Ferret: Place of Final Rest   35 comments

Right away I discovered that software was not at the top of the food chain. My people didn’t work in headquarters with everyone else. Instead they were exiled a few miles down the road to an abandoned shopping center. They shared a building with the cable-cutting operation. The programmers created software while listening to the constant CHUNK, CLUNK, CLANK of the cable-cutting machines. I learned that the previous year there was talk of moving software all the way up to Maine. A crazy idea — luckily it fell through.

For you non-computer people you need to understand that separating the software people from the engineers who design the hardware was very wrong. Software is the heart of a computer. A computer is useless without the basic stuff that my people developed: the operating system, programming languages, data management software, communications, etc. But DG didn’t see it that way. Its roots were hardware. Software was a necessary evil, created by hippy-freaks.

Bill Foster, who joined Data General in 1976

It is done. As the playing of Ferret was a saga that lasted six months, you should read the prior posts in order before this one.

From the Computer Museum History Center.

I had left off last time on a space station, the Liberator, invaded by ooze; we needed to escape through a teleport, but we couldn’t get it working. There were three parts to the issue.

First was something the Ferret Authors hinted at directly via email, although not through the game:

The Liberator is a high security area so you need all protocols in place.

This was referring to an event long back in Phase 10 where we found a communicator, which notified us that we had “failed to register with The Department”.

The communicator emits three short beeps followed by: “Area Scan commenced. Scan Completed. One humanoid detected in vicinity. Continuing. Automatic Personnel Identification Procedure initiated. APIP completed. Continuing. Agent identified, Darkins, B. O. Message Retrieval Service activated. Standby…. Latched. Continuing.
This is your automated message service. You have one new message as follows: Darkins, you have failed to register with The Department for an excessive period. According to standard protocol you must text the first 8 characters of your Security Pass Number to 80085 immediately, whereupon you will be notified regarding your court hearing. Failure to comply will result in immediate termination. This message has been deleted automatically”.

I had tried, at the time, to type 80085, and a few random security pass numbers besides, but never got anywhere; I assumed it was essentially a goof. But apparently, this was the part of the hold-up for reaching the glorious finale.

One thing I did manage to wrangle out is the likely possibility the Security Pass Number we wanted was way off a pass back in Phase 1.

This is because the message specifically said “first 8 characters” which only makes sense if a.) there’s things other than just numbers and b.) there’s a natural cut-off at 8, which there is for the pass. In other words, we needed to send


to the number 80085.

Mustelid discovered we needed to dial the number 80085 followed by whatever ID number we needed all in the same string. However, the string


does not work; there’s a second trick that also must be applied. We already had needed to use a special “old cell phone text message” style to put in some codes, where pressing 2 once could get an A, pressing 2 twice could get a B, and press 2 thrice could get a C.

So 80085R4E339I0 is close, but the part after the 80085 must also be given in text message code. The letters were simple enough to change to numbers (R, for instance, becomes 777), but still,

type 800857774333394440

doesn’t work. The digits got converted but not the numbers! In the “text message mode” typing “4” once would be assumed to be the letter G, not the digit “4”. The way to make it through (and I realized this due to behavior on an old phone of mine) is to keep pressing: once you’ve cycled through the letters, you make it to numbers. That is, 4 is G, 44 is H, 444 is I, but 4444 gets the actual digit “4”.

-> type 8008577744443333333333999994440

The communicator emits a beep followed by a series of tones. After a short pause you hear a voice that says “Confirmed”.

Phew. All that work for a minor message that only affects things at the very end of the game.

With that out of the way, we needed to then set something or another in the navigation room, followed by using the teleport. The old “mica rectangle” that had been used to activate the controls at the lake were useful here; you can put it in a slot at navigation, then type ESCAPE FROM HOT ITV as the destination. (We learned this from doing anagrams of Blakes 7 epsiodes, and if you don’t remember how that goes, I’ll link to the post from last month.)

Navigation. West. Keyboard. Slot. Ooze.
Exits: —W ——– —
-> put mica in slot
You are starting to feel hot.
Faintly, off in the distance, you hear “Confirmed”.

Then, wearing a teleport bracelet from all the way in phase 9, you can re-use the mica rectangle at the teleport room.

Teleport. East. West. Up. Bench. Control Panel. Slot. Ooze.
Exits: –EW ——– U-
Score increment of 20 points.
You are starting to feel very hot.
You feel as though you have been through a slightly strange, out of body, experience.
Escape from hot ITV
You are in the escape pod for a high-gain constant acceleration max-thrust Interstellar Transport Vehicle. Affixed to the floor is a square object with an ornate hatch. On the hatch is engraved a logo. On top of the object is an illuminated red button marked “Initiate Launch Sequence”.
There is an embroidered sampler here
There is an elm trunk here
Score increment of 50 points.

There’s still an obstacle here: the button just goes “Click.” when you press it, no launch! The hatch is from the “Ferrigo Energy Utility Corporation.” which specifies to “Use approved fuels only.”

You might remember from back on the ground level there was a whole scene with a train crashing revealing some irradiated pellets. Through cunning trickery I was able to carry the pellets without dying of radiation sickness by putting them in a leather wallet, but an update to the version of Ferret from the authors put a stop to that technique, so either there was another way to carrying the pellets or they were a red herring.

