Archive for May 2020

Raaka-Tu: Finished!   Leave a comment

In the end, all you need to do is find five treasures from the temple, escape with them outside, and head back to the starting room; your score will double from 25 out of 50 to 50 out of 50. There is no victory message so you have to invent your own.

I ended up looking up two hints; one I regret checking, the other I do not.

From Mobygames.

The first thing I figured out from last time was the gargoyle. To give some context, here is what fighting the gargoyle is like. (I have added the > marks for clarity.)

YOU ARE IN A LARGE ROOM WHICH SMELLS OF DECAYING FLESH. THERE ARE EXITS NORTH AND SOUTH. THERE IS A HIDEOUS STONE GARGOYLE PERCHED ON A LEDGE ABOVE THE NORTH PASSAGE.
>N
THE GARGOYLE COMES TO LIFE AND JUMPS DOWN TO BLOCK YOUR WAY! THE CLAWS OF THE GARGOYLE RIP THROUGH YOUR ARM IN AN ATTEMPT TO REACH YOUR BODY!
>KILL GARGOYLE
BLOOD RUSHES FORTH AS YOU HAVE SLASHED THE GARGOYLE IN THE ARM! YOU DODGE THE GARGOYLE’S HORN.
>KILL GARGOYLE
BLOOD RUSHES FORTH AS YOU HAVE SLASHED THE GARGOYLE IN THE ARM! THE GARGOYLE LUNCHES AT YOUR FACE BUT YOU PULL BACK. HE BITES YOUR SHOULDER INSTEAD! YOU PASS OUT. WHEN YOU AWAKEN, YOU FIND YOURSELF CHAINED TO A BLOOD STAINED ALTAR. A PRIEST IS KNEELING OVER YOU WITH A KNIFE. IT LOOKS LIKE THIS IS IT. YOU’RE DEAD. TRY AGAIN.

There’s one item I didn’t mention, a candle, because I hadn’t played with it yet.

>LIGHT CANDLE WITH LAMP
THE CANDLE IS NOW BURNING, A SWEET SCENT PERMEATES THE ROOM. THE LIGHT FROM THE CANDLE SEEMS TO BE GROWING DIMMER.

If you stay nearby the “sweet scent” after you light it, eventually you fall over and die.

THE LIGHT FROM THE CANDLE SEEMS TO BE GROWING DIMMER. YOU PASS OUT.

The candle works on the gargoyle equally well! So you just need to light the candle, drop it with the gargoyle, leave for a bit, and wait.

A CANDLE IS BURNING DIMLY. THERE IS THE DEAD CARCASS OF AN UGLY GARGOYLE HERE. THE LIGHT FROM THE CANDLE SEEMS TO BE GROWING DIMMER.

Past the gargoyle is a treasure, a GOLDEN CHOPSTICK.

The second thing I solved in a meta-way. The manual mentions you can PUT THE —- UNDER THE —-. This implied to me UNDER worked as a preposition, so LOOK UNDER was a possible action.

I remembered the sacrificial altar from last time (where I fought the snake) seemed suspicious.

>EXAMINE ALTAR
THERE’S NOTHING SPECIAL ABOUT THE BLOOD STAINED ALTAR.
>LOOK UNDER ALTAR
UGH! WITH GREAT DIFFICULTY YOU MANAGE TO MOVE THE ALTAR AND YOU DISCOVER A SECRET PASSAGE.

The passage leads outside; since I had three treasures (the golden chopstick, a golden idol from the altar room, and the gold ring from last time that caused teleportation) I knew I just needed the last two in order to win.

Here is where I got horribly stuck. The hint I don’t regret checking at all is that there’s a hidden gem randomly placed somewhere on the map, so you have to EXAMINE ROOM in each and every room until you find it.

YOU ARE IN A DARK PASSAGE WAY WHICH SLOPES UP AND TO THE SOUTH.
>EXAMINE ROOM
YOU DISCOVER A PRECIOUS GEM HIDDEN IN A CREVICE.

The manual does not mention EXAMINE ROOM is even possible. I’ve seen it once before in Temple of the Sun, but there it was a command in the instructions and there are enough hidden objects it doesn’t take too long for the command to be useful. With Raaka-Tu I only found the gem after examining nearly every room in the game.

