Ferret: There Will Come Soft Rains   30 comments

The subtitle of this post comes from one of the most famous of Ray Bradbury’s short stories. It first appeared in Collier’s in 1950, later being printed in his collection The Martian Chronicles.

From art by Douglas Chaffee.

The Earth has been destroyed in nuclear war, but a small house in California still keeps working.

“Today is August 4, 2026,” said a second voice from the kitchen ceiling, “in the city of Allendale, California.” It repeated the date three times for memory’s sake. “Today is Mr. Featherstone’s birthday. Today is the anniversary of Tilita’s marriage. Insurance is payable, as are the water, gas, and light bills.”

There are, essentially, no characters, except the house itself: pure setting as story. Despite its unusual structure, it unfolds a story through the ghost presence of the people it implies.

The entire west face of the house was black, save for five places. Here the silhouette in paint of a man mowing a lawn. Here, as in a photograph, a woman bent to pick flowers. Still farther over, their images burned on wood in one titanic instant, a small boy, hands flung into the air; higher up, the image of a thrown ball, and opposite him a girl, hands raised to catch a ball which never came down.

Apocalypse is uniquely suited for adventure purposes; people are hard to code, and scrounging up materials (and improvising based on whatever is at hand) both makes sense naturally for the genre and makes for an organic combination of plot and action. Even setting itself, like the Bradbury tale, can tell a tragic story.

Despite Ferret being, at its essence, a random “biome journey”, every time there is a sort of human presence it has felt much stronger and more poignant than it might otherwise. Zork itself was set in a post-apocalypse of sorts (of an Empire, rather than an entire world), but the fantastical crumbling aspects gave the appearance of abandonment more than death, a ghost town rather than a nuclear memorial.

My latest progress in Ferret mostly went through a series of buildings with clear function that have been abandoned; there is something of the same poignance, even though the prose isn’t attempting for Bradbury-level artistry. For example, there’s a telephone you can find at one point where a phone number (given way back at the cathedral) works to get a recorded message:

You can hear a thin metallic voice constantly repeating:

Greetings from Ferrivan Incorporated. A Business that aims to please. Thank you for dialling our automatic reception centre, a service specially designed for you, the discerning personal or fleet Business operator of vehicular transportation. In our continual quest to provide the ultimate in mobile conveyance, we will occasionally upgrade our product line and consequently the automobile you desire may be replaced by a new, improved model. Please accept our heart-felt apologies if this causes you the smallest inconvenience. Ferrivan Incorporated, a Business that aims to please, can provide you with the following range of superb, modern, clean, up to the minute, high-tech and desirable vehicles:

The Ferricart: a sleek modern saloon of outstanding economy
The Ferrichariot: a sporty conveyance of incredible performance
The Ferridrone: an automatic carrier for the Business user
The Ferricomfort: supreme comfort for the chauffeur class
The Ferriwheel: a low maintenance carrier for the Business section
The Ferrivator: an all-purpose electrical small-load carrier
The Ferrifour: all-wheel drive transportation for any terrain

See your nearest dealer for the full detail scan of all these robust, reliable and raunchy horizontal-mode ground-carriages.
Remember, Ferrivan Incorporated, a Business that aims to please, wants you to have the ultimate conveyance, so make the right decision, go for the company that rates you as numero uno, contact your Ferrivan dealer now! All Ferrivan dealers are listed on your personal terminal, under Vehicular Conveyances.

According to the game’s “info” command the bombs dropped 50 years ago, so this recording extolling the virtue of Ferrivan Incorporated has been playing on repeat for 50 years. The fact it is corporate gobbledygook, rather than an automated house trying to nurture a dead family, adds a bit of Zork-style satire to the circumstance.

From 1950, Government Printing Office, Washington.

Picking up from last time, I was stuck on a “White Room”; there was a series of colored rooms with riddle-inscriptions, but this room had no such inscription.

White Room
You are in a room where the walls, floor and ceiling have been carved from beautiful white rock.
There is a brown pin here
-> read inscription
I can’t see anything like that around here.
-> hint
Go down on it.

