Archive for October 2022

Ferret: Riddles in the Dark   22 comments

(Prior posts on Ferret here.)

This is another one of those “audience participation” posts; even if you’re just reading about Ferret rather than playing along, you might be able to contribute to this one.

To continue from last time, I was lost in a desert. I had surmised, based on being able to drop an item and find it stayed in the room, that there was only one desert room repeated over and over.

-> fire bolt at sand
Twang!
The bolt bounces off, causing no damage.
-> l
Desert
You are in a hot and dry desert. You can see nothing around except sand and
more sand.
There is a steel bolt here
-> ne
Desert
You are in a hot and dry desert. You can see nothing around except sand, and
more sand.
-> l
Desert
You are in a hot and dry desert. You can see nothing around except sand and
more sand.
There is a steel bolt here

This maybe was 80% of what led me astray, but the other 20% was not anticipating the sheer chutzpah of the challenge posed ahead. Even though there is only one “room”, the game keeps track of where the player avatar is and getting further in the game requires finding the right coordinates. Hence the task: map the desert looking for special locations, square by square.

Since you die after 31 steps, there was a lot of systematic save/restore cycle going. I also started heavily using the up-arrow feature (where you can skip back to previous commands) and the ability to use long streams of commands (like e;e;e;e;e;e;e;e;e;e meaning to go east ten times in a row). Once I got a pattern going it wasn’t too bad trying to fill in a grid, and once I expanded to 10 steps in all directions I finally found something (to give credit, Damian Murphy got there first).

Desert
You are in a hot and dry desert. Half buried in the shifting sands you can see the remains of a previous explorer, whose bones have been bleached white by the oppresive sun.
There is a skeleton here

This is official 10 steps east and 6 steps north of the starting room, although you can shortcut NE so it takes less than 16 steps to get there.

Moving the skeleton reveals a tin containing a plastic sheet; assuming this is a useful item, it meant that the skeleton required a visit, so the “range of exploration” became much smaller. I decided to focus on the northeast quadrant relative to the starting point.

Eventually I hit onto the fact if you take 10 more steps east and 6 more steps north you arrive at another new location:

Desert
You are in a hot and dry desert. There are some steps to the northeast which lead down.
You momentarily feel a little faint.
-> ne
Top of Steps
You are standing at the top of a set of steps which have been carved into the ancient sandstone. All around you is desert as far as your eyes can see. You can vaguely see something at the bottom of the steps glinting in the light of overhead sun. Go on, go for it.
Exits: NSEW NENWSESW -D
You momentarily feel a little faint.
-> d
Bottom of Steps
You are at the bottom of some steps carved into the ancient sandstone. Above you, you can see the blinding sun shining down. There is a tarnished bronze plate set into the west wall at an angle of exactly 45 degrees. There is a dark and gloomy exit to the east.
Exits: –E- ——– U-

The “feeling faint” part is from walking out in the desert sun long enough to start dying; fortunately, the messages stop once at the bottom of the steps.

From the east of the steps there is a dark place. The “angle of exactly 45 degrees” signaled quite strongly to me that the sun was meant to be a resource here, and one CLEAN PLATE later the passage was illuminated:

Red Room
You are in a room where the walls, floor and ceiling have been carved from beautiful red rock.
There is a strange inscription on the east wall.

The inscription is the first riddle. I’m going to avoid putting the solution here and let people try in the comments.

251521’1805 141520 07052020091407
16011920 20080919 04151518 2114200912
09 190125 1915

Getting the riddle correct dramatically opens a second room.

There is a tremendous rumbling under the floor beneath you as some great and ancient force comes to life. The whole room begins to shake showering you in sand and dust. Just as the rumbling begins to subside, the whole of the east wall starts to descend gradually, and the rumbling continues afresh. The wall slowly slips down until it comes to rest with a jolt, its top now level with the surrounding floor. The sand and dust are blown out of the room by a slight draught. It is now quiet.

The second room has another riddle; answering that one correctly leads to a third riddle.

+------------------+
| ferret .. bannap |
| ?????? .. xwzcan |
+------------------+

+-------------------------------+
|           I XII XII           |
|         XX VIII I XX          |
| VII XII -- --- XX V ----- --- |
|            IX XIX             |
|          XIV XV XX            |
|        VII XV XII IV          |
+-------------------------------+

It’s the fourth riddle where I (and Damian) are now stuck. I do have some theories but I’m going to hold off on them because I don’t want to pre-dispose people down the wrong path if it turns out my thinking is wrong. I will make further discussion in the comments, though. (For this post, don’t bother with ROT13 — I know some people would rather not fuss about with it, and I’d like anyone who comes by to be welcome to give a stab at the puzzle.)

The inscription appears to be a mixture of ancient and modern English:

Round (3nm + 3f + 4c + 2y) m

Posted October 31, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Dungeon from An Introduction to BASIC (1982)   10 comments

One of the landmarks in computer science history is the invention of the binary tree, circa 1960, by

P.F. Windley, A.D. Booth, A.J.T. Colin, and T.N. Hibbard

with Booth and Colin’s contribution showing up in On the Efficiency of a New Method of Dictionary Construction. An illustration from the paper is below.

Our tale today is focused on A.J.T Colin, aka Professor Andrew Colin, who started with an engineering degree from the University of Oxford (“The lectures were dull and required lots of note-taking, and I dropped them altogether after three weeks”), went to an assistant lectureship at Birkbeck College, and eventually became the first professor of Computer Science at Strathclyde in Glasgow.

He taught programming using an ICL 1904A mainframe with punchcards, which had to go through the standard batch processing: students submitted their cards (or cribbed off someone else’s) to be run with a large stack and hoped they didn’t make a mistake.

When personal computers first starting coming on the scene, they were not necessarily well-regarded by academics with access to large mainframes, but Andrew Colin realized that they would allow for much better learning experience. According to Andrew Colin himself:

Although most of my colleagues regarded personal computers as children’s toys, I still managed to get the University to buy and install 105 Commodore PETs.

He wrote a tutorial text — pushing away from his past experience with painful lectures — which allowed “students to learn at their own rate, without frustrating waits to get their results back”. His text for student learning eventually got converted into An Introduction to BASIC by Commodore.

Commodore got hold of my text, and decided that something similar would be useful for their VIC 20 and C64 computers. Always happy to write, I tried to negotiate a fixed price, but they insisted on paying me by the number of copies sold.

In the event the books did extremely well. They were translated into many languages, and I was paid much more than I expected. I should say that Commodore was always a good firm to deal with, and the machine (for its time) an exceptionally good design.

The book/tape package sold in Part 1 and Part 2 for both machines.

The VIC-20 aspect is important; if you recall from my prior writings, it was not by any means a powerful computer, and the focus of our interest — Dungeon, a simple text adventure from part 2 — did have a version in the VIC-20 book, with the base machine augmented 8K of memory to a mere 11,775 bytes available (typical TRS-80 games or anything by Scott Adams use 16K). For the purposes of the Project I was unable to locate the C64 version so played on VIC-20 instead.

With “learning games” the whole point is not necessarily to make a “fun game” but to demonstrate a program with easy lessons to extract and the ability to mod it further. “Success” of one of these game/article hybrids might be considered simply how many games clearly were derived from it; for example, the Ken Reed article from August 1980 ended up having a significant lineage after, even though the demo game wasn’t even complete!

Before Dungeon comes a multiple choice game, Graff. I was not able to get the game working but it just is a choice game with the entire structure shown here.

Having said all that, the Introduction to BASIC game Dungeon is kind of dodgy even for a test game.

It doesn’t have a parser. All you can do is choose to pick an item up when you see one (see above) or pick a direction. If you exceed 3 items in inventory you drop your longest-held item.

Quite randomly — they don’t move around the map or stay in consistent positions or anything — various monsters appear. There is a random chance, first of all, that you may be able to run away. This drops you into a random spot on the map (from places 1-11). After running away, there may be another encounter, so I’ve had it happen where I get multiple “teleports” across the map from running away from things.

If you aren’t able to run, you have to fight. If you don’t have the right item in your inventory to engage with the particular enemy, you die.