The “good” puzzle is at the vault, which I mentioned last time, but I’ll repeat the description of here:

YOU ARE IN A VAULT WITH A LARGE DOOR TO THE SOUTH. A BEJEWELED LEVER IS ON ONE WALL. THERE IS A PLAQUE ON THE WALL ABOVE THE LEVER. THE DOOR CLOSES BEHIND YOU.

Pulling the lever opens a trapdoor which kills the player via burial in gold dust. I tried various ways of moving the lever only briefly, or throwing something at it, but it does make some sense the lever wouldn’t react in that way (it’s meant to be a trap, after all).

Remember, our goal is simply to escape with the fifth treasure. What should you do? Assuming you’ve read this far, you know enough to solve the puzzle, so I’ll provide my map of the inside of the temple to give you time to think about it.

The lever is described as jeweled. The lever itself is a treasure. You can just take it!

GET LEVER
BEJEWELED LEVER TAKEN.

I think the fact BREAK LEVER doesn’t work isn’t quite fair, as the verb is unrecognized (although HIT LEVER works), but — I’d still give this puzzle a thumbs-up rather than thumbs-down.

As I said before, there’s no winning screen; to end, you just find the random jungle spot you started at and type SCORE.

OUT OF A POSSIBLE FIFTY, YOUR SCORE IS 50.

Including the lore from the manual about leading a team of anthropologists, the player character was oddly amoral (I mean, moreso than usual). The original goal was to find a lost tribe for “research” but the actual plot of the game involves sneaking in and stealing their goods, including a golden idol. If we point to the group’s use of human sacrifice as justification, then why isn’t the plot to try to stop them, or get some authorities involved?

The setting attempts to mitigate the story being a generic treasure hunt, but I’d argue the plot exposed the weaknesses of relying on treasure hunts. We’ve had some decent stories in the mold now (Zork II likely the best) but the form which could previously be put out without pretense starts to seem outdated when more substantial plot and character are required. There was still some juice left in the idea, most prominently in Infocom’s game Infidel (1983, by Michael Berlyn and Patricia Fogleman) which leaned into the amorality as an essential part of the main character. (Incidentally, if you haven’t played Infidel, and ever plan to, do not read anything about it — not Jimmy Maher’s essay, nor even the Wikipedia page — until you’ve tried it.)

“Limit thy powerful greed” does make me think Arnstein was thinking — at least in a minor way — along the same lines as Berlyn.

The back cover of the game, from Figment Fly. I’d like to know who the artist is but they aren’t listed in the manual.

Posted May 21, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Raaka-Tu: Limit Thy Powerful Greed   2 comments

Since last time, I’ve attempted to raid the temple of Raaka-Tu.

I’ve mostly died in creative ways.

From Figment Fly.

The game does a good job of advertising its traps ahead of time, but still having you fall in them nonetheless. There have been three so far. Here is the first:

If you stop to examine the door you can find the words DO NOT ENTER on it, and the rug is described rather oddly as spanning the entire room, so: not a shocking death? JUMP OVER RUG gets the same result; I suspect it is not possible to get by here at all.

The second trap is even more clever, in that it’s fairly obvious at first…

…in fact, the transcript above is for demonstration purposes, because a statue pointing a bow and arrow at a particular door is a strong enough warning for even me, your humble correspondent who blunders into everything.

If you drop a coin in the slot, the bow-and-arrow turns to face the west door; now the east door is safe but not the west.

The “Triangular Room” has the trap.

Here’s the clever part: notice the “T-Shaped Room” / “Grey Stone Walls” / “Round Room” that repeat shape on the map above. The second Round Room has a gold ring. If you pick up the ring, you get teleported to the first Round Room without any indication it happened. Then if you try to proceed as if nothing changed by going west, north, and east, you walk right into the Triangular Room, and get shot by the arrow that now points at the west door!

You can incidentally make your way past the issue by dropping the gold ring and picking it up again — it teleports you back. This reminds me of the truly awful puzzle from Arnstein’s Haunted House which leveraged a lack of feedback when going in a direction that wasn’t recognized; Arnstein managed to redeem the same idea in a way that makes much more sense.

