000 feet high, which is illuminated by powerful arclamps high out of reach. A fine mist hangs in the air, quickly soaking your outer garments, but the sheer impressiveness of the falls makes such earthly considerations seem worthless trifles, and you venture right to the edge of the falls.


I discussed a marsh where HOLD TWIG gave a pointer to the right directions (“The twig twitches sporadically, and comes to rest pointing in a southerly direction.”); what I didn’t mention was this was cojoined with a bad parser issue. When HOLD TWIG is used anywhere else, the game acts in a very different way:

You’re already holding the small forked twig.

This is extremely deceptive parser practice; essentially the verb means an entirely different thing (and behaves the same as TAKE) when it is not being used as a puzzle. Even though both uses are “fair” in a grammatical way, there’s no reason for a player to think the verb will suddenly mean something different just because they’re in another location.

Something similar happens with CLIMB while in the hall of torches.

The tunnel levels out here for a while, and the going is a bit easier.

The tunnels continue dead straight for several miles, and you are forced to rest every now and then.

This is interpreting CLIMB the same as UP in the location. However, there’s a different use of CLIMB, where you can CLIMB WALL:

Your Adventurer’s training stands you in good stead here, and you are able to make full use of the plentiful hand and toe holds available to you. You are perched several feet below the lowest of the torches. Above you the wall becomes smooth and featureless, and you are unable to progress further.

A wall isn’t even mentioned in the room description; you just have to suppose it is there. Urrrgh.

After this you can JUMP and get one of the torches. The torch falls to the ground and goes out, but a bright green light briefly appears and the torch lights up again. This resolved my issue last time with a lack of light.

Lighting up the darkness to the south leads to an open area with an east and a west section; let’s start with the east.


I mentioned the plot is to defeat Anjith, and grabbing treasures is somehow part still part of the game, but there’s one other paragraph from the intro I was saving for when it became pertinent:

RUMOUR HAS IT that the Ruling Council of Hezarin, an omniscient body that works in mysterious ways, foresaw the rule of the old tyrant and crafted a magic device, in the form of an old panelled box, which could be used to overcome him; but over the passage of time the box has been lost and the secret of its use forgotten. Other sources say that Arijith himself has consigned the box to a secret location deep in the bowels of the earth, and has woven dark spells and set hidden traps so that no ordinary man may chance upon it…

I admit I thought the moment of pertinence would come MUCH later, but the very first thing I found upon exploring the underground with a torch was:

You are in a small, musty room. There is a large vent set into the eastern wall, and a corresponding one facing it.
There is a box here. The box is locked.

I don’t know for certain if it’s the box, but given the two-word parser isn’t great with adjectives, I think it’s likely the Big Fooble is here in the open early. Figuring out how to use it, then, is the great mystery.

While we’re in this part of the caverns, I should also note some “fun” doors leading to grumpy cats:

You are in a small room. To the south is a large door, decorated with scenes of brave Adventurers fighting huge lions. The only other exit is to the northwest.

As you open the door a large and ferocious lion leaps out. Against his superior bulk and razor sharp claws you stand no chance…..

a music room with a “bonger”

As you walk in through the door you are greeted by the hideous clash of long out of tune clarinets, bassoons and a euphonium.
The room is covered with scenes of people playing various instruments, some of them very odd. The only exit is to the south.
Lying on the floor here is an object which I find myself unable to describe as anything other than a ‘bonger’.

and a pipe where I can use the wheel I found in the rubbish heap to turn it on. Turning it on results in the room with the box being filled with black smoke. (I don’t know if this is useful or just a trap for players who didn’t get the box first.)

This activates something on the west side of the starting underground map, so let’s turn over to that:

The “Poohsticks” bridge is over the same river you can jump into from aboveground to get the magic word SKCITSHOOP.

There’s a curious cabinet where FILL CABINET gets an interesting response:

The passage ends here in a small chamber, hewn out of the bedrock. A large display
cabinet has been mounted on the west wall.
The cabinet is empty.
>fill cabinet

Sorry, only members of the Council are allowed to fill the cabinet.

