Hamil (1982)   16 comments

The mathematicians of Cambridge have been a rich source of brutally hard games as written on their local IBM mainframe, including:

Acheton (1978)
Brand X / Philosopher’s Quest (1979)
Quondam (1980)
Hezarin (1981)

They formed their own ecosystem of sorts, where none of the games were yet visible to the commercial public. The were only played by the small group of mathematicians making them in the first place. 1982 is the year that self-containment changes, with works starting to be published by local company Acornsoft.

1982 was also the year that Johnathan R. Partington (who worked on Acheton) went on a prolific streak with three games in one year: Avon, Murdac, and our choice for today, Hamil.

This game is allegedly easier than the cranium-crushing puzzle-fests of the prior games, but given this is being assessed relative to the hardest quartet of adventures I’ve ever seen, “easier” might mean still on the medium-tough side.

Image from the Acornsoft version of the game, via Every Game Going.

While I’ll be sharing some images of commercial versions (the one by Acornsoft I’ve already mentioned, and one published later by Topologika) I’m playing the direct port of the mainframe version as ported into z-code. (Here’s a link for direct on-line play.) The major obvious difference between the earlier mainframe version and the commercial versions is in the intro, which in the original is short and enigmatic…

You have discovered that the outside world is dangerous. Pursued for many days and nights by hordes of hostile beings, you have arrived, breathless, at a sanctuary. It seems that you are trapped, as it would be foolhardy to venture outside again. However, there may be more to this place than you think…

You are at the western end of a primitive stone chapel. Light streams in through the windows, which are set high above your reach in the entirely featureless walls of the building. A plain arch leads northwards to the world outside which, as you know from experience, is extremely hostile.

…but the intro is rather elongated in the commercial versions, primarily to note that while you are the “rightful heir” of Hamil, and that “you have only just discovered your birthright.”

Silly things like “motivation” and “plot”, bah. Here, I like the enigma more. You start in a small, three room church, with just a bicycle lamp, a rod, and an ancient piece of steak (?) to keep you company.

You are in the middle of the chapel.
There is an extremely heavy stone slab set into the floor here.
It bears the name O’GRAM.

Knowing what I was up against, I went straight for my “try all the verbs off my standard list” method.

SHAKE and FISH seem to be referring to nouns, not verbs, but I marked them down anyway.

This was productive right from the start because (referring back to the O’GRAM slab) while you can’t GET SLAB, PUSH SLAB, PULL SLAB, MOVE SLAB, or HIT SLAB, you can LIFT or RAISE it. This is one of those “yes, I can see why you’d logically only take those two verbs, but you should still acknowledge the other ones” sort of moments.

You succeed in prising the slab from the ground with the aid of the metal rod. A flight of steps beneath is revealed, and you therefore prop the slab up with the rod, leaving a gap through which you should just be able to squeeze.

Going down leads to the rod snapping and the slab closing shut, leaving you underground in the world of Hamil.

A most definitely incomplete map in progress. Starting room marked on top, the “hub” is the marked oval.

The design reminds me of Acheton, with a hub of sorts that branches into a plethora of relatively self-contained areas. (The hub room itself contains a magic wand, which we’ll get back to later.) The overall effect is sometimes akin to a “jukebox” puzzle game like The 7th Guest where an area is self-contained and exists primarily to dispense a treasure. (Oh yes: just like all the other four games, there’s treasures, although it is unclear yet what happens to them. I would assume if you gather them you’ve proved your heirdom, hurray, but I don’t know for certain.)

Here’s three puzzles I’ve solved as examples:

The simplest maze to start. The game intentionally forces you to ditch your inventory.

As you leave the room there is a violent earth tremor and a mighty rushing wind, which between them force you to drop all your possessions. Moreover a large rock falls, narrowly missing you and cutting off the way you came in.

You are in the Maze of Hamil. Light streams in through many gaps in the rocks. There is the constant sound of rockfalls, distant and not-so-distant.

The gimmick here is that there’s coins in each of the rooms, and you need to visit all of them before the end room (which I have marked as “fares please”). As you leave a room it gets destroyed, so you have to create your path to visit all the rooms before the exit.