If you do have the right weapon, you have defeated the monster and it can no longer randomly appear. (I should emphasize that running takes priority, even when you have the right weapon, which can be quite frustrating since running might land you with a monster that you don’t have the right weapon for.) The spider is killed with a stave, the dragon is killed with a sword (which you start the game with), the enchantress is defeated via magic potion, wasps are defeated via flyspray, the slimy belly-fish needs a flamegun.

In addition to the monsters appearing at random, the weapons are distributed at random.

The way to win is to get up to room 13, so the princess will start following you, then walk all the way back to the start (room 1) and go south. This is very hard to do.

There is no control over monster appearances, and whatever weapon being held is also generally random. You do get a modicum of choice if you have three weapons and you want to drop the one you’ve held onto the longest, but the only reason to do that is if you’ve already used that weapon, and in practice that is rare. Since all monsters appear with the same frequency there is thus no real reason to prefer one weapon or another, and no real choices.

Because of the randomness, the best bet is to simply hang around as little as possible — don’t explore the side rooms — and make a beeline for the princess and the exit, hoping you get lucky. I finally managed after about 50 tries.

I discussed, with Conquest of Memory Alpha, an adventure game being like Solitaire where there is only a random chance of winning, and skillful play can tweak your odds but not make a win 100% possible. Here, there aren’t really any ways of tweaking the odds at all. Playing this game is a slot machine. I do see how it illustrates various coding structures, so I’m not going to rake it over any coals, but I sincerely doubt this game was copied in the same manner as Conquest of Memory Alpha.

Professor Andrew Colin, sadly, died recently. And I feel odd focusing on just a handful of pages when the books as a whole are clear and well done. So I want to end on a positive note: the sound tutorial portions are excellent, with an interesting library of sound effects and music that plays to the strengths of the Commodore sound chip. The video below is a rendition of The Entrance of the Queen of Sheba from the C64 version of the book.

Posted October 30, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Ferret: The Wall   21 comments

(Previous posts here.)

It’s odd, given the complexities of before, to get stuck on what amounts to a one-room puzzle, but that’s what is happening here. I made it to a desert…

Desert
You are in a hot and dry desert. You can see nothing around except sand and
more sand.
-> move sand
You should be so lucky, try to move Everest Mohammed.
-> look up
You are nearly blinded by the light.

…and that’s been it. Nothing I’ve tried has resulted in anything useful.

From Computerworld, 15 January 1979.

It could be, of course, there was some sort of inadequate setup in the past, like a missing item or such in phase 1. However, the various “inventory reset” points have kept the phases from passing off too much to each other. While, perhaps, there was some exceedingly abstruse way to keep, say, the sphere from the opening of the game (that when you break it causes you to die of toxic case) and that somehow it will do something useful in a large desert … I register low odds here.

But there’s always the possibility of missing something from phase 4; the teleport doesn’t let you bring heavy objects, but there could be a missing light one, like a special item that can be used to find a route through the desert.

Phase 4 in particular had a “long plank” that was never used and feels suspicious in terms of visiting a new area (which might have the aforementioned light item):

Bedroom
You are in, what apparently was once, a bedroom. However, the east side of the
room has subsided into a deep ravine, leaving only a ledge for you to stand on.
Beyond the ravine you can see the remains of the east side of the bedroom, also
with a ledge.
Exits: –EW ——– -D
There are some interesting objects here:
a shabby mattress
a long plank
an aquamarine tile
-> get plank
You’re not strong enough.

The “you’re not strong enough” I’ve seen before, when my health was merely “ok” (as opposed to “fine”) and my inventory capacity was reduced. Health can fall when you make a big fall or when you drink bad water or you get pummeled by the monk or you spend time in the desert. There’s “mouth-watering food” that restores health…

-> eat food
Hmmm…. That was delicious.

…but there’s only one, and it is too heavy to carry it and the laser cannon at the same time (which is necessary to do even for making it to the jungle section). Unless I’m missing some resource I don’t think this is the problem. I did spend some time back in phase 1 trying to juggle my food forward (the thing that restores health) just in case but it really is set in the game as too heavy.

Another possible past-issue might be closer to the moment of jumping into the teleporter. In order to arrive there, you fill a pool with water, dive in, and then wait a very long time for the pool to run out of water.

Swimming Pool
You are in a room lit by a suffuse glow. The room contains a swimming pool, with a small ledge along the eastern edge.
Exits: —- ——– —
You are wallowing in the water.
The swimming pool contains:
some water
The level of the water in the pool is going down.
-> wait
Time passes (yawn).
The level of the water in the pool is going down.
-> wait
Time passes (yawn).
The level of the water in the pool is going down.
-> wait
Time passes (yawn).
The level of the water in the pool is going down.
-> wait
Time passes (yawn).
The level of the water in the pool is going down.
-> wait
Time passes (yawn).
The level of the water in the pool is going down.

It is possible to put an item in the pool and have it get sucked down to the hidden chamber. I’ve tried leaving wire tied to the splint (formerly a bow) and climbing down the wire somehow to get into the hidden chamber early while it is still watery, but no luck.

-> tie wire to splint
The wire is tied to one end of the splint.
The level of the water in the pool is going down.
-> put splint in pool
Done.
It falls to the floor of the pool, rolls around for a bit on the steeply
inclined floor and then disappears out of sight.
The level of the water in the pool is going down.

A third possibility might that the teleporter setting is just wrong somehow. The score goes up by arriving at the Inner Sanctum, but there isn’t another score increase by entering the teleporter. The touchscreen which shows the Inner Sanctum might present some opportunity here but all my attempts at fiddling with it (and moving it around and rotating the wall) have had no influence on the teleporter destination.

A fourth possibility is that I really do have enough to reckon with the desert already, and I need some … magic verb or action or something? When I first arrived at the cathedral I was stuck for a while before finding I could PUSH (direction) WALL to move around, and pretty much any other command gave nothing useful, so there might still be some special trick I’m missing. My odds are still currently on a missing item from phase 4, though.

(My next post, by the way, will be on a one-shot post on a different adventure — I and possibly you could use a little variety. Definitely not giving up on this one, though!)

ADD: There’s a version 10.01 of Ferret up at the website. It seems to be compatible with prior save game files. The authors also have their own “minimal” version now so you don’t need to bother with mine.

Posted October 29, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Ferret: The Secret of the Inner Sanctum   22 comments

(Posts leading up to this one here.)

From bitsavers. Ferret is the only adventure I’ve played that’s been written in PL/I (usually it has been Fortran, Pascal, or BASIC).

I have reached Phase 5! Doing so required a giant leap of faith, and catching a general structural vibe from the game overall.

By “general structural vibe” let me refer back to Time Zone, the other Gigantogame™ that I played in 2022. About halfway through I was hitting a wall, and almost ready to jump to hints (unlike this game, I was trying my best to play entirely solo) when I realized that you could break into Benjamin Franklin’s shop while he was out and steal his stuff. If you don’t break in, you can visit him peacefully but he doesn’t let you into his back room; I assumed some sort of diplomacy or quid pro quo. But no: you’re here to save the universe, just break and enter, don’t worry about Mr. Franklin, he can get another kite from elsewhere.

The structural vibe of Ferret is:

a.) anything can be a red herring, and it might even be elaborate and have multiple items designed to “feel” like a puzzle

b.) there is no expectation of a “single plausible continuous narrative”

The latter is one of those unspoken rules in adventure games where you might have many, many, deaths, but the “winner” avatar could at least have plausibly achieved victory without reference to the many dead bodies in the background. There might have been a lot of luck in maze navigation or time management, but if we imagine the player has Plot Armor in the television show of your choice, they could reach from the start of the end of the story without a plot hole.

Ferret doesn’t care about that. Any information from anywhere and any timeline is fair game. In particular, the monk from inside the Cathedral drops a magazine:

This gives the clues for navigating a maze outside of the cathedral. Specifically, you fall down onto a mattress, walk into a dark cave, and then take the directions mentioned with the knowledge that the spaces are meant to be deceptive, and that the directions aren’t just the cardinal directions. That is:

NEWS SWEN W

clues the steps

NE, W, S, SW, E, NW

-> e
Triasic Cave
You are in a dark cave.
-> nw
Lower Path
You are on a narrow fenced path cut into an inclined grass bank. There is a secluded cave entrance to the southeast. To the south the steeply inclined grass bank rises above you, while to north the bank continues downwards.
Exits: —W —-SE– —

I’d seen this path earlier; when you go down from the Cathedral to the east portion of the map, it gets described in the text:

Foot of slope
You are standing at the foot of a grassy slope. At the top of the slope is a fence with a gap in it, through which trails a length of wire. The north and south sides of the path are fenced, beyond which are steep grass banks inclined downwards. On the northern side there is another fenced path some distance down the slope.

