Archive for November 2020

Ulysses and the Golden Fleece: The Island of Storms   6 comments

Two puzzles down, five billion to go. Or something like that. Maybe more like five billion rooms.

From Mobygames.

I landed at the Island of Storms to find a jungle. Let me linger on the map a moment:

There really seems to be an effort in featuring the map (here and in other parts of the game) as being “graphics” locations where the text is unimportant. In a modern 3D-environment world, it’s not implausible to have scenery for scenery’s sake. To modern eyes, the graphics just aren’t that great, so the effect is more drudgery. The jungle only serves two purposes: to have a “bridle” in one location…

…and some magic dust in another. The tree’s hole in the picture indicates you can LOOK HOLE (I admit my willingness to check this came directly from the same puzzle appearing in Wizard and the Princess).

Time Zone (allegedly, as I haven’t played it yet) goes ridiculously far in having large maps with only one or two important rooms, so this is likely a preview of 1982. I should note King’s Quest 1 through 4 have something of the same style, but a lot more density to “interesting” aspects of the scenery, and the presence of a third-person avatar adds a weight to locations that are merely there to look good.

North of the jungle is a cave.

Lots of the rooms are “fluff”. I found a spring where I could fill my empty bottle with water — I haven’t managed to use it yet — and a giant wall of fire.

Interestingly enough, while I can’t POUR WATER anywhere else, I can at the wall of fire, but the game still tells me NOTHING HAPPENS and going inside just fries my player character.

Out of the giant lump of items from the store back at the starting town, I had noticed I could TIE STRAPS (leather straps) and further specify WITH ROPE. The resulting item was not well described, but I reached a fjord I couldn’t pass, so I gave THROW STRAPS a try:

This is a one-way journey, since the straps break when you cross.

The cave gets even more boring here…

But there is a dragon. I was able to THROW DUST and scare it off.

I finally encountered a GREAT CANYON. I suspect I might summon some flying critter and use the bridle on it, but I haven’t had any luck with summoning a griffin or Pegasus or whatnot (the game’s cover at the top of this post might be a hint).

I was able to MAKE FIRE as long as I had the wood and flint from back at the store. You may remember I passed on the wood the first time around; to test this theory I had to restart the entire game and pick another item to leave off my shopping list (I went with the LANTERN for now — really no idea). Unfortunately the fire doesn’t attract anyone’s attention, so I’m stuck here (and at the earlier wall of fire, which may not even be really a puzzle).

Posted November 9, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Ulysses and the Golden Fleece: The Open Ocean   Leave a comment

Remember, logic will not always work because the gods are not always logical.

— From the manual for Ulysses and the Golden Fleece

Just a bit of progress, but I got to the Island of Storms. After GO OCEAN I came across a legion of nearly-indistinguishable rooms.

In some places I was “LOST” and some I was “WANDERING” but essentially the only way to map things out was testing second-order exits (that is, checking exits coming from a unfamiliar room to see if they lead somewhere familiar).

I did have a condor run into the mast…

…and had a bag of gems drop into the ship.

There’s also a what I don’t think is supposed to be a puzzle as much as an obnoxious softlock.


Most importantly, there’s a storm that kills when you try to enter.

So that’s reasonably colorful, but I kept wandering for long enough — and finding what *might* be new locations, but not being sure because I couldn’t drop any items — I figured there had to be a gimmick.

I broke down and looked up a hint. I was very close. There was a guard on the docks:

I had tried to GIVE COIN and the game asks ARE YOU ATTEMPTING TO BRIBE A GUARD? and then repeats the room description.

I had read this as a rhetorical question, but this is the game prompting you to say YES, whereupon the guard gives you a map.

Look, Crowther/Woods Adventure had a similar rhetorical question, but it was asking you to do something improbable and cool, and didn’t obfuscate the interface by repeating the room description after the question was asked. I seriously did not have an inkling I was even being prompted. The Adventure puzzle also had the rhetorical question on a clear and direct obstacle where there was no way past. This was on a side obscurity; the guard isn’t even mentioned in the room description!

The map has directions to go from the storm to the island.

I’m feeling like Bob Davis had played Wizard and the Princess and tried to copy the “biome journey” but wanted to make the whole thing meaner. We’ve got the 7-out-of-8 item choice from the store (I suspect I won’t know which item is the right one to leave out until much later in the game), the not-talking-to-guard softlock, and the seagull softlock. Wizard and the Princess had softlocks but they felt… nicer? Like the peddler who only sold you one object, and the place it got used was *immediately* after. Taking the same idea to its extreme, there’s no reason structurally why the gap between choosing item and using it can’t be very long, but in terms of fun and kindness to the player, there’s a clear limit.