They were a red herring.

The whole point of the train scene was to pick up the timber shards that result from the door of the warehouse crashing in. You have to take those shards up to the spaceship.

-> open hatch
-> look in hatch
Peering inside you can see:
a fuel chamber
-> put shards in chamber
-> close hatch
-> push button
An ethereal voice intones “Starting automated launch sequence.”
There is a shallow rumbling followed by a gentle grinding.
The voice continues: “Initial checks complete. Status is: ‘continue’.”
The volume of rumbling increases as does an incidious vibration.
A siren blast makes you jump. An unpleasant odour pervades the escape pod. “Launch sequence interrupted. Invalid parameter setting. Attempting shutdown. Cannot complete shutdown as program ‘sludgepest’ will not terminate. Would you like to terminate ‘sludgepest’ manually? Error, user requires termination not interrogation. Semantic overload. Who wrote this code? It’s rubbish. Abort sequence. Fail over. Fall over. Start again. Rebooting.”
Suddenly there is a jarring thump as the escape pod cover is explosively ejected from the ship, rapidly followed by the escape pod. You start to feel light-headed (and light-bodied) as the escape pod is blasted into free space. You lose consciousness for an indeterminate period of time. As you drift back into the land of the living (if you can call this living) you are overwhelmed by feelings of inner knowledge, but also the need to, to, what is it, er, wait! As the Guru says, wait and enlightenment will follow. There is another sensation. You sense the need for a new beginning, to start over. You intuit that you will gain new knowledge by revisiting and reviewing your journey as in rereading an old diary can shine new light on past experiences and yield new insights. Anyway, enough of this woo, woo, the launch sequence appears to have failed but at least you escaped. But from what and to what?
Escape from hot ITV
You are floating through space in the escape pod from a high-gain constant acceleration max-thrust Interstellar Transport Vehicle. Affixed to the floor is a square object with an ornate hatch. On the hatch is engraved a logo.
On top of the object is an illuminated red button marked “Initiate Launch Sequence”.
There is an embroidered sampler here
There is an elm trunk here
-> examine sampler
-> examine trunk
The wooden trunk is heavy and about the size of an old-fashioned Dansette gramophone player. Engraved into one side of the trunk is the word AMGINE.

(The sampler’s message is Welsh, “Fear that knows no fear.” I take a Welsh sidetrack later, as you’ll see.)

Waiting long enough then results in The Final Challenge, and things were about to get very strange indeed:

The klaxon repeats its earlier trick, and so do you, followed by a disembodied voice intoning: “Red Alert! Red Alert! Routine surveillance has detected an automatic teleport rescue scan. The living contents of this vessel will be teleported to the nearest habitable planet or spacecraft. Locking on to scan. Prepare for automatic teleportation in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 seconds.”
You feel disoriented (what a surprise), very tired and the need for sleep….
Quarantine Central
A featureless, senseless, disorienting, isolating chamber.
Score increment of 20 points.
The Guru incants:
111. Lastly, if the end is opaque, compare Phase 16 room manes with Blake’s 7.

This is a lot to take in:

a.) This is the final room, where we are supposed to do one thing to win.

b.) This one thing related to the “Guru incant” message. The game has entered “Guru” mode, and if you restart from the beginning, every time your game’s score increases you get one of the “Guru” messages. This means you have to play all the way through, all over again, from the beginning.

Resuscitation Chamber
This room contains a number of box-like machines. There is a door to the west. To the left of a display are three illuminated buttons, one red, one orange, one green. In the centre of the room, atop a metal plinth is a large chest. The lid of the chest is closed. Fixed to the side of the chest is a brass plaque.
Exits: –E- ——– —
There is a large box here
The Guru incants:
80. a science fiction book had saved Darkins from starvation in the tiny

Even worse….

-> hint

c.) As the hint from the final room indicates, we need to have all the points and have an optimized turn count.

Part c was a little tricky on both counts. I already had part of a walkthrough written, and it took about an hour or so to write one for the rest, and then another hour to optimize my gameplay. My walkthrough scrounged every item possible like a packrat, since it was unknown what items were needed to solve what. Now that we had finally solved things, we could start to ignore picking up certain items (like the picnic box I carted all the way from phase 8 to phase 17). You also don’t need to hit any “information” things whatsoever; there’s nothing where information changes on a piece of paper between playthroughs.

In addition to optimizing, we were missing 30 points. The authors gave over a list of their point values at each phase which led us to realize we weren’t done yet with the Reactor.

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.

This was a phase which consisted mainly of manipulating a device which opened doors on a grid; the main goal was to find a rod which could then be used to unlock a door.

I’ll discuss the pink rooms in a moment.

There were some fun deaths involving wandering in the nuclear area too long or opening too many doors (causing a meltdown) but this was otherwise one of the easier Phases, and it didn’t seem like it held any secrets. However, along the edges of the reactor proper, there were a series of dark rooms. Back when I first passed through the phase I checked through every single dark room and found nothing. What I did not do is check if the dark rooms had anything unusual happen if you tried other exits.

-> w
Nuclear Core
You are in a very warm room.
Exits: N-EW ——– —
-> n
You are in the dark.
-> drop orange pin
-> d
You are in the dark.
-> get orange pin
-> drop orange pin
-> u
You are in the dark.
-> get orange pin
I can’t see anything like that around here.