The map placement is important enough that I’ve marked the two paths in orange and blue here:

The path after the maze leads to another dark cave which doesn’t seem to go anywhere at all. The whole section is mysterious, and for a long time we speculated that something in the Cathedral would cause the next section (with the second dark cave) to open up. But no: the Cathedral has to be done second, so even though there’s a magazine giving a route to a maze, that information is considered fair game for whatever avatar in a different universe navigated the maze without having seen the magazine first.

So what’s the whole point of going to the second dark cave? Well, there’s a “Room of Descent” leading to an empty “Base of Ramp” room in the northeast corner of the cathedral.

As you enter the room the floor splits laterally about one third of the way from the far wall. The furthest section lowers and comes to rest in a vertical position. The middle section then lowers to form a ramp leading downwards.
Room of Descent
You are in a room lit by a suffuse glow. You are standing on a horizontal section of floor that stretches into the room for about a third of the room’s length. The floor then slopes to form a ramp leading downwards from the level area of floor.
-> D
Base of Ramp
You are in a dimly-lit room with walls of solid rock and no obvious roof. There are no exits other than a ramp leading upwards to the west.

The game takes a lot of care to establish the “moving sections” idea here — the trick is that the base of the ramp moves down to the second dark cave! Any items left there can be picked up. That means a heavy hammer and some pins which normally could not be carried in can be left in the dark cave, in order to be nabbed later.

The other thing that had us stumped (that’s me and the crew in the commentors — all this is definitely a collab job) was that the sequence with the mattress in the ravine is

a.) you fall in the ravine, saved by a mattress

b.) you push a boulder to the north, letting you climb back up

c.) only after climbing up do you find a “heavy hammer” which is absolutely needed for the cathedral, and there’s no way to climb back down the boulder

What you can do is simply: after you fall down, move the mattress a bit more to the south. Then you can jump off from a slightly different location (the Sitting Room rather than the Lounge) and fall on the mattress safely for a second time, this time while holding the hammer.

Geronimo!
As you plummet headlong toward the rocky floor of the ravine you silently debate with yourself about the need to consult with a brain doctor. Your final conclusion is that it doesn’t matter anyway as you attempt to pile-drive the rocks at the base of the ravine.
The last thing that passes through your mind is your arse.

(Oops, that’s with the mattress placed wrong.)

Once the hammer is safely in the cathedral, most of everything I mentioned in the last post applies. The difference is that there’s a valve you can now turn.

Room of Water
You are in a room lit by a suffuse glow. There is a pipe running along the western edge of the floor, mounted on the pipe is a circular valve.
There is a black pin here
-> get all
Taken : a black pin.
-> hit valve with hammer
Clang!
-> turn valve
You hear a brief gushing sound.

After the valve is turned, you can go back, shoot the monk (there’s no reason not to, for reasons I’ll get to in a second) and get to the keypad to enter the codes 560, 262, and 423. 560 unlocks a touchpad screen, and is meant to be a “hidden room hint”…

-> touch screen
The video screen activates.
-> examine screen
The video screen is displaying a picture of an empty room hewn from solid rock. The room is lit by a suffuse light and by a shimmering curtain of light rising conically from the centre of the floor and up through the ceiling. There is a dark passage leading from the room.

…262 unlocks the swimming pool (which now will fill with water if you turned the valve beforehand), and 423 gets the teleportation curtain up, with the death involving being disassembled into particles if you try to jump back in the Outer Sanctum. Here’s a quick reminder of that death:

As you enter the curtain you begin to feel really spaced out. This could be due to the fact that all of the molecules in your body have been converted to a digital signal to be beamed to another place. Unfortunately the process does not appear to have completed properly and you are left eternally spread across the space-time continuum.
You’ve taken an inter-galactic overdose.

Heading back to the valve and the swimming pool, where the water is slowly depleting away:

Swimming Pool
You are in a room lit by a suffuse glow. The room contains a swimming pool,
with a small ledge along the eastern edge.
You are wallowing in the water.
The swimming pool contains:
some water

You can safely DIVE INTO POOL now and WAIT (many, many, turns) until the water runs out.

All of the water is the pool has drained away and washed you down the plughole on the way out. You tumble headlong down the drain and land in a sodden mess.
Subterranean Passage
You are in a tunnel cut through sheer rock. There is a hole in the roof. The tunnel floor is quite damp and covered with many fine cracks.

This lets you enter the Inner Sanctum, where the curtain of light from the Outer Sanctum is also accessible.

Inner Sanctum
You are in the Holy of Holies, a room cut in sheer rock. There is a conically shaped shimmering curtain of light rising out of the centre of the floor.
-> enter curtain
As you enter the curtain you begin to feel really spaced out. This could be due to the fact that all of the molecules in your body and possessions have been converted to a digital signal to be beamed to another place. Unfortunately the process does not appear to have been designed as an inter-galactic removals service as only part of your total mass has been digitally encoded. On reassembly various bits of you are absent.
You’ve qualified for the knackers yard in space.

Notice that the death is slightly different here; some of your mass is missing. In short: you can only carry a limited amount of stuff. I haven’t experimented fully, but I believe the colored pins (black, white, orange) might be the only items that will transport safely.

-> enter curtain
As you enter the curtain you begin to feel really spaced out. This could be due to the fact that all of the molecules in your body have been converted to a digital signal to be beamed to another place. Luckily, your ethereal message is in tune with the space-time continuum and after feeling a little nauseous on reassembly, you feel really together.
Desert
You are in a hot and dry desert. You can see nothing around except sand and more sand.
-> score
Phase 5 (Inquisition)
Mode: Expert
You have scored 345 (out of 1670) points in 1491 moves.
Rooms visited: 234. Rank achieved: Hot Shot.

I do want to emphasize how fascinating the breakthrough was. I realized the moment that I was able to successfully tote the hammer into the ravine what the solution had to be, even though there wasn’t any strict reason the second dark cave had to connect to the room of descent. Despite the clearly intentional fog of red herrings (like five colored tiles and a wooden door, which can be entirely ignored) the game did a good enough job of setting up the geography and overall patterns that this genuinely felt like an exhilarating solve rather than just luck.

Death in the desert next time!

Despite the ASCII art, all this is a red herring.

Posted October 25, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Ferret: In the Realm of the Omniscient One   37 comments

(This directly continues my prior posts, especially my last two.)

I was hoping for the Cathedral to have fallen, but alas. We do have some interesting codes for the lock from last time as well as some good stabs at riddle-unraveling by Ilmari Jauhiainen and Voltgloss, but actually breaking out is still a problem.

Ad from New Scientist, 16 June 1977.

To be totally clear on the layout (and to recap a little from two posts ago):

The electric vehicle (from two posts ago) busts in the “cathedral” area where you can climb up a pipe, but the only thing you can be holding is a wire. You can also use the wire to get into the eastern “monstery” area.

In this second area four of the rooms have a “ravine” shearing off part.

You are in, what apparently was once, a lounge. However, the west side of the room has subsided into a deep ravine, leaving only a small ledge for you to stand on. Beyond the ravine you can see the remains of the west side of the lounge, also with a small ledge.

In the lounge above you can drop a mattress into the ravine and fall onto it safely, eventually reaching a dark cave which I have yet to tackle (it’s a “trick” maze, I’m not just in the mood for another maze yet even when it doesn’t need mapping).

Geronimo!
As you plummet headlong toward the rocky floor of the ravine you silently congratulate yourself for having the foresight to provide yourself with a soft landing. An expertly executed arm roll leaves you standing in the ravine.
Ravine
You are standing in a ravine between two sheer rockfaces. The ravine narrows to the north and widens to the south.
Exits: NS– ——– —
There is a shabby mattress here

By all appearances (from the wire being the only thing that can be brought in) the cathedral to the west needs to be finished first.