I theorized that the lack of inscription meant this wasn’t a regular riddle, but indicating some holistic action meant to be done across all the rainbow rooms. This was entirely a wrong theory.

This is just another regular riddle, even without the inscription. Where I got really befuddled was the use of the HINT command. Prior riddle rooms had fairly explicit hints given by the riddles (so much so that the puzzles were essentially given away) but they augmented the existing inscription. Here, there was no inscription to be augmenting. Additionally, the hint is essentially required to solve this riddle. While the game has been willing to stretch meta-aspects before (remember when I had to change my computer’s timer?) but the inconsistency with hint treatment really led me astray here.

“Go down on it” is just a clue to SAY DESCEND.

-> e
As you pass out of the 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 west wall starts to rise gradually, and the rumbling continues afresh. The wall slowly slides up until it comes to rest with a jolt, its top now level with the surrounding wall. The sand and dust are blown out of the room by a slight draught. It is now quiet.
Distribution Matrix
You are in a room that forms the southwestern corner of a vast open area.
There are four stopcocks here, marked N, S, E and W.
Exits: N-E- NE—— —

This is a large 6 by 5 area, thankfully not in any form a maze.

All the rooms of the large area have stopcocks; there’s also a long pole and a canoe (with a hook) sitting around. The canoe is too big to carry but you can take the ever useful wire and attach it to drag the canoe around. More on that in a second.

The plaque above is nestled in the northwest corner; there’s also a window showing a view of a pipeline.

Through the carefully constructed window you can see a beautiful seascape. Below you is a sheer cliff with a lovely golden beach at its base.
Unfortunately the idyllic scene is marred by a huge pipeline that emanates from the bottom of the cliff, runs over the beach and out into the sea.

The goal here is to open stopcocks, forming a path from the northwest corner to the northeast corner. There are no doubt multiple ways of doing so. Once at the southeast corner you can push a button leading to a “courtyard” and a “slipway” which will (if you’ve let the water flow”) be a “canal awash with a torrent of water.” Then you can tie the wire to a stake, push the canoe off into the water, and untie the wire (goodbye, helpful wire!) to go on a brief rapids ride:

-> untie wire
As the canoe is unleashed from its restraint it is caught by the raging
torrent of water and forced out into the canal.
In a Canoe
You are in a canoe charging down a canal on a torrent of swirling water. The
air seems deceptively cooler here.

[…several turns later…]

As you surge onward down the canal the banks narrow to a width where the pole wedges itself between the banks. As you were holding it at the time you are physically lifted out of the canoe which charges off down the canal.
The flow of the canal reduces to a mere trickle and then to nothing.
Swinging on a Pole
You are swinging on a pole above a dry area of canal bed. It’s very cold here.
Exits: —- ——– -D

The whole sequence was pleasantly simple to figure out compared to some of the previous brain-busters; I figured out the stopcock-turning sequence on essentially the first try and while it took me a bit of fiddling to get the canoe to work (I originally didn’t tie it to the stake; if you do that it bobbles in the water, but it seems like you should still be able to move?) the whole sequence felt suitably dramatic.

Also, this is yet another “item reset” as you can’t carry heavy items in the canoe (so the weird titanium orb and so forth from the rainbow corridor are yet more red herrings). You are once again reduced to just the colored pins, which will finally see some use.

Swinging on a Pole
You are swinging on a pole above a dry area of canal bed. It’s very cold here.
Exits: —- ——– -D
-> d
Canal Bed
You are standing on a dry area of the canal bed. The canal bed continues to the north and south and looks very muddy. There is a stairway leading up cut into the west bank. High above your head a long pole is wedged between the banks of the canal. It is very cold here.
Exits: NS-W ——– U-
-> w
You are in an area cut from frozen rock. The rock walls to the north, east and west rise out of sight above you. Cut into the east wall is a stairway leading down onto a dry canal bed. The rock to the south slopes away out of sight and appears to be made of ice. It is bloody freezing here.
Exits: -SE- ——– -D

Straight from a desert to a tundra. Just a few more steps takes you to a warmer place; a “glacial channel” with a steel door and a “minute hole in a chromium disc set in the rock next to the door”. The orange pin goes in (and pops out) unlocking the door.