To parse what just happened: if you go down in the dark room you loop back to the same room. If you go up you end up in a different room. (I had to boot up an old version of Ferret to test this — the current build doesn’t let you pick up dark things in rooms.) This meant I was onto something, but I needed to bring light to the dark room. The nuclear rod (the one we got to open a door) turned out to be the answer:

-> get rod
A terrible feeling of nausea radiates through your body.
-> n
Dark Tunnel
-> l
Dark Tunnel
You are in a gloomy tunnel cut in sheer rock, with a stairway leading up.
Exits: -S– ——– U-
-> u
Dark Tunnel
You are in a gloomy tunnel cut in sheer rock. There are stairways leading up
and down.
Exits: —- ——– UD
-> u
Dark Tunnel
You are in a gloomy tunnel cut in sheer rock. There is a stairway leading down.
Exits: N— ——– -D

It only glows if exposed to enough radiation, so for the first time around I had to actually hang it in Death Area for a little bit to make sure it got glowy enough. (More safely, you can just drop the rod, leave to the dark room which is safe, then come back and get the rod all charged up.)

Unfortunately, the above sequence leads to a dead end!

-> n
Dark Tunnel
You are in a gloomy tunnel cut in sheer rock. There is a stairway leading down.
Exits: -S– ——– -D
-> d
Dark Tunnel
You are in a gloomy tunnel cut in sheer rock. There is a dark stairway leading
Exits: —- ——– U-

However, there were other dark rooms, so I just needed to test … all of them! By tediously switching around doors using the machine (you can’t just open all of them because it causes the reactor to melt down).

This took a while; I found the right room second to last:

In my defense, it is a little harder to get to than some of the other rooms because you are at the limit in terms of number of doors you can safely open. Finally making it through:

Dark Tunnel
You are in a gloomy tunnel cut in sheer rock. There is a dark exit to the
south, and a brighter exit to the north.
Exits: NS– ——– —
-> n
You are in a rock cutting. There is a dark tunnel to the south.
Exits: NS– ——– —
-> n
You are in a rock cutting.
Exits: NS– ——– —

This gets absolutely nothing except for 30 more points. You can pass through to end up at the very start of the level and walk back round to the door that needs the rod to be unlocked. But remember, those 30 points also give a Guru message!

51. near death experiences appeared to mitigate against the annual review. The

I suppose now is the right time to explain the Guru messages. They don’t appear in order; for the first 87 they appear in alphabetical order as you’re playing through the game, but the numbers easily let you sort them into a story afterwards. After 87 they can be found directly in order (although some puzzles can be done in slightly different sequences, so even then there can be a little jumbling).

This is brilliant and awful at the same time. Brilliant in that the story of the game is recounted in a way that has us recount our steps, and awful in the requirement of forcing players to play the whole game over again. I’ll get back to this point, but first, let me give the entire Guru story. Feel free to skip down past the quote, though.