The third trap involves a vault.

BE WARY THOUGH, NO MATTER WHAT THY CREED, THAT THOU HARNESS AND LIMIT THY POWERFUL GREED.

The door has a nice physicality to it — it closes behind you when you enter, and you have to re-enter to exit. (It also gives a hint as to what the trap is.)

There’s definitely a big danger sign on this one but to find out what’s happening, the lever still needs to be pulled.

I’m reminded of how good interactive fiction comedy is often participatory, not just telling a joke but having the player do an action that’s part of the joke. (A good example would be the opening of Mystery Fun House which coaxes the player into thinking a FIVE DOLLAR BILL is money.) The same idea applies here; there’s enough of a hint as to what’s going on with the traps that after each death I felt like I deserved it.

I haven’t made much more progress, unfortunately. I fought a serpent and won (just using a sword and a randomized battle system) and fought a gargoyle and lost (trying to use the sword again; even with save states I was getting torn apart).

Nepal is one of the places where human sacrifice did historically happen, and in modern times they still have a (controversial) festival where they mass sacrifice animals.

I’ve also found a lamp that says “something is written” on it, but when I try to read it I find the lamp is too covered with tarnish. RUB LAMP gets

THE LAMP GOES OUT. YOU MUST HAVE RUBBED IT THE WRONG WAY!

No hints yet, though (not even ROT13), but I’ll inquire next time if I’m horribly stuck.

Posted May 19, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Raaka-Tu (1981)   3 comments

Raaka-Tu, otherwise known as raäka-tū, was published by Radio Shack for their TRS-80 and CoCo computers. It’s from Robert Arnstein, who we’ve seen before (Haunted House, Pyramid 2000, Death Dreadnaught) and who we will see again (Bedlam, Xenos).

For now, let’s travel to … Nepal?

You never thought that your Ph.D. project would send you to a remote corner of the world, but the research grant came through! You and your team of anthropologists began in India, sailing up the River Ghaghra where it departs from the Ganges. Last night, you entered Nepal on the river, but were forced to come aground when navigation was made impossible by the twisting, narrow stream.

I had some whiplash from the plot here; there’s some effort to put forth a real setting yet the scholarly work is Indiana Jones-like. The player character wants to find the “lost tribe” of the Khazhadim.

The old woman is seated beside you, where she unfolds an unbelievable story about the god Raaka-Tu and his temple of sacrifice. The woman tells of the treasure kept in the temple, the hideous monsters Raaka-Tu employs, and the Khazhadim who serve Raaka-Tu and guard his temple.

Rather than doing anthropologist things, we’re raiding a forbidden temple for treasure? What?

Look, fine: an attempt was made to frame the story somewhat in a real location, and it did lead to some rad cover art.

Via Figment Fly. The CoCo version has an entirely different cover, but I’ll save that for another post.

Arnstein shows some programming chops, for the system now understands indirect objects. Yes, the author of Haunted House has moved on to a four-word parser. (Having had practice helps!)

You start in a jungle maze…

…but fortunately not a rather large one.

MAZE STATS: Uses the Woods “all different” room trick of slightly altered room names. Only three connections are “normal”. The start location is a “sink” room that can be reached in more ways than any other room. Just repeating GO WEST will eventually get out no matter what the location in the maze. Most likely it was meant to be atmospheric rather than difficult.

Past the opening jungle is the outside of the Raaka-Tu temple, where guards rotate in a pattern and you can get shot if you’re not careful.

The “try again” and immediate restart with no prompt is novel. I can’t think of another text adventure example up to 1980 offhand.

The guards have some randomness to them, so you genuinely have to pay attention to their movement messages and not just hope you get lucky. (You want to wait until they disappear around a corner.) Eventually, you can find a coin on the ground and a wall with ivy that you can climb.

I’m going to stop here — I’ve made a little more progress, but I want to get a larger chunk before I write about it. I can say there are enough deathtraps I’m reminded of Death Dreadnaught.

