Archive for July 2021

Alkemstone: New Resources   2 comments

Short update today, but any superfans (or just regular fans) of Alkemstone may enjoy

the new Google Sheet, linked here, with every image and theories placed next to them.

It’s everyone-can-edit so feel free to annotate to your heart’s content. I’ll go back sometime next week and squeeze in some of the older observations.

Casey Muratori (who made the interactive map last year) also has made a Github archive for Alkemstone.

I don’t want get too deeply into clue theories at the moment from the previous thread (there’s quite a few), but Christopher Drum’s observation that the Einstein statue has a star map is surely worth mentioning, and that it shows the stars at April 22, 1979 at noon — when the statue was dedicated. There are enough astrology references it feels relevant.

In fact, if you want to make a giant leap in the dark that is almost certainly wrong:

– start from April 22 (it is “just past winter” yet within Easter-range as hinted at other clues)

– go to the Washington Monument (which Andrew McCarthy observed is roughly a tenth of a mile high matching the DENVER/10 clue and acts like a sundial)

– wait for some particular time for the peak of the shadow to hit a particular spot

– search at the spot!

But what time? Noon won’t exactly work. The most obvious time reference is “TIME IS RELATIVE BUT SEVEN HOURS SHOULD BE ENOUGH” — seven hours starting from what time?

The search continues! (Also, I will be playing other games, and giving updates at intervals rather than just writing about Alkemstone.)

Posted July 31, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Alkemstone: All the Clues   59 comments

It has been a while since I’ve posted about the Apple II game Alkemstone (and some reading this might have arrived from elsewhere without seeing my previous posts) so a brief summary/recap:

Alkemstone was a game released in 1981 by the company Level-10 with a $5000 prize attached (later upped to $7500) where the titular “Alkemstone” was hidden somewhere in the real world, and the clues on where to find it were hidden inside the game. It was confirmed fairly recently by the lawyer in charge of certification that nobody has claimed the prize. The company that sponsored it is long defunct, and the object buried was not valuable in itself (you didn’t even need to extract it to get the prize, just explaining the location of the Alkemstone was enough), so solving the mystery is only of historical interest, but still — a 40 year old mystery nobody has cracked!

Picture from @deliciousgames.

Last year I did a playthrough of the game, which involved running around a maze and finding clues that flashed at irregular intervals on the walls, ceiling, and floor. I managed to extract quite a few clues, but I knew (because someone on Mobygames found a clue I hadn’t) that there were still clues I was missing. I just didn’t know how many.

May I present to you:

A ZIP file with every single clue in Alkemstone

To clarify, a reader (Andy Boroson) did some hacking at the game file itself and managed to extract the locations of the clues as well as a method of stopping the invisible-flashing-clue effect from happening. This led to him making a complete map…

… and the file of images above. They are given the numbers matching the map above; some of the sequential numbers clearly go together (even if they aren’t placed together on the map) so the numbers themselves may serve as a clue. There are 80 clues (84 listed, but one of them is blank, and likely removed some time during development; 3 are “special coded” to be findable at the same location, marked “00” on the map) and I managed previously to find about 3/4 of them, but some of the missing ones have what seem to be essential information, so it is quite possible it was not feasible to crack the mystery until now, the moment I post this.

The ZIP file preserves the screenshots in a complete fashion, so I’m going to survey them numerically and clip images together when possible. (That is, what shows up as separate clues I have merged into the same image, for compactness; again, if you need “clean” images, refer to the ZIP file.) Additionally, some of the text clues are stored as text, so I’ll just give those in text format.

Are you excited? I’m excited.

Just as a note ahead of time, the main guess/presumption based on the clues is that the treasure is hidden somewhere in Washington, DC. However, there is nothing I’d call certain confirmation on this. I will say it is near certain (based on a trio of clues I’ll get to last) that the treasure is in a public place somewhere, meaning it should be in an urban environment, not hidden in some random place in the wilderness.

When booting Alkemstone, this is the first thing visible upon entering the maze…

There’s no “hanging banners” style messages other than this one.

…which is certainly reminiscent of the Albert Einstein statue in Washington DC, which was finished just in time for it to be part of the game (1981).

#1 John F Kennedy
#2 Stonewall Jackson
#3 Zachary Taylor

The #1 and #3 clues are names of US Presidents, while the #2 clue is the name of a Confederate General. This suggests historical US sites rather than something dealing directly with the Presidency itself (like the numbers attached to each president).

#4 (on left)
#5 (on right)

Both suggesting wordplay, and #5 is new. There are multiple anagrams using the letters P, I, N, E, S so I’m not sure which one to prioritize, but I should point out the author’s previous game included an ambiguous anagram puzzle as well.

#6

Bruecke is “bridge” in German but rata isn’t anything in German, but maybe it is wordplay leading up to that. (The Rs being lined up is intentional.)

#7 What You Don’t Do To Go
#8 (written as a fraction) DENVER / 10

Again not sure, although I have suspicion #8 is referring to Denver being the “Mile High City”, that is, the clue refers to a 10th of a mile. I haven’t had luck with zipcode or the like.

#10 Calentadora de dedos del pie
#11 Wo Adler sich sammeln

#10 is “toe warmer” translated from Spanish. #11 is “where eagles gather” translated from German.

#12 JOB
#13 TESS
#14 MARIA

The one and only puzzle I’m certain we have the real solve for. Roger Durrant pointed out that both names appear in the song They Call the Wind Maria from the musical Paint Your Wagon.

A way out here they got a name for rain and wind and fire the rain is Tess the fire’s Joe and they call the wind Maria

“JOB” is a “typo” but it may have just been an honest mishearing. (I don’t think it’s a clue, but you never know.)

#15 144

I theorized long that this possibly references the fact that with 12 zodiac signs you can pair them with another 12 to get 144 angles (there’s zodiac symbols elsewhere). However, I haven’t found any confirmers to put this guess at high confidence.

I also pointed out the War Memorial in Washington DC had a 12-arrowed floor that could be interpreted in a zodiac direction sense.

#16-#22

All 7 images appear in roughly the same spot when drawn, so there may be some relation.

#23

Not quite in the same place as the previous clues, so might be distinct. Possibly hinting as to a time of year, that is, Easter (there are later references to this as well).

#24

Hinting a place with a famous speech? Or perhaps a current place (at least current for 1981) where speeches can be made.

#25 BLACK OR WHITE They Are All The Same To Me

This is where the internal number I think is helpful — it certainly seems likely #24 and #25 are related, perhaps referencing the I Have a Dream speech?

#26 Don’t Smell The Salt
#27 THOSE THAT SEEK TO FIND MUST FIRST SEEK TO PASS
#28 Seemanns-warnung

#26 might mean avoiding the ocean. #28 is “sailor’s warning” in German. I’m not sure if #27 is connected.

#29 The First To Recognize The Second
#30 For Us It Is Already Here
#31 Of All This One Is Equal

Not sure on any of these.