1. Bob Darkins couldn’t remember. That was the problem. A
2. vast void, no content, no context, no reference points. The fall from grace
3. that consisted of tumbling free from the resuscitation chamber was the
4. start of time as far as Bob was concerned. He had no option, he had to get
5. on with this life or perish. According to the plaque on the resuscitation
6. chamber the unknown virus might make perishing the odds-on favourite but he
7. didn’t even know if the plaque applied to him. He realised that his amnesia
8. was not absolute, as he could read, but the extent of his memory loss was
9. unquantifiable without further data. He wasn’t sure he even recognised his
10. own name.
11. Darkins had led an extraordinarily ordinary life. His only claim to fame
12. was that he had managed to contract an unidentifiable virus which had
13. completely baffled the medical authorities. At the time the process of
14. freezing bodies until a cure could be found for any untreatable ailment was
15. gaining momentum and the associated costs were tumbling, especially for the
16. rogue outfits that simply dumped the frozen bodies. Darkins invested a
17. small inheritance on his personal incarceration and hoped for the best.
18. Apart from hosting a malignant foreign body Darkins possessed a very vivid
19. imagination, far too vivid for his own good.
20. The complete lack of bodies was a mystery. Darkins had not seen a single
21. human, alive or dead in his travels. Apart from the occasional skeleton
22. there was very little evidence of life, current or previous, on the planet.
23. The escape from the house had been difficult. Vague recollections of bombs,
24. timers and ticking triggered partial memories of special operations, armed
25. forces, military intelligence and the overwhelming need to follow orders.
26. Maybe that explained the pass he found belonging to the Militech, was he a
27. member of a military research team? Was the house a research facility, HQ,
28. barracks, safe-house or what? Too many questions. The strange place with
29. the circular arrangement of rooms was a concern. It appeared to be
30. protected by a strange force that compromised the magnetic field of the
31. area and its surroundings. Could he have received special training that
32. allowed him to find the way through? Would he ever find somebody that could
33. answer his questions and fill in the blanks? Those mazes and tunnels added
34. to the feeling of being tested. Was he still in training or was this a real
35. mission on enemy territory, possibly a foreign research installation. That
36. would fit. But what is the objective? Would he know when he found it, or
37. would mere survival be the prize? The cathedral was a total anachronism.
38. Darkins could not remember religion be practised in his lifetime, or was
39. that just the amnesia. The monastery accentuated the mystery. Was he on a
40. different planet? The computer devices built into the pins indicated a
41. significant level of technology but nothing that exceeded his experience or
42. advances that could have been made while he was frozen.
43. Darkins was an average family man, some would even say militantly dull. A
44. mousey wife, 2 mousey children, a suburban dwelling with 3 bedrooms, 2
45. cars, 2 jobs in his life, 3 best mates, 2 glasses of wine a day, his whole
46. life was counted in 2’s and 3’s.
47. The revolving walls stirred memories of his training. Eliminate the
48. impossible, then work on the possible. If there’s no exit then make one, as
49. he had to do in the ravine. Thoughts of surveillance intruded. Was he being
50. watched, assessed even? Surely this isn’t a performance appraisal. No, the
51. near death experiences appeared to mitigate against the annual review. The
52. transporter curtain was a concern. What fragments of physics he could
53. recall made any form of matter transfer impossible, or brought death in an
54. instant. Assuming that event was some form of teleportation then that would
55. indicate this was a different planet, or worse, a different universe.
56. But the coloured rooms were more reminiscent of Ancient Egypt, maybe the
57. planet had a rich history of many lost civilisations like dear old Earth.
58. Was the shimmering curtain some form of trickery, an illusion possibly?
59. The Nuclear Core indicated an industrialised civilisation at least to the
60. Third Universal Technology Level, reinforced by the use of multiple forms
61. of transport such as trains, planes and helicopters. But then some areas
62. were definitely Universal Era Stage 12 Impressionist (a shop selling furs,
63. for example) virtually prehistoric by modern reckoning. Where was this
64. analysis coming from? Darkins must be experiencing flash memory post-trauma
65. refreshment syndrome causing isolated synaptic connections to join into
66. larger configurations.
67. Was it 42 or 43? The answer could determine if Darkins was in his home
68. Universe or a near parallel clone. The relationship of 43 (or 42) to the
69. Great Universal Model of How Everything Works and Why (GUMHEWY) is unclear,
70. even today. The number 17 appears to have more influence than any others in
71. the latest research.
72. Alien presence was quite apparent. The automaton and cyborg were
73. definitely unearthly, possibly indicating post-apocalypse invasion or, at
74. the least, visitation. The drongoid could have been some form of genetic
75. and radio-active mutation, it certainly belonged in the horror comics.
76. There were so many inconsistencies, teleportation mixed with shops from the
77. pre-harmonised era, archaic office blocks with sentient post-modern
78. architecture. It didn’t make sense.
79. The most remarkable episode had been in the escape pod. Only the memory of
80. a science fiction book had saved Darkins from starvation in the tiny
81. life-raft floating in space. He had recalled how an escape pod had
82. activated its survival beacon which had been traced by an automated
83. recovery drone, which, once it located life, automatically honed into range
84. and teleported the body to the nearest habitable planet. If only he could
85. remember the sequence of actions that was needed, maybe he had done what
86. was required inadvertently without realising the consequences. He did,
87. however, remember the piece of text that had led him to the solution:
89. Shell rocks Home would have illuminated
90. Rues cocoa tune Slip could have sniffed it
91. Coone club Imports would have got it last
92. Lip rim paw Hole could have smoked it out
93. Yes, let wimp Order would have been spiffed off
94. Cure hero Pilot could have sensed the plot
96. There was a common theme there somewhere. For the life of him he struggled
97. to find it. In the beginning there was a pod for resusitation, now there
98. is a pod for rescue, is that the link?
100. The thoughts of the Guru so enunciated are an intimate description of your
101. recent times which form an allegory for life: birth, the adventure of the
102. journey of life and place of final rest, safe, free from disease. To reach
103. your destiny you will need to expostulate according to the following code:
105. _4_55_91_17
106. 31____92_72
107. 93____84_51
108. ______48__6
110. Unfortunately, not all of the code survived the ravages of time….
111. Lastly, for those with OCD, compare Phase 16 room manes with Blake’s 7.

Remember, Ferret is divided into “phases” due to the technical requirements of the Data General Eclipse 16-bit that it started on. The phases were all given to different authors who worked essentially independently, so while there was clearly some coordination going on, there was also a random smattering of genres in the post-apocalyptic world, and the Guru section here gives a chance to try to gather all the threads together.

Thoughts of surveillance intruded. Was he being watched, assessed even? Surely this isn’t a performance appraisal. No, the near death experiences appeared to mitigate against the annual review.

The ultimate goal at the end is given as a sort of transcendence: “The thoughts of the Guru so enunciated are an intimate description of your recent times which form an allegory for life: birth, the adventure of the journey of life and place of final rest, safe, free from disease.”

I (and everyone playing along, although I gave a save file if someone wanted to skip ahead) finally made it to the last room with full points and a low enough turn count for the final victory to be at hand. And then … we were stumped. For quite a long time. I immediately suspected the numbers in the code referred to Guru lines, but I originally was thinking of whole words. It took a little while to come across the idea of just using the initial letters…


…and, then what? This gets, if reading top to bottom, left to right, SAY _I___ CLAISANC where Google Translate determined Claisac meant “weed” in Welsh.

I and others did a deep dive into Welsh; I tried looking for a five-letter word that would fit in the blank where the second letter was “I”. This got nowhere for a long time.