The inside starts you off in a 4 by 4 grid (the unshaded portion above) where to travel anywhere you need to push on walls that revolve.

Waaaaaaaaghhh!
You most unceremoniously hurl yourself down the shaft, and after much bumping
and boring, are deposited on a hard floor with a sickening thump.
Room of Abstenance
You are in a room lit by a suffuse glow.
-> push east
As you lean your weight against the wall it revolves on a central axis, taking
you with it.
Room of Passion
You are in a room lit by a suffuse glow.

This has notable implications in at least two places. In the southwest corner of the map there’s a video touchscreen on one wall (it starts blank, but it does show something later) and if you “spin through” the wall the touchscreen will also travel and so technically gets moved to a new room.

Additionally, there’s a spot where a monk is sleeping by a north wall. You can ignore the monk to start, but to go by the monk you need to wake him up.

Room of Apocalypse
You are in a room lit by a suffuse glow.
There is a fat monk lying asleep against the north wall.
-> wake monk
A gentle tap on the shoulder wakes the monk who stirs and slowly opens his eyes. After a good stretch he appears to be fully awake.

He will then start causing some mischief and most notably will thwack you:

The monk whacks you around the head, pushes a wall, and runs laughing from the room.

This hurts you, according to the DIAGNOSE command. (You start to go from feeling “fine” to “ok”.) Based on earlier solving, this means your inventory capacity starts to drop, and I suspect it might be not possible to win if you get injured enough times (at random).

Laying out “in the open” (as far as things lay out in the open with the odd “pushing” structure are a wooden splint and a metal bolt. You can tie the wire to the wooden splint (which I first tried to make into a flail of some sort) but the game specifically says you can tie it to “one end”. This means you can tie the wire to the splint again and have it tied on both ends, then use the bolt, which is described just as ASCII art…

…as a weapon. This is a bow and arrow, and you can FIRE BOLT AT stuff. The most obvious piece of stuff is a mirror in the lower right corner of the map.

-> fire bolt at east wall
Twang!
The mirror breaks into a number of pieces.
-> e
Room of War
You are in a room lit by a suffuse glow.
Exits: N–W ——– —

This opens the blue-shaded portion of the map I put earlier, leading to either to a pipe with a wheel (the wheel doesn’t want to turn or react in any way) or a swimming pool.

Swimming Pool
You are in a room lit by a suffuse glow. The room contains a swimming pool, with a small ledge along the eastern edge.
You are standing on the ledge. The pool is empty.

The choice of which one is dependent on the lock I mentioned last time. One code makes the pool appear, sans water. There might be some complicated way to get the water from the roof into the empty pool, but I don’t know how.

Another code makes that video screen from the lower left of the map (the one that spins around with a wall) show something that nobody has been able to get to yet:

-> examine screen
The video screen is displaying a picture of an empty room hewn from solid rock. The room is lit by a suffuse light. There is a dark passage leading from the room.

I’m sorry, there’s so much going on it is hard to organize sensibly! I was hoping to wait until the cathedral was solved and I could trace together a coherent narrative, but I don’t even know what to focus on. Some bits may be red herrings for atmosphere. One last area, though, in the upper right of the four by four portion:

Room of Hell
You are in a room lit by a suffuse glow.
-> push east
As you lean your weight against the wall it revolves on a central axis, taking you with it.
Room of Descent
You are in a room lit by a suffuse glow. You are standing on a horizontal section of floor that stretches into the room for about a third of the room’s length. The floor then slopes to form a ramp leading downwards from the level area of floor.
Exits: –EW ——– -D
-> d
Base of Ramp
You are in a dimly-lit room with walls of solid rock and no obvious roof. There are no exits other than a ramp leading upwards to the west.
Exits: —W ——– U-
-> u
Room of Descent
You are in a room lit by a suffuse glow. You are standing on a horizontal section of floor that stretches into the room for about a third of the room’s length. The floor then slopes to form a ramp leading downwards from the level area of floor.
Exits: –EW ——– -D
-> push west
As you lean your weight against the wall it revolves on a central axis, taking you with it.
You hear a dull thud.

Important is the “dull thud” at the end — that doesn’t appear anywhere else. I don’t know what it is but it likely is an item on the other side of the wall. I’ve tried to get the monk to filch it but somehow it hasn’t been happening.

Posted October 20, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Ferret: Audience Participation   52 comments

Not quite so big an update this time, as I am needing the help of you, the reader. Even the lurker who never comments: we need you! Yes, we’ve got a crew plundering through Ferret whilst chatting in the comments, but this involves a riddle, and someone random reading this might decipher what’s going on. It is (probably) self-contained and might just need a lateral insight.

From the programmer’s guide for the 32-bit Eclipse.

So last time I jumped into a cathedral, and wow, there’s lots of interesting things here; there’s a video screen that doesn’t work, a mysterious mirror, a “room of descent”, a fat monk who wanders around and occasionally mischievously bonks you on the head (which reduces your health and might eventually kill you if it happens too often); I’ll describe all those in more detail next time.

Importantly for this post, there’s a lock in an “Outer Sanctum”:

Outer Sanctum
You are in a room lit by a suffuse glow. Set in one wall is a combination lock. Above the lock is a numerical readout.
Exits: —- ——– —
-> examine readout
The readout is set to 666

There is a strong clue elsewhere, a multi-sided cube which gives what seems to be a pair of riddles, framed with an outer pair of instructions.

Room of Indulgence
You are in a room lit by a suffuse glow. There is a massive crystalline cube
in the middle of the room.
Exits: —- ——– —
The massive crystal cube contains:
a stone cube with
a north face
a south face
an east face
a west face

-> examine east face

A Message from the Highmost

If you are truly the messiah of knowledge,
and I believe everyone to be the chosen one
at the appropriate time, you should, by now,
have accumulated the knowledge to provide the
key to the Inner Sanctum of the Highmost.

Claim what is yours by rite, undo the lock,
and ascend to the seat of knowledge at the
right hand of the all-knowing one. Set the
celestial lock and you will inherit all.

-> examine north face

Musings of a Monk (Part 1)

It is said, knowledgeable one,
That unto the first of all being
Came four ignorant sons.

It is said, all seeing one,
That unto the second of all being
Came two average daughters.

It is said, omniscient one,
That unto the third of all being
Came three bright sons.

Whose order now occupies the
Seat of all knowledge?

-> examine south face

Musing of a Monk (Part 2)

According to the eye of the Great,
Three ignorant sons will begat only
Ignorant sons, to the count of a man.

According to the eye of the Great,
Two average daughters will bring unto you
Grandchildren of mixed intelligence,
Their number being equal to that
Accessible to the Ruler at the centre
Of the empty board.

According to the eye of the Great,
Three bright sons, will each raise young
To the sum of time, and will be the
Key to the book of knowledge.

-> examine west face

Maxims of a Monk

The book of knowledge has many pages,
Enough pages to satisfy all your questions.

By the number of the devil I beseech you,
The young sons will be the order that
takes the right to own the seat.

I am a mere servant to the knowledge,
I pin my destiny to the omniscient chest,
My death will serve also,
As a guide to those that follow.

The “part 1” at its simplest level implies the number 423 (number of ignorant sons, daughters, bright sons). You can go back to the keypad and enter that number in the lock:

-> set lock to 423
Done.
You are blinded by an intense light and thrown with tremendous force against one of the walls. You momentarily lose consciousness.
-> l
Room of Past Hope
You are in a room lit by a suffuse glow.
Exits: —- ——– —

Now, you can go directly back in the lock room and try another code; unfortunately, we don’t know what that code is. (I’ll mention some theories in the comments, I don’t want to steer people the wrong way without at least thinking about it first. We obviously have something wrong.)

It seems likely that there is a second code entered in the same keypad because if you want without entering a second code, a curtain of light appears at the entrance to the keycode room, and you can enter that instead of the room.

As you enter the curtain you begin to feel really spaced out. This could be due to the fact that all of the molecules in your body have been converted to a digital signal to be beamed to another place. Unfortunately the process does not appear to have completed properly and you are left eternally spread across the space-time continuum.
You’ve taken an inter-galactic overdose.

