Zork III: Gold Machine   14 comments

I’m quite nearly done with the game so I’ll sum up next time, but I wanted to devote a single post to one puzzle, as it is the most interesting of the game.

Last time I left off in a museum adjacent to a block-pushing puzzle, but had yet to describe exits to the north and east. Here’s where you end up if you go east from the museum:

Museum Entrance
This is the entrance to the Royal Museum, the finest and grandest in the Great Underground Empire. To the south, down a few steps, is the entrance to the Royal Puzzle and to the east, through a stone door, is the Royal Jewel Collection. A wooden door to the north is open and leads to the Museum of Technology. To the west is a great iron door, rusted shut. To its left, however, is a cleft in the rock providing a western route away from the museum.

>open stone door
The door is now open.

>e
Jewel Room
You are in a high-ceilinged chamber in the middle of which sits a tall, round steel cage, which is securely locked. In the middle of the cage is a pedestal on which sit the Crown Jewels of the Great Underground Empire: a sceptre, a jewelled knife, and a golden ring. A small bronze plaque, now tarnished, is on the cage.

From the Zork User Group map, via the Gallery of Undiscovered Entities.

The plaque, importantly, notes these are “Crown Jewels” presented to the museum by Dimwit Flathead, dedicated 777 GUE. The year has been mentioned quite a few times through the manuals for the game, including a library checkout sticker for this game.

The last checkout date above is 948; now look at the room to the north of the museum:

>n
Technology Museum
This is a large hall which hosted the technological exhibits of the Great Underground Empire. A door to the south is open.
Directly in front of you is a large golden machine, which has a seat with a console in front. On the console is a single button and a dial connected to a three-digit display which reads 948. The machine is suprisingly shiny and shows few signs of age.
A strange grey machine, shaped somewhat like a clothes dryer, is on one side of the room. On the other side of the hall is a powerful-looking black machine, a tight tangle of wires, pipes, and motors.
A plaque is mounted near the door. The writing is faded, however, and cannot be made out clearly. The two machines seem to be in bad shape, rusting in many spots.

I realized, after some thought, that the gold machine had to be a time machine. (Aside: it also then occured to me: is this how the blog Gold Machine got its name? And indeed it was, and I fortunately hadn’t checked the About page because it would have spoiled the puzzle.)

From the ZUG version of Invisiclues, via the Museum of Computer Adventure Games.

The most immediate thing I then I wanted to try was jumping to 777, as mentioned on the plaque.

>turn dial to 777
The dial is set to 777.

>push button
Nothing seems to have happened.

>sit in chair
You are now in the gold machine.

>push button
You experience a brief period of disorientation. When your vision returns, you are confronted with a goodly number of particularly stupid-looking people dressed in peculiar uniform and pointing waffle-like objects in your general direction. One twists his waffle and you slump to the ground, dead.

** You have died **

Normally you get resurrected (in Zork III) or given a RESTORE/RESTART/etc. prompt (in some other Infocom games) but after the death message here you get directly kicked to the exit and the game interpreter quits. Clearly this is outside the realm of the Dungeon Master.

My next experiment was testing the year right before, 776, on the theory things might be built up but not fully. This turned out to be right, but before getting into that, I should mention the game is careful with detail:

– if you go any farther back than 776, you end up in solid rock, as the room hasn’t been dug out yet
– if you go any time form 777 to 882, you get the person shooting you with a waffle
– if you go to 883 or any year up to the present (948) you get essentially the same description as before, except the door leading in the museum has no break next to it
– if you go after 948, the cleft leading in the museum is described as having been filled in with rocks

Even though I essentially hit correctly immediately, I still checked these because I just was having fun with the simulation aspect of it and trying to see if anything new would show up. It is pretty rare in this era for an adventure to allow playing with one of the available items like a toy.

OK, let’s jump to 776 now:

>push button
You experience a brief period of disorientation. When your vision returns, your surroundings appear to have changed. From outside the door you hear the sounds of guards talking.
You notice that everything you were holding is gone!

The “everything you were holding is gone” means you can’t take items back in time. You will also (after enough turns) eventually get popped back into the present. The lack of items eliminates any outside-inventory solution to the puzzle.

If you wait a bit, the guards will eventually leave, usually.

>wait
Time passes…
You hear, from outside the door, guards marching away, their voices fading. After a few moments, a booming crash signals the close of what must be a tremendous door. Then there is silence.