Facing Passage
You are in a narrow passage cut into solid rock. The room is lit by a strange irridescent glow from the rock walls and ceiling. To the north is a steel door, to the south is a square arch set in the rock. There is a sign on the east wall and a digital clock on the west wall. It is quite warm here.
Exits: -S– ——– —
-> examine clock
The clock appears to be broken, but is showing a time of five past one.

The clock is not intended as a tragic piece of set-building, but rather a hint for the mechanism that is to come. A few rooms away is a “control centre” (which you can enter via white pin) which is a little hard to process.

Control Centre
You are in a brightly lit, partially derelict control centre set in solid rock. Most of the apparatus has been destroyed, however some still appears viable. There are three buttons, coloured red, orange and green; two switches, coloured blue and yellow; two knobs, one green, the other red; one lever and two digital gauges, one orange, the other blue. There is a steel door to the east.

It took me a while to get comfy, and a good hour was spent just with me pushing buttons in various combinations and taking notes on if things changed, but:

a.) the green and red knobs do nothing; there’s some dark rooms which they might presumably light up but the mechanism is no longer working

b.) the lever lets you press the “orange button” which activates a pad I’ll show off in a moment

c.) the red and green buttons connect to the orange and blue gauges and run through the numbers 1 through 9 (or sometimes 10) and 1 through 20

d.) the blue switch gives off a mechanism grinding sound, and the yellow one does as well (as long as the number settings haven’t changed since you’ve set off the blue switch)

-> turn blue switch
You hear the distant sounds of hydraulic machinery moving into action, followed by a brief grinding noise, and finally a reverberating clunk.

If you play around with different gauge settings and using the blue switch quite a lot, you can die in an amusing way.

You hear the distant sounds of hydraulic machinery moving into action, followed
by a brief grinding noise, and finally a reverberating clunk.
There is a tremendous rise in temperature, accompanied by a deafening bang and a huge emission of gases. Modern-day research scientists use the term ‘explosion’ for such an event.
You’ve been Chernobbled.
Phase 6 (Radiation)
Mode: Expert
You have scored 525 (out of 1670) points in 1929 moves.
Rooms visited: 301. Rank achieved: Mega-galactic Genius.

Oops! At least this makes clear where you are. If you press the red button four times, setting the gauges to 5 and 1 respectively (5 past 1) you get something useful — a passage opens up that was previously closed.

End Passage
You are in a narrow passage cut into solid rock. There is a narrow exit to the south. The room is lit by a strange irridescent glow from the rock walls and ceiling. It is warm here.
Exits: NS– ——– —
-> s
Nuclear Core
You are in a very warm room.
Exits: N— ——– —
There is a hand-held receiver here

The receiver has a touch screen which is normally blank unless you’ve activated the orange button, as I’ve mentioned before. It gives a map.

|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|- -|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|
O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O
O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O
O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O
O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O
O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O
O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O
O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O
O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O
O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O

The gap at the top is the room you’ve just opened. You opened the passage designated (5, 1). You can press the green button to increment the second number; what happens is like this:

Each of the green numbers (changed by pushing the green button) indicates a different exit; you can switch the mechanism to the particular exit and then open it with the blue switch (but remember you can’t open too many or the whole thing explodes!) You can incidentally go “off the grid” and find a dark room, but there’s nothing I found any of the dark rooms, so I’m guessing they’re a red herring. The touchpad map fortunately updates whenever you make a change so it is easy to work out what’s going on (once you know to start checking the touchpad!)

The red button (and corresponding number) match with what column you’re at. I dutifully mapped the entire thing out just in case, finding a violet pin (absolutely useless) and a lead box with a uranium rod. The rod is useful; there’s another one of those “locked doors with a small holes” nearby, except none of the pins (including the recently-found violet one) work. No, you have to use the uranium rod, which pops the exit open to Phase 7 (Inversion).

Decontamination Chamber
You are in a small antisceptic room. The room is devoid of any fixtures or fittings other than a ladder fixed to one wall. A few feet above the top of the ladder is a hole in the ceiling. There is an overpowering smell of disinfectant.
Exits: —W ——– U-
-> diagnose
You are feeling a bit off colour.

