Arrow of Death Part 2: A Cloud of Evil Smoke   4 comments

I have completed the game, and my prior posts are needed for this one to make sense.

From World of Spectrum. As nifty as Murder at Awesome Hall sounds it is just a clone of the board game Clue.

I didn’t have too much farther to go; my stuckness could partly be traced to a deceptive parser message. But it’s more interesting to approach how I got out of trouble first.

There was, to recap, an animated skeleton guarding a trail. The skeleton didn’t actively attack but wouldn’t let me by, and my attempts to KILL were null and void.

My verb list again.

Adventure games can sometimes be the inverse of RPGs. In RPGs, the the player typically attains more and more objects and capabilities which make it easier to get out of trouble (this is why part 2 of a roguelike is often easier than part 1). With adventures, the player often attains a large object list which eventually gets narrowed down to a shorter one, making puzzles easier to solve; less objects to test as solutions to puzzles. There are enough murderously hard endgames this is not a hard and fast rule, but even grand-champion-hardest-of-all-time Quondam followed this pattern.

The same thing can happen with verbs. Specialty verbs in particular often are invoked only once; for example, while we could FLY with a kite, the kite becomes a “broken kite” and it becomes extremely unlikely FLY gets invoked again.

Here is the list of verbs with every verb crossed out I used at least once:

Some are obviously still potentially useful, like GO and SEARCH, and some I’ve already used more than once, like DIG. The thing to focus on is that there’s liable to be a use for all the verbs at some point in the game (at least in an old-school one).

It is possible in this era to have “placeholder verbs” which do nothing anywhere and are intended to give a more pleasing response than “I don’t understand”; HELP: “There is no help for you in this game.” More modern games have quite a few of these, like the famous “Violence isn’t the answer to this one” response to ATTACK. It can be helpful and satisfying to get this kind of response; the ability to even pretend to do some common act makes the world’s mimesis a little shoddier. With very old games having tight memory requirements, though, they often didn’t have space to waste on placeholder verbs.

SMASH, however, felt all the world like a placeholder verb. It gives the response “Vandal!” which really gets across the message “smashing things isn’t part of the game”. However, glancing at the special verb list, and glancing at the verbs that haven’t been crossed out, SMASH is a really tempting verb to try on the skeleton. I could swear I had already tried it without success (in fact I probably did, more on that in a second) but then I found, voila:

As I said, I thought I had tried it before, so I reloaded an old saved game and tested SMASH again only to find the “Vandal!” message come up. Not only does this come across as a “placeholder” it suggests the skeleton is part of that.

After some testing I realized the difference the second time is I was carrying a LARGE ROCK I didn’t have before. What the parser really should have done is say something like “I don’t have anything that will help with that”. Even the standard “Sorry” would have conveyed a similar spirit.

(The game in general is pretty bad about objects held being used without letting the player know they were used. the fluffy shrub from two posts ago being a good example. Once I picked up a CLOAK and wore it for the rest of the game — it otherwise wasn’t too useful to have. I assume it had an effect somewhere but I still don’t know where!)

Anyway, to circle back: if you’re ever stuck in an old-school adventure, especially near the endgame, try not just to list the verbs but the verbs that haven’t been used yet.

The rest of the game was straightforward. I found a MOUND on the trail that the shovel was able to dig out and get a hole. Inside the hole I found a passage blocked by a large boulder, and it was dynamite’s time to shine.

This leads to some stairs and an “Impenetrable” veil.

Just past the veil is an organ with some sheet music, and playing the music removes the veil. (I’d complain about the puzzle being too easy, but it was still a satisfying act.)

And then there is XERDON.

Just to be clear, he hasn’t seen you yet in the image above: if he sees you, you die. For example, if you try to get out your bow and arrow and use them in the same room XERDON is in.

Fortunately, it takes only a few more steps to go around a back route and find an “arrow slit” where XERDON is visible.

One SHOOT XERDON and it is all over.

This marks the first Howarth game I’ve managed to beat without hints. I don’t think this is due to my increased skillset as much as slightly more reasonable puzzles; despite the presence of quite a bit of magic there isn’t anything where the game asks you to do something completely arbitrary. I think the only exception might be the “smooth stone” where rubbing it summons a beggar, but the smoothness is meant to be a hint, and I did come across RUB quite naturally and quickly so the hint apparently worked.

Despite the presence of a light source with a timer, the author resisted temptation in making the timer run out quickly; I did forget to turn it off for a while and got low on oil, but the entire last part of the game needs no light so it didn’t matter anyway.

While it is possible for one of these games to be too simplistic to be fun, the winning key seems to be to allow for dense systems (like the interconnected navigation) but lean intuitive on the actual resolution to problems. Really (other than the parser issue from this post) I mainly had issues with visualizing; how big is a column of fire? Is a locked grate placed such that tying rope and having a mule pull on it even make sense? Is a “grotesque creature” with no other description something I could reasonably take down with a sword? I had to assume all the possibilities and run through each one.

Howarth stayed on a steady clip; we’ve got two more games for 1982 alone. But for now, we’re going to swerve back to Japan; we recently saw their first adventure game, but their first graphical adventure game ended up being much more important. And then, we’re going to approach one of the most mysterious games I’ve ever written about for this blog, one with a 1982 date yet where it only has been able to be completed as of two months ago.

Posted October 3, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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4 responses to “Arrow of Death Part 2: A Cloud of Evil Smoke

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  1. Another of my pet parser betes noir is obscure verbs working when more common ones don’t. I have come across a surprising number of these over the years. A cynic might say it is an easy way of making a game more difficult without the necessity of puzzle construction. Castle Ralf understands “cogitate” but not “think” for instance and Savage Island Part 2 required “hyperventilate” near the outset of the game. Also “smite” but not “hit” in one of the Level 9 games.

    • apparently BREATHE DEEPLY works too but that’s almost harder to find.

      When I wrote about it I had remembered HYPERVENTILATE from a book about the game I read many years ago, no doubt it stuck because it was so outrageous.

      • Yes. An isolated adverb thrown in to render the puzzle more difficult. I can’t remember Scott Adams using them much. Larry Horsman is very fond of “run quickly” and “turn slowly” type commands in his games but you start using them because they are so common.

  2. The weirdest Scott Adams requirement has to be “walk up” in The Sorcerer of Claymorgue Castle. In a specific room, none of the other synonyms or means of movement work all of a sudden, and I could never figure out why.

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