Demon’s Forge: Finished!   6 comments

At the end, this game raised all sorts of questions about what it means to study digital history.

MS-DOS cover, via Mobygames.

I had left off last time … I mean two times ago … with a killer rabbit.

Unfortunately, the method of getting by was a bit absurd. The vial I used for anti-poison could be refilled at the well (I had discovered that myself, at least) but what I did not find is that GIVE WATER is the right command to get past. (The parser also does its one of only two times using a secondary prompt. “TO WHAT?” to which you need to reply RABBIT.)

I mean, meat-eaters need to drink too, but I’m still baffled as to the general intent here on the puzzle. The puzzle was doubly frustrating in that on one of my runs the rabbit didn’t let me get *any* commands in and I had to restart; after restarting and apparently nothing changing, I got enough moves in to GIVE WATER. This might have been bad luck (some sort of RNG triggering the rabbit to attack that I wasn’t able to reset) or there may have been something genuinely different that incited the rabbit to immediately attack rather than wait (that is, the parallel universe problem, except I still don’t know what the difference between the two games was, then).

After the mess that was the rabbit puzzle I scooped up the wand and was able to use it to burn through another door via USE WAND. (Not WAVE, the game doesn’t understand that.)

Fortunately, I was able to use my blanket and SMOTHER FIRE, which is the only time in the game I came up with an unusual verb and it worked first try. From inside I grabbed an axe that I used to get by a “maze” via SMASH MIRRORS.

I originally tried mapping it by dropping objects and so forth, but I realized pretty quickly I was being sent in random directions so I knew the maze had a “gimmick.”

This led me up to the area with the library and the long useless hall I talked about in my last post.

Since last time, I found a carrot in a garden, after struggling with a guess-the-noun puzzle (you have to dig GROUND or DIRT specifically).

However, the real interesting action happens in a “room of staves”…

…and an “intersection of the elements”. Each direction in the elemental area goes to a room seemingly dedicated to a classical element (a hopper in a mine, a torch on a wall, a well with water, and a glass room with a bottle).

The statue blocks your way, and the business with the staves needs to be worked out. After taking the first stave from the statue room, it turns into a shovel. I realized (after some genuinely edifying thought) that the four staves and the elemental area are connected, and I needed to somehow fulfill the shovel’s destiny in the room with the hopper.

Dropping the shovel? No luck. Trying to DIG there? Also no luck (the game seemingly doesn’t understand the word). Typing commands like HIT MYSELF WITH SHOVEL and SERIOUSLY WHAT into the parser, definitely no luck, but maybe some psychic gratification.

Again I had to run to hints; I found out I missed a room. Unlike my old nemesis Whoops I Didn’t Try North Here Even Though It’s Literally in the Room Description, I’d say this case is most definitely not my fault.

Do you see RUNGS on the wall there? I most certainly do not. At least CLIMB WALL works even if someone doesn’t grab the particular noun “rungs”, but notice there isn’t even a hole in the ceiling to climb into. (This graphic got a new render in later versions of Demon’s Forge, but I’ll be getting to those versions at the end of this post.)

So, climbing up goes to a den with a pendant and boots. The boots cause you to float near the ceiling, and LOOK PENDANT indicates it says DIG WHERE X’S AREN’T. (It only does this if you’re holding the pendant, though!)

Going back to the statue room, I realized the ceiling was X-free, so WEAR BOOTS plus DIG CEILING gave me some dirt. I then toted the dirt over to the hopper, did FILL HOPPER, and finally got results: YOU FILL THE HOPPER WITH THE DIRT AND IT ROLLS OFF. This teleported me back to the stave room where I found the second staff was glowing.

The second staff had a message MY DEATH IS YOUR LIFE so I went and burned it at the torch. The staff poofed away and I went back to the statue room again. Second element down, two more to go.

The third staff need a drop in the well, giving me a message

TO AVOID ETERNAL STRIFE
YOU MUST GIVE THE BREATH OF LIFE
DO THIS DEED FIRST
PAY NOTHING ELSE HEED
OR THESE WORDS MAY BE
THE LAST THAT YOU READ

and following the advice of the poem, before I touched the fourth staff I went down to get the bottle and filled it with AIR. (If you don’t do that, taking the fourth staff kills you.)

