Katakombs: Finale   5 comments

As is usual, you should read my prior posts about this game first.

From the Museum of Computer Adventure Games.

I realize this is a bad sign, but I want to start with discussing the term “moon logic”.

There are some terms which I think narrow and simplify overly much. One such term that used to be in common use is “guess the verb”, the phenomenon of tangling with difficult parsers; the word isn’t wrong, exactly, but it often got applied to guess-the-noun or guess-the-phrasing or interpret-the-deceptive-parser-message.

I’ve seen the term “moon logic” applied to nearly every adventure puzzle sin under the sun, as long as a puzzle causes some difficulty. I still think the term is useful, but I tend to narrow down to circumstances were cause and effect seem to be nearly at random; perhaps you understand from the animation why the bubble gum made the goat move, but the connection is one that could almost never have been predicted. There is a disjoint between action and result. Oddly, in text adventures, this shows up less than you might think, just because the requirement of a verb adds specificity to an action; you can’t just USE BUBBLEGUM ON GOAT and have the animation happen, but rather need to specify to (for sake of example) FEED BUBBLEGUM TO GOAT. The puzzle is still perhaps a bad one, but there’s at least a suspicion that something interesting might happen.

For getting by the dragon — which turned out to be the key puzzle that was stopping my progress — I kept trying a number of methods to help the dragon melt an ice wall. Killing the “docile creature” certainly seemed to be out. The correct item to use was off this list:

salt
lumps of sugar
venetian mirror
stick
dagger inlaid with precious stones
a piece of string
heavy, metal barrel with a stopper at the bottom
ruby
stick

The right item was the … lumps of sugar.

While it isn’t the kind of puzzle where the mechanics aren’t even understood after solving it, unless I missed some major mythos regarding dragons, I would say the disjoint clearly falls into moon logic range.

Past the dragon, I was able to get a trumpet; the trumpet let me bust open a glass wall. This was essentially the opposite of the previous puzzle, I knew exactly what the trumpet for the moment I picked it up.

The salt, on the other hand, was a little more fussy. Again, we’re entering moon logic territory, but apparently elephants like salt?

Everything else more or less smoothly fell out, with two exceptions, the first being of a funky parser use. A “heavy, metal barrel with a stopper at the bottom” was meant to be used with PUSH STOPPER.

the stopper disappears inside
and a smell liquid rushes out –
it’s parafin.
You manage to fill up your lamp.

(This is necessary to win: the candle doesn’t quite give you enough turns to do everything.)

The second involved (after the elephant) finding out what to do at a “sacred altar with an eerie statue of the animal-god Vik”. While I appreciated the atmosphere here, and I might have been able to solve the puzzle on my own, my trust had been whittled down by the dragon and the elephant, so I just looked it up. I wouldn’t call this absurd, and I likely would have eventually found it (by trying to sacrifice everything in my inventory) but still, I’ll let you decide the moon logic level:

(Somewhere in all this, the ability to SEE kicked in. I’m not sure where — I had drunk the potion on my saved game I was using and never went back to see if there was a treasure that’d otherwise be invisible had I not drunk the potion.)

The oval from the altar flips back again to the “immediately know what needs to be done” category.

I’m not sure what’s with the score, I supposedly have all the treasures. Because they count equally as points when held in inventory versus just being on the ground in the crypt, you don’t have to drop them.

This wasn’t a terrible game — when you get down to it, maybe only 10% had me truly frustrated — but that’s only because I gave up trying to solve puzzles at a judicious time. There’s a couple moments of interesting atmosphere, like the altar of Vik, but the setting really fails to attain critical mass of feeling like a real location (say, the underground of Zork I) or even just a theater of cruelty (Acheton).

Incidentally, the whole business with the Chamber of Horror seems to have been a red herring, as was the string and the stick. You can light the string and it burns like a fuse, but that does nothing. (And no, the stick doesn’t seem to secretly be a stick of dynamite.) I get the feeling maybe the author forgot something? I’ve never been fully against red herrings (in a game like Planetfall they increase the environmental feel) but here they just seem like lost coding bits more than careful choices.

The most comparable recent game I’ve played is Hamil, and I did enjoy that one quite a bit better. Hamil had an equally random map, but it had more clever puzzles overall (despite a frustrating moment or two) and every piece was important. I guess for a “narrative” game red herrings are fine, but for a “British cryptic” style they become more a distraction to the style; sort of like how things that work in the RPG genre don’t work in the Adventure genre and vice versa, this type of game is nearly a different genre than the more story-driven ones, meaning general advice for good adventure writing may differ.

We’re leaving both the US and UK for our next game, and in fact going to a country we haven’t visited yet, even though it is quite important in the history of videogames overall. Soon!

Posted September 15, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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5 responses to “Katakombs: Finale

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  1. I’m going to say that the sugar cube puzzle wouldn’t be too bad in a different game. I think the developer was thinking that because the dragon is an animal and animals (well, horses at least) tend to like sugar cubes, so would a dragon. I think it would have been better if the game was obviously a comedy or something, because I can imagine that being decent if you had a sniffling, crying dragon wondering about who loves him, but still burns you alive if you give him the wrong item.

    • Yeah, the messaging clearly could have been better there. The confusing thing also is the message makes it look like the dragon is having trouble with the ice wall, so why would generating friendship suddenly let the dragon get by?

      With a good editing pass this game would have gone up at least one notch, but I suspect the only person who played it was the author.

  2. The Vik puzzle seems decent enough to me; when I think of what to sacrifice to gods on altars, burnt offerings of food are high on the list. (If you don’t have any corpses of slain monsters around, as in nethack, and those are usually edible anyway.)

  3. I suppose a bribe is commonly known as a “sweetener” but the dragon solution isn’t so much straining credibility as leaving it with a triple hernia and in a truss.

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