Posted May 18, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Atom Adventures (1981)   8 comments

So, I ended up teaming up with Margaret Thatcher to beat Tom Thumb with a shillelagh that I looted off the dead body of Elvis Presley. How was your day?

The cover just says “Adventures” but the inside of the cassette liner gives the title “Atom Adventures” so I’m rolling with the more distinctive of the two. The Atom in the title is of the machine, the Acorn Atom. The Atom was the main rival to the ZX series in the early British computer market. Acornsoft was the software branch of the same company. (Veterans of my backlog may recognize their name from Quondam; they published the commercial version of that in 1984.)

That makes this another candidate for First Commercial Britventure (along with Planet of Death and City of Alzan) but I don’t know exactly when it was published. There are ads in Your Computer magazine from Acornsoft that seem to list their entire catalog, but I don’t see Atom Adventures in any of them, including in December.

Does this mean Atom Adventures came early in 1981, and Acornsoft already stopped selling the product later the same year? It’s possible, but adventures (even bad ones) sold pretty well in 1981, so I doubt it. (1981 is directly in the source code, so we at least have the year right.)

This is technically three games (Dungeon, House, Intergalactic); they all use a common interpreter and run relatively the same, so I thought it wise to group them.

The opening screen of Dungeon.

Nominally, what we have here is just wandering a map with a very sketchy combat system.

There aren’t any actions possible other than movement, attacking, picking up items and a SAY command that lets you use magic words. Various “monsters” wander a map. Sometimes they are neutral, sometimes they attack you, sometimes they attack other monsters, sometimes they drop items.

The three games are chaotic and hilarious and unsettling all at the same time.

For Dungeon (and the other two games) the goal is to simply gather enough treasures that the VALUE is high enough that typing VALUE at the “home” room wins the game.

The above screen is of Intergalactic, which starts with what’s marginally a puzzle (at least, it stumped at least one player). The puppeteer has a COMPUTER LOCK BREAKER; once you murder him/her/it, just holding the lock breaker lets you leave the opening room.

The map has a bunch of famous sci-fi locations, like Arrakis and Ringworld. Each “room” represents an entirely different “world”, so that Pern, Planet of the Fire Lizards and Holiday Planet Haven are one step away.

There are no other puzzles; the game is just navigating the map while murdering everyone in your path and taking their stuff.

The title of “most unsettling” must go to House, which might be a Spooky House or Wacky Inheritance story if it didn’t involve getting treasures via celebrity murder spree.

The room connections are “normal” but the wandering NPCs consist of

IDI AMIN, FELIX THE CAT, PRINCE CHARLES, TOM THUMB, RONNIE RAYGUN, ELVIS PRESLEY, LIZZIE BORDEN, COUNT DRACULA, LADY DIANA, BASIL FAWLTY, SUPERMAN, REGGIE PERRIN, MAGGIE THATCHER, ATILLA THE HUN, FARRAH FAWCETT, A BENT PRIEST, A BLACK CAT

and the same behavior seems to apply to all of them, so you may have a peaceful Count Dracula and a Superman that immediately starts attacking you and then you find Lady Diana just wailing on Prince Charles.

Oddly, House is probably the best of the three games — the map is semi-coherent (it does feel like a house, albeit one with mazes in the cellar and upper floor) and the gonzo effect is at least original. In one of my playthroughs, Ronnie Raygun dropped a stash of heroin which counted as a treasure worth 100 points. There’s not much in the way of “strategy” although it is possible to die from combat.

This scene indicates that SAY OUT will teleport you to the starting area. The magic words are just for ease of transport.

If it weren’t for the blazoned title including “Adventures” and the fact none of these qualify as an RPGs or strategy games, I’d have quietly tossed these back on the discard pile. Still: if you remain intrigued and want to try Atom Adventures on your own, you’ll need an emulator (Atomulator is good) and the software installed to the right place (you can find instructions for that here).

Posted May 13, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Stoneville Manor (1981)   5 comments

Welcome to Stoneville Manor. The dream mansion can be yours, all yours, once you have obtained the deed. To get the deed, you need only open the safe. To open the safe you need only… Well, we’ll let you find that out for yourself.

