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Alkemstone: I Was Born Under a Wandering Star   16 comments

There’s a point I’ve made before, but is doubly relevant for treasure hunt puzzles, so it’s worth repeating with a different example.

Suppose I wanted to give a message to decrypt.

DDZRQDK DGS ZLKRKZ

You might try approaching as a straight cryptogram and realize (even with a search program) that it doesn’t correspond to anything. You might try anagramming letters and get nowhere.

The correct approach is to try both. First, shift every letter forward one step in the alphabet…

EEASREL EHT AMLSLA

…then anagram the result.

RELEASE THE LLAMAS

I can see from the perspective of an author how they might consider this “simple”. One-step Caesar ciphers, no problem! Anagrams, sure! But when combined together, they form a second-order puzzle where two entirely different steps are needed with no confirmation between the two that one is on the right track. Both cryptograms and anagrams might be “easy” puzzles, but they can become vastly harder to solve when combined together because they are only two forms of wordplay out of an immense variety. (This particular puzzle is borderline fair in that when eyeballing the alphabet shift it looks close enough to English that the anagram seems natural.)

With most treasure hunts I’ve seen there is a strong and almost necessary temptation to have second-order, third-order, or ludicrous-order puzzles. If a treasure hunt is well designed there will be “confirmers” along the way, other clues that help let the player know they’re on the right track.

This raises the question: is Alkemstone well-designed in that sense? I don’t know yet. I do know it likely suffers a related problem common for treasure hunts — spurious solutions. The wide-open unmoored nature of the puzzles — a bunch of clues with no given categories — lends itself to multiple plausible ways to interpret clues.

Another made-up example: suppose I gave the phrase

Absent Tithed Hue

You might find the combination of words strange, and do an anagram…

Thine Debate Thus

…and maybe think it was indicating the site of a famous debate. Or maybe it is

Beneath Hides Tut

indicating an Egyptology theme, or

Behind The Statue

with a more literal location.

The only “solution” so far that I’m safe in saying is a slam dunk involves two new clues (I posted them early in the comments of a thread).

Roger Durrant pointed out that both names appear in the song They Call the Wind Maria from the musical Paint Your Wagon.

A way out here they got a name for rain and wind and fire the rain is Tess the fire’s Joe and they call the wind Maria

Both rooms are immediately adjacent to each other on the overall map.

Click here for a full version of the map. TESS and MARIA are at the lower left.

Also adjacent to TESS and MARIA is a room with the word JOB, which suggests the author misspelled the actual song word (which apparently is either JO or JOE based on where you get the lyrics from).

These two pictures are also placed close (although not immediately adjacent).

I’m extremely curious about the second, which looks like it’s a close-up of … something? It incidentally was very hard to get a screenshot of; when it appeared during the game it only came up very briefly, and I had to resort to using recording software and then pause the video I made on the exact right frame.

Speaking of songs, Matt W. noted the clue above suggests the song Faded Coat of Blue, a song by J.H. McNaughton associated with the Union side of the American Civil War.

Sticking with finding Washington, D.C. spots, that definitely suggests Arlington Cemetary which is quite close to everything else. Let me also add marks for the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, possibly referencing the ruby slippers from Wizard of Oz (which have been there since 1979)…

I finally found this one in-game (I previously only had the Mobygames screenshot). I still never found the -ION clue anywhere. My theory regarding the gap in the upper left corner of the overall map is that all other clues need to be found first before it opens, although it could just be a bug.

…the Washington Monument, associated with the death of Zachary Taylor, and the Lincoln Memorial, where Martin Luther King Jr. made his famous I Have a Dream speech. (Both of these were clues from previous posts.)

I’m finally going to put in the D.C. War Memorial for long-shot reasons, but I do have some logic to it.

There’s a “144” clue which possibly references the fact that with 12 zodiac signs you can pair them with another 12 to get 144 angles. There’s also one direct zodiac reference (“this is almost the age of AQUARIUS”) and one actual sign (Sagittarius, but drawn so the arrow points upright). The War Memorial has a domed building with a 12-direction arrow directly on the floor.

Here’s a Google Street View of someone standing next to the arrows.

Here’s a Google Street View of someone standing directly on top of the arrows.

I found this by hunting around for domes in DC, based on this clue from an earlier post.

There’s also this clue which faintly suggests looking between columns.

We’ve also had month and seasonal references to go along with the Zodiac ones.

“Toe warmers”, probably just meant to reference winter again.

Maybe T.S. Eliot, “April is the cruelest month.”

Without any kind of confirming puzzle, I still feel like I’m chasing shadows. It’s possible all of this is a coincidence, especially since I can’t fit the Paint Your Wagon reference at all, nor a riddle solution Jake Wildstrom came up with.

My First Is Where I Live
My Second Will Be Upon
My Third A Thought Of You
My Last How Far I May Go
And When I Get There
I Will Watch Them Play

The first two on the “three linked clues” you give feels a lot like it’s cluing to “Home on the Range” (so “them” would be deer and antelope, I suppose). “Home” is “Where I Live”, of course. “On” is another word for “Upon”. “Range” is (in the sense of a travel range) indeed “How Far I May Go”. I have no idea how “A Thought of You” would become “The”, but a clue for a definite article might be opaque in ways I don’t understand (is “You” somehow connected to the letter “U”, and some sort of character-level transformation from “A Thought of” gets us to the three letters “the”? This is mostly trying to back-solve a justification because the other three clues really fit the answer well).