#32 WITH GIN YOU BEGIN THE END

More wordplay? I feel like there’s got to be word fragments being glued together at some point (“join” is a clue later).

#33 For the One You Seek The Two Are Known The Three Are There

Again not sure.

#34

The two theories I’ve heard are a.) the signature of TS Eliot and b.) (courtesy Casey Muratori) a metal access panel.

#35 My first is sixth My second is content Followed by the rest Finally a child could play

One of those riddles indicating letters in positions, perhaps, or word fragments being mashed together? I could see “the rest” being the literal “day of rest”, either “sat” or “sun” depending on your theology.

#36 -CIDE

Another word fragment clue. If it is the same as #35, is SLIDE (“a child could play”) somehow tweaked to be CIDE?

#37 join

Again, internal numbering adds some information; this probably refers to #35 and #36, at least.

#38 Coat Of Blue

Possibly the Civil War song.

#39

Look between the pillars?

#40 ONU

Another word fragment?

#41 To Start Anew

Feels very crossword-clue to me.

#42

Bees tend to be popular in rebuses for the sound “-be-” getting put somewhere.

#43 Don’t Go When Winter Blow
#44 Warmer Than Others

Referring back to the potential Easter clue, this might refer to a time of year. Easter has to (no matter the year) land after winter. This also might be simply fitting in with rebus logic somehow (the fragment “apr”, for instance).

#45

Redundancy with the child playing clue?

#46 GPI
#47 FTN
#48 pnijure
#49 BUSH

Not sure.

#50

I’ve played with this one quite a bit (add the numbers on top, then divide, subtract then divide, etc.) without much luck.

#51 Nothing Runs Like A Deer / And It Is A Beaut

The “Nothing Runs Like a Deere” slogan has been around since 1972 for the company John Deere, but I don’t know if the intent here is a pun or something else.

#52 It’s Best To Rest

Another resting reference.

#53

A word ladder? Don’t know what clue this indicates, though.

#54

#55, #56

The best I could come up with here is a reference to the Battle of Wounded Knee, but I have no idea what that would indicate.

#57, #58

Is the first picture of a train or something else?

#59 It’s Not Right
#60 The road is clear But you may have to leave it To find your way

Is this referring to directions at the actual site, or literal wordplay still?

#61 KAMM
#62 CIBURA

More word fragments, perhaps?

#63 Don’t Tread On Me

Another American History reference? All four words are written on separate lines so it could be the initial letters DTOM.

#64, #65

5 is the base? Don’t know what the deal is with those parallel lines on the 5 then, if that’s the case.

#66 This Is Almost The Age of AQUARIUS

Another day of the year reference?

#67 TIME IS RELATIVE BUT SEVEN HOURS SHOULD BE ENOUGH
#68 THAT WHICH GOES DOWN / MUST COME UP
#69 follow your nose / where taylor goes / but not too far / you’ll find a scar

The last clue may refer to some specific site involving Zachary Taylor, although it is unclear what.

#70 ONE SHOULD BE TEMPORATE IN ALL THINGS

This might intentionally be related to time rather than a misspelling of temperate.

#71 Wherever You May Roam There Is No Place Like Home
#72 a billion stars may show you the way

These (plus clue #81) might reference specific museums in Washington DC. The ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz are at the National Museum of American History, the stars might refer to Phoebe Waterman Haas Public Observatory (or that might just be another astrology reference so the clue goes with #66 etc. instead).

#73 Large And Small – Can’t See Them At All
#74 THE SUN ALWAYS RISES / THE SUN ALWAYS SETS
#75 WHOLE BUT NOT COMPLETE
#76 DO NOT OVERLOOK ANYTHING
#77 After Awhile We All Pay The Price
#78 MIDDLE AGE IS THAT TIME WHEN THE BROAD MIND AND THE NARROW WAIST TRADE PLACES
#79 THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY MAY BE OF VALUE
#80 97914
#81 If You Want A Scene / Holocene and Pleistocene Might Do

#81 might be the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.

Finally, not with regular numbering, there are three clues in the same dead end (corresponding to the three walls). I’ll give the pictures this time:



Due to the status in the game, I suspect this is a meta-clue showing the structure of what is being solved for “Where I Live” is one set of clues, “Be Upon” is a second set, “A Thought of You” is a third set, and “How Far I May Go” is a fourth. All this is still guesswork, though.

While the “watch them play” feels most likely a park, it is possible this refers instead to “play” as in music; either way, not wilderness? (Although maybe you could stretch with a particular named rock monument.)

I’ve skipped some speculation from my previous posts, so if you’re looking for more inspiration, feel free to read those as well as the comments which include some more ideas. It’s fair to say the puzzle is still wide open at this point.

ADD: I put everything into a Google Sheet. It has all the images in miniature and a place to enter speculation.

Posted July 27, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Madness and the Minotaur: The End   6 comments

Well, I held up some dignity.

As usual for my end game posts: spoilers for absolutely everything, and you’ll want to have read the rest of the series first.

Via the Museum of Computer Adventure Games.

I figured out two cheeses that were very important.

1.) Normally, if you save your game immediately before going into a room talking to the Oracle, you will always get the same piece of information. However, if you do an extra turn (going in an impossible direction, for instance) the random generator will “rotate” and the Oracle will give a different clue. You can repeat this process (restore save, run into a wall twice, go east, talk to oracle; restore save, run into a wall three times, go east, talk to oracle; etc.) in order to eventually pump the Oracle for all the possible hints. On the saved game I was using as my “final run” (no particular logic, I just decided enough was enough) I managed to extract these relations:

powerring: belrog
truthring: lightring and flute and akhirom
shield: dagger
lightring: powerring and rope and nergal
vial: talisman and mitra
skull: okkan
sword: rope
defeat satyr: sword and negral
defeat troglodyte: spellbook and crom
defeat sprite: skull and powerring
defeat minotaur: sword and shield and powerring
defeat scorpion: talisman and powerring
defeat nymph: flute and okkan

(The one monster I never saw a hint on was the nine-headed hydra, but it has its own special circumstances.)

Some of them cause dependency chains; for example, you can’t get the truthring without the lightring, flute, and akhirom spell; you can’t get the lightring in order to get the truthring without the powerring, rope, and nergal spell, and so forth. (Nergal isn’t an item, but a spell — that explains away my confusion last time, since it’s just a magic word and not a noun.) It would have been utterly impractical to play without the list above.

2.) Perhaps even more important than #1, the earthquakes that happen at random and block exits do happen based on time passing, but they are not inevitable. That is, there is some random chance at minute X that an earthquake will occur, and if you get unlucky, you can restore a save game from far enough back and find the next time minute X passes there is a different result (that is, no earthquake).

Despite a few workarounds (the powerring lets you just plow through blocked exits, for instance, and the spell CROM clears them out but it takes a while to get) this was the key that made the game playable. It is possible (as Voltgloss indicated in a rot13 hint) to “wait out” a blocked exit (they eventually “rotate” places based on further earthquakes), but the end result is often followed by yet another blocked exit immediately after, and it becomes too hard to track monsters that move around (and in the early part of the game, items can move around as well as long as the sprite is still alive).