I’m a little worried about the diagnosis, but I did go back and try optimizing steps and so forth; you lose some health in the desert (even if you go at maximum speed and ignore the skeleton) and you lose some health in the radiation area (again, even at max speed).

At the top of the ladder is the telephone with the odd repeating message. Going a bit farther finds an office building asking for a security code, which you can helpfully extract from information quite a ways back in the game, phase 2 to be exact:

Having everything catalogued on a blog can be helpful sometimes!


You are on a high, fenced catwalk. At the eastern end of the catwalk is a building with a door. Set in the wall next to the door is an intercom, which has a orange button on it.
Exits: —W ——– —
-> push button
The button illuminates. A metallic voice emanates from the intercom and says
‘Photoscan completed. State your ID’. The light in the button goes out.
-> say 8371235483183271
There is a muted click from behind the door.

The inside of the building has a “derelict landing” which goes a long way both up and down; the way up is blocked by a creature I haven’t dealt with yet.

-> look at drongoid
The drongoid is truly a most awesome creature. It has the build of a brick shithouse, is coloured a disgusting shade of putrid green, has two heads and eight beady little eyes. Most probably the product of some horrible radioactive mutation the creature oozes slime and smegma over its molten skin. Of its many limbs some appear to have been derived from traditional arms and legs, but their uses are apparently interchangeable as it occasionally shifts its weight from one combination of appendages to another. As the saying goes, ‘I would steer well clear of that one’.

I’ve still not fully explored everything — going all the way down hits a subway system — but I do want to mention one more item in the office building, a security computer. It asks for a password.

With no other clues as to the password, I checked with HINT and found it was a word I’d heard an awful lot. Thinking back to that repeating message, I typed BUSINESS.

> type business
A tinny voice is emitted from the terminal, it says:
“Invoking security scan. Please answer the following questions.”
The screen is displaying:
Type in the notional square root of -1.

Then what follows is a very long trivia quiz/riddle sequence. Some questions are easy…

Shakespearian play set in Scotland, the name of the play being regarded as unlucky in theatrical circles.

…and some questions are ridiculous.

8200, obtained by writing a C program which checked every numerical value from 1 to 9999. The variable f isn’t even defined, so I’m a little baffled here.

For anyone playing along and struggling, I’ve got a full list of solutions in ROT13 here for the entire sequence. The end result is the ability to enter text commands on the terminal, which I think have something to do with the subway system underground.

-> type help
The screen displays:
The permitted commands are:
-> type status
The screen displays:
Unit Status:
Unit 3 Brake Fault.
Unit selected = 1.
Unit Direction: Reverse.
-> type display
The screen displays:
Local Circuit:


I’ll puzzle this out a bit more next time.

I do want to make one final observation that while those colored pins we’ve been toting around finally were useful, two of them were not, and the split-in-two card additionally seems to be a complete bust. Ferret really tries hard to set up its red herrings far beyond any other game I’ve ever played.

You could have missed the second half of this card back at the horrid maze and it wouldn’t have mattered.

Posted November 8, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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30 responses to “Ferret: There Will Come Soft Rains

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  1. Nothing says “post-apocalyptic wonderland” like pulling control rods out of the core of a half-functioning nuclear power plant and then casually walking around inside said nuclear core.

    It’s even more fun if, like me, you completely ignore the handy “map” tool (wrongly dismissing it as another red herring) and map the whole area by brute force, Combing-the-Phase-V-Desert style. At least having previously seen images of an RBMK reactor core had me conditioned to expect a grid of control rods.

    I can just picture our bold Ferret avatar looking at a low-range dosimeter on their way out of Phase VI. “3.6 Roentgen? Not great, not terrible.”

  2. I don’t think you necessarily need to lose health in the Nuclear Core area?

    -> l
    You are in a large airy room. There is a hole in the floor near one wall. On
    the west wall of the room is a telephone with a dial.
    -> health
    You are feeling ok.

    • I redid stuff and managed to get ok. Not even sure what happened. But thanks.