Matt W. followed up with noting “you” could be “thee”.

I’m tentative about this one, just because it originally suggested to me the categories clues could fall in (that the D.C. references were all My First Is Where I Live, the number-type references might be How Far I May Go, etc.) but a traditional riddle is quite possible, and of course Home on the Range goes together nicely with the Paint Your Wagon reference.

Three more new clues to round things off…

…and then let me state that I’m going to delve back into traditional adventures now, and only give the occasional Alkemstone update. I (and hopefully others) will still be active in the comments, so the search for the Alkemstone continues.

One open question I’d really like resolved is the meaning behind this clue:

It has had no comments but I think it might be a straight self-contained riddle? I’m pretty bad at riddles, so I don’t know.

Posted February 12, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Alkemstone: Still Searching   9 comments

I’m slowing down a little on finding clues just because being thorough is incredibly tedious. My procedure when checking a particular room is to

a.) look at each wall and pause for about five seconds, then repeat 3 or 4 or 5 times

b.) look at the ceiling and slowly turn three full circles, pausing about 4 seconds each step

c.) repeat with the floor

and even then I have come near to missing things.

Let me bring out two theories posited in the comments last time:

1. Continuing from the idea that “Albert” is the Albert Einstein statue in Washington, D.C. (it was unveiled only two years before the game was made; the timely connection makes it more rather than less likely) I noted two JFK-associated locations and the natural history museum (there’s a reference to the Pleistocene).

These nearly form a line, especially because the JFK center extends south a little from where Google has marked it. Still easily could be a coincidence, but given the repeated JFK references and the mention of Zachary Taylor I’d say the chances this is the area we want are at least over 50%.

2. I need to explore this more, but note one of the clues read “144”. There are 144 angles across the sky that can be found by combining two astrological symbols, and there are two specific symbols mentioned (Sagittarius as the symbol itself, Aquarius in words) in addition to a reference to “billions of stars may show you the way”. This is combined with multiple temperature references (like “Warmer Than Others”) to suggest that we *don’t* want to use the dead of winter (since Zodiac signs represent both a time of year and an angle).

I haven’t sat down and fully worked out how this would play out on the map, though, so if anyone wants to go wild in the comments, feel free.

Here are the clues I’ve found since last time.

I am suspecting the assorted word fragments need to be joined and anagrammed. This was used at the start of Kaves of Karkhan, Level-10’s previous game.

You may wonder why the color is different here. This is from the opening area, a 6 by 10 rectangle on the lower-right corner of my map. Everywhere else has the white walls.

Are these signed initials?

Sometime next week I am going to get back to playing regular adventure games and intersperse these posts. I’d like to finish at least one thorough pass through Arkemstone looking for clues, first.

Posted February 7, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Alkemstone: More Clues   24 comments

I have filled in most of the map, although I haven’t thoroughly checked everything yet.

You might notice there’s the missing room in the upper left. I haven’t figured out what’s going on there yet. There is one clue right on the wall next to it

which may have been intentionally placed; perhaps there’s some obscure navigation trick I need to get into that spot.

There definitely is some intentionality to the clue-placing — maybe not a lot, but some — because one dead-end had three messages that clearly linked together.

I’m guessing this is a meta-clue, essentially telling what the result will be when all the clues are put together; ex: “The First is Where I Live” giving a general location, “The Second Will Be Upon” being more specific. “And When I Get There I Will Watch Them Play” suggests the stone is hidden in a park, also suggested by this image:

I found John F Kennedy a third time

suggesting it either a number is repeated three times or it’s a very important clue. I’m going with the latter theory for the moment. If we combine with the “Look to Albert for Help” from the very start, I think Albert may be the one in Washington D.C.

The podium and microphone (from my last post) suggest there may be a public speaking spot involved, perhaps a famous Kennedy speech location?

Here are the remainder of the clues I’ve found:

I’m ballparking based on clue density in places I’ve searched well that I have about half the clues in the game.

Posted February 6, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Alkemstone (1981)   14 comments

August of 1979 saw the release of Masquerade, a picture book that was also a puzzle with the solution being the location of a golden hare. It created both frenzy and scandal, but that is not our story for today.

Two years later (before the Masquerade contest had even ended) a man named Gene Carr at a company called Level-10 made a treasure hunt of his own. Like Masquerade, it involved a treasure buried somewhere in the real world and clues to find it, but rather than hiding the clues in a book, he hid them in an Apple II game.

Via Old Video Game Advertisements. The prize was eventually upped to $7500, although the company Level-10 went defunct not long after.

There were two ways to win:

a.) Find and deliver the physical Alkemstone, and describe its location.

b.) Send a detailed description of the Alkemstone’s hiding place.

In both cases, a particular lawyer (Ray Sutton) was in charge of verifying the winner. Mr. Sutton is still alive and has verified he never awarded the prize, and he has no record of the stone ever being found.