I say usually, because sometimes by random chance a guard will poke their head in and shoot you. I believe this is just random chance. It is fairly low random chance, but if I hadn’t already known it was possible to survive longer, I might have thought I was still on the wrong track.

Also by random chance, you might hear Lord Flathead himself, which is gratifying in a way. Is this the only time in the Zork series as whole you get any interaction direct from one of the Flatheads?

One particularly loud and grating voice can now be heard above the others outside the room. “Very nice! Very nice! Not enough security, but very nice! Now, Lord Feepness, pay attention! I’ve been thinking and what we need is a dam, a tremendous dam to control the Frigid River, with thousands of gates. Yes! I can see it now. We shall call it … Flood Control Dam #2. No, not quite right. Aha! It will be Flood Control Dam #3.” “Pardon me, my Lord, but wouldn’t that be just a tad excessive?” “Nonsense! Now, let me tell you my idea for hollowing out volcanoes…” With that, the voices trail out into nothingness.

Once the guards have left, you can go back in the museum and find the stone door leading to the artifacts is locked. I assumed “not enough security” was a prompt along the lines of the artifacts would be lootable if I could get in there. I had the “morphing skeleton key” from last time but that was stuck in the present. I had wild plans of perhaps hiding the key in the machine in Zork I (that’s using the Scenic Table and going to the place with the timber) and that was somehow in the past enough it was really the machine in 777 and we could find the key then? That makes no sense at all, but I was definitely and truly stumped here, and I did look up a hint.

I don’t know if I regret it or not. Probably not. The gold machine, despite being large and something you can sit in, is movable.

>push gold machine east
Jewel Room
You are in a high-ceilinged chamber in the middle of which sits a tall, round steel cage, which is securely locked. In the middle of the cage is a pedestal on which sit the Crown Jewels of the Great Underground Empire: a sceptre, a jewelled knife, and a golden ring. A small bronze plaque, now tarnished, is on the cage.
With some effort, you push the machine into the room with you.

I do think the game could have clued the movability a little better (maybe have it subtly shift position when getting out of it) although I was also fooled visualizing the mechanics of how the time travel worked. I was thinking, if warping back to 776, I’d simply be landing where the person who was living in 776 placed the gold machine. This does not makes sense for the fact you land in stone if you go to 775, but this was more a sense than a fully coherent thought anyway. (The gold machine does go back to the technology museum though after jumping in time, so I wasn’t completely off with my thought process either.)

Now, teleporting back to 776 while in the Jewel Room gets a different description:

Jewel Room
You are in a high-ceilinged chamber, in the center of which is a pedestal which is the intended home of the Crown Jewels of the Great Underground Empire: a jewelled knife, a golden ring, and the royal sceptre. The room is, by appearances, unfinished.
Through the door you can hear voices which, from their sound, belong to military or police personnel.

You can scoop up all three items without incident; the problem is that the time machine doesn’t let you take inventory items back with you. The key here — and this is genuinely a brilliant stroke — is that if you want to steal the item you need to move it. As the guards in 776 will discover whatever theft you do, they’ll search for it, and it needs to be stored somewhere it will stay all the way up to 948.

While a brilliant idea, this led to another design bobble:

>examine gold machine
The machine consists of a seat and a console containing one small button and a dial connected to a display which reads 776.

>examine seat
There is nothing on the seat.

>search seat
You find nothing unusual.

>shake seat
You can’t take it; thus, you can’t shake it!

It turns out you can MOVE SEAT or LOOK UNDER SEAT. This verb admittedly showed up in Zork I (at the rug) but it is a fairly natural action to look under a rug; looking under a seat where it is not even clear that such an action can be done is much fussier. (I was imagining more of a hard plastic, which wouldn’t have anything underneath at all.)

>move seat
You notice a small hollow area under the seat.

I needed to check hints to find this. Again, this could have been solved with a minor tweak; maybe having the seat shift a little bit at the same time as the gold machine, so it becomes obvious it is movable.

There’s one extra finesse to the puzzle: you can’t fit all the treasures.

>put sceptre under seat
It’s too big to hide under the seat.

>put knife under seat
It’s too big to hide under the seat.

>put ring under seat
The ring is concealed underneath the seat.

You can only take the ring. This is hinted at because the player wears it automatically, and in a couple other cases elsewhere in the game the player also wears important items automatically.

