Kabul Spy: Delayed Branching   15 comments

Back cover of the FM-7 port and translation into Japanese of Kabul Spy, as published by Starcraft. Via Aucfree.

So the structure of Kabul Spy isn’t quite what I was expecting, and I’m still not sure where it is going. I’m going to toss some lingo out to narrow down what I mean (coined by Sam Kabo Ashwell and Dan Fabulich):

branch-and-bottleneck: A structure that has ostensible story branching, but with eventual merges where all paths lead to the same place.

If a player has multiple routes through a town but will get arrested at a specific time no matter what that route is, then the player has reached a bottleneck.

This keeps the same “main beats” in the story while allowing freedom on how to get there, with the downside of reducing the impact of individual choices across the story as a whole.

Dan Fabulich (of Choice of Games fame) defines a slightly different variant, called delayed branching. This essentially modifies the structure so that nodes and their linkages aren’t all there is to a story; there might be statistics that get modified all the way through a game that affect later choices, so something early in Plot Branch #2 genuinely might affect an aspect later, even given the “merge” of main plot beats. (For example, someone who builds friendship with an antagonist over multiple meetings might get a “friendly” option in an ultimate climax scene that would not otherwise be available.)

I think what Kabul Spy is doing is delayed branching (with the added 1982 bonus of possible softlocks).

First scene: bus ticket. No fancy branching here; you can get killed by walking into a jet engine, but otherwise you are required to buy a bus ticket to move on.

Second scene: train station. You have three branches here. First, you can buy a ticket to Quetta, a town near the border of Afghanistan. Second, you can buy a ticket straight for the border. Third, you can go out to the tracks and find some men to beat you up and toss you into jail. (You’ll lose all your items except your money belt.)

Quetta scene: You start in a sort of “town maze”. There’s a boy who you can choose to give money that will give a hint “ENE”. He explains that that’s the directions he used to find you (traveling from the bar that your contact is at) meaning you are supposed to reverse the directions and go WSW.

The bar the directions point to has a “force field” blocking your way.

This part I haven’t solved. Is there some kind of science fiction going on to this game? Nothing in my starting inventory (knife, gun, cyanide pill, money) is suggestive of a way to break in, and other than some cigarettes and matches, I haven’t picked up anything helpful along the way either.

Going from the bar to the east, you’ll end up in the “Desert” which is roughly where you land going from the train straight to the border.

Afghanistan border scene: you arrive here either via train or via walking from Quetta.

There’s a river with a log; the log is suggestive of you being able to use it to cross the river safely, but I must be missing some kind of syntax to make it work. If I try to PUT LOG IN RIVER and CROSS LOG (or various other permutations of the same concept) I get all my possessions swept away, the same as if I just tried to cross the river without any preparation beforehand.

Arriving at the north side of the river results in getting captured and tossed into jail, the same jail you can arrive at if you don’t take a train at all.

So to summarize so far:

1. I can arrive at the jail with the money belt, but that only, via skipping the train.

2. I can arrive at the jail without any items by trying to pass through the stream.

There’s also a fair amount of choice on spending, other than just the ticket prices varying; the boy who offers directions in Quetta, for instance, will take any bribe amount (even though he asks for 100, he’ll give the directions for even 1 ruble). This suggests some sort of dynamic variation between routes with the amount of money being held.

The other distressing thing about route number 1 is you arrive with a guard there, who says asks if you can make it worth his while to escape. Since you have the money, you should be able to do bribery, but neither OFFER (amount) nor GIVE (amount) nor GIVE (amount) RUBLES TO GUARD nor 50 other variations I’ve tried seem to work. If you arrive via route number 2 there is no guard at all! Does the guard only hang out if he knows you can bribe him? Is the game softlocked in the second case?

I will say at least the manual is suggestive of alternate routes, with the scoring system giving 700 as a “maximum score” even though more is possible. Does spending less money equate to more score in the end?

The score is displayed as a ratio of 700. It is possible to get over 700 points in some circumstances, but rest assured that reaching 700 confers the status of “expert” upon the player.

If anyone knows the game (or feels like perusing a walkthrough) I will take hints at this point (ROT13 format, please) on any of my three dilemmas (force field, river, guard).

Posted April 24, 2023 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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15 responses to “Kabul Spy: Delayed Branching

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  1. I’ve perused a walkthrough and have the following to offer:

    How do I get the guard to let me out of jail?
    1. Lbh unir gur evtug vqrn naq whfg arrq gur cebcre flagnk.
    2. Gjb frcnengr pbzznaqf, va frdhrapr, ner arrqrq.
    3. Svefg, cebcbfr n genafnpgvba. Frpbaq, cnl sbe vg.
    4. Gur svefg pbzznaq vf OEVOR THNEQ.
    5. Gur frpbaq pbzznaq vf TVIR ###, jurer ### vf rabhtu ehoyrf gb fngvfsl gur thneq.
    6. (Gur jnyxguebhtu V erivrjrq fhttrfgf cnlvat gjb uhaqerq naq svir ehoyrf.)