Even with these extra edges to my game, playing was very difficult and intense. The main issue is that inventory capacity is very tight; in practical circumstances you can carry at most three items, but sometimes even two or one. Inventory is especially hard to juggle when a JUMP or just climbing up a staircase is necessary. For example, to get to the “escape room” where treasures are stored, you just need to go UP from the very first room of the game. I found a ruby out in the open, and carrying the ruby and only the ruby, I wasn’t able to make it up the stairs! I had to make a full loop around — as I mentioned last time, there’s a pit in the bottom floor that will go to the right place. Even then, the JUMP at the end to the last location can be unsuccessful!

To make progress, the first thing I did was go after spells. I did, finally, manage to get the mushroom and food together after great effort. (Remember, this first step isn’t mentioned in the original manual, only the one for the Dragon! I’m not sure how anyone back in the day made any progress.)

Fortunately, as shown above, you get a “thread” to follow for all subsequent spells. To “activate” each spell requires bringing an item to a particular room and the previous spell; the rooms are all described as “crackling with magic” and are spread across the map almost entirely at random.

Green-marked places crackle with magic. I think it is always 1 room on the first floor, 3 on the second, and 4 on the third floor.

Getting to each step was essentially like solving a logistics puzzle. For example, Nergal requires a vial. The vial needed a talisman to get (and a previous spell I already had, Mitra) so I had to loop around, get the talisman, then take the talisman to the place I knew the vial was lurking (the minotaur lair) which only had one way out, down to the maze level. Then I tried to jump from the maze to the first floor, but I kept dropping the vial in the process. I ended up not quite having enough strength (it’s a depleting resource; it can be reduced by getting hit by monsters, failing jumps, and casting spells) so I had to leave the vial behind, grab some food, and loop back and keep my fingers crossed I could handle getting the vial to the first floor.

Once I finally managed it, I wasn’t done yet! I had been eliminating “magical crackling” rooms (only one spell per room), but I still needed to figure out the right one to take the vial to.

Up to here the spells had been, in order, VETAN, MITRA, OKKAN, AKHIROM, NERGAL. I hadn’t gotten any of them to do anything yet! (I figured it out later, and they’re mostly very specialized.) However, BELROG (as obtained in the screenshot above) turned out to be intensely handy, because it forced a jump into working. This meant all the spots I had trouble navigating because I would drop an object trying to go in a particular pit or over a particular chasm I could just spell my way over.

Quick example: this portion on the northeast corner of the third floor map is only reachable by jumping over a pit, but the pit was such that I couldn’t jump over with nearly anything in my inventory. So I would have one essential item but be stuck in getting it to that area. With BELROG I could get it over no problem. The only downside is it eats up health.

BELROG made the actions after go a bit smoother. I managed to get CROM and then finally ISTHAR without too much trouble after. Despite me looking forward to CROM because of the earthquake issue (remember, CROM clears blocked passages) I ended up not needing it because of Cheese #2! ISTHAR, on the other hand, originally gave me a surge of joy — it teleported me directly to the forest where all the treasures go! But it stopped working, and I found it later it only gives a couple uses before being entirely gone (the spell does not “regenerate”).

Still, after ISTHAR, I had the full set of 8 spells, and each spell gave me 10 points, so I already had much more progress than from the 0 I had before. Next I wanted to take down the monsters; each of the monsters (except one, which I’ll get to) had a treasure, so I knew I had to take them down. I figured, even if I made no more progress, I couldn’t leave a game called Madness and the Minotaur without killing the minotaur.

I wanted to go after the sprite first, so I didn’t have to be paranoid about items being shifted around the map any more. (In practice, it didn’t happen much, I think because I was very tight and efficient as far as saved games go due to avoiding earthquakes.) This required getting the skull and powerring, both which fortunately only required spells to be in inventory (so I didn’t have to juggle the “required item tree”).

The treasure dropped lands in an adjacent room.

I wanted to tackle the nymph next, but the nymph required (in my iteration of the game) a flute, and the flute was in the room with the nine-headed hydra, and the hydra is unique amongst the monsters for pushing you out of the room when you try to enter. So I tried valiantly to handle the hydra (given I had no oracle hint) but failed enough to look up hints; there’s a fixed solution here.

That is, you’re supposed to use an action on a noun that is not present in the room the action is done in. This breaks one of the implicit adventure rules pretty hard, but given how tough everything else was, I couldn’t be disappointed.

Once I tied the hydra up I could go in, but even the walkthrough I consulted had me confused; it indicated you could STAB with the DAGGER, but that was unrecognized. Using the sword was futile, as shown above. I eventually resorted to trying every spell (I remembered the manual saying one of the spells could defeat monsters) and hit paydirt.

The NOTHING SPECIAL HAPPENS is a bug — that’s what the spell normally does, and the fact it worked here didn’t override the text.

The most difficult monster after was the minotaur. This was because three items were required (sword, shield, powerring) and remember the weight limit is extremely tight. I essentially had to max out to full health (with a mushroom) and race as fast as I could with the three items to the right spot. I failed the first time (an item gets automatically dropped when your strength no longer sustains your inventory) but managed it the second by optimizing my movements even tighter:

For my last monster, I was stuck longer than I should have been. I saved the satyr for last, which the oracle reported I needed the sword and negral spell for.

I baffled for a long time before realizing I had, in fact, killed the satyr — that’s the message when a monster doesn’t have an item. One of the six randomized ones (not including the hydra) has no treasure, so the satyr was skippable on the map I was playing. (I was fooled for a while thinking the Oracle was lying to me — the manual hinted that could be the case — but the Oracle can’t lie. I’m guessing it was a cut feature, since the truthring is an item that exists but does nothing mechanically in the game.)

So the next step would normally be to go find all the treasures … but I’m honestly fine stopping here. I’ve got a little loot (shown above), I’ve eliminated the threats, I got a full bevy of spells. I think I can call the expedition a success.

I did look up some of the treasures, and there is a little puzzle-solving involved. Unfortunately, the brutal inventory limit makes it very hard to experiment, and find things like:

  • there’s a parchment with music, and a flute; if you take them to a room where you hear “music” on the maze level, and play the flute, a ledge appears; with the rope you can get a treasure from the ledge
  • there’s a packrat with an item that it will give you if you are holding some other specific item; the specific item it wants you to be holding is randomized
  • there are two openable “crypts” that require all items dropped and the player to be at full strength, although one you can use for a powerring for (not the other!)
  • there’s an item in a random spot in the first level that can be found by turning the lamp on in a particular room (!?)
  • there’s some glowing rocks where an amulet appears if you cast OKKAN, which is used nowhere else (I solved this one, but never bothered to get the amulet on my “final save”)

Despite — or perhaps because of — the majority of the game being dominated by logistics — figuring out which route to get to the next item, juggling inventory, keeping enough saves to handle if an earthquake happens — this was distressing to play in a unique way, like the game came from an alien world with different ideas about “entertainment”. Oddly, the game can be forgiving in certain aspects; the food, for example, randomly appears somewhere else after you eat it, so you never “run out”; the lantern has a pretty forgiving oil timer, plus there’s an URN with extra oil and after you get the last spell POOLS OF OIL start randomly appearing (and if you use one up, another randomly shows up elsewhere). So the game tried hard to be “fair”. It also made every effort to make the mere act of traversing the map painful, and over half of my expeditions ended in failure as I couldn’t make it over a pit, or an item I expected to be able to take got stuck, or I just simply got confused in the maze.