Incidentally, the jewel room changes after the theft:

>read plaque
The plaque explains that this room was to be the home of the Crown Jewels of the Great Underground Empire. However, following the unexplained disappearance of a priceless ring during the final stages of construction, Lord Flathead decided to place the remaining jewels in a safer location. Interestingly enough, he distrusted museum security enough to place his prized possesion, an incredibly gaudy crown, within a locked safe in a volcano specifically hollowed out for that purpose.

If you do things wrong, it is possible for the people in 776 to realize the gold machine is working (there’s a plaque that says all the machines are non-functional which is how they made the mistake before) and they’ll hide the machine away so you can’t get a second attempt.

This is all a fantastic level of detail and worldbuilding. I’d love to say I could just forgive the mistakes and call this the best puzzle of the Zork Trilogy, but this isn’t like 5 minutes of a modernist French film that I needed to re-watch to understand some detail; this is more like a book with part of the pages stuck together and nothing I could do would get them open.

From the back of the Zork 3 manual, via the Infocom Documentation Project.

Posted March 15, 2023 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

Tagged with

14 responses to “Zork III: Gold Machine

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. You can actually come face to face with Flathead! Besides being funny, there is a tiny bit of lore to be uncovered.

    It’s vague, but if the player has realized that they are trying to impersonate (become) the dungeon master, only the ring makes sense (when dying, we can see that he is wearing a “few simple jewels”), as he carries neither sceptre nor a knife. (wait, isn’t “sceptre” British English? The American spelling is scepter.)

    The seat thing, I have to admit, is just undercooked. The gold machine is one of my all-time favorite puzzles, but there was plenty of room on disk for a little more help.

  2. I really like time travel puzzles! This, and the ones in Sorcerer and Spellbreaker, are, in my opinion, among Infocoms best puzzles.

  3. Note that the reference to hollowing out a volcano is a nice little reference to Zork II – and that is was, indeed, Dimwit’s crown that you find there.

  4. Note that the hollowed out volcano project Dimwit refers to is a nice callback to Zork II, and confirms that it is his crown you find there.

  5. Regarding interaction with Flatheads in the series: [gur cebybthr bs mbex mreb cebivqrf shegure qvzjvggrq syngurnqvarff].

  6. it also then occured to me: is this how the blog Gold Machine got its name?
    And therefore the domain golmac.org as well, per the Sorcerer spell GOLMAC with a time travel effect (itself named after the gold machine iirc).

  7. The grey and black machines are examples of the pressurizer used to make the diamond in Zork I and the room spinner in Zork II.

    If you do things wrong, it is possible for the people in 776 to realize the gold machine is working (there’s a plaque that says all the machines are non-functional which is how they made the mistake before) and they’ll hide the machine away so you can’t get a second attempt.

    It’s also possible for them to simply put the jewels back in their place, and install a different plaque.

  8. “I say usually, because sometimes by random chance a guard will poke their head in and shoot you. I believe this is just random chance. It is fairly low random chance, but if I hadn’t already known it was possible to survive longer, I might have thought I was still on the wrong track.”

    If I read the source code correctly, it’s a 3% chance every move until the guards leave. Definitely one of my least favorite “features” in Zork III!

    There is at least one other place where something similar happens, but in this case the game won’t resurrect you. And I believe that in at least some releases, that meant you had to load the whole game from floppy again? Back in the day, I played the games on a Mac where loading the game happened in a slow blink of an eye. But on, say, a C64 it would presumably have been a whole lot slower.

    Torbjörn Andersson
    • I have all of the Greyboxes, minus the fancy Saucer and Mask :-(, for the C64 but I wouldn’t dream of playing them on the original hardware, or indeed an emulator set to original speed!

      • There was a brief time I had both a still-working C64 with 1541 disk drive and a PC running an emulator. Occasionally I would get on a vintage-experience kick and use the real hardware. And then I would wonder why I was punishing myself like that.

      • I wouldn’t play them on a C64 or emulator now either, but I’m just old enough to remember when the C64 was considered high-end home computing. Even if I never had one myself. :-)

        I do remember seeing Infocom games running on the C64, which is how know it was rather sluggish.

        Torbjörn Andersson
  9. The time travel here is quite evocative of “Anachron”, a short story by Damon Knight from 1953, which has the same mechanic of trying to find the right historical time with which to interact in order to get the desired effect in the present or some other future time.

  10. In later games Infocom would make it more clear when seats and other items could be moved via the item description. I guess they didn’t want to make the puzzle too easy–you’re expected to formulate the entire plan before trying it. But a good puzzle should give you hints when you’re on the right track IMO.

    In Zork I IIRC, you can also lift the rug to see the trap door under it before moving it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: