The Hermit’s Secret: The Undergrounds   14 comments

In addition to being a member of a science fiction club, Dian Girard wrote books and stories herself.

This is from a 1974 volume where authors were asked to write stories predicting the future of 2020.

She published a number of short stories earlier in her life (including one from the collection above) and a story entitled Invisible Encounter from a 1982 collection (the year of this game). She later wrote a set of sci-fi/comedy books. Here’s the description from Hypneratomachia (2009):

Hard on the heels of the side-splitting, hair-raising bestseller Tetragravitron, comes an all new adventure of Captain Spycer, that voluptuous, redheaded, space heroine, and her trusty crew–robot Peter Decade, scaly red Col. Krabchake, lewd and lecherous Prof. Groppe, and that wide-eyed innocent Brian Lefarge–are off to save the universe in their cosmic-powered ship. In this new challenge, our stalwart crew is looking for the evil masterminds behind some mysterious force that sucks the power out of stars, leaving their satellites frigid and lifeless.

As you might have guessed, they also lean on the bawdy side, making it possible that the mysterious unnamed sixth game she wrote is the infamous Granny’s Place, also published by Temple Software and using the same system as the other games. We’re save worrying about that for a future day and dive back into the underground world of The Hermit’s Secret.

My actual gameplay of late has not felt like narrative, but not like puzzle either. I’m not sure a good analogy, but let me describe in two ways:

a.) you’ve figured out how to map “standard” mazes in adventure games before, and drop a bunch of objects and fill in spots; there are no twists. You aren’t really doing a puzzle, and it certainly doesn’t come off as some kind of narrative: maybe an “activity”?

b.) you’re writing a research paper about genealogy. You are studying various family trees and following them back and finding connections. This isn’t a puzzle, really, but it certainly isn’t a narrative, even though there’s an “implied narrative” in the process of parents having children. It’s not drudgery and perhaps even kind of interesting.

My gameplay in the last few days have been a little from columns a and b. Even though there’s been a puzzle or two, they’ve been quick solves, and really, all I’ve been doing is taking the three distinct underground maps and trying to merge them together. (Kind of four, but the sequence I figured things out led me to already know how something was connected the moment I found it.)

To explain, let me first update the meta-map from last time:

Now there are four entrances to the underground, all marked as shown. The “silo” was next to the barn, and I thought it might be an isolated puzzle when I found it (that is, getting in would lead to a single room but no extra exits or geography):

You’re standing in front of a large tall stone silo.
There is a small black box by the door. It seems to be a voice print lock of some sort. Paths lead in most directions.

I found out how to get in by wandering the “bureaucracy area” from last time. One room has a tape; another, a tape machine, and in yet another, a presentation room with a button. Spooling in the tape and pressing the button gets a curious message I still haven’t fully deciphered:

This is a large control room. There are big switches and even bigger machines all around you. Exits go south and east.

There is a glowing white button in front of a display screen. The screen says “ACCESS RESTRICTED – CONFIDENTIAL” and has a list of words: CURTAIN WATERFALL DAVE SHACK REMEMBER MEADOW.

“Dave” seemed like a distinctive word. If you go in the underground through the shack (which I’ll go into detail on later) there is a sign from “Dave” talking about claim jumpers being shot, and I suspect he’s supposed to be the hermit of the title. While back out at the silo (I just started a fresh game) I tested each of the words off the list and DAVE hit paydirt.

You are inside the silo door.

A broad curving gray surface fills the room from top to bottom. It is about ten feet in from the outer stone wall of the silo. There seems to be a doorway in it some distance to the north.

This turns out to be only a few rooms away from the nosecone and the cargo room from last time where all the treasures go. This makes it really convenient to use the treasure stash and pop from there either back outside (with the DAVE word) or inside (through the bureaucracy area).

In case you’re curious, here’s my current latest haul, although there’s a bracelet and fossil I know I haven’t bothered to tote back yet. (Also, there’s still a glass treasure that shatters; it is possible the rug is soft enough to absorb it? I also found a fur muff at the end of my last session that might work to keep it from breaking.)

There is a lovely emerald here.
There is a wonderful little jeweled airplane here.
A magnificent diamond is gleaming by your feet.
A valuable erotic etching has been left here.
An expensive ruby necklace is lying here.
A very valuable stamp is lying here.
There’s a beautiful — and expensive — gold ring here.
There’s a nice persian rug on the floor.
There’s a big bar of silver here.

