Microworld: Finshed!   4 comments

Well, the game said I “solved the entire adventure”, but I’m not quite certain what I actually did. Spoiler warning as usual, and if you haven’t gotten to them yet, you should read my other posts about Microworld before this one.

Allow me first a side trip to a 1980 Med Systems game by William F. Denham, Jr.

In The Human Adventure, you fly a miniaturized ship inside a body attempting to destroy cancer cells. It’s a strategy game in form, rather than a puzzle-based adventure; you have to keep track of your energy and use a LASER and occasionally need to electrify the ship’s hull. I’ve recorded some gameplay below:

I’ll be referring back to this video in a moment.

In Microworld, the main obstacle I overcame was nearly identical to that of Timequest which I just wrote about. You can GO LOCATION as a direction.

I had done LOOK COMPUTER only to be told I saw nothing of interest, and there are many other places where an object can’t be interacted with or approached. This computer is where the colored IC chips go; there are 8 of them, and once you insert all of them, pushing the button causes something good to happen (as you’ll see later).

This also resolves the COIL problem I had last time.

Other than the yellow chip shown above, I was missing three more, and I had a massive headache in the endgame.

THE MISSING BLUE CHIP

I mentioned the blue chip which was described as “LOST” and clearly ended up at a lost and found.

While I could LOOK CLERK (who “looks at you expectantly”) I otherwise had no method of interaction. Elsewhere, there was a paper I never even bothered to mention was a possible inventory item, because it seemed like an offhand joke.

You can SHOW PAPER (not DROP or anything else) and it gets confused for some other form. A “check form” I guess? Which is, as far as I know, not how lost and found places work. If you lose your wallet in a store, why would you have a check slip? Wouldn’t that be for a coat-check counter or the like? Am I missing something here?

THE MISSING BLACK CHIP

I’m saving this one for my conclusion.

THE MISSING ORANGE CHIP

Guess-the-noun returns, always an unwelcome guest.

I assumed, after the frustration above, the NPC could not be referred to (and there are lots of places with characters where you can’t refer to them, so this was not unreasonable!) I was wrong: you can use the noun RECEPTIONIST.

Elsewhere there is a sign that says YOUR LOSS IN MY GAIN so the key word here is LOSS.

This leads to the last missing chip, which I returned to the computer.

The computer gave me a tuning fork; given the lack of other puzzles to work on, I knew exactly where it went; I used it to shatter the glass box. This gave me a diskette, which I swiftly took to the RS-232 port and to the outside.

THE ENDGAME

You may notice the voice-activated device connected to the computer. I had sufficient hunch to realize I needed to say something to win the game, and I also had sufficient hunch that the floating binary I found earlier would be important

10101011 0010111 01000111
11100111 1000011 11000111

but I was horribly stuck. The binary doesn’t translate to anything in ASCII.

One room has something of a hint.

Aha, EBCDIC (Extended Binary Coded Decimal Interchange Code)! I assume this gets covered in the 12-page book; I, fortunately, knew about this as an outdated alternative to ASCII. So all I needed to do was pull up an EBCDIC table and…

…find nothing. It spells nothing. Argh!

The trick here is that you are seeing the binary digits backward. Flip all the digits, AND use EBCDIC, and the word SYNTAX pops out. (This makes it a second-order puzzle which I’ve ranted about before, but I don’t have the energy this time; I’m just glad to be done.)

So, the electrons are cheering for me, but what did I do exactly? Does the disk accomplish anything in particular? We voluntarily went in, and getting out came long before getting the disk, so this wasn’t an “escape”. The game doesn’t indicate what’s actually on the disk other than congratulations. I guess we’re supposed to use our imagination.

I’m going to take an unusual curve and evaluate Microworld as an educational game: how effective is it at teaching the topic it intends to teach?