If you leave there’s a BANG sound, and if you come back you find there’s a “vorpal blade” inside. This implies that The Council of Hezarin is helping you from afar.

You can use the vorpal sword to slay some orcs:

The passage comes to a dead end here. Chiselled into the otherwise blank wall at the far end of the passage is a small alcove, which contains a sparkling crystal.
There is a large orc, sleeping fitfully, chained to the wall of the passage below the alcove.
>get crystal

You creep past the monster, and reach for the crystal, but as you touch it, it emits a bell-like chime, waking the orc. You whirl around just in time to counter its wild leap for your throat, and the orc impales himself on your sword, the blade sinking deep into his soft underbelly. Sword, monster and chain vanish with a loud crack.

although there’s four orcs in total, and I haven’t been able to do anything with the last one.

Finally, there’s a small hole. If you go in you get stuck. If you haven’t turned the pipe valve from the eastern part of the caverns yet, the hole fills up with water and you eventually drown. If the pipe has been turned on, the result is different:

You are stuck in the hole. The water is up to your nose.
Below, you can feel the pressure slowly building up.

Just as the water reaches your nose the pressure finally because too great. With a loud >>POP<< you shoot out the hole like a cork out of a champagne bottle, execute a graceful triple somersault and crash heavily into the side wall of the cave. When you recover sufficiently you discover that you have sustained only minor bruises after all, though they do not feel so yet.
You are on a small ledge above a large, water-filled cavern. Steam curls upward from the surface of the water creating intricate patterns. A dark tunnel exits north.
There is a wooden torch mounted on the wall here.


As you take the torch it suddenly flares bright green, and you see a face solidify
in the flame. The face turns to look at you, and pronounces in a solemn chant:
The face then turns away from you, and as it fades so the colour of the flame returns to normal.

This leads to an entirely new and large section. I haven’t done much mapping further so I’ll save discussing it next time. I have already worked out what the chant is referring to, but I’ll save discussing that for next time too, other than me pointing out the green glow has occurred twice now: once for picking up the torch after it briefly went out, and once for the poem/hint. This suggests to me the torch is another avenue the Council of Hezarin is using to help.

Posted January 16, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Hezarin (1981)   24 comments

In 1978, Adventure and Zork arrived at the Phoenix mainframe at Cambridge University, and a small group of mathematicians made a custom language designed specifically for writing their own text adventures. So far we’ve seen Acheton (1978), Philosopher’s Quest (1979) and Quondam (1980). (While the first two had surviving mainframe source code that received modern direct ports, Quondam only exists as a port for the BBC Micro.) Each successive game tried to outdo the previous in terms of difficulty, culminating in Quondam actively describing items in a deceptive way and having a save-game feature that killed the player.

Hezarin backs up from this pattern a bit, and is outright nicer in places.

Drawing yourself up to your full height, you leap fearlessly out into the ravine, executing a perfect swallow dive, and smashing your head open on the boulders beneath.
Would you like to pretend you hadn’t done that?

Alright, but be more careful next time!

Yes, that’s a selective feature that lets you UNDO a turn. Mind you, the game is still known as extremely long and difficult (it has a whopping 1100 points possible, not quite as many as Acheton but still up there).

Hezarin was originally made in 1981 by Steve Tinney and Alex Shipp, but that source code is lost; fortunately, it received ports by Jon Thackray in 1990 to MS-DOS as well as the Acorn Electron.

From the Electron version. Mobygames also claims there are Amstrad CPC and Amstrad PCW versions but I haven’t been able to verify this with any primary source. (ADD: Gareth in the comments found some references, including a review of an Amiga version.)

Being a port means there are almost certainly some changes, but we’ll just have to cope with what’s available. The MS-DOS version is quite easy to get to (here’s a link to play online) so that’s what I’m using.