The Guru text mentioned “not all of the code survived the ravages of time” so I assumed that was referring to the blanks. In addition to the Welsh-diving I spent a long time trying to find a numerical pattern to recover them.

The wrong assumption was that the missing code was in the blanks. The blanks are intentional! The code is missing lines below.

As theorized by Sha1tan in the comments:


That is:

Quarantine Central
A featureless, senseless, disorienting, isolating chamber.
-> say i claim sanctuary
‘i claim sanctuary’
The disorienting feeling you are experiencing crystalises into a total sensation of discombobulation. You feel, sense, hear, you can’t tell which, an ethereal voice. Thoughts form in your mind and you realise you have reached a point of completion, an all-consuming peace pervades your soul. You have arrived. The end is nigh. Well done, the puzzle is complete, you can sleep peacefully again, no more to be troubled by the furious, ferocious, bare-fanged Ferret erupting from your frightening nightmares.
Phase 17 (Illumination)
Mode: Guru
You have scored 1670 (out of 1670) points in 2439 moves.
Rooms visited: 769. Rank achieved: Chief.

The End.

(As pointed out by the authors after, just typing i clai sanc into Google will immediately get that as a suggestion. I never thought to try it; that required realizing “i” was a complete column as opposed to a letter followed by three missing unknown letters.)

Let’s back way, way, up, to the philosophy of art.

Is there really any such thing as good or bad art?

At its most radical, we can say all aesthetic judgements are entirely arbitrary, and for the aliens of Zebulon V, maybe the work “Spewing Rubik’s Cubes” from Boston’s Museum of Bad Art is a masterpiece.

This sort of radicalism is particularly puzzling in the case of games: it is quite possible to have a game that nobody can play, perhaps due to a crash, or an almost literally impossible puzzle. It seems like on technical grounds alone, there has to be some kind of judgment.

And yet–

I’ve discussed before The Tower of Druaga. It’s a Japanese arcade game that is near-impossible to win on one’s own, because many of the 60 floors require doing arbitrary actions, like not touching a chest until after killing monsters in an arbitrary order. The video below gives an entire walkthrough with explanations.

Yet, people have beaten the game, and still beat the game. It was intended for arcades, as a collaborative effort. Sheets and notebooks were placed at the arcades and as people discovered new things, they got added to the sheets, so the next players could get a little farther, and discover something new. It was game as community effort.

Actual Druaga arcade sheet. From @waisar on Twitter. The historian Alexander Smith thinks that the secrets and warp pipes of Super Mario Bros. were directly inspired from Druaga.

So with that preface, this all means some of the moves in Ferret might be a bit more reasonable under the aegis of community: no, you don’t have to actually make a walkthrough, because there are multiple other players, all who can help provide what they already have. (One of our actual players, K, never used save files, but instead did a running walkthrough; this was made easy through some tools the games provides.) Some outrageously difficult puzzles are less outrageous when multiple people are passing the same steps.

Well, some. We still needed hints quite a few times. I am still hesitant to judge “good or bad”, just “different gameplay experience”. I do think there are points the game went too far; I won’t recount the sins of the Mastermind puzzle again, and the mathematical puzzle involving pipe flow was almost unbelievably cheeky, even with the “mass mind” approach.

I showed this to some people who weren’t playing; they assumed there was some sort of joke or trick. There isn’t. The authors sent me a full mathematical solution.

Still, the whole point of stretching boundaries is to have a different and unique experience, and Ferret provided that. It did essentially topple Quondam as the world’s most difficult adventure, although in a lateral way that makes them hard to compare. Quondam had every single step fraught with peril, in a manner of horror vacui; by contrast, Ferret has many large open spaces, and is completely unafraid to toss out red herrings.

Ah, the red herrings. I’m still not sure what to think about them. I think the ones that landed best had some “resolution” despite being red herrings, like the code from the sewer that deciphered an entire fake floor code much later. I can think of a couple other cases where I’d be hesitant to take the herrings away, because they gave certain puzzles an edge (like the 2s and 3s lines from Guru, which felt out of place and were tempting as puzzle fodder but entirely irrelevant to the solution). Some herrings really did seem like loose parts and wasted time. I still haven’t come up with a way to articulate which is which, but that’s because no adventure I’ve played before has ever had so comprehensive a catalog.

I’m sure there’s more to be said about so dense a game, and maybe the players — who numbered among the many — can give their thoughts in the comments. (Even if you only provided a single comment way back months ago, you were part of the game-space, so don’t be shy!) For now, I really am tired, after six months of this epic that took 40 years to write, and I think I’ll be taking that place of final rest now.

Posted February 27, 2023 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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35 responses to “Ferret: Place of Final Rest

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  1. >>The game has entered “Guru” mode, and if you restart from the beginning, every time your game’s score increases you get one of the “Guru” messages. This means you have to play all the way through, all over again, from the beginning.

    Wow. WOW!!! To learn (or worse, just be Hinted at ) that in the last room of such an immensely long game!!! I would scream until the screen shattered and my lungs popped out if I ever ran into such a scenario. The nerve!!!