This strongly implies we’ve “activated the gate” but not managed to make a “teleporter setting” correctly or whatnot.

Any thoughts? There is the faint possibility of a “second lock” (as Voltgloss mentions in the comments) which is actually where the code goes, but give the delay that lets you access the lock still that seems unlikely. Additionally, if you try to input a second code wrongly, there is an alarm and the keypad freezes up disallowing further code entries; if there was meant to be only one code, it likely would be already frozen.

ADD: The code for “part 2” has been brute-forced in the game, and the comment at top includes the code. However, we could still use back-solving to figure out why the riddle matches the code.

Posted October 18, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Ferret: Your Body Has Been Made Permanently Redundant   31 comments

(Previous posts about Ferret are here.)

She was assigned to the Eclipse Group, which was tiny then and had never had a secretary. The engineers “found” her a desk, as she put it. She opened the team’s lone filing cabinet and found nothing in it, except for a couple of rolls of toilet paper. No list of the group’s members existed. She went from one engineer to another, asking, “Do you have any idea who you work for?” It was the beginning of a long romance.

— From The Soul of a New Machine, about the making of the 32-bit Data General Eclipse

I trudged past the painful maze into another maze, but fortunately right after that the narrative picked up again. Phase 4 (Ascension) has felt a lot more like Phase 1, with a mysterious postapocalyptic feel and coherent geography, something that nearly had gone out the window with what is likely the most painful maze of the game.

Ouch. I believe I have a couple errors, so I’ll refer you to this map from K if you need some playing assistance.

Last time had I had left off on a wobbly shed where the slightest touch would tip it over. Being stuck and combing over everything for clues, and the moment where the shed fell apart.

-> push shed
The shed wobbles for a short time emitting load creaks and groans. There is a load snapping noise as one of the main support timbers of the shed gives way. Suddenly the shed collapses creating a large cloud of dust. As the dust clears you can see that the shed has collapsed into a hollow in the ground as the remains of the shed lie level with the ground.
-> e
Remains of Shed
You are standing amongst the remnants of an old wooden building.
There are some old smashed timbers here

The “hollow in the ground” seemed interesting, so I tried taking the laser cannon and vaporizing the ground, with no luck. But what if I just vaporized the shed before it fell?

-> point cannon at shed
Done.
-> shoot cannon
The shed explodes in a ball of fire, revealing a shallow pit.
-> e
Pit
You are in a shallow pit. There is a ramp leading downwards.
-> d
Level Area
You are on a small level area lit by everlasting glo-globes. There are ramps leading up and down.
Exits: —- ——– UD
-> d
Level Area
You are on a small level area lit by everlasting glo-globes. There is a ramp leading up.
Exits: —- ——– U-

A-ha! Since I was already in a vaporizing mode I fairly quickly found I could vaporize the east wall at the bottom of the ramp. The laser cannon then only had one more shot but it is no longer needed from this point. (There’s one more shot, suggesting perhaps some secret was missed, but this isn’t one of the evil sprawling epics from the Phoenix mainframe, so I think I’m done shooting at things.)

This reveals a shaft with a rope. The rope breaks if you carry too much, so the only item you can tote along is the orange pin. This “forced inventory cleansing” is genuinely rather nice, it keeps the player from second guessing if the remote unit from this phase was meant to be used somewhere in Phase 7.

Viewing Gallery
You are in a very large and airy room. The entire east wall of the room is comprised of a picture window. There is a narrow stairway leading up and a steel door to the north. There is a dark and fore-boding shaft leading vertically down from the room. Set in the south wall is a panel containing three buttons, one red, one amber and one green.
Exits: —- ——– UD
-> look in window
The viewing room is apparently built into the side of a cliff as there is a sheer drop below the window. Off in the distance you can discern beautiful green fields separated by hedges and trees. There is a strange bulbous protuberance overhanging the window.
-> d
Waaaaaaaaghhh!
There is a sickening thud as you smash into the rock floor at the bottom of the shaft.
Anyone fancy raw pancakes?
You’re a dodo.

The buttons open the window (which also leads you to falling doom), a door upstairs (which is originally described as “open” but you can’t go through) and the steel door. Let’s stick with the steel door:

Tunnel Complex
You are in a tunnel complex lit by everlasting glo-globes. There is a steel door to the south.
Exits: NS– ——– —

This is the terrible maze. It wouldn’t be quite so terrible except it keeps going and going and going. I’m going to do my best to mentally block it out now so I’ll just say

a.) you can pick up a white pin to match the orange one

b.) you can get an “aeroplane wing”

c.) you can get a “crate”

and the crate in particular can be used to climb up an “enclosed area”:

Enclosed area
You are on a small level area between two sheer rockfaces. However, part of the southern rockface is only slightly higher than a man. Apart from an exit to the west you are completely surrounded by rock.
Exits: —W ——– —
There is a large crate here
-> get on crate
On a crate
You are standing on the crate.

It took an inordinate amount of fussing to realize I could then just go UP again to arrive at:

Viewing Gallery Roof
You are on the roof of the viewing gallery. Around the edge of the flat roof is a raised parapet. Partly hanging over the eastern edge of the roof is the fuselage of a glider. There is a door to the west.

The aeroplane wing can be toted up the crate-route to fix the glider (PUT WING IN SLOT). There’s a second route up here (the slightly-buggy wooden door that starts out described “open” even though you can’t pass through without closing it first) but the game doesn’t let you pull the wing that way.

ASCII art from the game of the glider.

You can then EMBARK and fly away to land at phase 4, although at the very start I discovered an issue with the meta-features of the game.

As you board the glider it overbalances on the narrow parapet and plummets downwards. Luckily the glider encounters an up-draught and as the nose of the glider rises you feel the wind in your hair and start to experience the sheer joy of gliding. Unhappily the excitement is short-lived as the glider starts to rapidly lose height and career headlong towards the ground. Fortunately the glider lands on soft ground, but the jolt of the landing flings you clear of the craft to land with a bump on a dry patch of land. There is a muted gloop as the glider sinks into what is evidently a swamp, leaving a barely visible wing as the only evidence of its existence.
Dry Land
You are stranded on an area of dry land surrounded an all sides by swamp.
Exits: NSEW NENWSESW —
-> save glider
Saved.
You hear a muted gloop as the wing sinks into the swamp.

I can see this now looking at the transcript, but it didn’t register at the time that saving the game caused a turn to pass. This is not at all true in modern games and even many older ones; all timers are frozen and you can’t kill yourself at a major confrontation just by saving your game. But here, but saving my game, I softlocked it. A turn passed and the wing fell into the swamp, so even though I tried to GET WING, it was already gone. I had to go back to a previous save game (fortunately not far back) and then get the wing immediately upon landing and then only after save my game.

The wing can then be tossed down and ridden like a vehicle, kind of like a makeshift boat, which lets you paddle up to dry land. (The only items you can really have at this point are the orange pin and the white pin. I assume more colors come later.)

A road (which has a “length of steel wire” you can swipe) leads up to a barrier blocking off a cathedral, with the sign above. Fortunately, there is an electric vehicle nearby, with a dial and label indicating how the controls work.

Too bad the bit explaining what to actual do is torn off! Fortunately, the TEST verb exists and lets you cram through enough words to quickly work out what the dials does:

a.) you can TURN it to a direction, representing a point on the compass

b.) and then SQUEEZE DIAL to move the vehicle forward

Just make sure the dial is pointed towards the road before you start moving!

As you motor into the swamp the vehicle slowly descends into the disgusting morass. The cab fills with mud and prepares you to become a future museum exhibit.
Who’s a silly sod, then?

(The deaths are great! I make sure even when some action is going to be an obvious death to do it anyway just to read the text.)

The vehicle allows you to get past that pesky sign into an area with a cathedral. It is a fairly complicated setup and I’m still not fully sure everything that’s going on.

For example, around the fringes of the cathedral, there’s a locked wooden door on the south side that is next to a sign with broken tiles.

The sign is described as having “five tiles” missing, and there’s a pink tile and an aquamarine tile not far away, but no verb has worked to apply one of the colored tiles to the sign. It is possible they aren’t meant to interact at all.