    • Is there a specific trick to not losing health? I die a couple of turns after getting the rod. I’m not sure if I wasted health on the desert, though…

    • Actually I redid the desert and got out of there “ok”, but inside the core I die after 13 turns in any case, no matter the health. I don’t know where the exit room is yet; is it the back passage outside the core? Or is it somewhere near the rod?

      • I had a 20 turn limit inside the nuclear core, which is enough to get the rod and get back out. Are you loading a save that is after having spent a few turns inside the core already (like, after picking up the receiver, which you don’t actually need if you know where to go) and thus has eaten into your limit? I think the limit only seems to reset (at least partially) upon reaching the Decontamination Chamber (through that Back Passage outside the core), as after getting there I was able to go back and get the probably-useless indigo pin before proceeding to the next phase.

    • Nevermind, I got it; you have to avoid the “very hot” room in the middle (5×9 if I’m not mistaken).

      • Ah, that makes sense. I suspected the same and so went west-then-south to get the rod. Good to confirm it does in fact matter.

  3. Where is everyone?

    V zbirq n fhojnl pne naq tbg va, ohg gurer’f guerr ohggbaf naq n yrire gung qba’g qb nalguvat. Arvgure gur tbyq xrl abe gur fvyire xrl qb nalguvat va gur xrlubyr naq V fhfcrpg obgu ner erq ureevatf.

    Gur bayl gjb ybbfr raqf ner na bssvpr jvgu n qenjre gung bcraf vs lbh chfu n ohggba, ohg gung frrzf gb or n erq ureevat.

    Gura gurer’f n “qebatbvq” oybpxvat hccre cnffntr. V thrff gung’f gur cynpr gb tb, ohg vg srryf yvxr n erq ureevat gb zr gbb, rkprcg gung zrnaf gurer’f abguvat gb jbex ba.

    • also, one theory

      V guvax vg vf cbffvoyr gur genva arrqf gb or pybfrq gb zbir, ohg gur bayl jnl gb pybfr vg vf sebz gur pbzchgre. V gevrq gb hfr gur ebq fbzrubj gb ubyq gur qbbef bcra, cvpx pybfrq ba gur pbzchgre, chyy gur ebq jura vafvqr gur genva, guvaxvat gura V’q or noyr gb zbir vg. Ubjrire, ab ireo V’ir sbhaq znantrf gb trg gur ebq naq gur qbbef gbtrgure.

    • oh, I was making it hard on myself

      ghea xrl jvgu gur fvyire xrl va jbexf

      V pbhyq fjrne V gevrq ghea ohg znlor vg jnf bayl jvgu tbyq

      ybgf zber guvatf gb rkcyber abj

      • V rkcyberq obgu fgngvbaf ohg unira’g svtherq bhg lrg ubj gb qb nalguvat irel fvtavsvpnag.

        Zl pheerag abgrf ner:
        * CBVAG fcryyrq bhg va gur cnvagrq sybbef;
        * Jrveq gevnatyr ebbzf;
        * Svaq n jnl gb cerff gur cnq ntnva nsgre trggvat gur cnffpneq;
        * Ybpxrq qbbe va gur pbeevqbe;
        * Nezbherq tynff jnyy;
        * Gur ebbzf jvgu fynagrq sybbef unir jrveq A/F pbaarpgvbaf;
        * Rairybcr jvgu qverpgvbaf.
        * Xvyy zbafgre jvgu ohyyrg?

      • I did figure out the antigravity thing

        Progressive hints

        1. Lbh arrq gb rkgraq lbhe ernpu.

        2. Qb lbh unir nalguvat ybat gung zvtug tb gung sne?

        3. Hfr gur pneoba-svoer ebq.

      • Thanks! But yes, that’s what I’ve been trying to do for hours. :) Anyway at least I know it’s only a matter of guessing the right verb!

      • AND got it.

    • About the drawer: Lbh pna chg gur fvyire qvfp va gur qenjre naq yvfgra gb nabgure bar bs gubfr ybat obevat nqf sbe Sreevina Vap.

