Zodiac: Elementary Gifts   5 comments

I was deeply already in research on the TI-99/4A computer, thinking I had left Zodiac behind for now, but of course, one of my hardy commenters (Voltgloss) decided to take up the gauntlet I left behind and figure out the rest. As usual for my victory posts, the rest of them are needed for context.

Pretty sure this is actually a tape for “Adventure I”, Death Satellite (as opposed to “Adventure II”), but given it is torn off right at the number it is hard to know for sure. Via Every Game Going.

So the most helpful hint Voltgloss gave was his giving the item list for entering the final section of the game (drinking the potion and entering the ice palace) which included the ring. I had indeed brought the ring (since it is worn it doesn’t take up inventory) but was still trying to rub it and had no luck, but for some reason it hadn’t occurred to me to take it off and try to GIVE it, even though I tried to GIVE all my other items.

Oho! Here I’m guessing most players found out that the door behind the guard is locked, and the key they most likely left behind was in fact still useful, so another reset it is. (I was forewarned — again, I had the item list — so I had the key already.)

A brief aside on the restarts: I think it is safe to say there was strong assumption at the time the final run at the game would be more a choreographed set of moves, rather than a coherent single-run story. This isn’t as alien as you might think; a lot of the time-loop games of current-vogue run on this principle, and from what I’ve heard, the “final run” on Outer Wilds requires a pretty exact run of this sort. The difference is that Outer Wilds has lots of modern conveniences and things to explore and unlock, and Zodiac is on an Atom with miniscule memory space. If it had some of those time-loop affordances it would be better regarded by modern players (not even a regular save game, but one that let you get very specific about where you wanted to jump on a whole timeline, or maybe the major feature of Hadean Lands that I don’t want to spoil for anyone who hasn’t played it).

…ok, we’re back from our theoretical didn’t-know-about-the-key restart.

I like “TREASURE LITTERS THE FLOORS” as a complete room description. “LITTERS” as in so prolific it is akin to trash, and “FLOORS” plural, giving a subtle sense of scale. Minimalism can feel like elegant poetry sometimes and not just awkward.

The gold let me bribe Sagittarius, who then let me take his bow. I’ll just spoil right now, although I didn’t work it out the first time, you can WEAR the bow, which is essential for inventory wrangling.

Then I had the not-bottomless-pit to deal with, and for whatever reason I came across a solution swiftly (I think, again, knowing my item restrictions was the answer; I knew there wasn’t a new spell from the spellbook I had to extract somehow, or weirdness involving plunging the axe into a wall and hanging off of it, or any other manner of strange object interactions.) I had typed HELP earlier and got


which would suggest, in most games, this is a command to let you know there are no built-in hints. But it suggested to me, especially in the mindset of this game, that there was, in fact, someone who could help elsewhere. Typing HELP while falling into the pit led to a giant hand scooping me up and dropping me into the next room, with a polar bear.

The final section of the game.

The polar bear was easy to fell with the bow, and then it was on to the final zodiac room, Capricorn.

I quickly realized — especially holding onto, still, the box filled with earth — that this meant the four classical elements. A crystal ball from the ice palace could count for air, and the torch I still clung to counted for fire, but what about water? The only item I had never used was a useless empty urn I’d been toting around most of the game which broke whenever I tried to DROP it. Where could I get water?

(This is the kind of brilliant part. You may want to read back over my previous posts before I go on and try to work it out.)

Way back, way way back, near the start, where I melted ice to get at a ring! This had the only water in the game. Unfortunately, DROPping the urn there was still impossible, and my attempt to soften the area via dropping some earth (akin to the pillow in Crowther/Woods Adventure) was no use. Fortunately, Voltgloss had also posted a walkthrough, so I poked inside to find out…

…that LEAVE URN somehow parses to SET URN DOWN GENTLY. Argh! Now, I remember back when first encountering the breakable vase in Crowther/Woods Adventure “if only could convey a way to set the urn down carefully” but blithely went on from there. LEAVE I guess means … you know, I have no idea how it would imply a different kind of drop. Is this some UK terminology thing I’m missing?

With all four elements in hand, I was able to finally stride past the final obstacle into victory.

One of the contemporary reviews of this gives it higher marks than Death Satellite, in the sense that nothing is wasted. I can see the perspective here. If you’re treating the adventure game as a puzzle box, this feels like a complete package, like a crossword without ungainly symmetries. It certainly fails more as a narrative, but that certainly wasn’t the point, and I gather for a fair amount of the UK market, having been weaned on the British form of the crossword and the like, they were more accepting of this sort of structure.

I will add this game has made me nervous about covering any games more “in brief”. At first appearances this game struck me as unremarkable, and here I am on my third post and (combined) roughly at 3000 words. Surely I’ll get some absolutely mundane games in my future though, yes? My next game, as hinted at earlier, will be my first foray into the world of Texas Instruments (and a solo author who cranked a total of six games out in one year) which is marked “beginner”. I intentionally wanted an easy game because the game I have earmarked for the place after is (in addition to being hotly anticipated by my readers) legendary for being both difficult and very, very, very, very, very, long.

Posted January 3, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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5 responses to “Zodiac: Elementary Gifts

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  1. That urn vocabulary issue is a tricky one… because DROP, even though it became ubiquitous, does imply “letting fall to the ground” with no regard for the object; rather than the more careful placing of the (less common in British adventures) alternative command PUT. (Maybe that’s a point for those weirdos who argue TAKE/PUT should be the standard rather than GET/DROP :-) )

    I’d certainly be happier with the LEAVE as a solution to that puzzle if PUT or PLACE were also acceptable synonyms, but I’m guessing they’re probably not.

    (Also… believe me, you’ll find plenty of games coming up in the next couple of years that you’ll be happy to cover in brief! Although I’m glad this one took three posts… it’s a very neat concept on a two of the more obscure British computers. A couple of games have used the zodiac theme… there’s certainly plenty of scope for fitting in puzzles linked to the different astrological signs)

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