Murdac: Underground   8 comments

Ad for the CPC version of Murdac, via cpcrulez.

I have fended off the ogres from last time, and it turned out to be more straightforward yet also more clever than I expected.

Just as a reminder, you pass a wall two ogres are building, smash it via musical instrument, then try to go down into the main area of Murdac when:

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.

The fact a second ogre eventually comes to finish you off is not intended to “give you time” or the like — if you’re here, you’ve already lost. (As you’ll see, there seems to be a running theme in the game of traps that trigger later than expected.) The question I asked was — how did the ogre arrive in the first place? I was assuming they had a secret passage or some such in order to even make it to the bottom in time, but what if they really were just coming right behind me?

> close door
Your lamp has just switched itself on.
> lock door
> d
You are in a large quadrangular cellar. There is a flight of stairs up in the centre and passages in various directions.

Keys are used so often as methods of getting through gated areas that it sometimes can be easy to forget they work as tools even after they’ve been used.

Safely in the clear, I set to work exploring the underground. It is fairly wide open and I expect that (like early stages of Hamil) I’ve already seen roughly 65% of the map. Unlike Hamil, I don’t think this has a strong emphasis on self-contained puzzles; I get the structural vibe that we’re going to have a more traditional “puzzle X is dependent on Y and Z being solved” setup, although I’m too early to be sure.

For ease of discussion I have subdivided the main map into Central, Beach (west), Manticore (south), Dungeons (east) and Maze (northeast). These are vague designations and the elements of each region don’t necessarily go together.

Starting with Central:

This includes the room you start out in, but also, nearby, a Cobwebbed Passage with a blonde wig, and access to a hill where a wizard awaits.

> u
Your lamp has just switched itself off.
You are at the foot of a steep hill on a twisting path.
There is a tunnel down into darkness at this point.
> u
At the top of the hill there is an aged man, whom, from his dress, you observe to be a wizard. “My daughter!” he says. “Where is she? Find her and I will richly reward you.” He then vanishes into thin air leaving just his staff.
Looking round you, you see that…

You are at the top of the hill, which falls away steeply on three sides. In the distance you can see various curious scenes, including a bridge over a chasm, a garden from which giant rocs are taking off, a large cornfield, a giant spider’s web and a distant bungalow by the seaside. The path leads back downwards from these awe-inspiring sights.
There is a wooden staff here.

Incidentally, trying to just leave and come back is deadly; I don’t think I’ve seen a quest-giver so violent before:

“You have failed in your quest?” moans the wizard, who is waiting for you at the top of the hill. He then casts a strange spell, whereby lightning flashes from his nostrils, striking you and causing you to suspend breathing.

The daughter isn’t hard to find (she’s in the Dungeon region) which I’ll be getting to.

A bit farther north there’s a hollow with a geyser that shoots out wet steam — no puzzle here yet, but I could see it being used for something — and a bit farther north still is a “keep” where the Keeper of Murdac awaits and asks you to leave your posessions.

> n
The passage widens into a vast chamber which is full of soldiers some armed with long bows, others with halberds, maces or swords. Their lord is a venerable man who is sitting in a very expensively upholstered armchair.

“Greetings!” says the old man. “I am the Keeper of Murdac. Leave your possessions here with me and they will be safe until you return in triumph. You may take the lamp if it is needed on your quest.”
You are in the keep.

This normally would be the treasure dropping spot, and it does indeed seem to increase your score to bring treasures (like the shawm from the ogres) to this room, but I should add you need to drop all your possessions, otherwise the old man gets very grumpy:

“You defy ME, the Keeper of Murdac!” roars the old man. “Kill him!” The soldiers assail you with their various weapons and do indeed manage to kill you in lots of painful ways.

This gives me the impression that something fishy is going on, at least compared to Hamil (where we were proving our royal birth via treasure collection). Perhaps there will be a “twist ending” where after finding all the treasures we’ll need to defeat the Keeper in a showdown.

(Also marked in white for the Central, but not shown on the zoomed map, is the Mad Scientist I excerpted last time. I haven’t discovered anything new there yet.)