The statue asked me to drop the fourth staff again and then I could proceed. The last section of the game is much tighter and less red-herring prone.

The section starts with a dropoff where you need to toss a pillow first, otherwise you die from the fall.

The most outrageous puzzle — the one I remembered from many years back — is right over a bridge.

If you are carrying any inventory past 1 item and try to cross the bridge, you die. The problem is the other side has a silver, gold, and platinum sphere, and you need all three. How do you take them back without dying? The bridge won’t let you make multiple trips, and just trying to throw them from one bridge to the other ends up not working.

The image is a bit mangled, this is another thing fixed on later editions.

I’m not going to spoil it here, because I’m curious if anyone can come up with the answer. Feel free to guess in the comments. Remember, there’s three spheres that need to be carried over a collapsing bridge. I will say I don’t think the physics technically make any sense, but at least the puzzle is memorable.

Moving on, I ran into a sign that was too far away to see.

I, fortunately, had kept a carrot from the garden in the previous section, and due to the long-standing mythology about carrots doing magical things for eyesight, I was able to read the sign.

WITHIN THE FORGE ANARAKULL GOES
TO TEST THE METTLE OF HIS FOES
TO PIT HIS CLAWS AGAINST COLD STEEL
SPIN WISE THE GLOBES INTO A WHEEL

THE SAGE CONFERS A SECRET RHYME
IF HE CAN BUT FIND THE TIME

OF SWORD AND SPEAR–THEY HARMETH NOT
NOR AGELESS COLD OR TIMELESS ROT
BUT BALLS OF VALUE SHIRK HIS HOLD
WHEN HURLED WITH POWER…SLIGHT TO BOLD

I immediately knew the last line meant I needed to throw the spheres I had already obtained in some order, but I still had yet to find the demon — I was being stymied by a locked door.

I needed hints again, and found out I was stung by a parser issue with long-reaching effects. You see, I knew from attempting and failing a few times that CLOSE just gave me an error message (for example, at the chest of the start of the game, I could OPEN but not CLOSE it). So I assumed CLOSE was off the verb list. Not so. It just happens to only work in one place.

In this place, and this place only, you can CLOSE DOOR, which reveals a new room!

The room had the key I sought after, so I was able to break into the demon’s room.

Following the poem, I threw SILVER, GOLD, and PLATINUM spheres in that order (“SLIGHT TO BOLD”) and was victorious!

THE DEMON’S THRONE SLIDES ASIDE REVEALING A DIM CAVERN THAT WINDS ITS WAY TO THE SURFACE. YOU STEP INTO THE BRIGHT SUNLIGHT AND ARE IMMEDIATELY ARRESTED BY GUARDS.

THEY BRING YOU BEFORE THE KING, WHO RETURNS YOUR ORIGINAL WEAPONS AND CLOTHING. ‘WELL DONE ,CHAMPION. BY RETURNING FROM THE DEMON’S FORGE YOU HAVE REGAINED YOUR FREEDOM.’

This is followed by “credits”.

I know Mike Cranford did art, I don’t know if they all did, or if some of the people listed are playtesters or had some other role. It’s interesting Brian Fargo isn’t here even though his name is on the cover.

Demon’s Forge (1981) has an enormous number of parser issues. There are likely some I’m forgetting, but

  • There’s a costume early you need to LOOK to search, and an assassin later you need to SEARCH. When the wrong word is used it isn’t an error, just nothing remarkable is found.
  • CLOSE doesn’t work earlier in the game, and gives an error message that makes it seem like the word is not recognized, except it is essential for a puzzle near the end.
  • There’s some hunt-the-noun going on, like with DIG GROUND in the garden (DIG being another verb that throws off error messages) and the rungs in the guard room.
  • The wand seems to react only to the command USE.
  • There’s a part (the bridge) where you need to drop off all your inventory but you have to drop each item individually.
  • There’s a red gem you have to refer to as RED even though there is only one gem in the game.