In a design sense, the prominent question is: did any of the randomization work?

1D4D: 1A ; TROGLODYTE
1D4E: 45 0B 38 80 ; AX, SCEPTER, MITRA
1D52: 23 7D 80 ; SPELLBOOK, CROM
1D55: 43 07 3B FF ; DAGGER, SHIELD, NERGAL
1D59: 1D ; SATYR
1D5A: 46 3B 80 ; SWORD, NERGAL
1D5D: 44 2B 38 80 ; MACE, LIGHTRING, MITRA
1D61: 23 77 FF ; SPELLBOOK, VETAR
1D64: 1E ; MINOTAUR
1D65: 46 07 2A 80 ; SWORD, SHIELD, POWERRING
1D69: 44 0F 0B 38 80 ; MACE, VIAL, SCEPTER, MITRA
1D6E: 45 3B FF ; AX, NERGAL

The above is clipped from the source code. This indicates the different combinations possible for different monsters, and it does seriously change some of the sequences — just needing the ax and nergal spell for the minotaur would have meant I could kill him relatively early in the game, for instance, and not have to finesse with great difficulty in order to carry three items at once.

However, the randomization essentially set a “strategy game” background, as the “adventure game” parts — like the layout of the map itself, and some of the puzzles — were fixed. The overwhelming difficulty of the game makes it hard for me to evaluate how successful it really was. I could see with some nudges to a lighter difficulty the system being more successful. There’s at least one more chance to try out the idea, as there was a follow-up game to Madness and the Minotaur. Quoting John Gabbard again (I quoted him back at my first post):

The first program I wrote for Spectral was Keys of the Wizard. I use the term “wrote” very loosely, because the underlying code was from Madness and the Minotaur and most of the “writing” I did was in the form of map changes, dictionary changes and room descriptions changes. There were a few code changes and additions that changed the way battling creatures worked, and that gave a few of the creatures the ability to “catch your scent” and follow you, but it was mostly Madness code.

So, we’ll see if Keys of the Wizard holds any redemption for the ideas. I can say personally this game made for a weary week and I’m glad for the time being to put myself to more traditional pastures.

Posted July 25, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Madness and the Minotaur: Frustration   9 comments

I’m going to say this is my second-to-last post on Madness and the Minotaur. Next will come fire or glory. Which is more likely?

As this will be relevant later, here’s Nergal, Mesopotamian god of plagues, war, and death. Picture by Neta Dror, from the collection at The Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

95% chance fire. I still haven’t gotten the first spell yet, that is, the first thing the game needs you to do.

I did, at least, managed to put the jigsaw puzzle of the map mostly together. I realized, from last time, that I didn’t need to “teleport” to the maze level from the 8 by 3 block I mapped out if I shifted things over a bit, and had the “slide down a row” effect happen on the edges.

It didn’t quite make an 8 by 8 map like it was supposed to, but I took the guess I had part of the map wrong (due to randomness or just confusion) and indeed, once I fixed my small error, I came up with a complete 8 by 8. Behold.

In other words, I was mapping the fourth level all along, so the two parts connected! I was also able to make it to a “great forest” that connected directly to a pit:

I’m passing on discussing the other 8 by 3 chunks of the maze, which are all similar to the first one I mapped with a few random teleport exits; I’m not sure if it’s worth deciding the exact logic since the main thing required is to visit enough rooms to find all the items.

I already had the Great Forest mapped: it’s the place where the treasures go, and is directly over the starting room! So this is where you can loop from the fourth floor back to the first floor relatively reliably, assuming you can make it through all the squares without being stopped.

It’s that “assume” that is a giant conditional there. I lucked out on my traversal, but sometimes when testing out the maze I have my passage stopped by a room of “strong magic” and I’ve been completely stuck.

I was originally wondering what kind of system the game has for preventing impossible scenarios. Now I’m thinking that, more often than not, the game presents impossible scenarios. Let’s consider my current dilemma, which I know from Manual #2: finding a mushroom and food, and getting back to the first level to find a room “crackling with energy” which should have the first spell.

The food seems to always be on the first level, and the mushroom on the third. Here is one attempt at getting the mushroom:

The enchanted aura is technically helpful — it is supposed to heal you — but it also teleports.

I keep getting stymied for one reason or another; there are two “direct routes” passages from floor 1 to 3 (where you can go straight down twice) but often (on my random reroll of the map) they are both blocked, and any longer route usually has either magic or some monster (like a hydra) that prevents getting through.

The two I circled are mostly straight paths to the mushroom area. The one to the right is one-way, so it requires getting back up a different way.

I have managed to get both food and mushroom, but then found I couldn’t get back to the first level; for example, one time I took the route starting from the Large Empty Hall circled above (where I can’t go back the same way) and found myself completely blocked in.

I may still be missing some exits, but given this is all happening on the very first puzzle, what’s to stop the same issue with happening for any of the others? And what should I be doing after, anyway? Remember, puzzle solutions are randomly generated. I can ASK ORACLE on the spare chance the oracle appears…

I have no idea what the “Nergal” is. The only definition I’ve seen is the god shown on the top of this post. Is it a statue of Nergal, maybe? I can’t imagine we are toting around a literal god. It might just be a made-up name for an undescribed magic gizmo, of course.

…but that’s only one of multiple puzzles, and importantly, there doesn’t seem to be any logic to the connections. I took a bunch of new game starts and made a beeline for the gazing pool in the northwest, which indicates what is required to “solve” getting the spellbook.

skull and flute
mushroom, goblet, belrog
powerring and nergal
pendant and crom

It may be it is possible to deductively reduce some puzzles based on other puzzles, like Clue; it may be possible to leverage saved games to be near and oracle and somehow get different clues at each ASK ORACLE; it may be there is no good method to figuring things out at all. The main issue is I’m expecting an adventure game to have some sort of consistent inner physics, either real or magical, and this breaks that to such an extent I’m just not finding the experience that enjoyable.

But maybe things will improve if I can just solve one thing. (Technically … I did! There’s a shield on the wall on the first level that is “too high” to reach. One time I was able to take it anyway, and I realized after some elimination that it was from carrying the dagger. The dagger doesn’t always work for that, though. In one universe, you could imagine reaching up with the point of the dagger just high enough to reach the wall, but in another, you can’t do that for no apparent reason, nothing described by the game itself, anyway.)

Another failed attempt to escape with the mushroom.