Now, a confession: I’ve beaten this game before. However, it was quite a long time ago (15 years or so) and fairly early on I started leaning very heavily on a walkthrough, with the result being I remember almost nothing other than the basic plot (you have to stop a tyrant/wizard/all-around-bad-guy named Anjith) and the fact things start out on a relatively expansive aboveground section. There’s also treasures to collect (appropriately marked with a ! symbol) but I don’t know if they’re required to defeat the game’s nemesis or just optional points.

Here’s the starting map, but I’ll need to describe a little of what’s going on.

Some of the “diagonal” connections (NE/SE/SW/NW) have been omitted because they made the map confusing to read.

If you head off north far enough you end up in a forest:

You are struggling through the undergrowth of a dark forest.
You are somewhat uncomfortably located near the top of a tree in the forest. Branches keep scratching at you, picking your nose and poking you in the eye. The view is completely curtailed by the dense foliage.

South is a marsh:

As you proceed the mist thickens and the ground underfoot becomes soggy and wet. Strange shapes loom in the mist ahead of you, and you are rather relieved to find that they are merely the stunted, blackened remains of trees. The mist has now become a real pea-souper, and with some trepidation you turn back and attempt to retrace your steps.
You walk for seemingly hours before realising that you have hopelessly lost your bearings, and you decide that the best thing to do is to sit it out until the mist rises. After a brief wait the mist suddenly rolls back, and you find…..
You are lost in the marsh.

West is an endless plain:

You are perched on an outcrop of rock in the middle of a weed ridden field. To the north you can see the dark, dark green of the forest canopy, while to the east and south a hotch potch of fields prawls across the countryside. To the west a featureless plain stretches to a horizon which is broken only by a solitary shimmering peak.
You are in a large field out which rises an outcrop of glistening white limestone. To the north lies thick forest, to the west an apparently infinite plain, and to the east a thick hedge.
You are on an infinite and entirely featureless plain. The sun beats down on the parched grass and a heat haze shimmers on the horizon.
You are on a featureless plain.
You are on a featureless plain.

(I quoted a little extra at the start there to note the “solitary shimmery peak” seen from the outcrop — I don’t know if it’s possible to reach or just a red herring.)

Rather than just trying to add every connection I cut the map off in each direction. The forest and swamp, in particular, are “random” mazes. As far as I can tell, the best you can do in the forest is wander, pick up a manhole on the way, and eventually get booted to one of the main rooms. The marsh is normally deadly but I found a “forked twig” where if I did HOLD TWIG I got helpful directions

The twig twitches sporadically, and comes to rest pointing in a southerly direction.

On the way out from the marsh, I found a treasure

There are some garnets here!

so that’s puzzle #1 down, out of ….? (A lot.)

In addition to the manhole and the garnets I’ve found a brass wheel, a plank, a broken lantern (with a map).

I’ve found two ways to get “underground”. In one method, I fall into a river, see a magic word (“SKCITSHOOP”) and then SAY SKCITSHOOP to teleport into a Fountain Room adjacent to multiple rooms that are dark.

You are in an immense hemispherical chamber with exits in most directions. Dominating the cave is a massive stone fountain from which columns of water jet up almost to the ceiling before spraying back into the ornamental pool beneath. Light filters in from a hole in the roof, and refracts in strange fashions inside the water columns, sending dazzling blobs of colour scampering across the cavern walls. The floor is covered in a springy moss-like substance, which hampers walking, especially as watching the psychedelic kaleidoscope is making you dizzy and nauseous.
It is pitch dark.

In the other method, I go down a passage with magical torches until they cut off appearing.

You are at the top of a long tunnel which dips steeply down to the south, while to the north the passage quickly turns round on itself and is lost to sight. The walls and floor are perfectly smooth, as if the passage has been constructed by melted away the offending bedrock, and it is difficult just to keep your balance.
High up, a row of torches cast a dim flickering light along the tunnel.

(…down a few rooms…)

The line of torches comes to an abrupt end here. To the south the passage widens into a large cavern, while to the north the passage continues up for a short way before leveling out.
It is pitch dark.