Stoneville Manor is another type-in, this time originally in Applesoft BASIC. Shockingly, this is not a spooky house story, but just a wacky inheritance story (see: The Mulldoon Legacy, Hollywood Hijinks).

WEALTHY MR. STONE DIED AND RUMOR HAS IT THAT THIS ECCENTRIC MISER HAS LEFT HIS ENTIRE ESTATE TO WHOMEVER FINDS AND OPENS HIS SAFE

It appears to be Randy Jensen’s only game.

Despite requiring a full 16K of space on the Apple II, the game is quite minimalist.

While I got most of the way through with the Apple II version, I had to switch to the PC version to finish, so the screenshots will change right at the end. I suspect a typo in the source code but I didn’t have the motivation to diagnose it, and the PC version is nearly the same besides.

Going south leads to a WOODED AREA with TREES. Typing CLIMB TREE leads to a flashing

YOU FELL OFF

message followed by landing the player in the hospital.

This strikes me as even more minimalist than Scott Adams.

As you can likely predict, the parser of this game is terrible. It can help to approach with a different philosophy of gameplay; imagine playing a Dodgy Old Game akin to playing Nord and Bert Couldn’t Make Heads or Tails of It. In that game (by Infocom) you sometimes needed to type exact phrases to indicate spoonerisms or proverbs in the text. From the sample transcript for that game:

>GET OUT OF BED
Your foul mood requires a more specific strategy.

>GET UP ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE BED
You do a slow roll off the left side of the bed, which in this case is actually the right side of the bed since the right side of the bed is awash in a sea of jagged glass and alarm clock parts.

So, for Dodgy Old Games, think of actual communication is a puzzle of sorts. For example, to get your inventory in Stoneville Manor, you have to type TAKE INVENTORY in full, and no, that isn’t in the instructions. It’s a fun extra challenge, and here I am with my smiling face and slightly twitching eye. FUN. WE’RE HAVING FUN.

I formulated this Nord and Bert connection before reaching Stoneville Manor, but this first puzzle feels very close to something from that game. I was stuck for a while until I decided to use sheer willpower.

NOW WHAT? GET WELL
RECOVERED

Ah, medicine by fiat. It doesn’t work for the game itself

NOW WHAT? WIN GAME
DON’T UNDERSTAND

so we’ll just have to play normally from here.

The game is structured around having three “hidden areas”, each which contain a number. When all three numbers are applied to the safe in Stoneville Manor, the safe opens and you win the game. Here’s the map without the hidden areas:

AREA #1: USING THE HOT AIR BALLOON

There’s quite a few items laying about both inside and outside Manor Stoneville. In the library of the manor there is a BOOK with explicit instructions:

All of these items indicated are out in the open. It’s just a matter of going and finding the “appropriate place” to launch, which is helpfully labeled with a sign.

SIGN SAYS : AN APPROPRIATE PLACE

Then you can use INFLATE BALLOON or BUILD BALLOON and all the steps required in putting the thing together just happen.

After flying, you land on a plateau with a shack, and inside the shack is a table with the first number.

ON TOP IS A NOTE WITH THE NUMBER 12

(The number is randomized, so you can’t just skip doing this altogether on a second playthrough.)

AREA #2: UNDERWATER

To be able to get to the underwater area, you first need to get inside a VENT system in the manor. The vents appear in multiple locations; if you try to go in while holding an item, the game claims SOMETHING IS TOO BIG. If you try to go in holding nothing, it claims YOU WEIGH TOO MUCH.

The solution here is a local store with some JOGGING SHOES. I guessed some exercise would be involved, but I needed hints to find the one and only way of communicating it:

The vent leads down to a wine cellar with a burlap bag containing a snorkel, and a serval (a wild cat kind of like a leopard). I’ll come back to the serval with AREA #3 in a moment.

With the snorkel, and a swimming mask and inflatable raft that are out in the open, you can dive in the lake to find an underground tunnel.

The bat is just a random environmental effect that only happens sometimes when entering the room, it’s not a “real” thing you can refer to. Environmental effects elsewhere include a “primate” in the trees, a frog jumping over water, a maid with a pack of bloodhounds, and a butler holding sticks of dynamite. The latter two I assume are supposed to be former staff that are now hunting the treasure.

