G.F.S. Sorceress: DO NOT GO NEAR ANY ROBOT, NO MATTER WHAT ITS APPARENT CONDITION   12 comments

I have finished the game, so <TRANSLATOR ON> INSERT STANDARD SPOILER WARNING HERE <TRANSLATOR OFF>

I first must confess: I handled the lore entirely wrong. The start of the “Officer Manual” is meant to be read before playing, but then there is a transition to an “Officer’s Supplement” with “Books” meant to be read only when they are encountered in the game, rather like the paragraphs in a Gold Box game. It’s quite possible to play a long time without seeing the proper “book text” and the revelation of X was not really meant to come until the end. Having said that, I doubt many people really did read things in the “right order” — there’s only 8 “books” and when flipping through the manual so it’s hard to avoid seeing the pertinent information early. (The switch in the manual between “go ahead and read this” and “save this for the game” is also weakly signaled.)

It did mean my assumption that X’s motivation was to avoid being caught was a little off — his paranoia may have still be set off by the racketball incident, but Joe Justin probably didn’t know enough from standard officer training to be aware of X’s existence.

The G.F.S. Sorceress can visit five planets: Altair IV, Tau Ceti III, Sol III, Epsilon Eridani V, and Rigel X. Sol III is Earth and needs to go last (the game is over if you go, and you’ve either won or lost depending on what you found). They can be visited in any order, which is good in a freedom-of-choice way, and bad in a for-the-most-part-you-can’t-solve-out-of order way. I made things even worse for myself by starting with the correct planet (Rigel X, depicted above) and missing a key item, a translator. Without the translator there’s a lot of text like this:

YOU SEE A STONE ARCHWAY CARVED IN ROCK AT THE LOWER END OF THE TUNNEL. AN ANKH SYMBOL IS CARVED ABOVE THE ARCH AND AN INSCRIPTION READS: “CJRJTSL MYJGA MVIY KXVR AMK XQF. DJ, YNL LHNZOKAS, HBGPY FTAY XLYAYS”

That’s not a cryptogram. (Using a cryptogram solver on the first sentence yields such gems as BOROUGH KNOTS KILN YMIR SKY MAW.)

Getting past the translation issue is necessary to solve most of the puzzles in the game, so I had a long period of being stuck wandering the planets until I re-re-visited Rigel X and found a GOLD BOX right in the open that indicated it was a translator.

In the same area, I found a SILVER BOX and a ROBOT as well as a book that was a Robot Mark IX User’s Manual.

Immediately below the robot instruction manual in the physical game’s manual was “Book 8” which shows up nowhere in the game, but it was hard to avoid seeing warnings like IF YOU ARE ARMED, SHOOT ANY ROBOT ON SIGHT.

The robot is controlled just like the player, only with prefacing all commands with ROBOT. In doing so the player actually “becomes” the robot in the duration, and the display screen is taken over by the robot’s view.

Driving the robot around was my favorite part of the game; it reminded me of Suspended.

The next planet on my quest was the desert planet was Epsilon Eridani V.

This is where you get swallowed by a sand worm as I hinted in my last post.

After a while I did get used to the idea of a single command possibly taking days, months, or years of in-game time.

You then get dropped in a cavern with a sand crab. If you have the translator the crab says that YOU SPEAK THE SACRED LANGUAGE ONLY KNOWN TO THE CHOSEN and lets you through, whereupon you find a room with crystals, sleeping gas (your spacesuit protects you), and most importantly, a GOLD NUGGET which is useful later.

You can incidentally blast the crab with your pistol. This makes you stuck and is Yet Another Infamous Adventure Game Softlock, but thematically, I kind of like the idea of having a player who tries to use violence for everything receiving some sort of consequence.

Past the desert planet comes the jungle: Tau Ceti III.