In other words, the treasure hidden 39 years ago is likely still in its original location, the hints locked in an Apple II game that barely anyone has played.

On an obscurity ranking system from 1 to 10, Alkemstone lands at about 8.5. Still, it has occasionally surfaced as a piece of gaming trivia — here’s John Romero tweeting about it in 2012 — yet even though it occasionally gets observed

Wouldn’t it be interesting if someone got busy on an old copy of the game and found the stone?

nobody seems to have picked up the gauntlet.

The buck stops here. Let’s try to solve the mystery.

Now, this is rather different than my usual playthroughs for All the Adventures, insofar as the end result of all this may involve unearthing a real item. I do want to emphasize that the Alkemstone as an object in itself is not considered valuable (unlike the golden hare); the potential money came from proving where it was. Additionally, despite the lawyer still being alive, the company that offered the prize is long defunct. That means there’s no money at stake, just historical interest.

I will state up front if by some happenstance I come to possess the stone personally, I will donate it to a gaming museum like the Strong. In the (much likelier) event it lands in someone else’s hands I hope they do the same, but I can’t enforce that.

And of course, the Alkemstone may be buried under a parking lot or lost due to some other circumstance.

So feel free to contribute any theories as I post clues, but keep in mind the above caveats. I won’t say it will end in disappointment because even if the physical stone is never found, the solution to the game in general has been a long-open question and would be an achievement in itself; there’s no maps or hints or walkthrough here to rely on.

The first scene upon entering the maze; there’s no “hanging banners” style messages other than this one.

Enough preliminaries: what is the game like?

The snakes pass by at random.

Alkemstone adapts the 3D engine from Kaves of Karkhan into a pure-exploration game. There are no obstacles, unless you count illusionary walls and a very, very, large map.

Around half of the map; I still need to fill in a lot of the other half.

The maze is seeded with clues. You can find them on the walls

or you can find them looking up (tap U to look up)

or looking down (tap D to look down)

The clues are scattered everywhere; finding them all is partially a matter of just being thorough. Sometimes the clues are “solid” and will always appear, but sometimes they flash on and off, or only are visible 1 out of every 10 or so times looking at a particular ceiling. To give you an idea of how easy the clues are to miss: even though I have found 25 “clues” so far I am missing the two shown in screenshots on Mobygames.

I will say the maze is not randomized, and despite the manual’s claims to the contrary, the clue locations don’t seem to be randomized either. It’s still true more than one “walk through” is likely required to spot everything.

I’m going to try my best to sort the clues I’ve found so far by type, but these categories are arbitrary and may be misleading in terms of how the clues actually connect.

In case it’s important, I do have where I found them marked on my map, but I’d like to get my full map closer to completion before I share it.

IMAGES AND SYMBOLS:

NUMERICAL CLUES:

MESSAGES:

This image also appeared on a wall. I don’t know if the duplication is redundancy to help keep from missing certain things or a clue.

THE TWO FROM MOBYGAMES I HAVEN’T FOUND YET:

While there are some obvious surface observations I could make, I’m going to save them for the comments. Just keep in mind the game was released in 1981 (late in 1981; the Nov-Dec 1981 issue of Computer Gaming World mentions it will be available by Christmas, and it has a trademark filing of November 12) so any events or media references to works 1982 or later won’t apply.

There is an online version of the game available, except it gets stalled when asking to flip the disk. There might be a button press in the emulator that will work, but I wasn’t able to play any further.

Posted February 5, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Kaves of Karkhan: Finshed!   3 comments

I wish I could say I had some grand strategy, but I pretty much just grinded until the game decided to show me a win screen.

The only thing I did do extra (and I’m unclear if this is really helpful) is I tried my best to go up rather than down. I used ladders and up-stairs when I saw them, but avoided holes in the ground and down-stairs when possible (it wasn’t always possible).

I honestly suspect the bier (the place where a coffin is placed before being taken to a grave, although it doesn’t look like that from the picture) might just pop up randomly when you’re far enough in the game.

I did make some honest attempts at mapping, and it helped a little at the local level; within a particular area the level is at least somewhat consistent, and it’s possible to systematically eliminate corridors as you test them. One thing I only discovered very late is that encounters “eat up” the square of the map you enter, so if you successfully do an encounter, you “jump” to the next square. That means you may entirely miss a side path that would normally be in that square and you’ll only see the path if you turn back.

Above is a typical configuration. I was going “east” and I hit the spot marked “X” and there was a river of blood I used a plank to get by. In the process, I missed seeing the passage that went “south” and had to turn around and enter the X position to find it. It’s possible to “skip” the intersection multiple times if you keep finding encounters there.

One last discovery I made was regarding chests. I hadn’t been able to interact with them (“OPEN CHEST” didn’t work, and trying to use my thief or a hammer or anything like that led to nothing happening). I finally discovered just OPEN by itself works.

Another episode of Great Moments in Game Parser History.

Unfortunately, I discovered this when I nearly was at the end, too late to be useful; I had a method past every obstacle except, of all things, a walled-up corridor.

You’d think a hammer would help here, but no.