Posted July 18, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Madness and the Minotaur: The Third Dimension   3 comments

I’ve got a little better grip on the overall map, although I’m not done sorting it out yet.

I used this isometric drawing tool.

Blue parts represent “normal” rooms, grey rooms are the Maze where every room looks alike.

I made a guess (after the four maps from my last two posts) that the structure matched the image above, but when I got into one of the 3 by 8 layers by entering from a “small library” on the first floor I found myself confused and worried there was teleporting between floors or my concept was wrong altogether.

The passage marked “random” is what I’m referring to — it always seems to go to somewhere in the maze, but after some testing one of the consistent rooms was a room with a scepter, so that was the starting point I used. On one of the other random starts I found a goblet that I knew later was on the same floor, so I think that the teleporting on this exit really does only happen within the first floor, not between floors.

The map strongly resembled a 3 by 8 block without any barriers, and where every exit went up or down. I found out from testing that going up or down four times looped back to the room I started in, so I think the maze just wraps around.

However, it wasn’t quite a 3 by 8 block, and it certainly didn’t just loop east-west; going west repeatedly did not go back to the scepter. I puzzled for quite a while and found the author had just done a slight perturbation.

The green room is the scepter room, the exit to the northwest goes to a maze room on the bottom floor, and the west and east do wrap around.

One slight twist was all it took for me to be puzzled for over an hour. What I find interesting about this setup (other than it not matching any other maze we’ve looked at for All the Adventures) is how, from the author perspective, this seems like a minor change. I expect the author misestimated the level of difficulty. In practice, the small “offset shift” made it easy to become confused and made the maze quite difficult, a little like navigating a moebius strip.

Having said all that, I’m still not totally sure I have the floor mapped right, because of one slight detail: when entering the small library immediately before entering the maze, the game does a long pause; the sort of long pause that indicates something is being fiddled with from behind the scenes. Is the maze slightly tweaked before entering? Is the pause just from randomizing the south exit? Is there some other obscure technical reason for the pause? I still find it possible that everything I think I know is still wrong.

One last detail: it is easy to get confused reading the description since it recurs so often. Do you see that there’s no north exit? Remember that room descriptions just repeat if you can’t go a particular way, so it is possible to visually miss the lack of north, try to go north, add an entirely wrong space on the map, and go on a completely impossible tangent.

Posted July 14, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Madness and the Minotaur: The Two Manuals   7 comments

As I alluded to in my last post, there are two manuals to this game, one for the original TRS-80 Color Computer version and one made a year later for the Dragon computers (for the European market, similar hardware to the Color Computer).

From World of Dragon.

I’ve already squeezed most of the juice out of the original manual except for a few tidbits:

  • The sprite (which I’ve met on the first floor) moves items randomly, but can’t do this in the “first floor room with music”. I have yet to find a first floor room with music.
  • JUMP can be reduced in effectiveness if you are carrying too much.
  • The lamp runs out of oil and is refillable.
  • The spell CROM can help if passages are blocked (and it is possible for an earthquake to block you in entirely).

However, the second manual includes different information! It reads as if the porters (Dragon Data Ltd.) decided the game was too ridiculously hard as-is and added some more pointers.

  • Spells are learned in rooms that “crackle with enchantment”. You learn the “first spell” by taking the food and the mushroom to the enchantment room on the first floor.
  • Actions, even important ones, can sometimes only randomly work, although important actions should only need repeating a few times.
  • Some passages will send you to random rooms “depending on circumstances”.
  • Monsters are killed by typing KILL MONSTER while holding the right objects (the object information comes from the Oracle).

There’s also a complete verb list; in addition to the standard ones there’s

EAT, ASK, KILL, HELP, TIE, GRAB, JUMP, DRINK, RUN, CLIMB, PLAY, FILL, OPEN, STAB, THROW

The vast majority of gameplay centers around movement and getting items, so it’s good to know the exceptions like PLAY or TIE that might come up.

Having said all that, other than mapping part of the third and fourth floors, I still haven’t made much progress. Here’s what I have of the third floor:

Assuming everything is lined up the same as the previous maps, I’m missing the first row. Exits from the fifth row going south all led to a Maze (I think, all to the same Maze, but I’m not certain, so I haven’t mucked with that part of the map yet). I managed to make a full circle to a Lair of the Minotaur…

…but otherwise didn’t run across much. Going of a different direction rather than entering the lair led me to a room where magic kept pushing me out.

Usually when I’ve been told “a magic spell has pushed you back” I’ve been able to enter a room with enough persistence; trying to re-enter enough times and the magic doesn’t trigger. However, in this case, I tried many, many, times with no luck — I suspect a spell may be absolutely necessary to enter here (but possibly only on this random iteration of the map!)

It is also possible for magic to “greatly” push you, in which case you get teleported and not just pushed back, and usually lose an item while you’re at it.

Down from the minotaur lair I made it to a level that was just Maze, so I decided now was a good time to try mapping it (especially since I suspected I was dropped into a “regular” section and not randomly dropped somewhere).

The “long passage” to the right indicates things are likely a bit off, and the layout is made doubly weird by the southwest corner, where I realized when going south I wasn’t walking in a new location but rather teleported to an old one (I could confirm by dropping objects in those places and looping back around). More than that, the teleporting happens to at least two different rooms! The “depending on circumstances” from the manual about passages going to different places is coming to bite me here, since the circumstances as to why it goes to destination X vs. Y are very unclear; even if it turns out the choice is made by some object I’m holding, is that choice of object itself random, or is there some clear system of navigation I can use here?

Here the property wasn’t too painful, but on a later attempt to loop back to the minotaur lair I found one exit that had given me progress before suddenly teleported me instead.

That is, going east from the Dark Chamber normally is the path to the lair, but I got zapped to the maze instead for no apparent reason.

I decided before trying to finish my play session I needed to try getting the first spell, that is, getting the food and mushroom as suggested in the manual and finding the spell room on the first floor. I failed even at this.

You see, I first made reloaded my save game where I made it down to the maze with a mushroom. I had found that you could JUMP PIT in the northwest corner to escape, and after some more convoluted pathing ran back up to the first floor. I didn’t have the food yet, but it had already generated on the first floor so I’d figure it’d be an easy matter of grabbing it and finally getting a puzzle solved. No dice.

I had lingered too long mapping: now nearly every passage I tried was blocked! The earthquakes that had been happening as I was playing, in real time, slowly were closing the map off, and it was impossible to continue. The earthquakes mean that the game is completely real-time, not just semi real-time; that is, it isn’t just speed in individual rooms that matters (like outrunning the fog) but over the entire game. Typing fast is going to be required.

I took another run, this time grabbing the food quickly and making a beeline for the third floor (which seems to always be where the mushroom is) but then I couldn’t get out! This was a variant where I couldn’t enter the lair (for reasons I already explained) and another passage going up that seemed to be a straight shot to the first floor had a “strong magic” that kept pushing me out. I eventually could get to the first floor but not while also holding the mushroom (as the magic knocked it out of my hands).