There’s an archway with the message WELCOME, GREAT GODS FROM THE SKY. WE, THE FAITHFUL, WAIT FOR YOUR RETURN. (This is the same as the not-cryptogram above, so if anyone wants to take a crack at what the real encryption is, you’re welcome to try.) Just past the archway is a tablet that reads HONOR WITH THE WATER OF LIFE THE GOD WHO GIVES THE TOKEN OF LIFE – BOOK OF THE SKY GODS, CHAPTER 9, VERSE 21. Just past the tablet is a lizard; if you take a golden ankh that has been on the Sorceress not doing anything, you get sprayed.

This “slippery” spray helps get you past an ARACHNID later and steal a WEB that’ll you’ll need for the next stop: the temperate planet of Altair IV.

I found an old, abandoned castle after making it through a hidden path in a forest, but was stymied by a concrete wall which clearly was hiding something. I still had my xenon pistol but blasting with the pistol indicated I was just blowing off small chunks and didn’t have enough firepower.

Here is where I needed my robot buddy to make the ultimate sacrifice.

>ROBOT PUSH VIOLET BUTTON

THERE IS A BEEP SOUND FROM THE PISTOL AND A COMPUTER VOICE SAYS: “ARMED”

>ROBOT DROP PISTOL

ACKNOWLEDGED.

THE PISTOL HITS A BIT TOO HARD WHEN DROPPED. IT STARTS TO WHINE. LOOK OUT! THE PISTOL EXPLODES IN A SMALL ROOM. FLASH! ZZZZ POP! A PUFF OF SMOKE APPEARS.

POP! A TINY PUFF OF SMOKE RISES FROM THE SILVER BOX.

sadface

Past the wall was a secret archive with a killer robot (this is where the WEB came in handy) and two books: one with the details about X, and another with legal code information that indicates someone who is ejected into space for mutiny is allowed a retrial if they can make it back to Earth. (It must be one of those abstruse specific-case laws from the old times, like one that gives fines if ducks are wearing sweaters or you eat jam on a Tuesday.)

However, if you just try to cart the books out, you get zapped by a force field! The trick here is to put in two replacement books for the two you are taking. When I hit this I had left the other two books from the game behind on the ice planet. (There’s a pretty right inventory limit, three items plus the spacesuit, and the translator takes up one of the slots already.) This meant to get by a puzzle, I had to fly to a different planet and back which involved the passage of six years of time.

After that moment of narrative whiplash, I took my evidence back to Earth for one final slumber-trip.

This was a little more ambitious in terms of narrative than Empire of the Over-Mind but it consequently fell down on a few spots; rather than a wide-open design that allowed multiple solutions, it ended up fairly linear. Rather than a cast of characters to help, there was only in essence one (I’m not even counting Selena, who just had the brief cameos at the start and end). There were awkward plot holes and too many improbable situations. (I wouldn’t say they were any more improbable than a typical 1980-era adventure, but this game tried to hold a bit more of a load with its story and thus the issue became much starker.)

Still, there was at least something “natural” in all the puzzle-actions; G.F.S. Sorceress did manage to unite actions and plot such that each propelled the other. Unfortunately, other than the Deluxe version of Empire of the Over-Mind, this is where Gary Bedrosian broke off his adventure-designing career; all three of the games definitely showed original thinking and had aspects (like the time compression and expansion) that would be fresh even for a new game.

And that’s it for 1980! 1981 brings us a fresh set of 100-or-so games, including …

  • Michael Berlyn’s first two games
  • Yet another long and difficult Phoenix game
  • The first extensive conversion of a book into a text adventure
  • Zork II
  • More 3-D adventure shenanigans with Med Systems
  • What is allegedly one of the most evil Apple II games ever made

… and some more surprises besides. Thanks for reading this far!

Posted January 2, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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12 responses to “G.F.S. Sorceress: DO NOT GO NEAR ANY ROBOT, NO MATTER WHAT ITS APPARENT CONDITION

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  1. Huh, so is that final book actually a trap? (As in, it gives wrong information, if you’re reading the books as you find them in-game, you’ll never read that section of the manual?)

    • If you read the books as you find them you’ll indeed never read that section.