You are in a small valley surrounded by unclimbable rocks. The only exit, to the west, is blocked. A mighty voice intones “FARES PLEASE!”

The whole purpose of this is to get a Crown of Hamil, a treasure marked with an exclamation mark (!).

You are in the Quaternion room. On the wall is scribbled a selection of obscure algebraic formulae, none of which seem particularly relevant at this juncture. There is a narrow exit to the south.
The ancient crown of the Kings of Hamil is here!

This one’s not hard once you realize the premise, but a second area that has a similar premise but ramps up the difficulty.

To get to the Lost World zone, you have to go back a sleeping T-Rex who then wakes up and starts chasing you.

As you pass the Tyrannosaurus, it stirs uneasily and then wakes, stands up and begins lumbering towards you. You run through the exit and find yourself on the slopes of the Lost World – a vast plateau criss-crossed by a network of boulder-strewn paths and populated by beings long thought extinct. From this point it is also possible to descend to the centre of the plateau, from which a large flock of pterodactyls is taking off in perfect formation. Meanwhile, the Tyrannosaurus is still galumphing towards you, having already caused a small avalanche which has blocked the path back into its cave.

There’s a specific number of pterodactyls taking off, and the idea is to kill enough time so that when you enter the center, it is pterodactyl-free. This means getting chased as long as possible, but this time the paths get filled up by earthquakes, not the rooms.

The T.R. follows, causing an avalanche to block the path you took.
You are in the Lost World.
A Tyrannosaurus Rex is lumbering towards you.

So our goal ends up being to visit every single path and return back to the center. In mathematician lingo the first puzzle is is a Hamiltonian path (visit all the rooms) and the second puzzle is a Eulerian path (visit all the edges connecting rooms). And yes, the name “Hamil” of the game does not seem to be coincidence.

Realizing the gimmick took longer than the solve, but still, this felt very much in The 7th Guest zone, of basically using the rooms like a giant board game with its own rules as opposed to being “in the universe” of the adventuring world.

Not like there still isn’t normal adventuring things — while you get a bust of Conan Doyle as a reward for solving this puzzle, you also get a whistle which helps solve a side puzzle off the hub.

You are in a small room which is furnished as a living room, though evidently for an inhuman being, to judge from the designs on the walls. These depict different ways of cooking human flesh. I hope you have more taste.
There is an antique silver goblet here!
There is an old lady here, sitting on a rock. Even in this light, there appears to be something odd about her.
> BLOW WHISTLE
Phthui!
An enormous alsatian appears, snarling and foaming at the mouth. It is about to set on you but sees the old lady as a worthier opponent and fights a fierce battle with her, eventually tearing her limb from limb. It then slopes off, exhausted.

There is an antique silver goblet here!
The mangled remains of an elderly female hobgoblin are here.

For the third area, it is a more “traditional” maze, and the old ultra-evil of the prior Phoenix games surfaces.

Specifically: going in any “wrong” directions results in meeting an enemy, like a dwarf with an axe, or a mummy. You then have a turn to react, followed by death.

You are in the labyrinth.
> N
You are in the labyrinth.
There is a mummy here, shambling towards you.
> KILL MUMMY
The mummy throttles you to death.

Oh dear! You seem to have passed away.
You scored 53 points out of a maximum of 300.
Do you want another game, oh heroic one?

It appears the majority of the enemies are entirely unkillable, and you’ll notice the pattern is to have two exits per maze room — you can drop items and do relatively speaking the normal mapping, except for having to die repeatedly as you test exits. (Also, the game disables saves while in the maze; fortunately you can drop items to help map it out, pop back out to save, then go back in again and nothing has happened to the dropped items.)

Where I got puzzled was the last room, which appeared to be a dead end — you could enter, but every exit had monsters, including a “kobold” which weren’t in prior exits. I vaguely suspected the usual pattern was being thrown off here, so I experimented with trying to kill the kobold, and notably using the wand:

> E
You are in the labyrinth.
There is an angry kobold here.
> WAVE WAND
The kobold suddenly shows signs of terror and runs away from you at top speed!