Just for reference, the only other games I’ve hit in my sequence so far I’d call roguelike-adventures are Mines and Lugi. While Kaves of Karkhan was bad for personal enjoyment, it’s still fascinating as an artifact of design. Some of the elements — like having a limited subset of available items, and randomized puzzle placement but consistent solutions — seem like they’d make a roguelike-adventure a success, but they fell down hard here.

First, keeping track of 10 characters and 10 items was excessive. It made getting used to the environment rough, and I only felt comfortable after about two hours of gameplay.

Second, it makes for overly simplistic gameplay when each puzzle boils down to finding the right object or character. This is similar to my complaints with Devil’s Palace and The Poseidon Adventure where the authors try for higher difficulty without an adequately complex world modeling system to match. By contrast, Lugi had some persistent effects (like being infected) and puzzles that needed to be solved with objects in combination.

Third, the map was too random to use geography in any rational way. To compare with Lugi again, in that game it was possible to encounter a puzzle in one location, find a helpful object in another, then loop back to the original location to solve it.

Fourth, the punishment of losing objects or characters for failed puzzle attempts was too harsh in context, and it was impossible to reliably survive a loss of resources without already knowing how to solve most of the puzzles.

Fifth, having almost no items found during the process of the game undercuts a lot of what makes an adventure game fun (having an adventure game without the ability to “increase power” with new discoveries is akin to an CRPG that doesn’t let you level up your character). Even an essentially item-less game like Myst at least contains a steady drip of new information and clues.

The only immediate “fix” I could see that would help the game without more extensive design changes would be to allow a lot more alternate solutions. As things stood I was jamming pipes with juggling balls and walking on lava with buckets, and not because I was being creative; they were the only solutions I could find via brute force testing everything I had.

We’re going to have at least one more adventure-roguelike in 1981 — Madness and the Minotaur — at which point I’ll try a grand recap and armchair design of How to Make Such a Thing Work (or possibly, instead, a cautionary warning that such experiments are best left in the early 80s).

Long before we get to that, we have another game from Level-10 that re-uses their 3D engine for a much different game; one only comparable to a handful of computer games across history, and with a mystery that has never been solved.

Posted February 4, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Kaves of Karkhan (1981)   10 comments

Via the Kaves of Karkhan manual. (Museum of Adventure Game History.)

Five years ago when I was writing about Treasure Hunt (1978) I remarked on a lack of deviation from adventure-genre norms; the Crowther/Woods version of adventure was essentially so good (and already in computer form) that most that immediately followed just copied the model, rather than approach their own way.

CRPGs, by contrast, were trying to adapt a tabletop game, and it wasn’t terribly obvious what form an adaptation would look like, so there were lots of early experiments.

Kaves of Karkhan feels like a game from a parallel universe where the standard text adventure format never dominated. I reckon the reason why it exists in the first place is that it comes from a series which started with a CRPG: Dragon Fire (1981), which was covered by The CRPG Addict in detail here.

Screenshot of Dragon Fire from Mobygames.

According to the manual, the second game, Kaves of Karkhan, uses the same characters as the first: an unnamed warrior, dwarf, huntress, and elf. (The first game had a wizard but you can’t control him in this game for reasons you’ll see in a moment.) The manual tries hard to build lore around these characters, even though they are unnamed:

There is little traveling in this time before the harvest, and a new face arouses much suspicion. Some say the barbarian seeks revenge upon a man with a quarter-moon scar on his left cheek. Others say he’s a professional bandit specializing In the exotic: the left hoof of the centaur, the lost crown of the Faerie King, the eye of the stingbat, and the like. And still others say he seeks to give up his present occupation as fighting man and find something more peaceful, perhaps as an artisan’s or baker’s apprentice. A few insist he flees memories of a lost love.

The story starts directly after the first, where the party defeated an evil dragon and received bucketloads of treasure. The dwarf is busy showing off in a tavern, including a jewel he found “outside one of the rooms on the third level”.

A hairline fracture suddenly appeared in the jewel’s surface.

The dwarf leaned forward anxiously. The crack seemed to be branching off, dividing, but silently. He was amazed. His jewel was crumbling right before his very eyes, but completely without sound.

A shadow suddenly obscured the crack. The dwarf looked up, but there was no one standing over him. He looked down and the shadow was still there, in fact had spread; the shadow crept across the surface of the jewel as If it were liquid. Upon closer examination the dwarf could see that the shadow had issued from the crack.

The gem was a container for a demon named Maldameke who is now breaking free. The wizard manages to contain the demon, for now

“Take the jewel . . . the pieces . . . return them . . . to Maldamere’s home … the bier … the top of the mountain … even one piece … will draw him … back there … trap him … in the Kaves of Karkhanl Hurry! Hurry! Cannot … hold him … long … but beware … beware … his influence … is still … felt … in those underground … realms … “

but the rest of the party now needs to “find your way through the maze of hallways within the crags of Karkhan, solve the traps, and then deliver your piece of the gem into the bier at the top of the mountain”. Each of the four original characters (warrior, dwarf, huntress, elf) picks a team to take along. In actual gameplay, I found no difference between the choice of main character (and you have no interaction with the characters you don’t pick), so the “team” is what’s important.