Even using an explicit hint from the manual as to what to do first, I haven’t yet been able to accomplish the task! I’m still going to avoid looking at the walkthrough (I need to try mapping the stranger parts of the maze first) but I predict it will almost be inevitable at some point.

Posted July 13, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Madness and the Minotaur: Mapmaking   4 comments

Madness and the Minotaur features a fixed map, and one where specific locations matter and can have special effects, so unlike the pure-random-generation of, say, 6 Keys of Tangrin, getting a thorough map is a first step.

Each map of the four levels is supposedly 8 by 8, but for the first two at least I’ve only seen the top 8 by 5 section.

This is the sort of fill-all-the-empty-space + divide into discrete sections logic I’m used to from RPGs. For example, here’s the third sewer level from The Bard’s Tale:

Notice how the right side of the map starting from column 15 forms its own sort of mini-section. This trick can also be combined with verticality so that a “hidden area” is found by either noting an empty space exists and utilizing some sort of travel-through-walls spell, or entering from above or below. We saw this in adventure game form with Deathmaze 5000 where a small missing chunk in the upper right is a clue it can be entered from the lower level.

I’ve marked the relevant spot in orange.

Going back to the Madness and the Minotaur map, there’s a small missing portion of the upper right which is suspicious for similar reasons (and when I get to discussing level 2, the same portion is missing).

The actual mapping process is slightly odd in that not only are exits from room descriptions randomly generated, they are randomly regenerated each turn. That means if you look at a room, and then look at it again, while the same exits will be there, they will be described in an entirely different way. I learned to start ignoring the exit portion of the text due to this.

Another oddity is that room descriptions are repeated when you go a direction that isn’t possible. This is an extremely rare mechanic that we’ve only seen so far in Haunted House and Escape from Colditz. The former was widespread enough that it could easily be the source of the mechanic in both cases, which is wild given how generally terrible the game was (it was squeezed on two sides of a 4K cassette).

However, room descriptions can’t be entirely ignored, because as I mentioned earlier, specific locations matter. For example, there’s a hint-gazing pool in the upper right corner of the map.

The hint is randomized, the fact there’s a pool you can gaze into is not.

Also, some exits aren’t just found by typing NORTH/SOUTH/EAST/WEST/UP/DOWN but by typing JUMP followed by whatever it is you plan to jump over or through; a pit or a hole or potentially other things.

To get from the “Dark Servant Chamber” to the location to the west you need to JUMP HOLE; to get back you to need JUMP PIT. I missed this entirely on my first passthrough but the manual was nudging at JUMP being important so I started to try it everywhere. The “Maze of Tunnels” incidentally does not go back the other direction if you go north, suggesting it is a classic deranged-direction maze, so I’m saving it for later. It may be there isn’t even a maze in that spot and going south teleports the player to a different floor.

I unfortunately don’t have much more to report. I’ve been keeping occasional track of where items appear and noticed there were some slight patterns — the lamp seems to tend to the northwest of the first level, for instance, and it is necessary to reach the second level. A shield (which is described as “too high to reach”) always seems to also be on the first level. I’ve only found one treasure lying around that is worth anything (there are some “fake treasures” — the way to tell is to take SCORE before and after and see if it goes up when you pick the thing up).

The spellbook mentioned above also tends to the first floor, but I don’t know if it is 100% of the time.

The second floor requires the lamp, and has the same 8 by 5 general layout, although one small “outcrop” you can see on the left side likely has (at the code level) the player get teleported to a new place when they JUMP over a PIT.

The green incidentally indicates an enchantment in the air, which (according to the Dragon manual version of the game) is where you can find spells. Still haven’t managed to pick one up, yet.

“Up” incidentally is all exits on the “northeast” corner and “down” is all exits on the “southwest”. The exits are generally “lined up” so you can lay the two floors on top of each other and tell where an exit goes, although there’s enough fiddly aspects with exits that teleport I can’t swear everything is accurate.

I essentially haven’t solved anything yet. I did run across the Oracle (who is supposed to give hints as to weakness of monsters and the like) but when I try to type ASK ORACLE the Oracle has disappeared by the time I hit enter. I don’t know if I’m just not typing fast enough or if there’s a puzzle I need to solve first?

Oh, and that reminds me: yes, there are real-time elements. If you’re in a fog room you have a fair amount of time to leave before the fog gets you, but don’t linger like I did in my last play report. Sometimes there’s an “earthquake” if you just leave the game running, which I assume moves stuff around but I haven’t worked out the full nature. With enemies in the room, they can start hitting you if you hang around, although so far they’ve been relatively slow to the trigger and I’ve been able to run away — which makes the Oracle’s speed all the more surprising.

Yes, I met the minotaur. Can’t do anything about him yet, though.

I’ve seen a few other curious things but I’ve been hit by such an information firehose from the game I’m not able to contextualize them yet, so I’ll save talking about them in a future post. Suffice it to say this won’t be over quickly.

Here’s one more “locations have special things” spot. Without these elements I might consider the game to be purely strategy-puzzle, where you have to match the right sequence of items to defeat various enemies and make deductions like a game of Clue. This would make it similar to Volcanic Dungeon recently visited at The CRPG Addict. The fact there’s these observational moments of, well, adventuring, are what push Madness and the Minotaur over the genre edge.

Posted July 10, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Madness and the Minotaur (1981)   8 comments

King Minos, one of the sons of Zeus and also the King of Crete, has erected a huge labyrinthine castle with the intention of using it as a prison. In the past, anyone confined to the Labyrinth could never escape and was either killed or went mad while trying to escape.

From Mobygames.

Spectral Associates was founded in Tacoma, Washington by Tom Rosenbaum after his brother, Roger, got him interested in the TRS-80 Color Computer. Madness and the Minotaur was one of their first products. According to John Gabbard, an early employee:

Tom loved to play adventure games but was disappointed in the computer adventure games that were out there because they had no re-play ability. Once you solved them, playing again was exactly the same. Tom also liked board games like Civilization, and decided that a computer game with the randomness and unpredictability of games like this would be something he would enjoy playing over and over.

As you might induce from the description, this is another in the genre I’m calling adventure-roguelike (see also: Mines, Lugi, Kaves of Karkhan) where randomness is applied to the adventure game format in order to change, rooms, objects, or both. It’s also one of the most infamous examples, both for being one of most well-known games in Color Computer circles, but also being ludicrously hard. There is a walkthrough which the author admits “I certainly can’t imagine figuring out all the secrets without having seen the code” but I’ll be trying my best without looking at code; we’ll see how far I get?

Rumor has it that there are treasures hidden in the vicinity of the Labyrinth. Are these treasures worth risking life or sanity? If your answer to this question is negative or you are plagued with skepticism, it is suggested that you re-evaluate your priorities and establish some healthy materialism.

King Minos has taken many precautions to prevent you from escaping from the maze with his treasures. Word has it that one of the obstacles encountered inside the maze will be the Minotaur, a man with the head of a bull, who has an insatiable taste for human flesh. King Minos feeds fourteen fresh Athenians to the Minotaur a year. The Minotaur would like nothing better than a fifteenth for dessert.