    Anyways, kudos for seeing this through to the very end, I am deeply impressed! This game is definitely a prime example of an interesting idea that went on and got dragged out for just way too long. It started out nice and intriguing, but the tons of red herrings and especially later on the necessity for actions that needed to be done much, much earlier on, constant dead-ending, reliance on obscure knowledge (and now out-dated pop culture references – although I didn’t mind that not that much in this instance, since I really dig Blake’s 7) and forcing players to start over again and again just killed any interest for me in this whatsoever. I know and understand that this was always supposed to be a collaborative effort by design, encouraging every player to discuss and share what they found out, but still… Just taking a long time to finish doesn’t make it a good game. Every time it might get going it immediately kills the pace again, and by the time you know what to do its just boiled down to rote memorization and repetition, and you’ve probably lost any real interest in setting and plot by then. A shame really, it started off so strong…

  2. I am also impressed that you had the patience and will to beat the game to the very end. As I said before, there are limits in which playing goes too far from the “I am having fun” area… for me Ferret is way outside that area.

    • It has been an absolute pleasure embarking on this journey together with you and all the other players who have helped throw their brains at the challenges of Ferret. To everyone, and most of all to the anonymous hivemind watching our efforts with (I expect) equal parts benevolence, bemusement, and consternation, I say a heartfelt: “Thank you.”

      In my mind, this has perhaps replicated the decades-ago experience of mainframe players, perhaps at MIT and perhaps elsewhere, all collaborating to crack the mysteries of Adventure, Dungeon, and the like. Such a world may be a relic of the past, but the power of the Internet has let us experience it anew. Truly, the journey here *has* been the destination.

      Now if you’ll all excuse me, I’m going to go celebrate by kicking a wooden door.

  3. As I made one comment that was borderline helpful at best and suck big time when in comes to adventures in general I am probably not the best person to give an informed opinion, so take me words with a barrel of salt. Having said that…

    I think Ferret tries to hard being smart. Some puzzles like the math puzzle mentioned above give the impression of an interviewer pulling brain teasers out of his virtual hat just to show that he is smarter than the guy being interviewed. Whereas I don’t mind references to 1980s and earlier technology, these are things that can be looked up these days, once you got the hang of it.

    Taking about these days, what still annoys me is the Mastermind puzzle. I understand that being unfair was par of the course back in the 1980s and people would expect something like that, but it doesn’t fit anymore in my opinion. If the game were shorter and you had, say, a handful of options to check (and play from the beginning each time in a worst-case scenario) it would still be unfair but at least give the impression of being doable. But combined with the sheer length of the game it just feels like a passive-aggressive way to stop players from solving the game (passive-aggressive because if someone complains there is always the explanation “But the solution was there! You just didn’t look hard enough for it!”).

    Ferret is a fantastic idea and clearly something for the history books, but it goes to far for its own good. A bit less here and there would probably have been better.

    My 2 timber shards.

    • I still am on the record about the Mastermind puzzle as we experienced it (where the key was _not_ activating the thing that said you’ve got all the “pegs” correct) as the worst in the game. (Of course, that could easily be changed in a new version if the authors felt so inclined, ahem.) That even includes the math puzzle. At least I could brute force the math puzzle, and given the various capacities of the game, I’m not sure it is even really considered cheating. (Also, as I was going through the sequence with the 20 questions, I had in the back of my head “one of these is going to be comically hard” so at least it met expectations!)

  4. When I first saw you writing about this game, my first thought was “hey, that looks interesting, I’ll play it over at TAG someday.” Then one entry turned into one month, and then another. When I finally looked in to see how things were going, I realized that there was a 0% chance of me ever playing it at TAG. I will say that even as this game dragged on more and more I found what it was doing interesting. Just not enough to consider playing it at that point. Perhaps in my early ’20s, back when I was more interested in Blake’s 7, post apocalyptic fiction and Welsh.

    One other thing, I remember saying something to the effect of it feels pointless to consider making another large scale adventure after this. I rescind that, this game is just too weirdly designed in places compared to what a “proper” large scale adventure game should attempt to do.

    • Oh wow, imagine this on TAG, that would be wild.

      The rules are you have to actually stop in a post and specifically request hints on a thing, right? That would make it so difficult. This definitely worked better with multiple people playing in parallel.

      I really ought to guest post on TAG sometime. You could see what happens when I try to attach a numerical rating to something. (The numerical rating of Ferret, to be honest, would be not in the real number system; it just is so far off from a normal adventure experience.)

      I do have some more very long games in the hopper, but nothing I’m rushing to put on the table yet. Nothing as long as Ferret, though.

    • For mainline games, anyway. Missed classics aren’t bound by that to my knowledge, but you can still do that. Although there would be some debate as to whether or not this counts as a 1982 game or a 2022 game owing to the bizarre nature of it.

      Heh, now I’m trying to imagine what bizarre mathematics thing you would pick there. A natural log, maybe? :)

      • Have any of the mainline games had a circumstance where someone got by a puzzle needing a hint, and then had to stop again at the very next puzzle?

        I’ve certainly hit that but I’m mostly not playing KQ1-and-later graphics adventures yet, I dunno if any are that level of hard. Maybe Discworld?

      • I don’t think so, but I admit I haven’t checked super deep in pre-2019 or so posts. Some of the games Trickster covered might very well reach there. Checking two infamously hard games from 1992 though, it seems like Dark Seed gave the reviewer some trouble, albeit he never actually made a request, while somehow it seems KGB got finished without needing one. Both are quite infamous for being difficult.

