Murdac (1982)   9 comments

The forests of Murdac are some of the oldest, as well as the wildest and most isolated, in the whole land. Also they don’t take kindly to intruders — although living on the outermost fringes of the great forest, you have never been able to penetrate it: every time that you followed a track into the dark woods, you found that it somehow turned and took you away from the secret heartlands of Murdac.

It became almost an obsession with you. ‘What is the secret of Murdac?’ you wondered, frustrated at every turn. In the land where nobody ever set foot, there was surely some dread mystery to be revealed.

The mathematicians of Cambridge strike again!


Acheton (1978)
Brand X / Philosopher’s Quest (1979)
Quondam (1980)
Hezarin (1981)
Hamil (1982)

More specifically, Johnathan R. Partington, who wrote an entire trio of games for 1982, returns with Murdac. Hamil’s move from the mainframe to the home computer was in 1983, but Murdac had to wait until 1986.

Jimmy Maher has a thorough run-down of how the release sequence happened, but to give a short version, when Acornsoft (which published Hamil but hadn’t gotten to Murdac) started floundering financially, the rights to the Cambridge games got sold to a company called Superior Software, where things bounced around a bit more before Murdac got packaged as Monsters of Murdac by Global Software for the Amstrad.

The Global Software deal didn’t work out well, so the games bounced around again to a new publisher, Topologika Software, resulting in a “double-pack” release of Avon (previously unreleased) with Murdac in 1987.

From the Topologika manual portion devoted to Murdac.

Having said all that, the z-code “re-releases” seem to be the closest to the mainframe originals, so I’ll be playing in that format instead. z-code is the same format as old Infocom games, allowing mainframe Murdac to be playable in many different ways; for instance, online with this link.

Welcome to Adventure!

An adventure game by Jonathan R. Partington (Cambridge University, 1982)
[This translation: version 1.111115 / Phoenix v1.04 / Inform v6.32
Please type “inform” for further details.]

Welcome to the Land of Murdac. This is version 1.07.

Type HELP for basic information, and BLURB for the full story.
All comments to JRP1 please. New commands BRIEF/TERSE, NORMAL/STANDARD, VERBOSE and EXAMINE have now been added.
You are standing outside the door of a small flint hut.
There are paths off to the east, west and south.
The door is locked.

Despite the terse opening, there’s a fairly involved backstory behind the BLURB command, or at least more involved than original mainframe Hamil; I am in fact concerned there’s a hint buried in there so I need to keep track of it. You’ve already seen the first paragraphs; continuing:

In your village there lived a wise woman, Duessa by name. Some folk said that she was a sorceress, and could cause the milk to go sour just by scratching her nose. Others said that the reason old Uncle George had only lived to be 91 (when his father had reached 102) was because he had tripped over Duessa’s cat when drunk. Obviously a woman to be wary of, especially if you wanted to make sure that you came home without growing an extra ear on the way. She certainly knew a few secrets that nobody else in the village did — like what it meant if you saw a rabbit hiccuping on the night of the full moon — and if anyone could tell you about Murdac, it was Duessa.

Our would-be hero comes to visit Duessa, who comments “this one looks brighter than the last” (thanks!) and mumbles something about a wizard needing help and a manticore. She then pours a teapot in a fireplace to look for omens, mumbles some more things about ogres (the blokes depicted in the manual picture) and an ominous “Old Man of the Sea” before giving instructions.

Following Duessa’s instructions, you went down a certain path at midnight on Hallowe’en, until you came to a clearing. There you drew a pentacle, stood within it, and shouted “PANGORY PANTHRODULAM” – words of power that she had given you. Was the intonation right? If not you might find yourself rotting in a gloomy dungeon for ten thousand aeons, tormented by creatures from the lower planes. But nothing like that happened.

This reveals a long path which leads to a garden with a small stone hut.

Now is the time for you to explore further, but do be VERY careful — it’s not every adventurer who is going to survive in this totally alien world!

This is still (from what I gather) a “find the treasures and put them in a spot” plot, but it gives the wide open feel of “you’re curious about this mystery place and you go explore it” as a setup, what I’ve referred to before as a “pastoral opening”.

However, it turns out this is not a “relaxed exploration opening”. There is a timed event right away that is easy to miss. From the Flint Hut at the start you need to get to the Brick Wall right away (S. N. S. N.)

You are standing outside the door of a small flint hut.
There are paths off to the east, west and south.
The door is locked.
> s
You are in a garden of luxurious flowers. There are paths to the north, east and south.
> n
You are in a rock garden. There are paths to the east, southeast and south.
> s
You are in a garden of exotic vegetables. There are paths to the north, east and south.
> n
The south-north path ends at a nearly-completed brick wall.
There is a still a gap through which you can pass.
Two ogres here are busily engaged in building activities.
They take no notice of you.
> n
The ogres finish the wall behind you, cutting off your retreat.
You are in a long north-south alley that runs between two extremely high sheer walls.
The way south is blocked by a newly-completed brick wall.

If you miss the timing here, the wall is already built, and you’ve already softlocked the game. Yes, this is definitely in Phoenix Cruel™. I don’t mind, exactly, as long as I’m forewarned I need to think heavily about timing as part of the puzzles.

The south-north path ends at a newly-built brick wall which blocks your way.
There are two ogres here, dressed as bricklayers, resting from their labours.

Once past you can find an “antique shawm” which counts as one of the treasures, but your way back is sealed off. The shawm, however, is a music instrument…

…so you can PLAY SHAWM. (You start with no items and of course you had to rush here, so there’s no other real possibility.)

The wall falls down on top of you, crushing you somewhat severely.

The odd thing is, the wall-crushing happens if you are farther away from the wall; the key is to get closer and play it then. I think the idea is that if you are far away, the wall gets unstable and tumbles towards you; if you are close, the blast is severe enough to make the direction of the wall be away from you.

There is a sudden gust of wind and the wall to your south comes tumbling down with a mighty crash.

This appears to be the end of the puzzle but not really. After the wall is complete you can scoop up some items outside (a wooden plank, a metal rod, a key, a lamp). The key lets you unlock the hut, which only has a passage down. The lamp will turn on automatically in darkness…

Your lamp has just switched itself on.
A furious ogre enters. “Take that for wrecking our wall!” he says, and bashes you with his trowel. He then storms out. You are rather injured.
You are in a large quadrangular cellar. There is a flight of stairs up in the centre and passages in various directions.

… annnnnnd, there’s the ogre puzzle still going. You can explore underground more although the game keeps repeating you are seriously injured, and after enough turns, your misery is ended:

The second ogre enters. “Wreck our wall, would you!” he says, and pummels you with a heavy brick. This time you do not survive.

My guess is the first smacking is inevitable, and we’re supposed to find a “safe spot” underground to avoid the killing blow. This will require exploring underground in detail, which means skipping the shawm treasure for now; intentionally soft-locking in order to get information that can be used on the “real” run later.

I have explored the underground some but I’d like to report back on it later when I can give a more comprehensive picture. Let me share one more death section to finish things off:

You are in the mad scientist’s laboratory, which is a large room with exits to the east and west. Most of the apparatus is safely stored where you can’t get at it, but there is a bed in the centre on which is lying a huge inanimate human body (or a mixture of several) with electrodes fastened to various parts of its anatomy. There seems to be no way of activating the corpse.
> w
You are in a high tunnel to the west of the laboratory. Further west the floor is covered with a complicated tangle of wires.
> w
As you step onto the wires there is a mighty flash and you are instantly electrocuted. Was that my imagination, or did I hear the chuckling of the mad scientist as he came in to exploit this new source of spare parts (you)?

Posted May 6, 2023 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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9 responses to “Murdac (1982)

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  1. I was reading through some of Professor Partington’s articles on puzzles in adventure games (based on talks he did in the 1980s) just the other day;

    (Despite my supposed mathematics background, I don’t think I was ever clever enough to tackle these Cambridge-origin games back in the day… and still aren’t!)

    • It take some comfort from Jonathan’s own quote from one of those articles: “…it’s very easy to design Adventure puzzles. I’ve never been able to solve them, though.”

      • Although as he was the first person to solve the original Thackray/Seal half of Acheton that can’t really be true. Games don’t come much harder.

    • Hamil I think is mostly reasonable, but it has the self-contained puzzle thing going for it.

      Hezarin I managed to handle more than I thought possible.

      • Hezarin also of course allows EXAMINE unusually for these games. Although the ability to “go back one space” in the event of some deaths is counterbalanced by the smoke-filled corridor with the pits and the music room puzzle.

  2. I hadn’t seen the Jimmy Maher piece before. Fair enough, he is not the sort who likes our sort of puzzle. But there are plenty of people who like crossword puzzles and brain teasers, and read books without pictures in them. Some of them may enjoy our sort of game. As for “examine”. Well, once you know it is not going to be needed, and that all useful information will arrive a different way, you don’t need to keep trying it, do you? (A really fiendish and unfair game would have just one item for which “examine” was recognised, but we would never be that cruel… or would we?) Jonathan Partington

    Jonathan Partington
    • I haven’t actually read Jimmy’s review yet, just the history part (want to avoid possible puzzle spoilers).

      re: EXAMINE, I apologize this detail might be too small to remember, but the game actually understands it in the z-code version:

      > examine dummy
      You have already had that object fully described to you.
      The object’s full description currently reads:
      There is a small wax dummy here.

      Was this present in 1982, or did it get added later? It technically is helpful, since while in your inventory object descriptions are different. For example the iron rod is

      There is a long thin metal rod here.

      when first encountered, but just “a metal rod” in inventory, and it normally takes dropping the rod and looking again to see the full description.

  3. I did like the Frankenstein’s monster puzzle, one of Dr. Partington’s classic multiple room chaining puzzles. The brick wall puzzle at the beginning reminds me of Warp and the necessity to visit the Bank very early on or softlock yourself out of victory.

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