Creature Venture: The Battle with a Very Skittish Land Squid   10 comments

IN ORDER TO PRESERVE THE INTEGRITY OF THE TITLE ‘MASTER VENTURER’ HIGHLANDS COMPUTERS WILL NOT GIVE ANY HELP REGARDING THIS SECTION. THE ONE CLUE WE WILL GIVE IS THAT IT TAKES A MAGIC WORD TO CROSS THE CHASM TO THE WEST. GOOD LUCK

As with my finale posts in general, if you’ve arrived here from elsewhere, you should read my prior posts on Creature Venture first, even though this part is generally self-contained.

From the Gallery of Undiscovered Entities.

I assume it’s due to memory conditions, but the previous Highland games have all been split into “parts” with separate source code files where any “shared code” needs to be copied over. So for the “cutscene death” of The Tarturian the game just sends the information about what items have been acquired in the game and plays the ending appropriately.

Here, the authors have a “traditional” parser but didn’t bother to transfer over the same commands between parts. This is why in Part 1 trying to PUNCH a random item just said NO whereas using it in Part 2, PUNCH gave a hint. This difference extends to verb vocabulary, meaning that words understood in one part aren’t necessarily understood in another, and vice versa.

I fortunately sussed this out before approaching the master quest of Creature Venture, so I caught that, for example, KISS now worked as a verb. However, I still needed quite a few more hints, with a mixture of absurd actions I feel no remorse at spoiling and reasonable puzzles I was just too tired to get after wrestling with the absurd puzzles. What I will do here is narrate the rest of the game straight, without solving difficulties listed, then go back and explain how far I got on each puzzle.

After the warning on the top of this post, about needing a magic word, you are dropped in a new place with a dagger, flashlight, and batteries. The batteries have a limited life, and your inventory limit is changed: you can only carry a maximum of five items.

This means the best way to start is to leave the starting ring behind while you clear some puzzles. To the west there is the promised chasm, and with no hints in particular, you’re supposed to SAY SHAZAM. This makes a bridge leading to a room with some cake (it’ll make you briefly large if you eat it, you’ll need to save it) and a strange tree that you can nevertheless CHOP and get some rubber, even though CHOP never worked in the game prior to this.

Down below there’s a pick in a wall; pull it out and some water start flowing, which you can plug by typing PUT RUBBER.

Heading back to the starting area (ignoring a cup and a tack that are both there, which are complete red herrings) there’s a locked door next to a pool of oil. You can try to BREAK DOOR but it says you need more delicacy, so the thing to do is THROW DAGGER which somehow bounces off a rock creating sparks which then light the oil which sets the door on fire.

Headed north you get trapped by a cage, but fortunately you can EAT CAKE to temporarily get large and bust it open.

Further north there is a complete dead end. The trick is to DIG while holding the pick, which lets you tunnel through the wall. This leads further to a rug and a pencil, although the best thing to do after scarfing them both is to head back to the entrance (assuming you ditched the pick, you you have enough inventory room to grab the ring, too).

To the north there is a “mimic” chest which turns into a medusa.

The right answer here is to KISS SERPENT, and not, as one might fully and logically expect, KISS MEDUSA. This is sufficent to get the mimic/medusa to move revealing stairs going down, where you can find another dead end, where quite naturally, the obvious thing to do is use the pencil to DRAW a DOOR.

Past the door is a key; you can then head back and find a chasm that you can FLY the rug over, a large snake where RUB RING charms it…

…and a locked door where the key can be applied. Then: the final obstacle.

Which you can defeat via…. you know what, let’s save that. Maybe you (as in reader you, not you visualized theoretically playing the game) can come up with it before I spoil the puzzle in a few paragraphs.

So I was doomed from the very beginning — I did suss out from the hint in the instructions (that I planted at the top of this post) that I was going to need to guess at a magic word as oppose to extract one from the game in any way (noteworthy: it understands SAY XYZZY, even though nothing happens) but I just couldn’t summon up SHAZAM as a possibility and had to look it up.

The tree, rubber, and cake section I worked out on my own. Then I hit the dagger being thrown making sparks, and pretty much lost all willpower. My first impulse on the initial dead end was to use the PICK which was correct, but I couldn’t find the right syntax of DIG (I tried HIT WALL and the like). I did know to FLY with the rug, and my first impulse with the pencil was to DRAW stuff (including drawing on the snake, as shown) but I was far past patience and sanity to work out DRAW DOOR. I did KISS MEDUSA quite early and needed hints for KISS SERPENT. And finally, RUB RING on the serpent was totally reasonable (even if totally random magic) but I was too weary to work through my items by that point.