The lake also has a trout, which you can catch with a fishing net, which lets you get to…

AREA #3: PAST THE SERVAL

You can feed the trout to the serval, which lets you get to another part of the wine cellar with a goblet and the third number.

With the third number, you can find the safe (behind a picture, of course) and enter in the numbers. (Their order is also randomized, but there aren’t that many combinations to try.)

The will is inside…

…and no, this wasn’t a great game. The author had some grand ideas but the implementation was incredibly rough; it’s likely everything was custom-made from scratch. Here’s a sample of source code to illustrate what I mean:

We now have a giant passel of languages customized to write text adventures, but in 1981, technical issues — like not even bothering to interpret a verb and noun separately — were still a major barrier.

Honestly, the bit in the hospital was the most creative part; what if the whole game were like that, leaning into the weirdness?

Stoneville Manor was on one of those “let’s grab some BASIC games, sell them, and hope nobody cares we don’t own the rights” compilations for C64.

Posted May 11, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Zork 1977 Source Code Released   1 comment

I am slightly late to the party — this happened last week — but here is the long-lost December 1977 version of Zork.

Link to MIT Github

This repository contains the source code for a 1977 version of Zork, an interactive fiction game created at MIT by Tim Anderson, Marc Blank, Bruce Daniels, and Dave Lebling. The files are a part of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Tapes of Tech Square (ToTS) collection at the MIT Libraries Department of Distinctive Collections (DDC).

I don’t believe anyone has tested it under Confusion (the MDL interpreter, the same thing I used to play the later version of Zork for All the Adventures) but I see no reason why it wouldn’t run.

ADD: I wanted toss out something I noticed from the source code. The naming story behind Zork is circuitous — it started as Zork, got changed to Dungeon, then back to Zork. The December 1977 version is named Dungeon!

WELCOME TO DUNGEON

DUNGEON is a game of adventure, danger, and low cunning. In it
you will explore some of the most amazing territory ever seen by
mortal man. Hardened adventurers have run screaming from the terrors
contained within!

In DUNGEON the intrepid explorer delves into the forgotten
secrets of a lost labyrinth deep in the bowels of the earth,
searching for vast treasures long hidden from prying eyes, treasures
guarded by fearsome monsters and diabolical traps!

No PDP-10 should be without one!

DUNGEON was created at the Programming Technology Division of the
MIT Laboratory for Computer Science, by Tim Anderson, Marc Blank,
Bruce Daniels, and Dave Lebling. It was inspired by the ADVENTURE
game of Crowther and Woods, and Dungeons and Dragons, by Gygax and
Arneson. DUNGEON is written in MDL (alias MUDDLE).

Additionally:

>ZORK
That word is replaced henceforth with DUNGEON.
>DUNGEON
At your service!

From the 1981 version:

>DUNGEON
That word is replaced henceforth with ZORK.
>ZORK
At your service!

Posted May 10, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

Oo-Topos: Unfinished!   4 comments

As the prophecy foretold, the version of 1981 Oo-Topos I was playing turned out to be broken in a way that made it unfinishable, and in a very specific way where I even know what the fix was in the later version(s). If v1.4 or some other repaired version pops up I may do a revisit — fortunately, I was able to get through almost all of the game, so I can report this as “essentially” finished.

From Launchbox.

As I predicted, once I hit the “edges” of the map the game became more pleasant to play. I found shortcuts, mostly wrestled down the mazes, and got enough of a feel for the setting that I entered the mode where I was able to step back and think of the big picture with unsolved puzzles — what of everything I’ve seen might go with this problem?

In general, with one exception, the puzzles were “easy”, but the sheer volume of objects made things hard to check. This really was, at its essence, a “navigation” game where most of the thought was put into exploration.

The starting area with the prison cell includes a huge hall adjacent to a “Sentinel Room” with a robot, a “Platform Room” with a flask of oily liquid, and an “Acid Room” (you can use the acid to disable the robot). Additionally, there’s this:

You’re at the south end of the chamber. A dark passage continues south. As you peer into the gloom,
you catch a glimpse of an alien materializing in the passage before you. You hear it say “crond” and vanish!

