Ferret: The Secret of the Inner Sanctum   21 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:


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.

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
-> 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.
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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21 responses to “Ferret: The Secret of the Inner Sanctum

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  1. after some testing, you can take the wire along with the three pins

    I’ll muck a bit more, the clay brick does _not_ work.

    You are carrying:
    an orange pin
    a white pin
    a black pin
    a length of steel wire
    a curved wooden splint
    a steel bolt

    Maybe then don’t kill the monk! You can also have the magazine cover.

    Glass doesn’t work under any condition, hammer doesn’t work under any condition. Seems to be more a “object carried over mass threshold” problem rather than overall mass.

    • The sands normally swallow up items you drop, but if you fire the bolt at the sand it stays.

      Based on this, there is only one desert room, so it isn’t a maze.

      • There is one slightly weird thing, though. In every other case (if I remember correctly), whenever you step into a room with an item on the ground, the item is immediately shown. Here, actually the bolt does not appear after you move until you type “look”. It is certainly not a common maze, but could it be that there is some implementation quirk here to make this maze harder to map?

      • btw, the room description on arrival is different than the room description on “look” (there’s a comma in one but not the other)

      • Also, in “brief” mode, the room descriptions keep coming up anyway when you move; they wouldn’t if it was just the same room (I tested in other mazes with self-loops and the description only shows the first time). My wild guess would be that there is some custom code here to allow them to make some weird maze/area without having to add a thousand copies of the same room.
        Other than that, the only different thing I found is that LOOK UP is a new response.

    • Congratulations!

      More items that you can bring to the desert…

      Lbh ner va n ubg naq qel qrfreg. Lbh pna frr abguvat nebhaq rkprcg fnaq naq
      zber fnaq.
      -> v
      Lbh ner pneelvat:
      na benatr cva
      n juvgr cva
      n evccrq pneq
      n oynpx cva
      n yratgu bs fgrry jver
      n pheirq jbbqra fcyvag
      n zntnmvar pbire
      n cvax gvyr
      n terl gvyr
      n ivbyrg gvyr
      na ndhnznevar gvyr
      na vaqvtb gvyr

      Probably not useful, hard to know yet.
      Possibly even more things could be brought, but I haven’t tried everything.

    • Any chance the tiles are not totally useless and are actually showing some form of possible path through the desert? They always looked a bit like a path to me. I just don’t know exactly how to combine them.

      • Code-wise, whenever the game has wanted a particular path, it always has used multiple rooms. Since in this case the game never lets the player out of the same room, I suspect there is no path to follow. (Never know for sure with this game, though!)

    • A minor and probably not meaningful oddity that I have noted is that the assembled bow weighs more than its parts.
      -> tie wire to splint
      The wire is tied to one end of the splint.
      -> tie wire to splint
      You are carrying too much.
      -> drop bolt
      -> tie wire to splint
      The wire is tied to each end of the splint.
      -> get bolt
      You are carrying too much.

      I have worked a bit more on what items we can bring with us to the desert. In addition to the inventory I posted earlier it is also possible to have the plastic card.
      We could probably also bring the old iron key (not fully tested, but it can at least be brought to the viewing gallery), at the cost of leaving the orange pin and plastic card behind.

      I have also seen that we don’t need the bow+bolt for the mirror, we can just throw the brick at it, not that it makes much difference now.
      I want to find a way to chase off the monk without using the bolt though. Anyone else with success in this?
      I think there should be a way not to suffer the randomness of the monk, with the spirit of expert mode in mind.

      • It certainly is possible the only other use of the bolt is on the monk. We just haven’t gotten far enough yet to be certain.

        I’ve got a “walkthrough” from the vent to phase 5 that wakes the monk and keeps the bolt without having an issue yet.

        Experimented a bit with trying to dive down into the pool early — like attaching the wire to something, dropping it in the pool, and then following the wire — but the game just gets confused if I try that and I don’t think the physical model was meant to handle it. Based on the touchscreen image the inner sanctum is un-flooded anyway.

