Quest: High Noon with Billy the Gnome   38 comments

I’ve tried to play up to a point where I feel like I’ve “colored” in a lot of the edges but the game keeps going and going. I’m just going to highlight a few events just to give you a sense of what I’m up against.

From Resurrection: The Bulletin of the Computer Conservation Society. The System 25 was ICL’s followup to the System 10, which Quest was originally written for.

This game is dense in a way that’s odd to describe. There’s a colorful events and characters and rooms, but for the most part you can’t refer to the world modeling that gets implied and where a good chunk of the text is there for pure scenery. To illustrate what I mean, here’s a bit where I managed to get a lamp:

The door is opened by Bert, wearing a fine red cap and olive green suit. Traditional elf hospitality being what it is, he invites you in. You are now in old Bert’s house. The shelves are lined with all manner of strange artifacts gathered during old Bert’s 357 years of life. “I shall show you some of my more prized possessions later if you like” says old Bert “will you stay to tea?”


Tea is (as always in an elvish household) magnificent. The traditional 27 different courses are all served with the necessary pomp and ceremony. The dishes range from the piquant pickled subterranian mushrooms in oak root sauce to the rare and succulent delicacy of boiled arboron ears in jelly. After tea (which lasts some five hours) Bert takes you through into his back room museum in which his favourite treasures are housed, After browsing, for a pleasant half hour among such rare exhibits as a complete set of coinage from the reign of elf king Zorgat the large, and an autographed copy of the complete works of Cedric Dewdrop, Bert wishes you a fond farewell with a parting gift of a beautiful silver oil lamp with hand painted scenes of the orient on it, You are outside the house of Bert the elf.

You don’t even have a chance to refer to the 27 courses of the coinage or whatnot — this is a scene that just lands the oil lamp in your hands, which you incidentally don’t even have to turn on, it works automatically in previously dark areas.

I wouldn’t say all this extra material is “fluff”, but it can be a little disconcerting compared to one of the Cambridge mainframe games where every ounce of text needs to be pored over as a clue. The game is not afraid to randomly toss you in a “Gnome of Year” Ideal Gnome Show (immediately adjacent to a Dog Show) where you have to pick one of two contestants to win (neither which can be examined or talked to for more detail), and if you make a choice the loser socks you and your score goes down.

You are at “Elves Court” where the annual Ideal Gnome Show is being held. A number of gnomes of all sizes and genders are exhibiting themselves in the hope of being judged “Gnome of the Year”.

The judges however are in a quandary, being unable to decide between two finalists – Basil Wolstegnome and Maria Gnomesick.

As an unbiased outsider, your opinion is sought who do you choose?

Close to this scene — east and down some stairs, although you need the lamp to make it through — there’s a Western town.

You are in what looks like the main street of an old western town. An icy wind is blowing, along the street from the south, sending the odd ball of tumbleweed hurtling past, Above the high pitched shriek of the wind, the sound of piano music can be heard from the saloon to the west. On the building on the east side of the street the sign “sherrif” hangs at a slight angle.

The “sheriff” is asleep and has a gun you can get; as far as I can tell there’s no way to wake the sheriff (the game doesn’t even recognize any related words). You can go into the saloon where you come across Billy the gnome, who starts following you and being aggressive, eventually shooting you to death no matter which way you walk:

You are in a ladies boudoir. The occupant is (unfortunately) not present, but discarded items of clothing scattered here and there tend to indicate that she is in the habit of dressing in the manner of a bygone age (and in rather a hurry !). There are no windows, but the light from a small gas lamp reveals a small bed against the north wall, and a wardrobe against the west wall. The main door is to the east. Standing quietly nearby sneering at you is the tall rugged figure of Billy the gnome, the infamous outlaw. Billy the gnome draws his gun and fires, As you are now dead, would you like to be re-incarnated?

There’s ammo elsewhere for the sheriff’s gun; so you can have a shootout if you like. Unfortunately the game doesn’t let you bring the gun in the saloon where Billy is (even though he has his gun) so I had to leave the gun in the street, run outside after he started chasing, and try to shoot back.