At least on my first run, not very far. Here is my entire first attempt, not even checking the manual (except for the premise, listed above: grab the treasures, and presumably, fight the minotaur).

WELCOME TO THE LABYRINTH!!
BEWARE OF THE MINOTAUR AND GOOD LUCK.

YOU ARE IN A NARROW HALL WAY WITH A TABLE AND CHAIR. A DOORWAY TO THE SOUTH WINDS INTO A CHAMBER. THERE IS A NARROW PASSAGE WAY TO THE WEST. A SUNKEN TRAIL LEADS EAST. A SMALL OPENING WINDS OUT OF SIGHT TO THE NORTH. THERE IS A HOLE IN THE CEILING.

U

YOU ARE NEAR A GREAT FOREST. A STAIR WAY LEADS DOWN. A MAGIC SPELL HAS PUSHED YOU BACK OUT OF THIS ROOM.

E

YOU ARE IN A PASSAGE WAY WITH A GREAT PAINTING ON THE NORTH WALL. A TWISTING TRAIL LEADS WEST. THERE IS A NARROW PASSAGE WAY TO THE EAST. A MYSTERIOUS FOG BEGINS RISING FROM THE FLOOR!

IT’S POISONOUS!!
THE POISON FOG HAS KILLED YOU!
YOU PUT UP A GOOD FIGHT, BETTER LUCK NEXT TIME.
YOU HAVE SCORED 0 POINTS OUT OF A TOTAL OF 240 POINTS.
PHYS COND = 251

Dead in two moves, good start! Technically, two and a half, because I believe the last part involved a real-time element — if I had typed fast enough to run away I think I would have evaded the poison?

The map is consistent, with four floors, each laid out in an 8 by 8 pattern. From the manual I gather objects are laid out at random. (My second try at starting the game has an identical first room except there’s also a lamp.) There are multiple spell words but they have to be learned before they can be used and they aren’t mapped to their effects consistently.

The spells are named: VETAR, CROM, MITRA, AKHIROM, OKKAN, ISHTAR, BELROG, and NERGAL. The spells will provide you with the following strengths and magical abilities:

* Open blocked passages.
* Restore a lamp to you.
* Cure a scorpion bite.
* Find treasures.
* Kill the monsters.
* Dispel fog.
* Guarantee that a jump is successful.
* Protect you from evil spirits.

The manual also mention there’s an Oracle wandering around that you can talk to

To converse with the Oracle, you can [ASK ORACLE].

which allegedly helps with working out the effects of the various spells, but I also remember reading that sometimes the Oracle can lie.

The manual also mentions a Sprite which moves objects around at random; I’m gathering it is meant to make things harder but maybe it is also meant to help solve situations where an object is stuck? I get the feeling it may be possible to simply have an “impossible spawn” (akin to The 6 Keys of Tangrin) so may be best not to assume that every playthrough is winnable.

Speaking of 6 Keys, this also features continuously draining energy. (“If your physical condition is deteriorating, you may need to rest or have a snack. You’ll feel better after some rejuvenation. You can also build your physical strength by walking through an enchanted aura.”)

I’ve also heard that, uniquely among the adventure-roguelikes I’ve seen so far, this game randomizes the puzzles. I’m honestly not quite sure what that means, as I don’t want to spoil things yet.

Everything combined together means that of all the games on the 1981 list (with the exception of Hezarin which I took down early) this one has terrified me the most from afar. I’ve finally arrived.

Posted July 5, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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The 1981 Games That Remain   7 comments

When I was nearing the home stretch of 1980, I made a post giving all the games still left to play. Here I’m doing the same for 1981.

Some caveats:

a.) I’ve got a set of 1980 games I need to loop back to still, and these are not included. (In one case I definitely want to hit a 1980 game before a related 1981 one.)

b.) I’ve got a few games on my list published in 1982 but clearly were written in 1981 that I’m going to save for 1982. I’ve been going by writing rather than publishing due to circumstances like mainframe games that were never “published”, but the mainframe era mostly has wound down by 1982, and as a compromise (except in cases like Roger M. Wilcox games which weren’t really “published”) I will play the games while I’m “in” the years they were published but back-list them to a prior year if it turns out to be the most appropriate sorting (or list both dates as I’ve done in a few cases).

c.) I’m leaving off one 1981 game due to a few issues including compilation trouble, but it could pop up again. (It had some development in 1982 so I don’t feel bad in skipping it.)

d.) I’m not done with Alkemstone, and I have a very big update that I will be sharing later this summer.

e.) Any discoveries between now and the end of my playing through 1981 that happen to fall in 1981 I reserve the right to either add now or just save for a future loop down the line.

Jymm Pearson, including his switch over to Med Systems with The Institute.
Saigon: The Final Days, The Institute

Two Atari Program Exchange programs remain.
Chinese Puzzle, Sultan’s Palace

The grand conclusion to the TRS-80/Mac saga. Hopefully I’ll get the Mac version going smoothly here for the pretty pictures.
Forbidden City

The very last game of Highlands, now in color!
Mummy’s Curse

On-line Systems (later Sierra) with their only non-graphical adventure:
Softporn Adventure

Brian Howarth (previously of The Golden Baton and The Time Machine) sneaks one more in for 1981, although part two isn’t until 1982.
Arrow of Death Part 1

Part of a “make your own Scott Adams style adventure” adventure creation kit.
Burglar’s Adventure

Michael Berlyn’s followup to Oo-Topos.
Cyborg

Not the Infocom version.
Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

CLOAD had Frankenstein Adventure and Troll’s Treasure, but also these for 1981.
Elephant Graveyard Adventure, Medieval Adventure, Jerusalem Adventure

A pretty (in)famous Radio Shack offering, and another instance of the adventure-roguelike genre.
Madness and the Minotaur

December of the Softside Adventure of the Month.
Black Hole Adventure

Roger M. Wilcox has three more offerings for us before getting out of 1981.
King of the Jungle, Trash Island, Escape from Trash Island

There’s one last game to go in the Captain 80 Book of Basic Adventures, and it will definitely feel like I’ve ended an era once I’m done.
Arctic Adventure

Posted July 3, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

Around the World in Eighty Days (1981)   5 comments

We’ve so far hit 5 months of the Softside Adventure of the Month Series (June, July, August, September, October) and this is yet another Peter Kirsch installment. It’s useful to refer back to his first game Kidnapped as well, as this runs roughly the same gimmick: a set of linked mini-adventures where each part is almost entirely separate.

It is based, as noted in the ad copy, off the “classic novel” of Jules Verne, the one where the ever-punctual Phileas Fogg makes a bet he can circumnavigate the globe in a mere 80 days.

The game doesn’t have you play as Fogg. It has you play as someone bragging they can do better.

Note the “exclusive men’s club” line, that will be important later.

Off you go, with a “Days” counter in the upper right that goes bizarrely fast while in towns and slow while traveling. Just getting out of the initial club and heading north to a “haberdashery store” eats up one day, buying an overcoat and using it to help a “lady in distress” takes most of another day (it says “day 2” below, but moving one more room changes the time to “day 3”).