In an abstract way, there is something weird and refreshing when all the rules of fairness get broken, but it doesn’t feel as much fun from the inside. The master game portion really harkens back to the ludicrous endgames of works like Adventure and Warp, where I get the feeling it might start to be fun as a group — if 5 people are playing with notes, maybe one of them randomly will try throwing the dagger. I doubt there’s any sane ratiocination process to arrive at throwing the dagger, but that doesn’t mean someone won’t solve it (I hit upon YELL BOO myself last time, remember).

Oh, and the octopus? You’re supposed to TICKLE it. Anyone work that out?

With this kind of puzzle, yes, I suppose there is a theoretical path to what happened, but it gives me an avant-garde feeling, like words and causality have been deconstructed.

Endgame aside, I did enjoy this the most of the Highlands library so far; the goofy humor settled into a rhythm, the janky art was at least consistently so, and the puzzles before the endgame were tricky but not impossible. (According to the Gallery of Undiscovered Entities, this was the best selling of their games, briefly reaching the top 10.) We only have one more game to go to finish with Highlands (Mummy’s Curse) and at least I can say they’ve all been interesting to talk about.

Posted May 31, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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10 responses to “Creature Venture: The Battle with a Very Skittish Land Squid

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  1. Although I haven’t played this game in decades, I definitely remembered tickling the octo…er, “land squid”

    • Do you remember anything else? (If nothing else, vague impressions if you enjoyed it or not?)

      • Sure. I was born 1974 and my dad bought our Apple ][+ in ~1979. So when I was first exposed to adventure games, text adventures had been around for a while the vector line-style graphic adventures were just appearing.

        I was a kid, so the graphics appealed more to me than text adventures (though I did dabble with them a bit). I distinctly remember the feeling of just how *different* computer games were compared to the style of game you could get on consoles at the time.

        I remember playing Creature Venture after Oldorf & Tarturian in order, and grouping them together in my mind with completely unrelated adventures like Mystery House simply because of the vector line aesthetic. To my 7 year old mind, they seemed to belong together. I couldn’t have realized that the reason they looked the same is because they were simply of the same technological era. Soon the vector line games disappeared for full color games, which seemed the normal, logical progression. That’s the thing with games from that era- their development was on a natural evolutionary track. When played in order you can really see how the art form grew and developed over time. Other companies took the stodgy Sierra games and built in “action” sequences like in Critical Mass, which I could never have imagined happening in a Sierra game. It was interesting to see how other companies managed to “paint in the spaces” so much quicker than Sierra’s did (look how much zippier Sirius’ “Gruds In Space” screens are painted when compared to — “Wizard and the Princess”). This is something that’s lost if people are emulating at faster speeds, but having played them when they came out I remember this being a really impressive upgrade.

        Like many of these old adventure games, I remember Creature Venture having a very different sort of feeling than Mystery House. The spot character animations and sometimes silly descriptions did a lot to charm me, a bit like later games like The Coveted Mirror did. The On-Line Systems Hi-Res adventures took themselves more seriously, which is kind of hilarious when you consider the occasional misspellings and juvenile artwork.

        Oh, and thanks to your article I finally got the ten-tickles gag. I can now die in peace.

      • Thanks!

        The last Highlands game is in color. Not sure if the janky art will become better or worse to look at that way.

  2. “Anyone work that out?”

    When I saw the illustration and you cast the gauntlet of “you won’t believe the ridiculous solution to this one”, that was the first one that came into my mind. How? I don’t know. Probably a lingering vestige of the joke about how many times you tickle the octopus… (Ten times, naturally. Octopi get ten-tickles.)

    • Excellent! (I figured someone would get it because I know y’all, but I didn’t want to jinx it.)

      How famous is the joke? Do you think they had it literally in mind?

  3. More weird stuff going on with the graphics. We’re supposed to be in the cage, but the view is from outside the cage looking in, and it’s empty! What’s going on there?

  4. I wonder if the author thought ‘skittish’ meant ‘bad tempered.’ Then the name, art and puzzle wouldn’t be three non-sequiturs.

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