        That said, I would say that Elvira is sort of that level of hard, just for a shorter period of time. At least that’s my experience since every time I try playing that game I end up against a brick wall. (dunno about the latter games, but Personal Nightmare isn’t nearly as bad) Oseung-gwa Haneum, a Goblins clone I just finished playing, is very much that level of hard, but moreso because its just badly designed. In the future, Armed and Delirious is exactly that kind of game.

  5. For my part, I have no complaints about Ferret whatsoever. It definitely veers into unfair, even absurd, territory on several occasions, but, to my mind, this is part of what gives it its charm. That said, I couldn’t imagine playing this game without a dedicated team of other players. I never would have made it through the very first phase. The opportunity to have done so with no recourse to an online (or otherwise) solution stands out as an example of the true heart and purpose of the internet, which, despite the nefarious commercial aspects that comprise so much of its current public face, still exists and thrives in innumerable pockets that are well worth seeking out.

    Anyway, it’s been a tremendous pleasure. I’m happy to have contributed, even if only in minor ways. The prospect of playing through other games in a similar manner under similar conditions is one I very much look forward to.

  6. I played a very minor role here, solved one puzzle and dug out the Welsh for the sampler, so…

    first of all this may just be pareidolia, but it seems like you can fill out the missing parts of the code with only capital letters. 26, then 47 (or 59 or 60), 68, 18, 90, and 93… ah, but 93 is already used, it has to be 103 which is lowercase. Pareidolia it is.

    As for the aesthetic judgment, I’m very glad that it exists, and that a group of people played it, and that it (mostly) wasn’t me. There’s something to be said for pushing people to their limit to see what can be done. Relating to my day job, C. Thi Nguyen talks about this in Games: Agency as Art as the harmony of capacity… though that’s about constructing a situation where our capacities exactly fit the needs of the world, and the needs of the world overflowed the group’s capacities at some points! Which is to say some of those puzzles needed hints, and sometimes the solutions were the kind where, as Emily Short once said, “That silence you hear is me not slapping my forehead. Where was the clue I was supposed to do that?”

    Then there were also some brilliant puzzles like smashing the train into the warehouse, where you bring together a huge amount of stuff and it all makes sense. Well, and then the purpose is to get some bits of wood… but still, a lot of good stuff there.

    But I see the point Eddie said, that this may be too “too too.”

    The description you gave of the writing process reminds me of Cragne Manor… you were going to try to get the Ferret authors to play Warp I think? Cragne Manor might be a good one for them to try too. But Cragne Manor also has a philosophy of keeping the story a mess and the puzzles relatively fair, so that you can’t softlock yourself by failing to do something subtle fifteen rooms before. Ferret also makes Cragne Manor seem like a one-room game.

    • >and then the purpose is to get some bits of wood

      I loved this bit. The radiation pellet bit was definitely one of the red herrings where I felt like it landed. (The only problem was the bug made us mess with the radiation a bit longer than we needed to, I think.) At some point I just said “oh well” and moved on, but as soon as I saw the hatch I instantly knew what the solution was.

  7. It’s been fascinating watching this. I think what really made it hard was all the things that it was impossible to know what was a red herring, which didn’t happen in other games (if only due to size limits).

    Out of curiosity, does anything interesting happen if you try to do the final command but don’t have the minimum turns/full points? Or does it just give this game’s version of “Nothing happens”?

  8. I will chime in with Voltgloss’ and Damian’s praise above and restate here what I wrote on the penultimate post:

    > The journey has been the reward – I really enjoyed this. I hope there will be a similar game in the future of your blog, with no solution available and open to cooperative efforts.
    > And thanks to the Ferret authors for providing us with this great toy!

    And I want to add thanks to Jason for being both the host and the leader of the party.

    Some day when I am stuck on a puzzle in some other game I will take a break and put the finishing touches on my Ferret map and score chart and put the final versions somewhere accessible for anyone interested.

  9. Thanks for the wild ride – that goes to players and authors, alike. The game clearly isn’t designed to for focus groups, and with my lacking experience with science fiction and British culture and interactive fiction, I could never really have played it myself, but it’s been great to follow along with this playthrough.

    In particular, it’s great to see you engaging with the game on its own terms. Lazy criticism is much more common and much less interesting than what you have created here.

    • btw, we do have one person (Roger Durrant, he commented in earlier posts) who had to drop off for a while, but picked it back up later and is still trekking mostly solo (he hasn’t read anything past the earlier posts he participated in). He just let me know about the Blake’s 7 references he spotted.

      He figured out the vinyl block thing on his own, so he’s doing very well.

  10. I was Jason, although it’s been a lonely slog; perhaps that is in keeping with the nature of the protagonist involved. I have now made it to the Archive Of Angst but I cannot for the life of me work out what I am supposed to ask for at the Grille. The obvious things like a ticket don’t seem to work. I had to backtrack a long way to redo several bits (like retrieving the silver key and also the generator). I had thought that you couldn’t take the generator forward with you but I later realised that the “clunk” you get when turning the knob on the train was the generator’s black knob and not the knurled knob that is integral to the train’s control panel. The rickety stairs in the life jacket room also held me up for ages.

  11. Yes please Jason. I did think of “Ascot” or another station further up on the line which would have been logical but knowing Ferret that would have been too easy.