Not doing this results in the “lady in distress” going “stop, balloon thief!” when trying to leave in the vehicle we are about to use. I’m guessing this is weird the slightly unsettling “cover art” comes from — perhaps the artist played the game, but only the first few turns up to that point, and decided that’s what they wanted to draw.

Nevermind: we’ll call the time acceleration a sort of abstraction, just like sailing across the entire Pacific in a handful of commands while playing Sleazy Adventure. The time limit is the sort of thing that would normally irk me, but the game is generally easy enough (some parser issues aside) that I didn’t need to worry too much about restarting and optimizing. Each location presents one or two puzzles at most, and objects almost never need to be carried over (that overcoat from above, for instance, you can just leave in the puddle).

Moving on, there’s a hot air balloon conveniently ready for takeoff; we can jump in, drop some ballast, and fly our way to Spain.

Specficially, we land near a desert, which means we’re somewhere in the south, despite the game claiming we’re in Barcelona.

Barcelona and the Tabernas desert north of Almería.

There’s little there except for the “dead pelican” and our “wrecked balloon” where we landed, a magnifying glass, and a “starving man”. This puzzle had a slight bit of interest because the pelican first seemed like scenery to justify the balloon crash, but it was an integral part of the puzzle.

Although COOK PELICAN took a while; I tried many permutations of PUT GLASS and MAKE HEAT and so forth.

Here’s the entirety of our visit to Marseille, France:

Again, I should emphasize, just like with Kidnapped, that the tiny-map gimmick really does work well — there’s not a lot of fiddly backtracking and even the parser issues that I had didn’t last terribly long because there wasn’t anything else to waste time with. (That is, if I fail to do a command enough times on an open-map game, I’m more likely to think I’m just barking up the wrong tree and veer off early.)

With France, the initial dilemma is a “bunch of knife-wielding punks” that start chasing the player. The left side of the map above shows you can just keep going in an endless loop, but in reality there’s no drama — you can hang around and wait and the punks never get you, they just prevent you from entering a train station. The correct answer is to find a DETOUR SIGN that you can turn to face the wrong direction.

Punks take your bait
and tumble down the cliff

Is our protagonist Bugs Bunny? That would explain the cocky attitude at the start.

In the train station you find out the train is leaving in 14 hours, so like a normal well-adjusted cartoon rabbit, or possibly human being, you take a ladder to a nearby clock and move the hands so it appears 14 hours have passed, because clearly will notice it is daytime but not nighttime just by the sun.

(You can just WAIT if you want. This works! Changing the clock is an alternate solution that loses a little less time. You can still be well within 80 days even if you don’t solve the puzzle.)

Next comes a visit to Italy, where a piece of cheese needs to be dropped in front of a woman who is blocking your way and a mouse who has been scurrying around frightens her off.

Then it’s time to hop a steamship all the way to Bombay, India, where the train station for the next hop is right next the dock.

The situation above is another “optional puzzle” — you can just WAIT and make it through, simply losing five days. Alternately, you can take a shortcut heading north through the Taj Mahal:

There hasn’t been a good track record in the adventures we’ve seen of depictions of Asians, and this game isn’t going to be breaking the mold. Nothing like this happens in the book.

The spear can be combined with a rope to make a zip line of sorts from a high window of the Taj Mahal down to a place past the workmen in order to get in the train station.

The train is stopped and not running (for admittedly logical reasons, since nobody can get into the station) but you can feed coal into the furnace yourself and get it started. (You have to first open the furnace before you can GET COAL, otherwise you get a “you can’t get that” type of error, which had me befuddled for a while; again, the super-minimal map saved the road bump into become too onerous to get past.)

There’s a delay as each destination gets displayed, so it does convey a tactile sense of movement.

Next stop: somewhere. The train tracks end at a jungle. Not far in is an elephant pasture, and you can use a peanut (grabbed from a helpful peanut vendor on the train) to befriend and ride it.

The elephant stops further on in the jungle. Nearby there is a sacrifice being prepared.

This was in the book, approximately — it was regarding the practice of sati, where a widow sacrifices herself on her husband’s funeral pyre. There is an “unwilling” widow to be sacrificed, and the British talk in a very 19th-century-British-Empire way about it.

“These sacrifices do not occur in the larger portion of India,” replied Sir Francis; “but we have no power over these savage territories, and especially here in Bundelcund. The whole district north of the Vindhias is the theatre of incessant murders and pillage.”

A rescue happens in both the book and the game; for the game, we take our trusty elephant to a nearby lake, have it fill its trunk with water, then return to the fire:

After the rescue, we reach the game’s only nasty trick, at Ahmadabad. The elephant stop just west of a train station, where a sign says to “leave elephants here”. If you just go in the station, you get arrested; you need to go back, climb back on the elephant, RIDE ELEPHANT one more time, and then get off so the elephant is in the same “room” as the sign. I admit I originally thought the sign was just not to take elephants into the train station, which is logical enough.

Upon the train and passing through multiple stops, you arrive in Calcutta:

I admit I thought I was stuck, and thought the steamship departing already was a signal I took too many days before. However, just like the knife-wielding French, this is a “frozen in time” moment where you’re simply just supposed to JUMP.

The steamship then takes you (and the princess, who is still with you) to San Francisco, where no problems at all arise and perhaps the author was running out of puzzle ideas or disk space or just wanted the game to be over. Hopping on a train does result in one more odd puzzle:

You can GET TINKERBELL who sprinkles pixie dust on you and then FLY, and suddenly we’re in a crossover novel for some reason. Then there’s a handcar, where I hope you haven’t dropped the princess off yet (it just says you can’t go on with no clarification if you left her behind, but it’s clearly the kind operated by two people):

In New York there’s a steamship back to London and … victory? If you try to go back in the Reform Club, you are rebuffed:

Cromwell says, ‘Sorry, no admittance!’

I said at the very beginning the men’s-only club would be important. It is now. You have to DROP PRINCESS to be able to go in.

Cromwell: kind of a jerk. Not only the men-only thing, but him not giving the reason why we couldn’t walk in the Club and win at the end.

Issues I’ve mentioned aside, this ended up being one of the stronger of the Kirsch games. Many of the works from this era that fell down did so because they tried to be difficult yet the parser couldn’t handle it; here, the parser wasn’t any stronger, but the game itself stuck to simple enough structure both in map and puzzles that it was solvable.

I was also impressed by the optional “pass time to skip a puzzle” mechanic. I haven’t studied the source closely to work out if it happens more than once, but based on the finale message above, there’s a little wiggle room to sacrifice days in order to use that feature. It isn’t quite the very first instance of being able to skip puzzles (Acheton didn’t require you find every treasure, for instance) but it’s the first instance I’ve seen where the mechanism for doing so was very natural and intuitive.

Still not going to hang out in the post-game with those jerks at the Reform Club, though.

Posted July 2, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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