There’s a gap in the fence (similar to the one from Phase 1) but only that one which leads to a cliff, this one also leads to a cliff … but I mean, one that doesn’t go down as far, and you don’t die if you go that way, and you can also TIE WIRE to a stake nearby before you go and it will let you climb up.

-> tie wire to stake
The wire is tied to the stake.
-> e
As you scramble through the gap in the fence you lose your footing and slide incredibly ungracefully down the grassy slope. Luckily, the wire breaks your fall.
Foot of slope
You are standing at the foot of a grassy slope. At the top of the slope is a fence with a gap in it, through which trails a length of wire. The north and south sides of the path are fenced, beyond which are steep grass banks inclined downwards. On the northern side there is another fenced path some distance down the slope.
Exits: –E- ——– U-

I admit having trouble finding simply in that I originally envisioned the wire a little shorter, and I kept trying to use ATTACH and PUT and other verbs rather than TIE. Do people really “tie” wires? I suppose they do, but that’s never the word I’d associate with it.

This leads to a really lovely bit of world-building, a monastery that has a portion sheared off. There are a number of rooms where a portion is missing.

Bedroom
You are in, what apparently was once, a bedroom. However, the east side of the room has subsided into a deep ravine, leaving only a ledge for you to stand on. Beyond the ravine you can see the remains of the east side of the bedroom, also with a ledge.
Exits: –EW ——– -D
There is a clay brick here
-> s
You cannot go in that direction.
-> e
Geronimo!
As you plummet headlong toward the rocky floor from such a great height you realise that nothing in the world could break such a fall. As you fly past the lower storey of the building you debate with yourself about the need to consult with a brain doctor. Your final conclusion is that it doesn’t matter anyway as you attempt to pile-drive the rocks at the base of the ravine.
Your body has been made permanently redundant.

In addition to the clay brick you can find a shabby mattress and a long plank which is too big to move. I really wanted to try making the jump with the mattress but it seems to be a little too shabby to allow for survival.

Here I was stalled for a bit but until I realized the main cathedral also had a drainpipe that could be climbed. Normally it breaks unless you drop everything, but it is possible to “tie wire to drainpipe” before you climb letting you take the wire with you.

The roof of the cathedral has a vent, which you can then enter by again using the wire:

-> tie wire to vent
The wire is tied to the vent.
-> pull wire
You nearly suffer a hernia in your attempts to pull on the wire, but at the last moment, and with a deafening tearing of metal, the vent is wrenched from its mountings. Due to the tremendous effort expended to rip out the vent the wire and vent act in melodious harmony to simulate a loaded slingshot causing the vent to be hurled off the roof, and to land with a thump down below.

Jumping in the cathedral leads to some very odd rooms, which fortunately don’t seem to exactly be a maze.

Waaaaaaaaghhh!
You most unceremoniously hurl yourself down the shaft, and after much bumping and boring, are deposited on a hard floor with a sickening thump.
Room of Abstenance
You are in a room lit by a suffuse glow.
-> push north wall
As you lean your weight against the wall it revolves on a central axis, taking you with it.
Room of Great Gloating
You are in a room lit by a suffuse glow.

There’s a “fat monk” amongst the rooms, but I think I’ve gone far enough — I’ll trudge my way further through phase 4 next time.

Forgot to mention this bit, so I’m tossing it here at the end. In the maze you can find the other half of the torn card from the hut. I have merged the two images here. I assume it refers to the colored pins (since I already have orange and white) leaving two more to eventually find.

Posted October 18, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Ferret: Acquisition   47 comments

(Prior posts about this game here. You’ll definitely need to have read the previous one to make sense of this one.)

A Data General Eclipse. A 16-bit version of this system (according to the authors) is what Ferret started on. The reason for the “phases” structure of the game is that there were memory limits, so upon entering a new phase the game could exchange new rooms for old ones in to save space.

One of the open mysteries of 70s/80s text adventures is why so many of them were enamored with mazes. It didn’t have to be the case; Infocom eked out only a few (although one did show up very late in the game Arthur). Magnetic Scrolls technically had one (in the game The Pawn) that was marked in-game as “totally irrelevant” and could be left via EXIT MAZE.

Ferret was still pretty close to the source: Adventure begat Zork which begat this game. So a bit of footing in that sense is understandable, although my last gameplay session was almost entirely dominated by mazes.

Maze the first was the jungle leading to the hut I mentioned last time. It is fortunately the type of maze that cannot be mapped in such a way to encourage you to not bother, but to just thrash around until finding the thing you need. Maze as narrative atmosphere rather than puzzle.

Maze the second happens with the odd lift that I got stuck on.

Lift
You are standing on an area of grass approximately 5 metres below ground level in the centre of a circular room. There are eight doors around the room.

I figured the way through was the “control unit” I was toting around but I couldn’t get any verbs to work. It didn’t occur to me to OPEN UNIT. (The unit is not described! The game essentially asking you to guess what it looks like.) This reveals three switches; turning (?) the blue switch makes it so now you can traverse through doors:

-> n
I think you’re lost! Shouldn’t you have gone north east?
The door opens as you approach…
Corridor
You are in a corridor with a door at either end.
The door slides shut behind you.
-> ne
I think you’re lost! Shouldn’t you have gone south?
The door opens as you approach…
Corridor
You are in a corridor which curves out of sight in both directions. There are two doors here opposite each other.
The door slides shut behind you.
-> s
OK, I’ll try but down here I don’t know which way that is.
Corridor
You are in a corridor which curves out of sight in both directions. There are two doors here opposite each other.

I wandered more or less at random because the game forced me to; I’m not sure if there was some intent for finding a compass of some sort, but Voltgloss discovered that just typing WALK meant WALK FORWARD, so this could be used to direct the player a little more carefully. However, it does appear based on his investigation that there is no purpose to the maze, because it leads you to an area you can easily reach by just using the iron key found in the darkness.

“End of Tunnel” specifically seems to be the maze’s only destination. Maybe it is meant as an alternate solution for those who didn’t find the key? But figuring out the timing of the slot and working on the direction trick on the maze seem much harder than just finding a key.

There is then, shockingly, not a maze, but a very mild puzzle where you have to push two buttons to make sure that a cable-car you can ride does not fall but takes you to your destination.

-> board cable-car
As you enter the cable-car there is a nearby cracking sound as the rusty old brake system of the cable-car mechanism collapses under your weight. The cable-car begins to travel down its guide-wires gradually gathering speed. As you pass the lowest point on the guide-wires you have a brief but tremendous view of the river winding its way through the beautiful green valley.
As the cable-car begins the long ascent up the guide-wires it seems impossible that it will manage the climb, but luckily (for you anyway) the cable car makes it.

Following arrival immediately comes yet another maze.

Motor Room
You are in what appears to be the control room for a cable car. There is a
steel door in the east wall and a dark maintenance shaft leading downwards.
Exits: —- ——– -D
There is a decrepit cable-car here
-> open door
It appears to be jammed.
-> d
Thump! You hit the ground below quite hard, but you don’t appear to have done
too much damage.
Labyrinth of Twisty Tunnels
You are in a labyrinth of twisty tunnels.

This maze does need mapping, and despite it having nothing more irregular than exits that take you to a random room, the structure is different than normal. Connections between two “proper” rooms in the maze are strictly regular; that is, if one direction goes north, coming back the other way requires going south. If something goes awry in this it means you’ve triggered a teleportation and should restore your game back to where you were. So mapping is more like walking a minefield where you drop objects along the path as opposed to a full twisty-passages experience.

“PIN” is the starting location (and where I dropped an orange pin). Sunlight is the destination. Ever other exit seemed to be a random teleport.

We just left maze the third and now on… shocker, maze the fourth. I haven’t finished mapping it yet because I’m so, so, tired.

The room that gets entered from the labyrinth is marked in green.

It’s a forest with a similar schtick of exits that teleport randomly and where you need to find the “right trail” without teleport shenanigans. Deep in the forest is a shed.

Forest
You are in a forest. There is a delapidated shed to the south.
-> push shed
The shed wobbles for a short time emitting load creaks and groans. There is a load snapping noise as one of the main support timbers of the shed gives way. Suddenly the shed collapses creating a large cloud of dust. As the dust clears you can see that the shed has collapsed into a hollow in the ground as the remains of the shed lie level with the ground.