Yes, ten characters, and you need to keep track of their names and occupations (only in the manual). I used a spreadsheet.

After starting the game, you are told to open the entry doors you must solve an anagram.

It’s always two four-letter words jumbled together, but the words used are random from a fixed list. This one was STEMROPE. There’s lots more valid two word combinations here (like MORESTEP or MOSTPEER) but none of them work.

Then you’re dropped into a randomly generated first-person perspective, and the pain begins.

This incidentally means Kaves of Karkhan is the first 3D-perspective adventure by someone other than Med Systems.

The game moves sluggishly (especially at authentic 1981 Apple II speeds!) and the maze is so random it seems to have no logic at all. You can go down a dead-end hallway only to turn around and find a stairway up has appeared.

The main “gameplay” is a set of randomly appearing traps and encounters, and again, there seems to be no logic to their placement or appearance. A hall with a chasm one moment might turn into quicksand in another. (Only after defeating the obstacle the first time, though — you can’t switch which obstacle you’re looking at just by going back and forth.)

In order to get by an obstacle, you have to type a two-word command. Most of the time it’s USE (character) or USE (item) although there are a few exceptions. Quite often you can lose an item or die by getting it wrong; here’s a transcript of the water obstacle above.

?USE PLANK
NOTHING HAPPENS
?USE NET
NOTHING HAPPENS
?USE BUCKETS
NOTHING HAPPENS
?THROW PLANK
NOTHING HAPPENS
?USE ALANA
ALANA WAS JUST KILLED BY THE WATER
?USE JUG
YOU THROW THE JUG IN. IT FLOATS! EACH CREW MEMBER USES IT IN TURN TO CROSS THE WATER. ALL GETTING QUITE WET.

Alana was my (now-expired) sorceress. I quite often would burn through my entire party (ending the game) while trying to get by a single obstacle.

Occasionally there is enough logic to passing an obstacle that I was able to do it first try; when encountering some weeds I tried USE MILES, my farmer)

but for the most part, on each obstacle, I had to lawnmower down through my entire list of available objects and people.

Here I am getting by a mystic portal by using THROW BUCKET.

While there are some multiple solutions to puzzles (THROW SWORD also works on the above puzzle), I knew if I lost a character or item I could potentially get stuck, so I made generous use of save-states while I took notes on how to defeat each obstacle. My “favorite” piece of absurdity was using my acrobat to defeat a lake of fire.

Oh yes, the game is timed. If you switch emulator speed to “fastest” in order to avoid sluggish walking you get an immediate game over.

I’ve yet to beat the game — I keep wandering the maze in circles — and I may soon just call this one finished. I will still make one more post, because this game represents another stab at the ultra-rare adventure-roguelike genre (where puzzles form the primary gameplay, yet the environment is still highly generative).

I don’t know who to credit for this game other than the company (Level-10). The previous game in the series (Dragon Fire) was made by Rodney Nelsen. The follow-up game (which we’ll get to next, but is very different) was made by Gene Carr. I think it more likely Gene Carr was the author of Kaves (the 3D engine was in the latter game but not the former); however, at the moment I have no proof.

The one person involved with all three games was Steve Rasnic Tem, who did the manuals. At least with Kaves, the backstory is stronger than the game itself! Steve Tem later went on to write quite a few books and win a World Fantasy Award for a novella he co-wrote with his wife, Melanie Tem.

Here’s one last excerpt from the manual to close things out, for now:

Looking around him, once again the dwarf felt vaguely puzzled by the variety of types in the human community. No other race to his knowledge possessed such a range. Packed elbow-to-elbow in the tavern’s central room he could see a skinny youth carrying a rope looped over his shoulders, a short man carrying three companions twice his size, a tall man with his face covered by gray gauze — all shapes and sizes of humanity. The dwarf wondered how humans must keep track of them all; it seemed very confusing to him.

Posted February 3, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Hezarin: The End   7 comments

I’ve finished the game, so the usual extreme spoiler warnings apply (also, I refer to previous events quite a bit, so if you landed here from elsewhere you are better off reading my entries about Hezarin in order).

And before I really dive in, a word about this page in the manual. It spells Alex Shipp as “Alex Ship”, twice. I was going with the Ship spelling when I first started but it appears Shipp everywhere else; the manual writer was just confused. Also note they spell the sorcerer’s name as Arijith. It’s supposed to be Anjith! I got the original spelling locked in my head and even though the game itself constantly spells it as Anjith, I kept reading it the wrong way.

One thing Hezarin has been strong at — and somewhat uniquely, up to 1980, although I’m guessing we may see more of this in 1981 — is elaborate action set-pieces where puzzles stretch over multiple turns. The ivory temple segment I mentioned in my previous posts qualifies, where there are three types of enemies and the type of response you need to use changes based on what disguise you’re using.

There’s also a mostly-excellent section near Gilgamesh’s tomb I haven’t mentioned yet where you outrun a tiger. I’ll quote the segment in its entirety.

>OPEN DOOR

As you open the door you catch sight of a sudden movement from one corner of the room, and on looking round you see a large tiger which takes a few paces towards you and snarls angrily.

