Inferno: The Unreadable Library of Cthulhu   7 comments

To recap from our last visit to what appears to be the only game from the Software Emporium of Tulsa, Oklahoma:

We were tossed into The Inferno, a place where a legendary warrior had been spirited to years before, with the goal to escape. The basic problem was quite a lot of death, some of it random, like Yog-Sogoth’s Chamber where the titular creature may or may not be in, and I found the chances of dying to be more than 50%.

From the Museum of Computer Adventure Games.

I combed quite a few times over the map with no luck other than:

a.) looking at a shelf twice; the first time got me some rusty armor, but the second got me a sundial (with markings from 1 to 12)

b.) blowing a horn that I had found at an idol, opening a new passageway.

Blowing the horn at the wrong place summons a moose:

I was stuck enough I was suspecting some sort of technical error in the game itself; while I’ve gotten a little farther I haven’t ruled that out. To investigate further I decided to dive more into the actual bytes of the disk, but my usual tool (CiderPress) fails to recognize any kind of regular disk formatting. Using a different tool (Apple II Disk Browser) revealed sectors that were frankly all over the place.

I originally thought I saw the telltale signs of BASIC code, but without a good way to extract the code I couldn’t read it; now I’ve tangled with enough sectors of the data I’m not so sure. Things aren’t necessarily stored in sequence; I found the verb list of the game, but in two parts stored non-adjacently, as if the disk has some sort of baroque copy-protect system.

Incidentally, the verb list is (excluding the usual words):


It looked like nearly all the game text was still stored as plaintext so I could painstakingly read everything, but I really do prefer to solve my adventure games the normal way (by thinking and experimenting in the game itself), rather than via reverse engineering.

So I took one more gallant whack at the game and tried, yet again, tackling the collapsing bridge. This was a bridge right to the east of the starting point that I could never get across; the review I referenced last time seemed to hint at something random…

…I had already tried roughly 20 times to cross without luck before finally concluding I needed to do something puzzle related. But as I was fully stumped, I decided to go for it another 10 times. On try number 30:

A miracle! Nothing happened! But why? I was carrying the “hooves” and “horn” from the idol but otherwise hadn’t done much to modify the parameters. I had switched the game system from Apple IIe to II+, but had died on II+ mode nearly has many times as on IIe. I still don’t know what’s going on here: maybe the programmers genuinely and legitimately wanted to put a game section that you only had a 3% chance of entering without dying?

The other side of the bridge is, strangely enough, not so deadly, and mostly contains interesting items: a basket you can latch, a rock, soot, some firewood, a workbench with a mold for a sword, a basin with some water, some books in the Library of Cthulhu I can’t read, and a cabinet with bottles.

Not sure if the parser is being broken or if this is a “research puzzle” where you need to specify a particular book.

At least one of them outright kills you. I’m not sure what the use of the bottles is but I’d like to take one with me to fill with water; however, they get smashed when you drink them, and the game doesn’t want me to just empty one out.

Despite one successful pass over the bridge, it is still possible to get killed by the bridge going the other way. Also, the orc still randomly whomps me.

I’ve certainly played games (both old and new) that locked some content behind RNG in such a way that it is possible to get unlucky repeatedly (see: Adventure 500) but I’ve never had such an egregious abuse happen before. I’m still suspecting maybe there’s a setting off in the emulator causing bizarro randomization settings.

I might pull through with a win on this using save states, but please don’t be shocked if I just move on to the next game.

Posted February 13, 2023 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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7 responses to “Inferno: The Unreadable Library of Cthulhu

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  1. If this is just a random event, then it is outrageous… Just the so common and so wrong justification for “my game is very difficult”.

  2. If it’s basic, can you halt execution and call LIST in the emulated environment itself? Or maybe look at the contents of RAM rather than the contents of the disk?

    • I am amused that the blurbs at the back of the box claims that you could visit “The Mines of Moria” while entering the Inferno. It’s always kind of amazing to see how fast and loose early computer games loved to play with things like intellectual property – I wonder what the Tolkien estate would’ve had to say about that. :P

    • halting doesn’t work, control-C reboots after quitting (also, typing QUIT reboots after quitting)

      the game really tries hard to avoid prying

      I’ll try RAM out if I get stuck again (although I think I’m “unstuck” puzzle wise … I just might bail from unfairness)

      I’m still morbidly curious what the percent chance is of dying, I’d love to find that

  3. The screen says Library of “CHTHULHU”, tsk tsk, game developers… ;)

    Since it’s the most famous book in the Cthulhu mythos, have you tried “Read Necronomicon” while in the library?

  4. This reminds me of Antumbra, a flash adventure game that advertised itself as the Dark Souls of adventure games.

    Not a good thing.

    Now admittedly, the difficulty between the two is different, Antumbra requires you to perform a very specific and very tedious set of actions, and if you mess up you die, having to restart from the beginning. But they both share the same sense of reveling in their evilness and making the player do things that makes winning very annoying to accomplish. Thankfully, you will never have to play that game, unless you decide you hate yourself or become immortal.

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