B a n g !!! Unfortunately Billy beat you to the draw. You have been shot in the arm, but I think it should heal. Billy the gnome draws his gun and fires. As you are now dead, would you like to be re-incarnated?

Score: -140

So, things not going terribly well so far. Weirdly, I had an easier time killing a dragon:

You are in a vast, slimy cavern with festoons of phosphorescent moss hanging from the roof. Illuminated in the leprous, green glow, you can see a winding tunnel snaking off to the east, disappearing through the floor is what appears to be a fireman’s pole. To the west is the remains of a brick wall. Leaning against a wall is a dayglo-green dragon with smoke billowing from its mouth, and a strong smell of paraffin.

You can eventually keep trying to shoot it and it will die, but it doesn’t block anything; it just causes a danger if you try to pick up a torch while the dragon is tailing along (“there is a satisfactory loud whoomf!!! and the dragon explodes in a sheet of flame”), if you want to pick up the torch you have to kill it anyway.

I’m still trying to get a grip on the geography — it’s pretty randomly connected — and just as one more thing, past the dragon there’s a river leading up to an ocean, and past the ocean there’s … a German beach?

Sie befinden sich nun am noerdlichen Badestrand im deutschsprachigen Viertel der Hoehle. Die sonnengebraeunten Koerper der faulen Reichen sonnen sich in den Sonnenstrahlen welche durch Loecher in der Hoehlendecke in die Hoeble hinein strahlen, Im westen glitzert der tiefblaue ozean im sonnenlicht, Die hitze schimmert ueber dem heissen sand.

Yes, the game switches to German for that room description, and just that room description. I originally wondered if there was a file corruption or the like, but this was clearly intentional.

I’ll try to wrap the game up into something coherent next time. One more random location for good measure, though, placed in the middle of a cave next to the ocean:

You are in the lounge bar of the Elf club of Great Britain. All around you, a variety of elves, gnomes and other minority groups are having a good time, eating drinking and making merry (who is having a pretty good time also). The door to the west has a sign above it in elfish which you cannot read. The door to the east has the word “exit” above it in 42 different languages (one of them english). Standing in a corner polishing some glasses is the jovial and rotund figure of the club barman.

Posted July 12, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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38 responses to “Quest: High Noon with Billy the Gnome

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  1. Lol, those random asides and diversions have a real Level 9 & Magnetic Scrolls flavour to them.. a distinctly British text adventure feel, with the sort of humour and content that would litter many later professional and amateur games, both big and small.

    (I do love the fact that the German-speaking quarter of the cave has its description in German.)

    [“Elves Court” is a parody of “Earl’s Court”, a very famous London conference and show venue that hosted both the long-running Ideal Home Exhibition and the annual world famous Crufts (Kennel Club) dog show. I’ve not checked the dates to see if they ever actually ran side by side in rea-life… but I imagine their advertising posters probably did.]

    • Figured I had to be missing some references.

      The only reason the German room works is the general lack of interaction, it would be weird having an item you had to pick up described in German but you used English to mess with it.

  2. OK Jason after much fannying about I have managed to get Windows 98 running in DOSBox-X. I am, however, having trouble getting networking to work so that I can copy the Quest program to Windows 98 OS. Did you adjust the dosbox-x .conf file very much?

    • I used a file transfer utility that copies files directly to the Windows 98 disk image. I’ll see if I can just zip up my whole directory and drop it down somewhere so it has Quest pre-installed (it also already has the resolution configured correctly), but it is a rather larger file.

  3. Cheers Jason. I have had no end of trouble trying to get the NE2000 network settings working on my DosBox-X. Windows 98 keeps throwing up dll errors when I attempt to install the relevant files.

  4. How do you choose between Basil and Maria? Is there, like, a “which do you choose” prompt to which you might answer “both”?