The shed is empty, but you can convert the shed to “lumber” (a very heavy object) by pushing it down. I’m not sure which way to go past the shed, but somehow entering the forest also tossed me into Phase 3 (Acquisition) so there’s at least progress.

Remains of Shed
You are standing amongst the remnants of an old wooden building.
There are some old smashed timbers here

The forest lets you reach the other side of the jammed steel door, but I’m not sure what the point of that is, unless the lumber needs to be walked back to the cable-car for some reason. I think I’m finally at a puzzle that doesn’t involve solving a maze, at least.

Forest
You are in a forest. There is a steel door set in a sheer rockface to the west.
-> n
Forest
You are in a forest. The ground rises sharply to the west, barring any passage.

Posted October 15, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Ferret: Cool Guys Don’t Watch Nuclear Explosions   61 comments

I have reached Phase 2 (Genesis).

(Click here to read all posts up to this point in chronological order.)

Data General “Dasher” display terminals, from the manual.

So I decided I was done fiddling with the door because I did technically have one thread left undone: the thermonuclear bomb.

On closer inspection, you notice a small red lever mounted on top of the device. Under the lever is a little quartz window.

A couple people had speculated about using the cellar as a method for hiding from its blast. The problem is it didn’t seem to work:

Suddenly, the whole world lights up and you are immediately flattened by an enormous pressure wave. There appears to have been a conflagration in your very immediate vicinity…
Perhaps you shouldn’t play with fireworks.

Still, I was mighty suspicious because Voltgloss observed that the bomb couldn’t be carried up a ladder or through a window to the outside. The only way to get it outside is to go through the blasted-open door, an act that netted 30 points but seemingly had no purpose (since the only thing you can find outside otherwise is some wooden oars, and those travel through the window just fine).

Also, the death message upon blowing up the nuke right next to it talks about “due to your exposed situation” so that really does suggest the cellar as well.

So: what if it was a tactical nuke, clearly strong but possible to be weakened with just a little bit more range? I tried taking it outside and setting the nuke there:

Grounds
You are standing on a large tarmac circle in the grounds of a large building. It is just possible to discern a large H painted on the tarmac. There are some shattered door remains hanging in an open doorway to the west. There is a wooden stake in the ground near a small gap in a continuous high fence to the east. There is a signpost here.
Exits: NSEW ——– —
There is a thermonuclear device here
-> pull lever
The thermonuclear device ticks for a few seconds and then stops.

This gave a fairly large amount of time to hike over to the cellar and start shipping items down. The problem is that you can’t go down into darkness (which the cellar is) without tripping and dying. You can go every other direction, including up; just down means you trip and die. This is interestingly logical but not how darkness is implemented in any other game I’ve seen. Knowing the darkness behavior is helpful in a moment.

This means you have to light the candle. You only have one match, so you can’t extinguish in the middle; the candle additionally burns out fairly quickly, so you have to time things carefully. You essentially want to light it with just enough time to ship any items downstairs you want, and then close the plate just in time.

There is an enormous explosion nearby that virtually deafens you. The room becomes amazingly hot. The floor shakes incredibly and you can just about hear the thunder caused by falling concrete and steel. There is the sound of rock splitting nearby.
-> l
Cellar
You are in a warm stonewalled cellar. The stairway leading up is totally blocked by fallen rubble and debris. There is a gaping hole in the north wall. The floor is slanting to the east.

The “gaping hole” is new and lets you enter a labyrinth, which is still dark, just like the cellar.

The path through the labyrinth at one point requires going up a ramp. This is important because going the other way is dark. That means if you are trying to move items through, you are limited by the time left on the candle (as, again, going down in dark is death). Wooden oars alone (which you’ll need in a second) essentially take all your carrying capacity, so you need to make at least two trips. The key is to drop the oars off immediately after the ramp (as opposed to passing all the way through the labyrinth), and then come back for any other items.

Once past the ramp it is safe to take your time in the darkness moving everything over to the next area, a beach with a boat.

Labyrinth
You are in a cool featureless stonewalled chamber. Sunlight is pouring in through an exit to the south.
Exits: NS– ——– —
There is a small cylinder here
-> S
Beach
You are on a beautiful golden beach. The sea is to the south. There is an entrance to a cave in a sheer rock face to the north.
Exits: NSEW —-SESW —
There is a rowing boat here

The “small cylinder”, incidentally, goes in an “orifice” in the laser cannon. So in addition to the oars I brough along the laser cannon, as well as some food and a brown bottle to hold water (there’s a barrel with water on the beach as well). I’m still not sure if the food or water are useful yet.

(Maybe on MASTER difficulty? I haven’t talked about this yet, but the game is set on NORMAL mode, and there’s apparently — after you pass some threshold — a way to set it to MASTER. Maybe that enforces hunger and thirst timers? Maybe they are being enforced, but they are so long on Normal mode that nobody has noticed them yet?)

To get the boat to move I needed to PUSH OFF BOAT, a verb combo I only found due to applying the TEST command. Then you can either BOARD or EMBARK.

The result of LOOK AT BOAT. Not nearly as fancy as the ASCII art in Warp, but that game didn’t involve a rowboat; however, the rowing section that is about to follow is strongly reminiscent of that game.

Rowing just involves moving in directions; you don’t need to be holding the rows as long as they’re in the boat. (This is good, because as you’ll see shortly, you’ll lose everything you aren’t holding.)

-> BOARD BOAT
You are in the boat.
-> S
Sea
You are in a boat. The boat is surrounded by calm seas. There is land to the
North.
Exits: NSEW NENWSESW —
-> S
Sea
You are in a boat. The boat is in a narrow channel between reefs on the
east and west.
Exits: NSEW NENWSESW —

The first part of the sea map is relatively uncomplicated:

Anything marked red is death. The Stony Beach is a new area but I think it is a trap, that is, I believe your game might be over if you reach here:

You manage to beach the boat but, unfortunately, the stony beach tears out the bottom of the boat making it totally useless. Still ne’er mind aye!
Stony Shore
You appear to have beached on a small island. In the distance you can see a dishevelled old man playing with the pebbles and muttering something about the number of stars is the same as the number of pebbles on a beach.
Exits: —- ——SW —
There is a wrecked rowing boat here

The “FOG” points on the map teleport you to a new section (I think randomly). Here’s that portion of the map:

I know my map isn’t perfect; there’s some messiness in the lower right where I think the game connections might partially be broken. The important part is one particular spot (I have it marked in orange) where you can move the boat NW and find a beach other than the Stony one.

You are in a boat. The sea is a little choppy here due to the wind springing up. The sea to the south seems to be a little turbulent and you can see a reef to the north.
Exits: NSEW NENWSESW —
-> nw
The strong winds from the west blow your boat onto the reefs as you try to row past them. Fortunately, you are not far from the beach and you manage to wade ashore, but the boat is lost.
Beach
You are on a beautiful sheltered golden beach which is surrounded by nasty looking rock formations. To the north is a craggy outcrop of rock which you may be able to surmount.
Exits: N— —-SE– —
-> n
You manage to ascend the craggy rock face with ease, but as you reach the summit you lose your footing and slide down the glass-smooth surface of the rocks on the other side.
Rock Gully
You are in a narrow high-sided glacial rock gully. The gully widens out to the north. To the south is an inclined rockface which is as smooth as glass.
Exits: NS– ——– —

This is clearly a one-way trip, and typing SCORE now indicates you are in Phase 2 (Genesis).

Since you lose everything on the boat, any inventory you have at the moment is the only thing carried on. One of the items has to be the laser cannon, which is only working now due to the cylinder found next to the beach:

Dead End
You are surrounded by rock on three sides. There is a rock gully to the south.
Exits: -S– ——– —
-> shoot cannon
Your action vaporises a large amount of rock, revealing a hole in the east rock face.

The laser cannon is quite heavy; the only other thing I managed to carry was the brown bottle with fresh water, which I picked since the water was near the sample place at the cylinder. It is possible no new items are needed, and this is really a fresh start.