>S

You’re in a tiny, narrow room. The walls around you vibrate with energy. A dark passage to the north empties into a huge chamber.

There’s an oxygen recirculator here.

After a few rounds of SAY CROND (and variants) I assumed I needed an item or some such, but I discovered later the game wants you to type CROND just by itself; this teleports you over to another part of the map. This is akin to one of the magic words in Adventure that takes you to a “connected” area — you can just walk from one place to the other if you like — but it is meant to shorten travel time.

>CROND

You’re at the east end of a wide tunnel. A smaller, metal tube leads on, while passages branch off to the northeast and southeast.

Here’s a “super-structure” map of the overall game:

I realize I haven’t talked about all these places yet.

The dotted lines indicate “magic word” connections. (The other two “words” are TUGO-TUSTA and TAKA<->LEVA. On the latter, I am unclear how you’re supposed to say an arrow symbol out loud, but that is exactly what you need to type for the teleport to work.) You’ll notice the magic words are essentially optional, except for that after taking the one-way trip from the Catwalks to the Fly Room area you’ll need a magic word to get back.

The weird and frustrating thing is how the multiple routes make some puzzles redundant. I’ve already mentioned a pointless maze; it connects a garden portion with a fountain with another portion at the far east of the map, but you can simply walk from one side to the other via catwalks.

Yes, it’s the return of the maze where rooms are differentiated by word order. I had learned my lesson from Adventure (see: On the Worst Maze Ever) and mapped this the old fashioned way by dropping objects, but again: there turned out to be no point whatsoever in doing so.

There’s also a room with a “gravcar” where I kept getting shot down by an alien until I brought a stronger weapon (a “needler”). To the northeast of the car is a force field. Inside the gravcar is a plaque which needs a universal translator to read (one you can get by applying acid to the robot I mentioned in the opening area). The plaque indicates it can be used to pass through the field, and indeed you can…

… but the ending “room” of the gravcar-with-canopy-open is quite easy to reach by a different direction (you don’t need to solve any puzzle at all to get here, in fact). So not only is the gravcar already “present” at past the force field (which makes no sense since it’s simultaneously there before the force field — this was just a sloppy-coding way of handling the sequence without implementing a real vehicle) but the method of passing through the force field requires solving a puzzle sequence, and the puzzle sequence has no reward at the end.

This is an interesting theoretical design issue in that multiple routes to places seem like intrinsically a Good Thing, but in this context, I spent roughly two hours solving a puzzle with what felt like a kick in the teeth at the end.

The “fly” rooms represent another maze.

You are standing on a “floor” in the fly room. Your feet, like the furnishings, defy gravity — there is no “up”. A doorway from an adjoining “wall” lies open by your feet.

Each room has a “down” door that connects to a small area.

From Kim Shuette’s Book of Adventure Games, because my map turned out to be inaccurate but I got too exhausted to correct it and even late in the game I just wandered randomly until I hit the right room.

The most important area has a pit which leads to a “Tras” which I mentioned being stuck on last time. The puzzle ended up being trivial, I just had to pick up the “Needler” in the same room and shoot it. Using a pressure suit and wearing some gloves, I was then able to get into a cold room:

You’re inside an icy cold room. In the center, sitting on the floor, is a large box. Even through your suit’s protection the chill creeps in.
There’s an ice-covered box here.

I’ll have more to say about this box in a moment, but let’s fill in the rest of the map. Past the “fly room” is an extensive jungle maze …

The maze includes a NAVIGATION CHIP you need but you get stopped by a “Huja”. I was able to feed it a seed found in the same jungle in order to distract it.

… and a beach where you find the remains of your ship’s hull.

Fixing the ship took a bit of wrangling; you need a WRENCH and REPAIR MANUAL, but also all of the parts of the ship, and it’s a pretty large list:

power cylinder, water system, gyroscope, oxygen recirculator, compass, navigation chip, converter

You then just type BUILD SHIP. If you are missing something the game says I CAN’T DO THAT YET with no explanation of what’s missing. Having a “hidden” list of treasures is relatively ok; having a “hidden” list of items that you need to collect to utilize a generalized verb (where the player character presumably has an idea of what’s going on!) was intensely frustrating.