Referring back to The Human Adventure (watch the video loop again if you need), notice it has

a.) details within the game itself that clarify what various parts of the body do

b.) a clear map so you can see their inter-relation

c.) gameplay which is directly relevant to the activity at hand, as the player is a foreign body fending off attacks from white blood cells

d.) although not in the video, there’s an “exploration mode” which removes the combat and just allows getting a feel for the layout of the body

Compare with Microworld:

a.) a lot of the detail is deferred to the 12-page booklet, and many of the rooms are filled with jokes

b.) the map is an utter mess even if you draw it out

c.) the majority of the gameplay only has incidental relation to the parts being referred to; even the EBCDIC puzzle doesn’t make a lot of sense in “reality” context

d.) there’s random spots that can trap and kill the player, and a maze that is easy to get lost in, so “free exploration” is discouraged

Mind you, I think Microworld is a better game; Human Adventure is playable but gets dull fairly quickly. However, as a forerunner of adventure-game-education I do feel obligated to point out the flaws in this respect. I’m honestly quite glad for the odd bits of humor, but they were hard to detangle from what was being learned.

c.) is an especially interesting aspect; I think where adventure games and education have the most potential to merge. Microworld nearly managed a perfect shot with one of its puzzles, the one I’ve been saving:

THE MISSING BLACK CHIP (for real this time)

One of the items is a “lonely clock pulse” where it’s possible to WAVE PULSE.

I knew that solving the puzzle was simply a matter of finding the right location. I did it by just random testing everywhere on the map, but it would be possible to solve the puzzle by knowing about microelectronics. Take a look at the upper portion of the map; I’ll spoil the puzzle after.

The flip-flop will reset on a clock pulse!

In an adventure-game sense this isn’t the strongest puzzle; I’d nominate surfing the electromagnetic waves for that, but that’s a pun built on the word “wave” which could actively confuse a student trying to understand at the real-electronics level. By contrast, the flip-flop puzzles requires an act that matches with what the piece of circuitry actually does; puzzle-solving and learning are conjoined rather than lateral.

While the author of Microworld, Arti Haroutunian, went on to a game career after (most recently working on the Disney Infinity games) this was his only adventure game. It also seems to be his only educational game, with the notable exception of doing engineering for The Miracle Piano.

The Miracle Piano (for both computers and consoles) hooked up a real piano and asked the user to play music. Getting through a song meant hitting enough notes correct to make it to the next level. When The Mexican Runner did Miracle Piano for NESMania (playing every US NES title on his Twitch stream) Miracle Piano took the longest, at 91 hours and 16 minutes. (Might and Magic was close behind at 87 hours.) While he knew music, he did not know how to play piano; there was no way to win other than to learn how to play piano.

Of course, Miracle Piano is barely a game, but this is the extreme-congruence form of learning via software. How close should the activity and the intended learning really be? Microworld, if it was seriously intended as educational (it may not have been) is a little too far off. We will eventually hit some more educational adventures, but not for a while, so I have time to think about where the optimal balance lies.

BONUS READING: For more detail on The Human Adventure, Will Moczarski included it in his Med Systems marathon. There are lots of strategy games from this era that have not been written about, but alas, the closest we currently have to a Strategy Addict is Kurisu over at This Map is Completed who is chronoblogging through Japanese tactical RPGs. Jimmy Maher also has some very substantial posts on landmarks in strategy games. Speaking of educational games, Maher also has an excellent post on the Dr. Brain series.

Posted October 2, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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4 responses to “Microworld: Finshed!

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  1. It’s not clear to me if you twigged this (not sure I would have without being told the answer) so apologies if I’m explaining the obvious, but if you think about it there’s a good reason why the binary digits in the display room appear mirrored.

    I guess there is a bit of a hint to the mirroring in the fact that the only obvious pattern is both low order bits always being set, which seems less likely than the high order bits always being set.

  2. The phrasing of the claim check text referencing the Microworld Hint Sheet almost sounds like an Infocom-style Feelie-Based-Copy-Protection puzzle. Say, a printed hint sheet that was decorated to look like a claim check.

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