Despite the list building nicely, I feel like there’s a lot of map to go. Before I start showing off pictures, I want to explain that any “corner mark” that you see represents a room where I’ve tested exits. That is, I didn’t just trust the text (or at least my own reading skills) to put which directions I could go, but did every possible direction possible to see which would work. The game is generally good about listing directions but I did have one spot (in what I’m calling the “third underground”) with a “secret exit”:

You are standing by an immense stone idol. The fantastically carved vaults of an ancient temple stretch out to the south.

Sorry, there’s no way to get through in that direction.
You are standing by the Great Idol.

Sorry, there’s no way to get through in that direction.
You are standing by the Great Idol.

You have found a secret staircase. Dark openings lead north and northwest from here.

Perhaps the author only put one, but the presence of one (and my own downfall of forgetting to mark exits) made me check all of them, and there were a few that were only vaguely described which I might have otherwise not have gotten.

Having gotten that out of the way, let’s finish off the bureaucracy section:

Other notable locations include a “cage room” with a mongoose which you are able to pick up assuming you have an animal cage from elsewhere (one of the other “undergrounds”)…

You’re in some kind of animal care center. Empty cages, their doors hanging ajar, line the walls. Some of them are small, and others are disturbingly large.

A pretty little cream-colored animal with a bushy tail is sitting on the floor, looking at you.

…a “map room” which is clearly meant as a meta joke…

You are in a large room full of charts and graphs. Corridors lead north and south from here.

A large map completely covers the west wall.

Well, it’s sort of hard to describe. It has a lot of little boxes on it, connected by lines, with names like “Steep Path,” “Grassy Meadow,” “Rocky Tunnel,” and so on. Very odd, really.

…a room with buttons where I am unable to refer to any of the buttons…

You are in the Check Room.

There is a large panel in the west wall. It is firmly shut.
Next to the panel are ten buttons labeled 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9.

…some minutae like a rec room and lounge which make the life of the dungeon keeper feel black and dreary…

You are in the employee lounge. There are chairs and tables, a small microwave, and all the usual things.
Exits lead north, south, and east.

You have reached the recreation room. There are some old ping pong tables here, and a dartboard without any darts.
There is a doorway north of you.

…and a robot blocking passage to the south. I have a theory on how to get by but I haven’t had time to test it yet.

You are in a large paneled east-west hall. It’s quite fancy, with carpet on the floor and indirect lighting.

A huge, heavily built robot rolls menacingly around the room, sensors blinking, and refuses to let you pass.

Importantly, on the other side of the robot is one of the other undergrounds, the one reached by entering from the shack.

This second underground is enterable from the shack guarded by the thirsty dog — this is where the warning sign from “Dave” appears.

You are at the entrance to an old gold mine. A dark rocky tunnel leads off to the south, and there is a ladder going up to some higher level.

There is a notice nailed up one one wall.

“Claim jumpers will be shot on sight. This means you!”
It’s signed by someone named “Dave.”

Oddly, enough, there’s a heavy gong in one location. It is to the south of an unsteady bridge where the game specifically calls out a weight limit, and to the north there’s a hint that a gong is needed in a particular place:

This is a lovely little room that looks like some kind of beautiful luminous blue jewel inside. A narrow opening heads off to the northeast, and a smooth path leads upward.

There is a message scrawled on the stones. The walls shine with a lovely irridescent glow.

Some demented person has scrawled on the floor “Bongo, Bongo, Bongo, I Don’t Wanna Let The Gong Go.”

This suggests to me that the gong needs to go up out of the Gold Mine Underground and back through the Bureaucracy Underground in order to fulfill its destiny (which requires beating the robot).

There’s otherwise simply a lot of geography to trudge through, leading down to a very curious “memory room”, which feels like it came out of a Phoenix mainframe game (and I also have no idea what to do with it):

You are in a small, many-sided room. There is an obvious exit to the northeast. Some roughly carved letters on the south wall say “DEARIE, DO YOU REMEMBER?”

I should finally mention there’s got to be another link between the second and first undergrounds, as there’s a button room that’s a clone of the previous one I mentioned (“ten buttons labeled 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9.”) I would suspect an elevator but the game doesn’t even recognize the noun “button” so I’m at a loss as to how to operate it.

The third underground (which I’ll term The Gnomish Underground Empire) comes beneath a air control tower at an airfield.

The Gnome Dungeon represents a maze of some kind which I think has randomization, so I’m likely just going to save mapping it for when I’m desperate; sometimes it connects to the “Gnome King’s Dungeon” which I have placed below it.