    How do I get into the bar in Quetta?
    1. Lbh ner zvffvat fbzr pehpvny vasbezngvba ninvynoyr rneyvre va gur tnzr.
    2. Gurer ner guerr qvssrerag cynprf lbh’ir ivfvgrq jurer YBBXvat be ERNQvat pna erirny fhpu vasbezngvba.
    3. (Vg’f abg pyrne sebz gur jnyxguebhtu juvpu bs gurfr tvirf lbh jung lbh arrq gb ragre gur one, ohg nccneragyl nyy bs gurz bssre hfrshy vasbezngvba.)
    4. Cynpr #1 vf vafvqr gur wnvy.
    5. Unir lbh YBBXrq ng rirel srngher vafvqr gur wnvy?
    6. Cnegvphyneyl nal srngher bs gur nern jurer n zrffntr zvtug pbaprvinoyl or jevggra?
    7. Juvyr va wnvy, YBBX QVEG.
    8. Cynpr #2 vf ba gur genva.
    9. Gurer’f n aba-boivbhf vgrz uvqqra ba gur genva.
    10. Gur ireo gb hfr urer vf ZBIR.
    11. ZBIR ORQ erirnyf n arjfcncre, juvpu lbh pna TRG naq ERNQ.
    12. Cynpr #3 vf va Dhrggn.
    13. Fcrpvsvpnyyl, evtug bhgfvqr gur one.
    14. Nffhzvat gur one vf gur checyr ohvyqvat – jung srngherf qbrf vg unir?
    15. Jung’f gung bire gur qbbe?
    16. ERNQ FVTA.

    • just for your edification, I

      – checked the first hint of “get into the bar”

      – explored the first two areas more and didn’t find anything new, other than an extra way to get into prison is to shoot the man at the desk in the train station

      – checked the lumpy bed at arrival some more and didn’t have luck

      – went through my standard verb list thing

      – found LIFT

      – tried LIFT on the bed and got a newspaper

      – tested the words from the newspaper on the boy and he just repeats the same stuff, can’t find anything new there

      – get really frustrated and realize I hadn’t tried HINT at the bar

      – the hint just says GO TO HELL

      – tried GO HELL (the name of the bar)

      – it worked (!?) to enter, I guess going west was not in the bar, so confused

      – but then got kicked out of the bar immediately on entering over to jail somehow


      this is tested both before doing ASK (so he mentions a bribe) and after

      also, GIVE 200 as a syntax gives a parser error, and GIVE 200 RUBLES just gives NO WAY

      I’m wondering if there’s a glitch going on where the bribing doesn’t actually work unless you arrive with the money belt the “right” way. Getting tossed in via going in the bar also doesn’t seem to help since you lose your money in that scenario too.

      • Very strange indeed. I can’t tell from the walkthrough (which gives, ah, limited context sometimes – e.g., it says to use the “GO HELL” command to enter the bar without identifying *why* that works) what’s going on wrong with the guard. I’ll ROT13 here the (short) sequence of commands that the walkthrough claims will work, beginning from a fresh start. (Perhaps the game won’t let you leave the jail until you’ve done command #14 in the below list, which I think is the only one you haven’t tried? Even though logically such restriction doesn’t make sense.)

        1. A
        2. J
        3. TRG ZNGPURF
        4. OHL GVPXRG
        5. A
        6. TVIR GVPXRG
        7. J
        9. R
        10. QEBC NYY
        11. TRG ZBARL
        12. J
        13. J
        14. YBBX QVEG
        15. OEVOR THNEQ
        16. TVIR 205
        17. J

      • I’ve got a bad dump maybe? Exact walkthrough steps fail, and on different versions.

        I’ll try switching. Either that or it is an emulator issue, which if so, ugh.

      • I found another (video) walkthrough that skips getting thrown in jail completely, so apparently that bit is optional.

        Regarding the bar: this is a guess only, but both of the walkthroughs I’ve seen tell you to [QEBC ARJFCNCRE] before heading to the bar, so perhaps that has something to do with your getting kicked out?

      • ok, so I switched to a version that was cracked by “KRAK-WARE!!!” I was able to get the right thing to happen with the guard.

        I was using the woz-of-the-day version from archive but I guess there’s a bug in that one.

        I’ll save checking your rot13 for later knowing I might have had buggy behavior in general.

      • okay! so it turns out entering the bar you have to swap to side 1, then swap back to side 2, and when using the woz it was just swapping straight to jail which isn’t supposed to happen at all. So it was an emulator bug.

  2. Perhaps the problems with the standard versions you have tried are the result of copy protection (maybe in combination with bad cracking) while the version that works has been properly cracked. Copy protection by silently softlocking has been done in other games of the era. Emulators handling of off-standard media based copy protection vary wildly and can depend on if the media preservation format is able to properly keep the off-standard media information.

  3. A word of warning: there are some puzzles that are more like ones in the more juvenile text adventures. That a “force field” blocks entry into the bar called Hell unless you type GO (TO) HELL is, unfortunately, not the last “puzzle” of that type.

    • Good to know. It does seem that WEST is meant to be “go into the bar” since “GO BAR” also triggers the same force field. Not sure what the narrative intent was there.

  4. You can’t pick up the log and then go in the river, can you? IIRC the log in Savage Island worked passively when you had it in your inventory.

    • alas no

      I checked a (unofficial) hint guide just in case, and it indicates the log is a red herring and doesn’t work. You have to meet the contact to get across without losing all your stuff.

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