Either way, my enemy here is darkness. I don’t have a light source. I’ve tried GET ALL in various dark rooms I’ve poked at (remembering that Philosopher’s Quest put a lamp in a dark room) but no luck. There’s not even a LIGHT OR EXTINGUISH or BURN verb available so I suspect magical shenanigans will be required.

Posted January 14, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Inca Curse (1981)   8 comments

The founders of Artic Computing (Richard Turner and Chris Thornton) made their first adventure game (Adventure A, Planet of Death) themselves.

Richard had a friend (that he “met on a sponsorship programme for Ford”) named Charles Cecil. Adventures B (Inca Curse), C (Ship of Doom), and D (Espionage Island) were all by Charles (and he stayed with Artic essentially until they folded in 1986). Charles later went on to found Revolution Software and produce adventures like Broken Sword, Beneath a Steel Sky, and the forthcoming-for-2020 sequel Beyond a Steel Sky.

(ADD: Gareth in the comments points out an interview which mentions the work process — Charles gave the design on graph paper to Richard who then added his own ideas and implemented the game, so he definitely should be listed as a co-author.)

We’ll get to C and D when we reach 1982, but let’s take a look at Inca Curse.

I went straight for the Spectrum version this time, although the ZX-81 version is slightly less blinky than Planet of Death (the screen flashing only happens when you hit the enter key as opposed to at every single keypress).



Yep, we’re back to a Treasure Hunt.


If you try to GET BRANCH the game tells you IT IS HEAVY WITH LOTS OF LEAVES (and you don’t get the branch).

The only other location accessible at the start is some TEMPLE STEPS and a door with a LATCH. If you could bring the branch over you could break the latch.

To get the branch you need to


which makes no sense as a verb given the player has no cutting tool! Not only is the player being asked to refer to a “second-level” noun inside the noun, but “GET LEAVES” or “REMOVE LEAVES” don’t work even though they’re more logical verbs for what’s happening.


From an interview with Charles Cecil at Gameboomers:

Without doubt the film that profoundly influenced my first games, and many since, is ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’. My first game for the Sinclair ZX-81 was called ‘Adventure B: Inca Curse’. It started off “You are in a jungle clearing” – that was the extent of the description. In my mind that jungle clearing had huge trees towering above you, dappled light shining through the canopy of leaves, the squawks of parrots, the distant roar of a jaguar. But all I wrote was “You are in a jungle clearing”. And years later when I was the head of development at Activision one of the producers came to talk to me, and he was very impressed that I had written ‘Inca Curse’. He told me that he remembered the game so well – how it started off in a jungle clearing, there were huge trees towering above you, the dappled light shining through the canopy of leaves, the squawks of parrots, the distant roar of a jaguar etc. I realised at that moment the power of interactive narrative – and that he had given me much more credit than I was due!

I’ve somewhat had this effect before, where minimalist descriptions nonetheless convey a much deeper world than depicted in the prose, certainly moreso than the equivalent description in a novel…

…but not on this game! When I played this I never got visualizing past the branch. In the quote, not only is the visualization strong but the memory of it includes extra detail not in the original. I’m wondering if this is a “lost effect” from early games that can’t be recaptured in 2020 the same way — Inca Curse could easily be someone’s first or second adventure game, so it probably had some intrinsic magic to players.


The finangling with the branch was an unfortunate way to start the game, but fortunately, the rest of the was (intentionally) fairly easy. The temple is structured into two layers. Here is the top layer:

The most important section is a FIRE ROOM with a FIRE, a LAMP, and a MAGIC RING EMBEDDED IN FLINT. You can SMOTHER FIRE (as long as you have a MAGIC BLANKET) and take the RING and LAMP along. You can then use a CHISEL on the MAGIC RING to de-embed it.