I haven’t been able to connect this one up, although I assume there’s a link somewhere.

Also present is the “secret stair” I referenced earlier; it leads to a “still room”, and testing one of the directions there gave a unique response indicating there’s a secret passage somehow.

Tree roots have grown down into this room, piercing the ceiling and walls until it looks like a forest inside. There are exits leading north and west.

You are in a neat square room with an odd device in the middle of the floor. It has a big metal container, some copper tubing, and smells like something gone sour.

The only visible exit goes south.

You bruise your head painfully on the rock wall.

Again, there isn’t so much “obstacles” as much as “stuff I haven’t finished mapping yet”; there is one abyss I can’t get across, but the room description suggests I’ll reach the other side from some other route rather than finding a way across as if it were a puzzle.

You are at the west end of a gigantic cavern. The towering walls remind you of some sort of gothic cathedral, and your eyes peer vainly upward in an effort to see the ceiling. Faint wisps of mist eddy around you like lost souls. A narrow opening leads southwest, and the cavern stretches out to the east, where a bottomless abyss crosses the floor.

The abyss effectively blocks you from crossing the cavern.

I have intuition I’m closing in on the “exploration stopping point” — where I’m doing finding new rooms just by virtue of wandering and now need to look hard at what puzzles remain and what objects I have access to and start finishing the game. Every time I look there’s been a new area, so I’m not going to bet on it; the author was clearly fond of the “imaginary landscape” portion of Adventure (terminology she uses in the PC Mag article) and since she didn’t have her notions filtered through the technical limitations of Scott Adams TRS-80 games, she kept to the same hundreds-of-rooms mentality as original Adventure without compromise.

Girard’s story The Nothing Spot first appeared in this 1978 issue of Galaxy. From the International Science Fiction Database.

Posted May 5, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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14 responses to “The Hermit’s Secret: The Undergrounds

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  1. for the buttons, does just going “press 2” work?

    • It just says “press what?” or “push what?” if you type it that way.

    • btw, the only other helpful-ish message comes from just trying to go west:

      The west wall DOES look like it might open, but you have to know the right combination to get through it.

      My guess is the only understood “word” is the full number combination, which is why the game is throwing fits. I’m not going to sweat it until I reach the point where I have what I think is the combination, and then if that doesn’t work I’ll start to be worried.

  2. Captain Spycer, that voluptuous, redheaded, space heroine, and her trusty crew–robot Peter Decade, scaly red Col. Krabchake, lewd and lecherous Prof. Groppe, and that wide-eyed innocent Brian Lefarge

    Is it just me, or does this sound vaguely like the crew in Futurama? Leela, Bender, Zoidberg…

    • They were written after, so it’s certainly possible — I’ve only read the sample up to where Google Books stopped and I didn’t catch any specific references.

  3. Talking about the buttons, what about being explicit to the letter? “push button number 2”

  4. What about being less explicit on the buttons, like “enter 6789”?

    (btw I think there’s still a Girard/Gerard mixup)

    also, what if you try “meadow” or “remember meadow” in the memory room?

  5. Looking at 2020 vision it seems as though nobody landed on “Forced into seclusion by a mysterious virus, people communicate through two-way television sets.”

    • No editor would have accepted something so cliche.

    • I’ll copy and paste Robin Rowland’s summation of Dian’s contribution here:

      “Dian Gerard’s “Eat, Drink and Be Merry” is perhaps a bit prescient about the post 2020 world. Imagine if Amazon takes over the government and becomes a sort of (to use one of the nasty Margaret Thatcher’s favourite phrases) a “nanny state”. You can do all the online shopping you want or go to computer controlled bricks and mortar stores without human staff — as long as the algorithm allows you to make the purchases. An Alexa monitors your life. Cheryl misses McDonalds and KFC which have disappeared. The system which knows her profile and has imposed a diet to make her lose weight until after a mandatory medical check, the algorithm, now knowing Cheryl is pregnant, changes its mind and allows her ice cream to increase her uptake of calcium.”

  6. I stumbled into an interesting Youtube channel with a similar theme to yours, I presume it escaped my attention because it’s in French. It’s called “La Quête des RPG”. I’m about to be beset by the vagaries of Google translate for the captions.

    • Nice! The Crpg Addict speaks French fairly well so I’m sure he’d like to see it.

      Dunno how Oldorf’s Revenge got on there, probably someone silly at Mobygames tagged CRPG since it has a “party”.

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