Speaking of treasures, I mentioned in an earlier post that an alien was stealing them, like Adventure’s pirate. Reaching the area they were stashed is one of the last things I did, because the puzzle was unusually hard.

Would you think to go to the fountain at the garden, fill a flask with water, and come back here to POUR FLASK?

The water reacts violently with its dry skin keeping it out of phase.

There is a MATTER PHASE-SHIFTER in the game which claims to be activated by shaking well, but SHAKE SHIFTER does nothing. I suspect the water is meant to be an “alternate” solution and the phase-shifter is just broken, but the way things got configured I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to get the phase-shifter to work.

The puzzle would almost be optional (you can just skip the treasures and still finish the game, from what I gather) but the wrench I mentioned earlier needed for building the ship is also in the same area.

Let’s go back to that ice-covered box.

The box is the serum — which if you remember the plot (and it’s OK if you don’t, since even I forgot it sometimes amidst the endless mapping) — is the main item we need, and the one that we were taking to Earth in the first place in order to save them from a plague.

The problem is … we can’t take it. Or refer to it. And that’s not meant to be a puzzle.

The issue is there’s another box in the game. The system apparently can’t handle having two items with the same noun.

In Kim Schuette’s book, it mentions taking a CHEST here rather than a BOX. So, at some point in the game’s history, a version was made that changed the noun. Without the serum the game is unfinishable. (Since I know someone’s going to ask: if you type GET CHEST in the version I was playing, the game says it doesn’t know what chest means.)

Just so I could see the end, I loaded up a Youtube video of a Oo-Topos walkthrough, although I realize the text is likely different than the original.

After a rather short, and thankfully uneventful flight, your destination comes into view. Upon arrival, you are greeted with much excitement! Panic was beginning to spread, as it was highly expected that your flight would not arrive after the two-day-long-delay. Your ship appeared on the Labport scanners just as alternate plans were being made for limited evacuations of the unsuspecting planet. When your ship was positively identified, preparations were hastened for the final (and ultimately successful) leg of the mission to actually save the Earth. But your part has been done! Congratulations!

In 1980, Michael Berlyn had two novels published with Bantam.

I tried some of Crystal Phoenix. I found it well-written but it has fairly intense subject matter so I didn’t finish. The comparison to A Clockwork Orange is apt. I’ll save The Integrated Man for when I get to Berlyn’s other 1981 game (Cyborg).

Consequently, the advertising for Oo-Topos leaned pretty heavily on having the adventure made by a “real author”.

From Softalk magazine, October 1981.

The odd thing is that Oo-Topos has less plot design than many of the other games we’ve seen from 1981 (see: Hezarin, Adventure in Time, Frankenstein Adventure, Savage Island Part 2) and is essentially a sci-fi version of Adventure. The emphasis is on a large map and gethering items; yes, part of the item gathering is in building a ship, but there’s still the functional feel of Grabbing More Treasures when finding the parts. While the arrival of the serum at Earth is clearly a stronger plot ending than cheering elves, that’s essentially a book-end on what was a mission of almost pure exploration.

I did essentially have fun — and I’m sorry the writeup might seem balanced in a way that indicates constant suffering, but that can happen when you pick out the interesting-to-comment-on bits — but without knowing the author beforehand I never would have guessed who it was.

Clearly, just bringing someone in who has written some books to make a game does not automatically give said game the same qualities of character, writing, and plot that you might expect. To compare with a game from an experienced hand: Savage Island Part 2 has a part where you swap brains with a Neanderthal; judging from Crystal Phoenix and Berlyn’s later work, this type of idea would mesh with Berlyn’s interests, but I doubt the codebase for Oo-Topos was even capable of handling such a finesse. Berlyn’s follow-up of Cyborg is when he opens up a little more to book-writer tendencies (it’s written in first-person plural, for one thing); he likely needed to first get comfortable with game design and coding in general.

Posted May 7, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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