I originally was going to end the post here, but I made it a little farther and solved one extremely nasty puzzle, that does a trick I’ve only once in a puzzle game (Oxyd) and never in an adventure game. So here’s a little bit of phase 2:

After you vaporize a hole, you can go east into darkness, walking east repeatedly until arriving at an open area by a jungle. Wandering the jungle a bit (one of those mazes you can’t map because it swallows up items) lets you find a hut:

-> n
Clearing
You have found a clearing in the jungle. To the north is a small hut.
Exits: NSEW NENWSESW —
-> n
Hut
You are in a small featureless mud hut. Set in one corner of the hut is a table. It would appear that the table used to contain a number of drawers, however there is only one remaining.
Exits: -S– ——– —

The drawer has a control unit (no description, no idea what it is), a plastic card, a written report, an orange pin, a torn card, and an everlasting torch.

Considering the items backwards, the everlasting torch (flashlight, remember this is British!) lets you go back in the dark tunnel and find a key.

The torn card is interesting but I haven’t used it yet:

Same for the orange pin (“The pin is approximately one centimetre long and has an orange head”). The written report gives some times…

Militech Duty Roster
Week 10
Responsible Officer Time
Benskins 00:00 - 04:00
Smithson 04:00 - 08:00
Zebadier 08:00 - 12:00
Harrison 12:00 - 16:00
Johnston 16:00 - 20:00
Jenkinson 20:00 - 24:00

…and the card is a security pass.

Notice how the name “Johnston” is on the schedule from 16:00-20:00.

Wandering the open area some more, I found a grating with a slot. Inserting my card activated the lift.

The card is consumed by the slot. After a few seconds the ground starts to vibrate softly as if ancient machinery deep in the earth is activated. The ground jolts violently and starts to lower slowly, carrying you into the bowels of the earth.

This dropped me down to a place with 8 doors I haven’t been able to open:

You are standing on an area of grass approximately 5 metres below ground level in the centre of a circular room. There are eight doors around the room.

(My score went up by 5 in the process, so I know it was “correct” to do, even if perhaps early — I might be missing an item.)

In the process of this I unkowingly solved a diabolical puzzle. You see, I was playing at about 7:30 PM local time, or 19:30. I mean the actual time, the real one on my system clock. When I tested later I had an entirely different reaction:

The card is consumed by the slot. Far off in the distance an alarm rings briefly. The card is ejected from the slot.

It took me some thought but I realized it was now 5 minutes after 8 PM in actual local time. The game keeps track of the system clock, and unless it is between 16:00-20:00, you aren’t able to solve the puzzle! You can confirm system time is used by typing TIME into the parser.

This definitely strikes me as one of those “intended for multiple players” type puzzles, like the endgame of Adventure 550 which required knowing about passwords from multiple playthroughs. I could see someone who always plays their adventures in the morning simply never resolving the puzzle, and needing someone else who coincidentally played at the right time for help.

No doubt there are other puzzles I’ll only be able to resolve with my hardy commenters, who have been an enormous help through this journey. Thanks to everyone so far!

(Perhaps you might be wondering, what happened to the door? It blew up in the nuclear explosion, right? It was, as confirmed by the authors, a red herring all along.)

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

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Ferret: The Door   16 comments

The Data General series eventually started to attain a “traditional desktop” look like the MV/2000 here from 1985 (picture from Novas are Forever). I know it could play Ferret because someone back in the 90s posted a message asking if anyone knew how to get a copy of Ferret, noting the machine they used to play the game on.

So, everyone — including both here and on the Facebook group, which at last check had gone up to 30 members — has been getting stalled on the same puzzle. I’m going to use this post just to talk about this one puzzle.

Before moving on, there is the open possibility of a bug, but according to the authors they’ve been using all the various automated systems the game provides to test walkthroughs and make sure they work. So there is some way through although it is not guaranteed to avoid having some slight oddity in parser use making it harder than it needs to be. (Example: An earlier version of the game accepted “lift” but not “push” for the lid at the opening. This was fixed in a later version.)

Part of the question here is: what norm does the game have about red herrings? Various authors have different standpoints, and quite often it helps to catch on to a particular author preference. Scott Adams, for example, has essentially no wasted space (but also a very tight memory capacity; Adventureland had a computer error room as a joke, but later games essentially pass on this as a feature). Let’s break out a boldfaced list:

No red herrings: While this is common amongst games with tight capacity (like one of Bruce Robinson’s games for the unexpanded VIC-20) there are some longer games that have gone with this as a style; Hamil for the Cambridge mainframe is a prominent recent example, which had a room full of dust which normally would be scenery, but in that game the dust becomes an important item for a puzzle (and not via cleaning it!)

Environmental red herrings: While no special effort is made to deceive the player, some particular items (and/or locations) have been placed for realism. Planetfall had, for example, locked rooms you never get to enter. Given the nature of adventure games, it is impossible to place an environmental red herring without it affecting the gameplay, but the author can still try to signal this is happening.

Difficulty red herrings: Items or locations placed with the full knowledge they will make solving puzzles harder. A relatively mild example comes from the opening of Acheton where an inviting mine entrance collapses when the player tries to enter. One common early trick was to include a weapon or other firearm that is never meant to be used and in fact can actively be harmful to the player.

Would a game be willing to put an entire puzzle setup just to spite Zork? I summarized the puzzle last time, but let’s do a full transcript:

Corridor
You are in a featureless corridor. To the north there is a formidable wooden door with a reinforced window.

-> examine door
There is a reinforced window set in the top half of the formidable wooden door.
Approximately midway up the door, and to one side, is a keyhole. There is a gap
under the door.

-> i
You are carrying:
a coil of rope
a shovel
a sharp bayonet
a stained leaflet

-> slide leaflet under door
Done.

-> put bayonet in keyhole
Done.
There is a dull clunk from the other side of the door.

-> look through gap
You can just make out a key glimmering in the room beyond.

-> get leaflet
Taken.

-> i
You are carrying:
a coil of rope
a shovel
a stained leaflet

Just to be clear: this is the heavily-sterotypical puzzle first seen in Zork where there is a locked door where the key was left in on the other side; you slide something underneath, push the key, it falls on the slid-thing, and then you pull the newspaper/leaflet/whatever out and the key has fallen on top of it.

Here, you go through the same procedure with nearly every object in the game and nothing works. What’s truly odd is the game bothers to model the physical aspect of the key falling, and even make a restricted list of items that fit, which tends to be more work than your typical red herring. But maybe the authors are the sorts that would, indeed, do that.

The other option, violence? Just using the bayonet doesn’t work; perhaps the laser cannon might if it was fueled up.

The cannon is quite compact, with a nice finger grip and ornate firing lance inlaid with quaint gold leaf in the post modern neo-romantic style. There is a round orifice in the end of the cannon.

-> shoot cannon
Nothing happens – Oh well, ne’er mind eh.

Various items can be deposited in the “round orifice” (the sphere with the toxic gas is the most tempting) although I haven’t gotten that to translate into the weapon firing.

Other shenanigans I haven’t gotten to work: You can “BREAK CANDLE” to get wax and some string, and I’ve attempted to tie the string to something (the bayonet, say) on order to give it farther reach to be able to make it to the key. No luck.

I also tried using the wax in various ways (maybe the key bounces off the paper it lands on, so make the paper sticky first?) but again, no dice.

Using a thermonuclear bomb in order to destroy the door:

-> pull lever
The thermonuclear device ticks for a few seconds and then stops.
-> examine device
On closer inspection, you notice a small red lever mounted on top of the device. Under the lever is a little quartz window.

….

-> look through window
There is a digital display which reads: 44
-> look through window
There is a digital display which reads: 43
-> look through window
There is a digital display which reads: 42
-> look through window
There is a digital display which reads: 41

….

-> look through window
There is a digital display which reads:♫ 3
-> look through window
There is a digital display which reads:♫ 2
-> look through window
There is a digital display which reads:♫ 1
There is an incredible explosion nearby, due to your exposed situation the enormous pressure wave squashes you to a pulp.

Well, satisfying, but not very helpful!

My current betting odds are 5% we’re doing things right with the paper under the door, just we’re using the wrong parser commands; 35% the procedure is mostly the same but an extra boost is needed; 30% that violence is instead required; 28% the way through is something I haven’t thought of; and a small-but-present 2% that something went awry in compiling version 10.0 that makes the puzzle currently bugged.

Posted October 11, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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