Yes, despite all the other enemies being unkillable (probably) there’s one that isn’t, and there’s also no indication that this is the wand effect in particular and the only way to find out is to test the wand. While I did technically solve the puzzle about the best way one could (I had nothing resembling an offensive weapon, so honestly the wand was the only thing that occurred to me as a possible solution) I can still mark this moment as thoroughly, unrepentantly evil.

The reward for solving the puzzle is a golden crozier which may end up not being useful (other than for stashing in some room I haven’t found yet).

A crozier is a staff with a curved end, like the one shown. From the British Museum, licensed as CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.

I’ve only prodded lightly at other areas, like a museum that has a statue of Michelangelo’s that is marked as a treasure but is too big to carry, and some woods with a mysterious location that temporarily puts you to sleep, so I’ll write about them next time when I have a better grasp of what’s going on.

Posted April 13, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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16 responses to “Hamil (1982)

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  1. I was guessing that the slab is a tel o’gram, but it seems that a tel is more of a mound than a slab.

  2. Reading the runes on the wand gives a clue that it gets rid of the kobold

  3. Should you be interested Jason I have put a completed map up on CASA recently.

    I find it interesting how you I can become “tuned-in” to a particular author’s mindset which helps me solve puzzles which I would otherwise have struggled with, much like identifying the compilers of cryptic crosswords in daily newspapers. Both Dr. Partington and fellow Cambridge alumnus Peter Killworth were masters of the chaining puzzle. The set piece with the Vampire and in particular the Snark in this game are two such examples.

    By the way the “Enchanted Maize” later on is a real stinker but I agree that this particular game from the Phoenix stable is a little less hair tearing. Like being hit around with the head with a piece of steak rather than the frying pan.

    The first four games, namely Acheton, Brand X, Hezarin and Quondam are really tough, as are Fyleet and Xeno from 1985 and 1989 respectively.

  4. SHAKE and FISH seem to be referring to nouns

    FISH makes sense, but SHAKE? Like a milkshake…?

  5. The only other noun usage I could think of was for a shake (wooden tile) roof, and I should have thought of “handshake” but it seems kind of unlikely to need to refer to a shake as a noun in that sense here. But the dictionary tells me a shake can refer to a crack or fissure in the earth, as one caused by an earthquake.

  6. Additional info about a mathematical in-joke: Hamiltonian paths are named after the Irish mathematician William Rowan Hamilton, who also invented quaternions, a sort of 3D version of complex numbers.
    I notice you haven’t mentioned the weasel that gets you if you stay in one place for too long – is it not in the original version? I’ve only played the BBC Micro Acornsoft version.

  7. Good to see that these ancient games are still being played (but don’t ask me for hints as I have forgotten most of the details).
    David Seal and John Thackray wrote the first version of Acheton, and I was the first to solve it; then I collaborated with them and doubled the size to the present version. I did solve Brand X and Quondam (with hints from the authors), but could never finish the Phoenix version of Hezarin.
    The complete list of Phoenix games at
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoenix_(computer)#Games
    seems to be correct.

    • I’m a fan of the game so far! My next update should be sometime this weekend.

      Don’t worry, not planning on asking for hints. Although I did want to know, do you happen to remember the order you wrote Avon, Murdac, and Hamil in?

      I did finish Hezarin and it was ludicrously hard (you might like reading my playthrough).

    • I took forever and a day to finish Hezarin Jonathan but finally managed after about 25 years on and off. I am currently enjoying Fyleet and working out the logistical problem with the sunglasses, heart and mummified toe. Excellent work if I may say so although the rabbit warren maze is melting my brain at the moment as well.

  8. Hamil was the first, then Murdac and Avon in that order, all written using the Seal-Thackray language in 1982. I remember that having people willing to play them on the Cambridge computer helped a lot with debugging and other improvements. Then a year or two later Peter Killworth produced commercial versions for the BBC Micro using his own language, along with several games of his own.

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