Going east to the Dungeon area:

Lots going on here; first off, there’s a grumpy lion who does not kill you on sight, by waiting, or by revisiting the room. Shockingly peaceful, really.

You are in the lion’s den, a rectangular room with solid stone walls. The exit is to the southwest.
There is a lion here, limping about and roaring with fury!

There’s an entrance to a haunted house where trying to go in gets you killed via furniture.

A huge dresser flies across the room and strikes you a glancing blow, sufficient to kill you however.

The region’s Dungeon has a goblin chained in the lowest level, and on the middle level, a troll who says you can only visit the room he is guarding once. Therein is a “damsel in distress”, that is, the wizard’s daughter.

You are in the ante-room to the dungeons. There are steps up and down from here and a passage to the south over which there is a notice, reading ‘ONLY ONE VISIT ALLOWED’.
A twenty-three stone troll is standing guard over the southern exit.
> s
“One visit only, mind!” says the troll as you pass. You enter the cell to discover a fair maiden chained to the wall. “My father’s staff!” says she, as you enter. You hand it over to her and explain that you are here to rescue her. “Take this token to my father and he will know what to do.” she replies, handing you a ribbon from her hair.

Returning to the wizard with ribbon in hand makes for a better reception than dying instantly. But it’s still a trap:

The wizard appears once more. “That’s her ribbon!” he says. “You have found her.” You explain the nature of his daughter’s plight, and he takes the ribbon from you, handing you a scroll, saying “May this aid you on your quest.” He then vanishes again.

You are at the top of the hill.
> read scroll
you declaim. There is a yellow flash and you find that you have turned into a boiled egg. Since this game was really intended for humans, I’m afraid that’s your lot.

I assume the scroll goes to someone else, someone who will try to cast the spell if they get a hold of it.

Manticore area next:

The sparkling pool has nothing special, other than if you try to SWIM the game specifies you don’t remember how and die. There’s some beads (not sure where they go yet) and a bit with the “see no evil / hear no evil / say no evil” monkeys:

In this room your eyes are naturally drawn to a painting of three monkeys, one with its eyes shielded, a second with its ears covered, and the third with its mouth gagged.

Finally there’s a manticore, who will be perfectly peaceful if you enter, and even if you go past to get the treasure (an ingot) behind it, but when going back you get murdered. Delayed trap again:

> e
You are in the manticore’s lair – a large cave with an unpleasant smell of carrion. The floor is littered with the remains of creatures human and inhuman. A strange being is prowling here. Its face is like a man’s, in size it is like a lion, in colour it is red. It has three rows of teeth and a long tail armed with stings. The escape routes are to the west and north.
> n
Your lamp has just switched itself off. You are in a disused mineshaft. Light enters from high above but the walls are unclimbable. A passage leads south.
There is a small ingot here which, as you can see at a glance, is composed of the rare metal Erbium!
> get ingot
> s
As you enter the manticore’s lair the creature’s tail whips into action, stinging you across the face.
You have no time to seek an antidote and die an agonizing death.

This might be simply a matter of having an antidote in-inventory first before trying to get through.

Beach side!

A centaur guards a corridor and, rather boringly, does not kill you if you try to get by, just stops you. There’s a pile of millet over a secret word…

> read word
On the floor the word A K Y G G A N E G V R I S H W is inscribed.

…and the previously mentioned beach. There’s an island visible in the distance but (as already mentioned with the pool) our character dies if they try to swim. Maybe building a boat is in order?

The north side of the beach has a “stuffed dodo” treasure, and it seems to be out in the open, and we can take it just fine, but if we try to leave (trap pattern again!)…

> s
As you pass under one of the trees the Old Man of the Sea leaps out, landing on your back, and clutching your neck extremely tightly with his long skinny arms.
The old man of the sea is on your back, his grip on your neck gradually tightening.
You are at the north end of the beach.

…we eventually die.

Last comes the maze, because all Phoenix games need a maze.

This has the gimmick that all the rooms are dark, with the light sucked in by a “black hole”.

> d
It is pitch dark. The very air itself seems to absorb the light of your lamp: you can feel its warmth but cannot see it.
> n
It is pitch dark.
> u
It is pitch dark.