In the “SLAVES WAITING ROOM” you can find a HYROGLIPHIC TRANSLATOR used to read a sign further on:

Incidentally, if you don’t have the translator, you are told


Clearly, this wasn’t a well-researched piece, but just to spell things out: a.) the Inca did not have a writing system, although they did have “talking knot” recording devices called “quipu” and b.) it makes no sense for them to be writing things in Spanish and c.) it definitely makes no sense for Spanish to use “hyrogliphics”.

If you ignore the sign and go down, you find you are in a SAND DUNGEON where a PORTHOLE LEADS DOWNWARDS. You can arrive in the exact same location from a SACRED STONE ROOM which has a sign warning of death if you GO WEST unprepared.

The only way back to the top level is if you have a ROPE and type USE ROPE. Otherwise, you’re stuck. (Well, the game did warn you.)

In order to go down to the next level, you need the MAGIC RING from back in the fire room and a BLUE STONE that happens to just be lying around. (There’s also a RED STONE but it appears to be useless. ADD: Lee Parker mentions in the comments there is a particular passage in the lower level not visible unless you’re holding the red stone. There’s no indication you’re “solving a puzzle” as this is happening and I’m guessing a lot of players missed it.) If you don’t have these items and try to go down the game says YOU ARE NOT CARRYING THE CORRECT POSSESSIONS. Otherwise:

In any of the “Maze” rooms a wrong direction will loop back to the same room.

This is essentially just a big maze. All the treasures are here, and there are no puzzles whatsoever (except for the maze itself). There are eight treasures in total, all golden (golden knives, golden brush, gold coins, golden statue … you get the idea).

Winning requires, simply taking at least some treasure to the jungle clearing at the start.

I was doing the typical thing of having a big pile awaiting liberation, so I was startled because the game ends immediately upon reaching the exit. Also, you can carry at most 6 inventory items, but remember there are 8 treasures, you have to leave some of them behind.

The only reason this works structurally is the upper level-lower level format — if there was a treasure or two “in the open” at the start it would be too easy to end the game with “success!” immediately. (This also makes Inca Curse feels a little bit like an “optimizer” game akin to Mystery Mansion, except the treasures essentially all being “in the open” once the lower section is reached makes it almost more a shopping trip than an optimizable puzzle.)

I did have a much more enjoyable time with Inca Curse compared to Planet of Death insofar as I didn’t get stymied by a parser issue every other turn. The author was clearly trying to build more of an environment than a puzzle game. However, this did result in empty sections…

There are no objects here, or descriptions past the room titles.

…which I think may have heated up the imagination of a 1981-era player, but felt to me kind of meaningless.

Still, I don’t think my time was wasted, and if you’d like to try exploring yourself, the ZX Spectrum version is easy to play online. (There’s also a forthcoming Android version made with permission from copyright holder; I’ll post about it when it goes up.)

We’re going to stay in the UK just a bit longer. While the home computer scene was just starting, the mathematicians at Cambridge University were still busy cranking out long and difficult puzzlefests, and in 1981 they produced what is arguably their largest game.

Posted January 13, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Planet of Death: Finished!   36 comments

Planet of Death was the first a very long line of games for Spectrum computers, and consequently provokes enough nostalgia that there’s both an Android remake and an iPhone remake.

Planet of Death was a technical miracle straining against its original hardware.

Planet of Death ambitiously included multiple solutions for at least two of its puzzles.

Alas, that still doesn’t stop Planet of Death being a very bad game, at least in its original incarnation.

I switched to the ZX Spectrum version, the blinking in the ZX81 version got to be too much.

Last time, I was stuck trying to get a mirror from a “green man”.


I had a failure of visualization here; I was thinking “short” in human terms but it really meant “small enough to just pick up”.


You can then set the man down and get the mirror.

The second issue I had was with a force field.


I needed a walkthrough. The right action is to be holding the laser gun, and then to…


..not, HIT, SHOOT, BREAK or any other logical alternatives work. Those three verbs are even understood by the game, just not here! Guess-the-verb can be slightly manageable if it’s a matter of “I clearly haven’t communicated my intentions yet, I’ll keep trying” but when the game appears to have understood an action but just ignored it, it makes puzzle-solving almost impossible.