>S

The tiger pads closer, and growls again, baring his yellowed fangs.
You run down the corridor to the crossroads and the tiger starts to chase after you, anxious not to let a good meal escape.
You’re at a crossroads with doors to the north, east, and south, and a corridor west.

>S

Persued hotly by the tiger, you go straight on south.
You are at the south door. The door is open.

>S

Through the southern door into the straw-floored chamber, the tiger hurtling after you.
You are in the straw chamber.
There is a metal ring about 6″ diameter attached to the wall here.

>E

As you dive desperately into the secret passage, the tiger pauses fractionally with instinctive suspicion of this dark hole.
You’re in a secret passage which turns sharply so the entrance door is to the west, and it then runs north. On the wall is a metal ring about 6″ in diameter.
The secret door is open.

>PULL RING

You dash to the ring on the wall, and almost rip it from its socket, so desperate are you to escape. The heavy door begins to close agonisingly slowly, and as the tiger overcomes his initial wariness, he moves in for the kill. But he’s too late. The door gathers pace and swings smartly shut, leaving the tiger snarling with disappointment. You escaped the tiger. Well done!
You are in the secret passage. The secret door is closed.

>N

You’re in a small room with a three foot square hole in the middle, which presumably connects to another room. IF you were to go down I don’t think you’d get up again.

>D

You jump down into the tiger’s lair.
You’re in the large dank chamber which is the tiger’s lair. The door is open.
There is a finely crafted eight-pointed star here, set with a gem large enough to pick it up by.

>GET STAR

Star taken

>S

When I said you had escaped the tiger I wasn’t actually telling the whole truth. As you step through the door of the tiger’s lair you find that he is waiting for you at the crossroads.
You are at the north door. The door is open.

>THROW STAR

You hurl the star at the tiger with all your might, and it glitters and spins as it flies down the corridor, striking the tiger right between the eyes and felling it before it has a chance to move.

With one absurdly hard to find verb stopping the action in the middle, the endgame of Hezarin is essentially an extended action sequence. I can say it came near to being good, but it undermined itself by trying too hard to be Endgame Hard™.

Last I left off right below Anjith’s castle.

You are standing on a narrow road which winds its way before you up and around a steep mountain. To the left the cliff rises sheer, to the right it drops away just as steeply. Miles below you to the south you can see a tiny ramshackle village nestling in a patchwork of fields, hemmed in by wild forest, a vast plain, and a deep ravine. You know that now your work lies not down there, but high above in the foreboding castle that dominates the mountain top. The castle which houses the power which it is now your duty to fight…the castle of the sorcerer Anjith.
The full moon casts eerie shadows over the land.

Climbing up leads to an extended scene of danger.

You continue up the path – it can really no longer be described as a road – and as you do so you are showered with small bits of rubble.
You are on the path halfway up the wizard’s mountain. The cliff is sheer above you, and only slightly less sheer below.

Anjith, rather than zapping us with lightning bolts (that will come later) has gone the traditional “rockslide avalanche” method. The only method of survival is to JUMP (which lands you on a tree branch), SWING (which sets you swinging back and forth, gymnast-style) followed by another JUMP.

At the peak of your swing, you let go of the tree, and launch yourself at the ledge. As you do so, the tree roots finally give up their hold on the mountain side, and you catch a fleeting glimpse of the tree falling away into oblivion as you scramble to safety.
You are on a narrow ledge high on the cliffs on Anjith’s mountain. The only possible continuation of the ledge lies to the east.

So far, so good, but…

You are in a low cave. At one end the mouth is blocked, at the other a narrow shaft rises vertically up into the heart of the mountain. The rock in here is very smooth, and offers no handholds.

…Hezarin being its own worst enemy decides to stop things here for a screeching halt.

>U

You try to climb one wall of the shaft, but are immediately defeated by the aforementioned lack of handholds.

>JUMP

OK. You jumped. Hope you enjoyed that.

>BREAK WALL

I can’t see any walls here.

I flailed about for half an hour before deciding to peek at the hints.

A little mountaineering expertise is required here.
Do you want another hint from this set?

Ahem. YES, I WANT ANOTHER HINT. (I don’t have anything against mountains, just out of the 4000 different hobbies I could be doing I haven’t tried that one.)

>CHIMNEY

The hazy memories of your beginners’ Adventuring classes flood back as you brace yourself between the walls of the shaft and worm your way up it. After an ascent of some distance you find yourself at the entrance to a low passage which, glad of the rest, you dive into without further ado. The passage is so low that you have to stoop to get through it, but this does not stop you.

sigh

The next section is on the small map above. There’s one lever in each of the “Laboratory” rooms, and if you pull a lever, a staircase appears north of the Great Hall. Trying to go up the staircase sets off an alarm

Even as you set foot on the stairs a claxon wails soulfully in the distance, and there is a loud crackling from one corner of the room. Moments later the auto-defence looses off a lightning bolt which there is no escaping.

Pulling a second lever (or the same lever) seems to cause the staircase to close. You can attempt to run upstairs but you don’t have enough time.

Though you dash at the closing stairs and try as best you can to scramble up them, you manage no more than half a dozen before they close completely, throwing you back to the floor.