    • You can tvir guvatf gb gur qebatbvq naq gurer vf n avpr phfgbz erfcbafr. V unir gevrq rirelguvat sebz guvf cunfr nyernql, ohg V’z jbaqrevat vs gurer vf nalguvat sebz cerivbhf cunfrf gung pbhyq jbex? Qvq nalbar grfg rknpgyl jung pna or pneevrq guebhtu gur cbegny naq/be gryrcubar ubyr?

      • V’z snveyl fher gung gur bayl guvatf lbh pna oevat guebhtu Cunfr IV naq vagb Cunfr IVV ner gur cvaf (vapyhqvat gur zlfgrevbhf svsgu cva sebz vafvqr gur ernpgbe) – gur “frphevgl purpx” ng gur fgneg bs gur ernpgbe jbhyqa’g yrg zr pneel nalguvat *va* orfvqrf gur cvaf, naq pyvzovat hc gur ynqqre gb gur gryrcubar jbhyqa’g yrg zr oevat *bhg* rvgure gur henavhz ebq be gur erprvire.

      • It would totally be a Ferret thing to have even more pins we find in later phases, but none of them are useful and you can carry them all the way to the end anyway.

      • Also wondering if you need to keep the ‘used’ pins. I wouldn’t be surprised if those are needed again much later.

      • I did keep all of them just in case.

        I do appreciate the “inventory resets” the game has so it doesn’t have _too_ much scrounging.

      • Gurer ner znal guvatf lbh pna oevat cnfg gur ernpgbe purpx, gbtrgure jvgu gur arprffnel cvaf. Abgr gung zbfg (be nyy?) *pbzovangvbaf* bs aba-cva vgrzf frrz vzcbffvoyr gubhtu.

        Gurfr ner fbzr:
        cynfgvp pneq
        pheirq jbbqra fcyvag
        vaqvtb gvyr
        onggrerq gva (rzcgl!)
        cynfgvp furrg

        V unir nyfb grfgrq sbe nyy bs gur nobir gung gurl pna or oebhtug hc gur ynqqre gb gur Bhgohvyqvat.

        Guvf vf abg cbffvoyr gubhtu:
        onggrerq gva (habcrarq, jvgu cynfgvp furrg vafvqr)

        V nz abg fher vs guvf vf whfg n jrvtug yvzvg be vs vg vf yvzvgrq va fbzr bgure jnl (rt “nal cva[f] naq bar bgure vgrz vf nyybjrq nf ybat nf gur ebq be gur erprvire vf abg vapyhqrq”).

  4. Fallout 3 has a nifty little homage to the Bradbury story where you can literally visit a home just like the one in the story, complete with a robot still performing the same useless tasks for a family that died in the nuclear apocalypse, blissfully unaware of their deaths.
    Fallout 4 turned that on its head by having you play a survivor that managed to get into a cryogenic chamber as the bombs were falling; when you return home after 210 years, the household robot is fully aware that it has been doing the same pointless tasks and bitterly complains “You can’t polish rust”

    • 3/new vegas/4 are definitely on my list to catch up on sometime.

      I was a big fan of 1/2 and followed them back in the days when the system was supposed to be based on GURPS because I liked GURPS.

    • Weirdly enough, I vividly remember visiting that house even though it’s been more than a decade and I had no idea about the background story. Fallout 3 was mind-blowing when it came out. The feeling of dread and the hundreds of hours of exploration in the wasteland are deeply burned into my brain.

  5. Technical question regarding command (.fcf) files. Anyone figured out how to easily edit them without corrupting them? They have a weird cr cr lf after every command that text editors mess up.

    • I just use my standard text editors (eg TextPad) and haven’t had any troubles or made any special adjustments.
      Note that there is a blank line between every command line though.

    • I’ve had some trouble when writing Python scripts to generate them, but the solution was simply to output in ASCII encoding, not UTF-8. I think you have to check if you’re using ISO-8859-1 for example as your editor’s encoding.

      • The cut-and-paste is pretty robust so I’ve just been using that rather than the fcf files. You can paste 1000 lines without it breaking a sweat.

        (…can’t imagine brute force being as easy in 1982, though…)

  6. Pingback: Ferret: Having Misled You So | Renga in Blue

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