The ocean maze felt like the desert from Wizard and the Princess except there was no difference between the pictures whatsoever. (Mind you, I squinted hard just to check.)

And while I’m stopping here, once arriving on the island there’s ANOTHER maze, in a jungle. Look, On-Line Systems, the desert was the BAD part of the game — you had to print a card with a hint just for that puzzle in later editions of the game, remember? Grr.

Posted November 5, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Ulysses and the Golden Fleece (1981)   5 comments

Let’s get the title out of the way first: if you’re like me, you looked at it and felt slightly unsettled. Isn’t it supposed to be Jason and the Argonauts here? Allow Bob Davis (who collaborated on this one with Ken Williams) to explain:

VI [Videogaming Illustrated]: One last question. Why did you slip the Ulysses character into the story of Jason?

BD [Bob Davis]: I bastardized it because Columbia Pictures had made a movie about the subject, and I wanted to avoid potential copyright problems. Reality has to intercede somewhere!

He means the 1963 movie Jason and the Argonauts.

OK, fine, we’ll deal with a swap.

The interview clip above and this picture came from Videogaming Illustrated, Issue 3, December 1982. This looks more like Conan the Barbarian to me.

Amidst 1981, On-Line Systems (later Sierra) was busy at work on Roberta Williams’s Time Zone; in order to keep their Hi-Res Adventure series going, they released Cranston Manor in 1981, followed by Ulysses and the Golden Fleece.

VI: How did you become interested in computers?

BD: I’m actually a virgin — or rather, a rookie. I’ve only been at this a year. Before that, I sold chickens, and before that I was a professional musician. Not too glorious. Now I’m on staff at On-Line, where my job is programming, helping to come up with new games.

You start in a town-castle-forest area.

Head south and west and you reach a castle and are stopped by a guard.

If you leave without talking to the guard, you’ve softlocked the game, because the castle “no longer accepts visitors for the day”. Whoops. TALK GUARD lets you in to see the king.

The king tells you have “a legendary fleece of gold, far off to the north” and offers bags of gold and silver and a ship.

ASIDE: The Jason mythology has him as heir of the throne of Iolcus, but it gets taken by his half-uncle Pelias; Pelias sends Jason on what ought to be a suicide mission to get the Golden Fleece in order to get him out of the way. The king of this game gives the quest almost apathetically.

Here’s the forest:

There are two points of interest. A voice warns you about King Neptune, which is the only juicy plot-related tidbit so far.

There’s also a chest with a lock that looks “unfamiliar” but we can tote it along with us.

The city has a store with a nasty trick.

I mentioned getting a bag of silver from the king. The sign mentions you can pick seven items, but there are eight listed. So you have to pick the one item out of eight to leave out. I guessed the wood because it seems likely there might be a tree we could chop, but I have no idea for the moment.

The gold, incidentally, is used to recruit a crew…

HIRE CREW works while holding the bag of gold. It mentions that several men rush forward and “you think one of them is Hercules.” Is he incognito, pretending to be someone else? Is the eyepatch fake for a disguise?

…who you can then lead to a ship at the king’s private dock.

Here I was horribly stuck. Getting on the deck of the ship I could LOOK SHIP


but couldn’t launch. Verbs like EMBARK and LAUNCH don’t work.

I finally hit upon GO OCEAN

but that sufficiently exhausted me I decided here was a good break point.

One last bit before I close out: south of the tavern where you can hire the crew you can run across a thief who steals your chest (which I still haven’t unlocked). The thief dumps the chest out in the forest so you can get it back, but it hasn’t changed any (I thought maybe the thief would unlock it for you and leave behind a “useless” item which was useful in an adventuring sense, but no dice). I’m still not sure what the whole point of the sequence is.

Posted November 4, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Creatures that Live in the Sun (1981)   3 comments

Meanwhile, the police saw me talking to him, came over & said, “Don’t talk to him anymore! He might be dangerous!”

But I then said, “Don’t worry officer, he’s my freind from the sun.”

The above is from a story Roger M. Wilcox wrote in fifth grade; in 1981, he used it as the basis of his 12th game (previously: In the Universe Beyond).

This continues the weird-science theming of his previous game, but rather that exploring a reverse-gravity planet, we’re on THE SUN.

You are in the engine room. Visible items:

Better-than-asbestos suit. Empty fuel line. Empty bucket. Strange dark goggles.