I say “seems to” because of the events that happen in a moment. I’m still not quite sure what’s going on. The right action here is to summon Anjith. This was apparently doable at any point in the entire game just by speaking his name. (Really!)

>ANJITH

Even as the first syllable passes your lips there is a violent shaking (of the space-time continuum) and the wizard Anjith appears before you.
“So,” he cries, “you have the box, then!” You know you do not have the power to use it, though, so give it to me…come, do not resist…”
His eyes seem suddenly brighter, and it is only with difficulty that you can resist his command. However, you manage to start to back away from him…

The game at least makes it clear you need to run away. If you take the semi-circle path along the laboratories (W. SE. E. NE. from the Great Hall) you get a moment where you can do something…

>NE

No time to lose, you dash through here too, and are out before Anjith has even reached the room.
You are in part of one of Anjith’s disused laboratory complexes. Swing doors lead southwest, in the angled southwest wall; and west in the curved west wall. There is a wooden lever attached to the wall.

…but otherwise I was very stumped, because the staircase behavior worked just like before. I was clearly missing some gimmick.

Apparently, the key is to BREAK three out of the four levers, but leave the last one to break while fleeing Anjith. And … look, I’m still honestly not sure what happened, so let me just quote first:

You break the lever off. It vanishes in a puff of smoke.
There is a click and a quiet grinding sound from not far off.

>W

Now you take flight again, dashing out of the lab just as Anjith enters it.
You are in the great hall. The northern end of the room is taken up by a rapidly closing staircase of stone blocks.

>N

You hammer across the hall and scramble frantically at the closing stairs. A claxon wails soulfully in the distance, and there is a loud crackling from the corner of the room but fear, it is said, lends wings to the hunted and you are no exception. You fairly fly upwards through the ever-diminishing gap in the ceiling, narrowly avoiding even the auto-defence lightning bolt which spends itself against the hard stonework that has now closed beneath your feet.
You are at the top of a huge flight of stairs, at the southern end of a dimly lit corridor. There is a wooden lever attached to the wall here.

I *think* the implication is that breaking a lever also pulls it (once). But why did the security system not get set off this time? And why does breaking a lever and trying to enter the staircase directly without Anjith being summoned at all work? I’m fairly sure there is some logic to the sequence here, I’m just not seeing it. I really like the idea of setting things up beforehand for the chase, and having the path itself you take give you a little room in running away from the wizard, but the actual mechanism of the levers wasn’t explained well enough to make the sequence satisfying.

Afterwards: more running.

Some way off down the passage you become aware of a disturbance in the air, which becomes in turn a bright blue light, and then a cloud of smoke. A low whistling sound becomes an unearthly shrieking, and before your eyes Anjith appears. You are only barely able to avoid being completely mesmerized by the sight.
You are at the north end of a long corridor. To the north the corridor opens out into a brightly lit hall.

>N

The wizard screams and takes off in pursuit after you.
You are in a great laboratory. In the middle of the room some arcane looking apparatus is bubbling merrily to itself, producing little puffs of thin purple smoke. There is a doorway to the south, and to the west is a narrow, steep staircase.

>BREAK APPARATUS

You break the bubbling apparatus into thousands of pieces, and within moments a thick purple smoke is issuing forth from the wreckage.
Outside you can hear the chasing footsteps of the wizard Anjith.

>W

You dash up the narrow staircase, hearing Anjith’s gasps below you as he enters the smoke-filled laboratory.
You are in the centre of an octagonal library lined with shelves on all sides.

I predicted (correctly, woot!) last time there was a parchment from underneath Mashu that might come in handy in the endgame. Just to briefly quote the previous find:

>READ PARCHMENT
The parchment bears the word ‘tar’ on the obverse.

>EXAMINE PARCHMENT
Scrutinising the parchment, you turn it over and over and eventually catch sight of the faintest scrawlings on the reverse. Squinting hard at it you just make out the word ‘APERIR’.

Now is when APERIR is useful. I really do wish there was some sort of feedback when you try it earlier; something like “not yet”? This is a scenario where even though I correctly guessed how things would work out, it was unsatisfying anyway. (Referring back to my post a year ago about deduction vs. abduction; I was using abductive reasoning with what I ballparked as only a 10% likelihood of truth, so it still felt like a lotto win rather than reasoned thought when I turned out to be right. From the author’s perspective, this is the very end of the game so APERIR has to work by process of elimination, but as a player I didn’t know that.)

APERIR gives you a rustling sound in a particular direction (randomized). You go in that direction, and then:

>SEARCH
You rummage frantically around amidst the shelves full of scrolls and ancient tomes but it seems impossible to find the source of the rustling. Then, just as you have given up hope a small, tattered fragment of an ancient manuscript practically forces itself into your hands. When you take a closer look at it you find that there is barely room even for the little word which is written on it: the word reads ‘nis’.
“At last!”
You wheel round to find Anjith leaning on the rail at the top of the stairs, breathing hard, but by no means out of control. His face is twisted with hatred, and when he continues his voice is cold and quiet.
“Give me the box. You will never know how to use it!” He begins to advance towards you in his confidence…

Here’s where the “tar” part of the fragment comes in. You’re supposed to put “tar” and “nis” together, but…

>TARNIS
Nothing happens.
Your dallying gets you nowhere: Anjith simply appears in the room, raises his arm, and fries you.