      It’s almost certainly intentionally messing with the players. I could see someone shooting the (useful) robot on sight based on that section.

      I don’t think it’s an actual “fake” book in the sense of “not even being real in-universe” because there is the killer robot that attacks later (although you’ve lost your pistol by then).

      Book 6 (also nowhere in the game) has a long ship startup procedure which doesn’t apply to the Sorceress, I could see someone being led astray there too.

  2. About your 1981 list: Arti Haroutunian’s first game “Microworld” should be on it, “Asylum II” was (by all other accounts) released in 1982, and the file of “Escape from Traam” actually has a 1980 copyright although it may have been released in 1981. Be warned, though: By all indications (aka my playthrough for TAG ;-) the original TRS-80 version appears to be severely bugged. But who knows, maybe you will solve that mystery!

    Also, “Saigon: The Final Days” was most probably written in 1981 (again see the file copyright for reference) but also most probably not released until 1983 (neither advertisements nor reviews show up in the magazines and adventure game books until then). Have a great gaming year, I’m looking forward to quite some of the titles on your list! (And I’m curious which ominous Apple II game you’re referring to.)

    • Thanks for the heads-ups on the dates! I know already a few that are off but I haven’t investigated any of the ones you’ve listed yet.

      Nobody on TAG has played or (as far as I know) even mentioned the Apple II game. It’s going to be a doozy.

  3. Congrats on finishing all 1980 games!!

  4. “There’s an archway with the message WELCOME, GREAT GODS FROM THE SKY. WE, THE FAITHFUL, WAIT FOR YOUR RETURN. (This is the same as the not-cryptogram above, so if anyone wants to take a crack at what the real encryption is, you’re welcome to try.)”

    The encryption is a variant Vigenere cipher where every character is rotated a different number of positions through the alphabet, in accordance with a set pattern. That pattern is: (i) back 6 letters; (ii) back 5 letters; (iii) back 6 letters; (iv) back 7 letters; and then repeat (ii) through (iv) (back 5, back 6, back 7, over and over). What’s unusual is that the cipher counts *every* character, including spaces, commas, and periods; those non-letter characters don’t get rotated, but they do advance the pattern through to the next step in 5-6-7.

    Or, in picture-is-worth-a-bunch-of-words fashion (copying into a fixed-width font will make this clearer):

    CJRJTSL, MYJGA MVIY KXVR AMK XQF. DJ, YNL LHNZOKAS, HBGPY FTAY XLYAYS.
    6567567567567567567567567567567567567567567567567567567567567567567567
    WELCOME, GREAT GODS FROM THE SKY. WE, THE FAITHFUL, AWAIT YOUR RETURN.

    Take each letter in the top row, rotate it backwards through the alphabet per the number immediately below (W is 6 letters back from C; E is 5 letters back from J; L is 6 letters back from R; C is 7 letters back from J; and so on), and hey presto, decryption complete.

    • Neat! I figured it couldn’t be super-elaborate given the circumstances. Narratively, it’s pretty odd since it’s supposed to be other languages; I wondered briefly while I was flailing around if perhaps Joe has suffered some sort of trauma that garbled his language as opposed to him just not understanding it.

      • Brain damage from being thrown out of an airlock to asphyxiate?

      • He has a space suit on when getting thrown out, so it’s not quite the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy scenario (and it still works because a good number of the planets aren’t breathable) but yeah, I was thinking maybe related to his getting tossed out a spaceship.

        The garbling just turned out to be a convenient way to code “here’s a language you don’t know” without having to make new text for everywhere it shows up.

  5. wow, I mean, WOW! I’m impressed by the quality of this game and feelies.

    • But, in the end, the thing about years passing by in hibernation has no plot, or puzzle, consequences, isn’t it?

      • Mostly — in the short story there’s two people that get tossed in prison for trying to testify that it wasn’t possible Joe was on the video, but they don’t get mentioned in the game, and I don’t think it would be possible to win before their term is up anyway.

        For puzzles involving long-term time passing so far the only one we’ve had is Quondam.

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