  5. Cheers Jason I’ll give it a go.

  6. Cheers; I’m in. I will have a start later today and let you know how I get on…

  7. I have only traversed a handful of locations so far but I am reminded very much of Graham Cluley’s Humbug game. It’s not every effort that offers up a Life Insurance Salesman, a Homicidal Dwarf, a Stuffed Alligator and a Day-Glo Dragon and the Elixir of Life in the first 10 rooms or so.

  8. The scoring in this thing would appear to be pretty random. I always win on the second play of the fruit machine “orange orange orange” every time and my score goes up by 25 points. Likewise any item dropped in the cabin disappears and you score points for it – although I suspect you can easily make the game unwinnable by so doing.

    • The score behavior is decidedly odd. I’m worried there’s some bug to make the game unwinnable. I’m more concerned with finding all the treasures than getting a high score, at least, but there’s always the possibility of missing an endgame that way.

  9. Yes – it almost reminds me of Warp. In the endgame there was a set piece puzzle where you could continually walk backwards and forwards across a maze of squares and increment your score indefinitely if you remember.

  10. After having played so many of the formally elegant and precise Phoenix games recently, where the text and puzzles are as carefully constructed as the privet hedges of a maze, this game is providing a real shock to the system. It’s not every day you murder an eyeless zombie to see it turn into the naked form of a young girl…

  11. Erm…it turns out you shouldn’t kill the zombie…….if you manipulate the right object in the room underneath the Bakerloo Line the girl doesn’t turn into a pile of ashes. At the risk of paying homage to JImmy Savile you can end up back in the Log Cabin with 27000 points to your name. I’ll have whatever they were smoking at the time.

  12. I have stumbled across a place in the jungle which contains a packet of bird seed. You cannot pick it up, although you can eat it! It sometimes vanished when I dropped another object too. This could be a bug (aside from the mosquitoes.)

  13. I’m suspecting the German beach is a joke aimed at the traditional English view of the Germans, coloured of course by the little fact of having fought two World Wars against them. It runs something along the lines of having to leave your towel on the beach overnight to beat the Germans to the best sunbathing spot on the beach, presumably aimed at their cultural conceit of rising very early in the morning. A kind of holiday Blitzkrieg.

  14. I fear I have stumbled across a bug which precludes a successful finish to the game. I have climbed a tall tree (a dinosaur has been on my tail for some time and can even follow me up the tree and through a small door, despite being described as much larger than an elephant) and found a beautiful tropical bird. I am guessing you are supposed to feed the bird seed nearby to it, but I receive the “I’m sure you don’t really mean that” message when I try and take the packet. Unless it is some really obscure puzzle which, given the gonzo nature of the game isn’t completely out of the question. As previously mentioned you can eat the wretched stuff, but the parser doesn’t understand regurgitate or throw up! Unsurprisingly.

  15. Who could forget Stan’s career ending Focke Wulf gag on the Des O’Connor Show? The Focke is behind me…

  16. I have come across a puzzle lifted almost exactly from the original Adventure. I found myself inside a nine room courtyard via the telephone box, with no way out. A full exploration revealed a tin can with a hole in it, a handful of dried grass and a pool of murky water. Against one wall there is a small, unhealthy looking plant that murmurs, “water, water.” I am sure that the solution is obvious to most. However, having climbed the thing it returns to its original weedy size and you can’t go back down. And that dinosaur can even follow me up to the roof of the courtyard. Quite what use it is I don’t know, as you stand a greater than zero chance of being eaten by it each turn. A three hundred point set piece is awarded for completion of the courtyard set piece, bumping me up
    to 27,325 points.

    One thing this game is very big on is teleportals to different places, via the aforementioned telephone box, waving the wand or pushing various buttons. Climbing down from the roof of the courtyard takes the player back to the Enchanted Forest and the homicidal little gnome. With one’s inevitable roaring companion.

  17. Another bug has manifested itself. You have to be carrying the repaired rusty tin can to take the murky water (naturally). However, you can subsequently drop the can and still be carrying the water around with you.

    Also irritating is the fact that any object waved that you are carrying is subsequently eaten by the dinosaur; he is a real omnivore. This precludes using the rod for teleportation purposes. Unfortunately I’m not carrying any poison.