So to make progress you need to test exits, and if (for example) a particular room lets you go northwest and no prior room allowed northwest travel, you know that room has to be a new room. This is structured more or less all-or-nothing — you either follow the correct path, or you get penalized by going back to a prior room. You can find some myrrh (a treasure) and some bread (feedable to a pigeon back in the Center area). I did make it out with both items, so that’s at least one area (probably) finished with.

One last thing to note, and this is perhaps more for my own memory more than anything in the narrative since I have yet to connect it to any clue. Aboveground there is a graveyard with a tombstone:

> read tombstone
The stone is worn but you can just make out the name “GAMA” and the words “… SUSPECTED … WEREWOLF …”

The tombstone text is random; I’ve seen different variants upon restarting the game. This indicates the exact text is definitely a clue for a puzzle, I just don’t know which one yet.

I still haven’t quite worked out the difficulty level of the game yet; I’m hoping I can make a progression happen with one item that makes another puzzle easy across the map and then another puzzle easy after that and so on. Phoenix games tend not to give up their secrets so quickly, though. I will say the trap-structure does give some potential; since the player tends to have access to the room where they get killed before it happens, there might be a “preparation puzzle” where the player can set a trap of their own. I’ve gone on the record before about preparation puzzles often being high quality, including two of the best puzzles in the megagame Ferret.

Posted May 7, 2023 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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8 responses to “Murdac: Underground

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  1. Too much timed events, in my opinion, with the expected outcome of soft-locking the game. I don’t like this game, though the introduction appealed to me as being immersive.

    • I might write a little about this in detail later, but this kind of game I don’t feel like I’m inhabiting the game space as much as trying to choreograph a story

      Like, if I’m deep into a roguelike game, and my characters dies, I feel like “my character died”

      With a game like this, especially a relatively short one, the deaths are more like obstacles to moving forward the story rather than the avatar personally dying. It’s a little more meta, like playing a grand strategy game (having your units die in Civilization) rather than a squad-tactics level game (like having your units die in X-Com)

      I’ll try to come up with a better way of expressing that

  2. There is at least one (much later) game with a similar door-locking puzzle, but of course if you don’t know what it is I can’t tell you without spoiling it! One observation I had about it at the time (after Twine had entered the scene) was that it was a puzzle that needed the parser, even though it wasn’t guess-the-verb; the action is logical and the verb is natural, but disclosing it as a possibility in advance would give it away. Requiring a parser is moot for these games since parser was the only available input, and guessing the verb is also a bit moot since they don’t mind stumping you, but it’s interesting that “lock” isn’t in your standard list I don’t think, and if it were the puzzle would probably have gone quicker.

    Also, cool puzzle. It would probably be fairer if the first ogre killed you, but that wouldn’t be in the spirit I guess. Does it seem to be on a timer or do you get killed faster if you go back toward the door?

    For a couple of other things: Have you tried giving the troll the scroll? Seems kind of hinted there.

    The lion reminds me of the story of Androcles removing the thorn from the lion’s paw. I guess “examine paw” is probably not a thing but I would probably try “remove thorn.” In theory I could run the z-code version and try these myself.

    The Old Man of the Sea is Proteus, I guess, and in The Odyssey Menelaus has to grab him and hold on through a bunch of shape changes, which doesn’t make me think of anything useful to try here.

    • I came here to also mention Androcles. Limping and angry: probably in pain because of its foot.

    • I’ve got lock in my standard list. _Very_ often UNLOCK is in but not LOCK.

      I haven’t actually gone through it yet. I hadn’t really started solving things in earnest yet.

      The HELP mentions taming a lion, so I would assume we make friends at least rather than killing it. We had the thorn-in-paw thing in Time Zone. Only thing is with no examine what you see is what you get, so there’s no “PAW” noun to go further with checking.

    • Rather than Proteus, this particular Old Man of the Sea sounds to me more like the version from Sinbad the Sailor. Whose solution to such predicament was, “get the Old Man drunk.”

  3. You couldn’t wear the wig and ribbon and try to fool the wizard, could you. Or somehow use it to take the daughter’s place?

    • Like many early games, there’s no Wear command since Get/Take automatically wear any wearable items.

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