    • Ok, this is tricky to hint insofar as I’m not sure what you have or have not seen. But since you were talking about the life jacket I’m guessing you have now seen both parts of a transparency — have you gotten to assemble and read it yet?

      If so, then that’s your hint. Otherwise:

      How do I look at the transparencies?

      1. Lbh ner tbvat gb arrq gb ohvyq fbzrguvat, lbh jba’g trg rabhtu yvtug whfg jvgu nal rkvfgvat fbhepr.

      2. Gur trarengbe vf vzcbegnag.

      3. Nabgure vzcbegnag vgrz pbzrf sebz gur plobet. Vs lbh unira’g qrsrngrq gung lrg gura purpx n/o/p.

      n. Lbh qba’g unir n jrncba gung jvyy gnxr gur plobet qbja qverpgyl

      o. Gur plobet’f jrncba vf cbjreshy rabhtu gb gnxr _vgfrys_ qbja.

      p. Or ubyqvat gur zveebe juvyr vg nggnpxf.

      4. Fb lbh unir gur trarengbe naq gur fcurer; gel hfvat gurz gbtrgure.

      5. Abj lbh whfg arrq gur fcurer cynprq va gur evtug fcbg, naq bar zber vgrz.

      6. Gurer’f n pbhcyr inevnagf bs cebwrpgbe, ohg bar bs gur byq-gvzr barf unf n fperra fynagrq ng na natyr.

      7. Gurer’f n pbhcyr ebbzf jvgu n 45 fynagrq ebbs. Lbh jvyy arrq gb hfr gur bar gung vf ng gur qnex znmr (fvapr cneg 2 bs gur genafcnerapl vf sbhaq gurer).

      8. Npgvingr gur fcurer naq chg vg va gur fvax.

      9. Lbh’yy fgvyy arrq gb nssrpg gur yvtug bar zber jnl gb trg vg gb jbex.

      10. Lbh pna hfr gur objy. Chg obgu genafcnerapvrf naq lbh’yy frr n znc cvpgher, ohg nyfb fbzr grkg.

  12. Thanks Jason. Yes I have got both transparencies and assembled them into the map a while ago. Including the strangely mispelled writing down the right hand side. I have also mapped Holloway and solved the puzzles in Phase 15 so I think it is just the fifth ticket that is holding me up. I shall consider the map again before I resort to good Old ROT-13.

  13. Ho ho thanks. I tries the first thing I could think of on that map and it worked!

  14. Associates of Joe “the Headsmasher” Reeves.” One Larry Gomes. Presumably not the West Indian left-handed batsman of my youth.

  15. Congratu-#%&*-lations! I gave up contributing a long time ago but the work you guys made was just colossal. For the first few phases it kinda felt like we were back in the 80s with a real challenge in our hands and nobody to turn to for hints or solutions. I felt like my brain was twisting and turning like crazy desperately trying to untie the knots. Some of the solutions were really exhilarating.

    I’m curious to know how many more unsolved adventures you’ll bump into in the project. I remember seeing at least one recent thread in intfiction.org where some people were working on such games.

    • there are definitely more games of that description (no hints available, unfinished). Inferno is recent


      another one I want to get back to sometime is PLATO Adventure


      Mad Monk is unfinished


      Ringen is sort of unfinished, I never could get by the dragon


      oo, I guess Breckenridge also from recently is technically unfinished, I doubt it is too great a jump, I feel like I’m missing one action

      The Breckenridge Caper of 1798 (1982)

      • What about Stuga[n]/Cottage?

      • We don’t lack hints on that. The other games I all mentioned have no walkthroughs or guides

        (Probably the most extreme case in PLATO Adventure, which I’m still only 1/3 through)

        on Stuga I mostly just lack motivation to actually put everything together into a run. The really isn’t more puzzles to see so it hasn’t been on the top of my list

        I’m sure I could squeeze out more interesting theoretical thoughts though with a revisit

    • I am now on the (hopefully) home straight with Ferret. I unfortunately had to go back several Phases (again!) as I had left behind a small object under the lake but I am now back at the butt end of Phase 16 with the correct inventory I hope.

      Speaking of unfinished games there was ICL Quest for Windows 95 which was just too buggy to complete (see this site for details) and speaking personally there is a very tricky 1987 DOS game called Castle Ralf which I don’t believe has ever been finished. Incidentally this contains my vote for the funniest reply to a parser command I have ever seen.

      I am sure Jason is having sleepless nights as he has soon to face a barrage of Phoenix / Topologika games, namely Castle of Riddles (oh dear), Avon and Monsters of Murdac. At least Fyleet is still three years away.

  16. Well I made it through to somewhere and finished with 1665 points out of 1670 and am now seemingly back where I started but in Guru mode. A little like opening your Christmas presents to discover they are all empty inside. I hope that the whole thing hasn’t been one colossal wind-up.

    • There are some files up that will let you run through the entire game if you need help and don’t want to play through it again, let me know if you’d like something like that

      You do need the info given in the game from guru mode to win

      Also I can just send my save file at the end with the right number of points / turns

  17. That would be more than useful Jason – thank you. I am not sure I have the patience to play through the whole thing again. Especially after having replayed the game from the underwater section yesterday to claim a missing item.

  18. Thank you.

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