  2. Brilliantly achieved sir. Looking forward to diving into the desert soon!

  3. This seems a rather difficult, cumbersome game. I’m not sure I’d like to play it…

  4. One more horrible thing to consider. I haven’t been paying too much attention to health, but:

    V jnf tbvat haqre gur nffhzcgvba gur cynax vf _pbzcyrgryl_ vzcbffvoyr gb cvpx hc naq whfg n erq ureevat. Ohg vg qbrf whfg bhgevtug fnl vg vf gbb urnil, yvxr gur tnzr qbrf jura lbhe urnygu vf haqre n pregnva guerfubyq. Vf vg cbffvoyr lbh unir gb zva-znk gur cerivbhf cneg bs gur tnzr va beqre gb or ng gur orfg urnygu ng gur cynax, fb lbh pna cvpx vg hc nsgre nyy (znlor hfr gb pebff gur enivar ng gung cbvag)?

    • Gur hccre cneg bs gur zbanfgrel (gur bar gung vf gbb uvtu gb snyy sebz, rira jvgu gur znggerff) nyfb fnlf fbzrguvat yvxr “lbh frr gur yrqtr ng gur bgure fvqr bs gur enivar” va gur fnzr jnl nf gur ybjre barf.

      But I don’t know, we’ve been “feeling fine” for a while, does it make sense that there are multiple invisible levels of “fine” that affect the strength, other than between “fine” and “ok”?

      V’q thrff ab, ohg lbh arire xabj. Gur qrfreg rngf njnl ng lbhe urnygu rirel ghea, fb znlor jr pna gel gb frr vs gung nssrpgf gur pneelvat pncnpvgl.

  5. I can’t help but suspect that we’re not supposed to be in the desert in the first place. Has anyone figured out how to pbafvfgragyl fjvgpu gur Ebbz bs Cnffvba gb gur Ebbz bs Chevgl? V’z jbaqrevat vs guvf zvtug nssrpg jurer gur phegnva va gur Vaare Fnapghz gnxrf lbh.

    • Gur Ebbz bs Chevgl vf ubj gung ebbz fgnegf bhg, jvgu gur gbhpufperra ba vgf jrfg jnyy. Vs lbh chfu gung jnyy, sebz rvgure fvqr, vg ebgngrf naq zbirf gur gbhpufperra gb jung jnf gur Ebbz bs Nofgvarapr. Gur Ebbz bs Chevgl jvgubhg gur gbhpufperra vf gur Ebbz bs Cnffvba; naq gur Ebbz bs Nofgvarapr jvgu gur gbhpufperra vf gur Ebbz bs Rail.

      • Ah, I see. You’re right. For the record, I tried going through the curtain with the Rooms of Abstinence and Purity unaltered and still found myself in the desert.

      • Gur jrveq guvat vf gung lbh pna arire chfu vg onpx gb vgf bevtvany cynpr, juvpu fubhyq unccra (V thrff) vs lbh zbir onpx rnfg sebz Rail. Abg fher vs vg’f n oht (vg’f xvaqn unezyrff naljnl).

        Jung ernyyl obguref zr vf gur abgvba gung gur gvyrf ner hfryrff. V haqrefgnaq guvf tnzr vf jrveq ohg gung sbe fbzr ernfba xvaqn obguref zr zber guna hfhny.

      • We have found so very many useless items/areas this far, I am getting used to it. Though I still have hope that the game will tie up more loose threads later on.
        “We” currently seem to presume that the pins will be useful and think we have a rather good reason to do so, but they might be as useless as many of the other things we’ve encountered.
        We’ve also seen repeatedly that the game allows us to progress using different techniques for the same problem. So some things are sort of semi-useless, because we have done it another way.

        Now back to the damn desert for me. :D

  6. The authors confirm that the optimum solutiion is to shoot the monk with the bolt while he is asleep. They also mention giving one’s eyes to the monk as you can still feel your way around. If you do so the monk immediately becomes interested in your inventory however so I’m not sure how this helps.

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