Obvious exits: East

We start on roughly the same ship as last time, except now we start with different gadgetry (see above) and we’re out of fuel. The suit has a yellow button which shoots out a cold ray, but it doesn’t do anything helpful in the ship. Heading back to the main control room and trying out the red button kills us:

Whoosh! The airlock opens.
The console couldn’t take the temperature!
The capsule disintegrates from the inside out!

2015 picture of The Sun, via NASA.

Before pressing the red button we need to press the blue one (covering the inside of the ship with a transparent cover) so opening the airlock (red) doesn’t melt us. White would take off, but we are told: NO FUEL.

When opening the airlock, it’s “too bright to see”, but the “dark goggles” suffice to adjust for that (nice touch).

You can GO SOLAR and be asked

Are you just going to walk through the solar flare?

and of course the right choice is YES. This takes us to a river bank with a “river of salt”. Going in I was able to fill a bucket with the salt, then FOLLOW RIVER to a

=Deadly gronk gronk=

LOOK GRONK isn’t useful (“You see nothing special.”) and there’s no way to just go by. (“The gronk gronk won’t let you pass!”)

Hang out long enough and “A silvery line extends from one of the gronk gronk’s fingers, and hits the photosphere.” Hang out even longer and you die:

A silvery line extends from one of the gronk gronk’s fingers, and hits you, piercing your suit!
The heat of the sun vaporizes you! You’re dead!!

I’m imagining just a giant hand with no rest of the body, even though that’s not directly implied in the description. I was (as was also typical with Universe Beyond) horribly stuck and checked for help, and found I could FEEL RIVER to unearth a “hyperdimensional eye” which is manufactured by “Medusa H.D. Company”.

Hmm. This is the reverse of the usual puzzle, but:

Yes, this time, we get to be the medusa. Going north, we have an encounter with a friendly alien who has quests for us and then hands off a gold credit card:

Wilcox has issues with exposition, but here, I’ll just suppose my universal translator got garbled.

Looking at the card reveals S followed by a smudge; you can CLEAN CARD to see the word Srill, which will be used in a moment.

The two quests (destroy a fighter, find a key) are the game’s only branches from linearity. For the fighter, nearby there’s the Solar Challenger, which was an actual airplane that flew over the English Channel in 1981.

You are in the Solar Challenger’s cockpit. Visible items:

Green button. Black button. Orange button. Landing field out window.

Obvious exits: West

Green takes off and lands. When you take off you find the “Gronk gronk fighter” the alien was speaking of. If you press the black button, a cold ray shoots out but the fighter evades it. The orange button requests a password — that’s just the “Srill” from the card. This activates SADAR which allows for better aim:

For the key, to the east of the alien there’s another “solar disturbance” you can try to enter. If you do this one, though, the disturbance fries you; you have to pour salt on it first. This lets you go inside and find a “large hyperdiamond”, although the only noun that works on it is “diamond”.

However, this is not the key yet. The yellow button that shoots a ray I mentioned earlier now gets used:

A ray of cold shoots from your fingertips, freezing the hyperdiamond extensively.

BREAK DIAMOND then turns it into a “hyperdiamond key”, and I’ll confess I was just coasting on hints at this point. Concentually the idea of needing a key and “carving one out” is nice (and one that has appeared in other adventure games) but there really is no inicator or hint here of needed actions; the “frozen hyperdiamond” has no description.

The key lets the alien (assuming you’ve downed the fighter as asked) open a nearby case and get some fuel.

With the fuel you can take off to safety and escape.

With this game (and his previous) Roger M. Wilcox got fixated on a “sequential scene” sort of narrative. It felt like I was locked in a non-interactive book where my goal was to solve a riddle to move on to the next page. Linear adventure games can work, but there needs to be non-linearity within the scenes themselves; ways to learn more about the world and the puzzles by playing with the materials. The vehicles-without-instructions somehow had this aspect, but there’s only so much fun to be found from realizing the red button needs to be pressed second rather than first. While there were a few items that could be examined for hints, I felt frustratingly disconnected from the objects of the world.

I still had fun anyway. Again, for emphasis: these generally were private games not for distribution. I appreciate the window into a young author’s experiments, and the sheer optimism required to adapt one’s work from grade school for a computer that wasn’t even out at the time the story was written.

The policeman then told the city that he was friendly & that all of the people could come back out again. Then all of the people came out & started making freinds with him.

Several minutes later, though, it was time for him to go back to the sun.

He then waved goodby to his freinds & was off to his space ship.

After that he had gotten into his space ship & was off to the sun.

As far as I know now, he is back safely on the sun.

Posted November 2, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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