We aren’t done yet!


The right way to get through is to DANCE while holding the MIRROR. If you don’t have the MIRROR you fall over, although this happens if the field has been smashed or not so it’s unclear what function the mirror is having.


This is near the end of the game: the goal is to be able to launch the ship and leave. Unfortunately, entering the ship right away is a trap; the ship can’t launch yet (for unclear reasons) there is no way to leave once entering.

You first need to go west into a “lift control room” with “3 switches” and a sign that says:


Here is an excerpt of my attempt at operating the switches:

It turns out you can just PUSH 1, PUSH 2, and PUSH 3, although they need to be done in the order 3, 2, 1.

If you’re as puzzled as I was what the DUSTY BIN reference has to do with anything, it’s from the old British game show 3-2-1. Dusty Bin is the mascot for the show.

After hitting the switches a lift opens. You can get an engine from another room (where there’s an OUT OF ORDER sign, implying the engine doesn’t work, but I guess it does) and then take it into the ship, and finally launch…

…except make sure you don’t push the MAIN button because the spaceship blows up. The AUX button works:

Let’s go back to those two puzzles with alternate solutions. You might notice nowhere above did I mention the ice block from the maze I was puzzling over in my last post. That’s because it’s an entirely optional way of going down, although one I don’t see how anyone at all would ever find in either the original ZX-81 or Spectrum versions. Here is the relevant room:


Although mentioned nowhere in the text, there also to be an exit DOWN;


(Note this only works if you’re holding the ice block — it can’t just be in the room, even though I think you’re supposed to be “riding” the ice.)

This is the same room you reach if you just go down a pit using a rope, which is not exactly a difficult puzzle. So even though the ice block represents an alternate solution, the method of solution it is used for is so obscure it might as well be a red herring instead.

Additionally, I mentioned occasionally being tossed into a prison.


There are two ways to escape. You can LOOK UP (!?) which let you see the bars are loose, and then you can KICK BARS (by some miracle I came up with this verb on my own). Or if you have a gold coin from doing GO LAKE earlier (something I missed in my playthrough) you can USE COIN and that bribes … an invisible guard, I guess?

This is interesting in a theory-of-game-craft sense. Red herrings can be painful (especially when there’s a puzzle like a maze attached to reach them) so what do you do when you have alternate solutions that rely on different objects? — can alternate solutions only use objects that are easy to reach, or is it possible to make them in a way it doesn’t feel like part of the game is wasted? At the Gaming After 40 writeup, Dale Dobson finished the game without knowing what the ice and gold coin did at all, and had the exact same frustrations a real red herring would provide.

I once tried (and failed) to design a small adventure game where each puzzle had 3 or 4 solutions, but it never occurred to me until now that adding solutions, while making a particular puzzle easier, might make a game holistically more difficult. Objects intended as possible solves to early puzzles might never be applied, but the player wouldn’t know that and might fruitlessly try to use those same objects in later puzzles.

The authors clearly had a sense of what makes an adventure game interesting; alternate solutions are still pretty rare in our chronological sequence, and they at least attempted to stage “scenes” rather than arbitrary obstacles. However, as early trailblazers, it would have been hard to know how to write scenes that come across to the player in a logical way.

Take the central puzzle with the security barrier — it’s reasonable, on its own, to shoot the barrier with a gun; it’s reasonable, on its own, that dance music might prompt the music DANCE; it’s reasonable, on its own, that a MIRROR might mess with a security system somehow, but when all the parts are jammed together without logic or explanation (and the absurd verb SMASH) it makes for a dreadful puzzle. I don’t think it would have been so obviously dreadful on paper, at its inception; being aware of the effect would require realizing what the implementation would be like (and how hard the verbs would be to find).

We’re not leaving Artic Software just yet, because their next game was also released in 1981. The author is different this time; someone famous enough that there’s a good chance you’ll recognize some of his more recent work.

Posted January 9, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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