…the game has one last cheap trick. The word is five letters and the middle letter is torn through (never mind the game didn’t think to describe that). The “r” and “n” get mashed together to form:

>TAMIS

Though you mean to speak the word only once, you repeat it again and again until you feel you are chanting it in a dream. Dimly you see Anjith shrink back, and feel violent shuddering as the box melts flares and transmutes before your unbelieving eyes. No longer in control of yourself you are nevertheless aware that the object in your hands in now a flaming sword whose hilt is crafted with ebony, ivory and great jewels which flare with an energy all of their own. Anjith turns to flee and now you pursue him through the corridors and halls of the castle – stairways, laboratories and libraries are all part of your hazy memories of those few minutes, and then Anjith falling, the sword raised high above your head and the wizard’s last desperate screams before sword and tyrant are immolated together in the final cleaving blow. Exhausted and dazed, you turn away and walk slowly down the winding path of the mountain into the green fields to the thronging welcome of the village’s now liberated folk.

You have scored 1073 out of a maximum possible of 1100.

I could see the very last puzzle working out with some more feedback. “Tar”, “nis”, “nistar” and “tarnis” could all get their own unique failure messages. This is what might be called second-order solving — you need to do one puzzle leap followed by another without feedback in the middle that you’re on the right track, so the combinatorics of possible directions to go becomes too overwhelming.

Let me approach my conclusion laterally, by quoting this review via Home of the Underdogs written by Sarinee Achavanuntaku:

In the spirit of Colossal Cave, there is plenty of treasures you can uncover and pocket along the way, accounting for many optional points you can win out of the whopping 1100 total score.

“Optional” is a thin margin here — I squeaked through missing (I think) two treasures only. Acheton gives more of a margin (at least ten?) to the extent entire sections can be skipped; here it’s more a courtesy if you missed something small.

Unfortunately, most of the puzzles feel like they have been borrowed liberally from other games, e.g. the Zork trilogy, and lacks any exciting new twist to keep adventurers interested.

I admit this sentence baffles me. Other than, hmmm, having a maze, I can’t think of any duplicates with Zork. It’s also not like the authors had much they could steal from; they clearly reference Adventure and Acheton, and they probably played mainframe Zork, but in all likelihood that’s all the models they had to work from.

In contrast to other Topologika games (especially those written by Peter Killworth and Jonathan Partington), many puzzles are not just difficult– they are illogical.

We tend to use the word “illogical” lightly with adventure games, and I don’t think that applies here; every puzzle had some sort of clue. There are some definite frustrations but describing them requires a more exact brush.

Take the rod that both turned you into a frog and shrunk the minotaur; there was a poem that directly referenced this, so not “illogical” exactly, but I do think the text was far too cryptic and was only able to be connected after the puzzle was already solved.

Another instance of this would be using the obsidian bar to open the barrow; the hunting scenes on the bar do seem like a clue after the fact, but beforehand the indication is just too muted a clue to suffice.

Essentially, it’s the deduction vs. abduction issue again; rather than saying the puzzles were illogical one might say the abductive reasoning didn’t have enough evidence to lead to satisfying solutions.

(I incidentally do think the levers puzzle in the endgame might be full-on illogical, but I might be missing something and that’s only one puzzle.)

Fortunately, many puzzles are optional, so if you can stand the thought of finishing the game with less than a perfect score, playing the game is tolerable. Hezarin is definitely one of the weaker Topologika games, and is best avoided unless you simply must play every IF on the market.

Again, the “optional” window is pretty thin, but let’s skim over that and discuss: is Hezarin “stronger” or “weaker” compared to the other Topologika games (or in general, games from the Phoenix mainframe)?

As a piece of plotting, it’s far, far, better. There’s a little bit of randomness in a holistic sense, but each area leads to a kind of story (the ivory temple, the passage through Mashu and the rainbow, the dread Evil Moors, the witches in the forest). Despite the unfair aspects, the endgame was far more satisfying as a story conclusion than any Toplogika game I’ve tried so far.

As a game as a whole, Hezarin is wobblier. At least Quondam (which still came out harder, by the way) had a consistent evilness to every puzzle; Hezarin could have an entirely smooth and intuitive section be kicked in the teeth by another guess-the-verb segment, and the game almost goes out of its way to make sure the player ends up in a softlock (the “tune” at the Music Room that only appears once being a good exemplar of this).

In summation: no, I can’t necessarily recommend it for pleasure, although it does represent quite an achievement in the history-of-Adventures sense. It really tries — much harder than anything else in the era — to tie the treasure hunt together as a continuous narrative, where satisfaction is derived not just from the solving of puzzles but from more standard narrative devices, like climax and denouement.

The Flood Tale from the Epic of Gilgamesh, Harvard Semitic Museum. (Public Domain)

I finished Hezarin ahead of my “schedule”, so I might take a breather, but fairly soon I’ll be diving into two Apple II works which explore the fringes of adventure gameplay, and a mystery that has remained unsolved for 39 years.

Posted January 31, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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