    I have managed to fell the gnome with my torch but I am unsure if he is needed later in the game or not. He too has a greater than zero chance of hitting you over the head with an iron bar and killing when he starts following you about.

  18. I have finally managed to shake off the dinosaur – although as so much in this game I don’t know if he was purely there as an irritant or whether you are supposed to lead him somewhere. At any rate he doesn’t take too kindly to walking downstairs. As with other slain foes his mortal remains have vanished into the ether.

  19. I may be doing something wrong but I can’t manage to pick up the sherriff’s gun. Much as the bird seed was described as “lying in in one corner” the parser responds with “I don’t think you really mean that” when I try to pick it up. I can however load it with the ammunition!

  20. My stars – you have to type CARRY GUN. Why?

    • Yeah, CARRY is mentioned in the instructions. I’ve been using it instead of GET or TAKE even though it does seems like the other two work sometimes.

      The weird thing is this is the sort of erratic programming that I feel like has to be in the original, because it would be harder to add in a port this way. (Some of the other oddities you’ve pointed out may be simple because Visual Basic isn’t the best language to work in.)

      Probably doing my next post on this today, I’ll explain about the princess I rescued that is both there and not there.

  21. It turns out that you can win points by exhibiting the pedigree elvic fox hound at the dog show. Once again I had to “carry hound” and drop it in the appropriate location. It definitely appears that any object described as “lying in a corner” can only be picked up by use of the “carry” command.

  22. I’m not sure about the German location, but I have found an English-French phrase book in the library. Maybe there is a French location somewhere.

  23. I’ve had the game crash out on me. If you attempt to go up or climb the stairs in the Musty Sex Shop the game throws up an “out of range” error and closes down. Hopefully there is nothing up there that is crucial to winning the game. Maybe Mary Whitehouse’s acolytes have been busy on the code.

  24. Hmmm…this game is weird with a capital weird. That french location just seems like an excuse for someone to be rather smart arsey. Presumably the crapaud (sorry, toad) is sad because he isn’t a “frog.” That is the one language apart from English that I know pretty well but it is all rather pointless as the parser doesn’t seem to recognise any french that you type in, beyond compass directions. I’ve tried killing the thief in english and french amongst other things and nothing seems to achieve anything. He just insults you and leaves to find his friends.

  25. There are certainly a lot of NPCs in this game who seem to do little other than follow you around most of the time and occasionally kill you. The woman in leather with the whip who has disappeared somewhere, the hound, the dinosaur, the gnome, Marvin the Paranoid Android… somehow references to The HItchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy seemed inevitable. And rubbing the lamp has transported me to locations that I haven’t found in the conventional way yet. I did however manage to kill Billy the Gnome. So I’m still wandering around looking for new territory at the moment. From dragon droppings to lunar modules this game has it all.

  26. I don’t wish to tempt fate but beyond the snowy plains (a sort of maze) this game has been pretty maze free.

  27. OK from what I can glean in the French scenario “la rive gauche” it is necessary to have the French-English phrase book with you. Reading it gives you some phrases that are pertinent to the room that you are in. There is a thief called Coco who systematically steals your inventory one item at a time. Oddly, you seem to be able to “tuez Coco” and he will leave, never to return, even though he is not yet described as being present. I am pretty sure you can’t actually kill him. You can also “prenez vin” which takes a bottle of Mouton Rothschild, a treasure I would imagine. The herrings are also mentioned in the phrase book, although I am not sure if you have to do anything with them in this room. You can carry the toad around with you.

    You can also go “en bas” which takes you to a gilded staircase leading down to Sumptuous Chamber, wherein you will find a slave girl “undulating sensuously.” I think I can see where this is headed…

  28. Pingback: Quest: The Quantum Princess | Renga in Blue

  29. Due to a family illness I have not been able to devote much time to Quest. I hope to have another dig at it in the second part of next week. Whether anyone will actually finish it must be a moot point at this stage.

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