Forbidden Planet: Kishōtenketsu Revisited   6 comments

From 80 Micro, March 1981.

Slight progress. My largest chunk came from simply predicting something correctly in my last post; I could take a potshot at one ogre and lead them to a different one and they would fight.

Very satisfying! Then I could enter the new cave the ogre was guarding and get trapped in after one step away from the entrance.

A little detail here, because this moment is important in a theoretical sense, and also the Thing I Am Most Stuck On.

As the text implies, the ogres fighting are what causes the cave to collapse. This suggested to me this is one of those paused-time puzzles — where an event might normally in a fully realistic world move forward, but waits, for dramatic reasons, for the player to be in a particular position. We saw this in The Colonel’s Bequest where, despite the rapid collection of dead bodies, they waited for us to find them before they got spirited away.

However, the trigger for the cave collapsing is walking away from the initial room of the cave. That means you can walk past the fighting ogres, grab the axe and bones, then walk back away and visit other places. I had to meta-realize that the game wasn’t collapsing the cave for me so I had access to more than I originally thought. (Essentially, I transitioned from the physical logic I was using before into solving by looking at game logic.)

This is in a way bad, because it means there’s yet more items available for me to use to resolve the dilemma. For example, there’s a conch shell (left behind at the first ogre) that you can blow and causes the cave to collapse, but since you can go back and get it, can you somehow cause a “safe” cave collapse? Here’s my full item list, although I can’t carry all of the items at once:

small key (already used on spaceship, probably done)
metal plate (from spaceship)
box (from spaceship)
screwdriver (from spaceship)
old rag (from spaceship)
broken glass (from spaceship)
amulet (worn, providing light)
axe (from cave with fighting ogres)
dusty bones (from cave with fighting ogres)
old book (“Summon the Guardian of This Land and He Will Transport You Ac… The Rest of The Page Is Missing!!”)
rope
leather bag (with three bolts)
crossbow (can use the bolts, can also tie a rope to a bolt but I haven’t found anywhere where this is helpful)
disruptor (still useful; on that screenshot above you need to zap the bat so it won’t kill you)
shovel (can be used to get a “small bowl” in the fighting-ogre cave)
hollow conch
log (took axe back to the forest and got this)
branch (ditto)

The well is refreshing, the river is poison. Either or both could be useful.

Including the items in the cave that collapses, there’s also

gold coin (although I end up giving this to a centaur)
small bowl (already mentioned, can be filled with water)
pickaxe (seems like it could be useful for digging out, but there’s no item the pickaxe can be directed at like a pile of rocks)

I’m sure I’ll make more progress next time (if nothing else, I’ll be willing to start cracking open the walkthrough) but I wanted to take a moment to return to a concept I haven’t written about since Zork I: Kishōtenketsu.

To summarize quickly, it is a 4-act structure rather than a 3-act structure:

Ki: Introduces characters and other necessary information.

Shō: Follows any lead characters, but without major changes.

Ten: Provides an unexpected development. This is the essential substitute for the climax, because it may not be a “confrontation”, but can be just an unusual change in the environment, or enigmatic development.

Ketsu: The conclusion, which unifies the original elements with the “twist”.

I theorized adventure game puzzles didn’t really fall well into a 3-act structure, which is how was seems inarguably plot-like activity sometimes is written off as “not story”.

The ogre battle seems traditional: we have two ogres that won’t let us by locations (the Setup). We can get one of them angry and follow us to other (the Confrontation), and then they’ll fight, allowing us passage (the Resolution). A clever protagonist in a fairy tale could easily encounter similar.

What doesn’t seem to fit 3-act is something I brushed over in the object list above: obtaining a log and branch. I had been puzzling over any use for the forest, despite it being a maze and me needing to spend a fair chunk of time there to map it. I had reached “ki” — seeing the forest for the first time — and “shō”, which developed the forest as an area and where I poked at its puzzle potentials without any real “change”.

This was more a pain to make than it looks because it took some fiddling to get the room placement in a way that made the links between rooms make sense.

Finally, I found the axe, the “ten” (unexpected development) which led to the “ketsu” (conclusion, obtaining the items). The whole sequence seems limp and fruitless in a climax sense but isn’t that far off the mark with 4-act (which doesn’t necessarily need a “climax”) yet this is the sort of manipulation that happens in adventure games all the time: slow discoveries that chip away at the world and increase our ability to manipulate it. When put contiguously, maybe this sequence could be part of a 3-act structure, but it doesn’t happen to the player contiguously. The complete plot, for one of my sessions, was simply finding a log and branch, and it did feel internally like a plot was moving, but when trying to explain to others the revelation, I can’t think of any way that isn’t underwhelming.

It may be adventure games deserve a structure all their own that doesn’t fall under static story lines in any sense.

Posted April 27, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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6 responses to “Forbidden Planet: Kishōtenketsu Revisited

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  1. I was intrigued enough to check out a walkthrough to see where this game and it’s puzzles are going. So, if at some point you find yourself wanting a small and/or specific hint but are concerned that you’ll be inadvertently spoiled on other puzzles if you look at a walkthrough yourself, I am now able to assist.

    • I made it through (well, kind of, the Mac version was crashing so I switched to TRS-80). There’s one reaaaaally frustrating puzzle but most of the annoyance turns out to be structural (it’s easy to mess up juggling your inventory).

  2. can’t spell “progress” without “ogres”

  3. Still here to praise the graphics… I like how the style for the ogres illustration mimics the style of the cover.

    I wonder if the illustrator and graphist were the same person, or just they tried to mimic the key art.

    (Useless musings)

    • I tried a bit harder than I might normally do to finish with the Mac version just because I wanted to see the end graphics. Oh well.

      Will still try again at the sequel.

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