Here’s the thing: in the later (1987) DOS edition, nearly all the problems above are resolved. DROP ALL and even DROP EVERYTHING are understood. CLOSE works like it is supposed to. EXAMINE and LOOK are mapped as synonyms (alas, not SEARCH, although if you try to EXAMINE the assassin, it says his pocket “looks full”, so at least there’s an indicator you need a different verb).

The red herrings also had some alleviation in the DOS port. One room full of empty boxes (and wasted time on my part) was cut entirely; the closet is still around but the game just asks “what are you doing in the closet?” rather than keeping mum; the old man at the end of a passage suggests you read some books rather than coming back later (more clearly a joke, given the nature of the library, which skips trekking back and forth the enormous corridor to see if the man says anything different later).

While the points individually may seem small, they added up to wasted time; the sort of thing that seems small on the author end but enormous on the player end. I would say a fair third of the game (for me) was eaten up by strange parser oddities. Even when the parser was acting correctly, I didn’t trust it enough to know if a particular action was the wrong one (the shovel and ore hopper come to mind — I tried many, many actions while there, and I wasn’t able to interpret the parser’s discouragement as letting me know I was on the wrong track).

So: would it have been better if I had played the later version? I haven’t always been picky — I played Zork II in a later edition, for instance, because I knew Jimmy Maher had already tried the first edition, and the same goes for Adventureland. There are some definite upsides to seeing the first version; when Data Driven Gamer tried out Sokoban he insisted on the very first edition for FM-7 computers, and discovered in the process how half the levels required “digging” out rooms in a way no later edition kept.

On the other hand, I’m not here just to document history, but to document the act and psychology of playing games and solving puzzles, and explore how to improve puzzle-solving from the user end and not just the author end. If I only wanted to know what Fargo and his D&D playing friends were up to in 1981, the version I played was fine; if I wanted to experiment with optimal puzzle-solving, the later (and more fair) version would have been a better setting. On top of that, from what I gather the later version was more widespread than earlier ones; if I’m trying to document what other players might have thought of a particular game, an obscure edition none of them saw is likely not the best test.

Further reading: Ahab at Data Driven Gamer also played Demon’s Forge (the 1981 one, of course) and he calls it the worst adventure game he’s ever played. I have played worse, but such are the perils of playing All the Adventures. However, I think it’s fair to say while it still isn’t a good game (there’s still the only-briefly-seen skinny man and the water-drinking rabbit), the 1987 DOS version is much better. If nothing else, it’s interesting in a comparative sense as far as how much a bad parser hurts a game.

(A brief warning: in addition to the 1987 DOS port, there is a 1987 Apple II edition also published by Mastertronic. It seems to be identical to a 1983 Apple II edition published by Boone, but I haven’t studied either. Perhaps a future historian can take a crack; I can tell you that CLOSE doesn’t work on the chest in either version.)

Posted July 17, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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6 responses to “Demon’s Forge: Finished!

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  1. I was going to suggest rolling the spheres, but if the physics don’t make sense is it JUGGLE SPHERES?

    • Got it in one! (I thought for once I might have picked a puzzle that would baffle everyone.)

      • The remark about the physics was a huge help.

        I can sort of imagine a situation where the physics work out–I guess that if you’re juggling something then the force you exert on the bridge will go up and down in little bursts, and I can imagine a tottering bridge that will break in response to continued pressure above a certain weight but will recover from little bursts of pressure above that weight. But, meh. Another way that the physics don’t work is any given one of those metal spheres–or boots, broken piece of wire, and potato–is likely to weigh more than any two other objects in your inventory. Also most ways of juggling three things have you holding two of them a lot of the time.

        I made a very short and unfair puzzle game about juggling once. (It’s a Homestuck.)

  2. Another fascinating old game I’d never seen before. Renga continues to be the best IF blog.

  3. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen “Juggle the 3 [OBJECT]s in order to cross the bridge which can’t bear the weight of more than one [OBJECT]” as a logic puzzle before. Possibly even seen Grand Internet Debates Over Exactly Why This Answer Is Dumb.

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