Archive for the ‘Interactive Fiction’ Category

Hezarin: WARE THE MINOTAUR   8 comments

Hezarin has definitely exceeded Acheton in difficulty, and while I don’t think it quite has hit the Quondam threshold, it’s gunning for it hard.

The commercial release of Hezarin was in a “double game pack” with The Last Days of Doom, a science fiction game which is third in the Doomawangara trilogy. Picture via Museum of Comptuer Adventure Games.

I wanted to tie up loose ends on the “Fountain Room” portion of the map. In particular, there was a section with a rope bridge and a “Minotaur Lair”.

You are on the south side of the rope bridge. The bridge sways unexpectedly below your feet, and it is all you can do to maintain your balance in this precarious position above the raging torrent. The bridge continues uninvitingly to the north, whilst to the south is a shelf of rock offering firmer footing.

>S

You are on a shelf of rock high above a seething underground river. On the
rock wall at the rear of the shelf is blazed in letters three feet high:
WARE THE MINOTAUR
Passages lead southeast and southwest, and a frail rope bridge spans the gorge,
disappearing into the darkness.
A pearl necklace is lying here!

>SE

You are in the minotaur’s lair. Passages lead in several directions.

>SE

[… this is another “random” maze …]

Your compass is spinning like a demented top.
OK I think this is the way …..

You are in the minotaur’s den. The ground is littered with straw and old bones. A dark for is just visible in the gloom in the corner of the room; it appears as yet to be unaware of your presence.

>kill minotaur

You move toward the dark form in the corner, and discover to your relief that it is only a statue. Obviously the statue is far too heavy to move.

This is what the map around the minotaur area looks like at first, although there’s a hidden area.

The minotaur statue fake-out was amusing but I was clueless how to proceed. I did have this poem scrawled on a different part of the map…

Not the making of the beast
And Adventurer’s despair
But the taking of the beast
In the Minotaur’s lair

…but I admit to needing to check hints here (and multiple times for what followed). Before I get to that, I need to mention a magic item:

A three foot black rod with a rusty star on the end lies nearby.

Yes, this is getting a cameo from Adventure. WAVE ROD has a somewhat different effect from the original game:

As you wave the rod it emits a loud WHOOOoooosh, like the sound of a firework being let off, and clouds of black smoke issue forth from the end. You suddenly feel distinctly queasy; your limbs no longer respond to your commands, and you collapse to the floor. When the smoke clears you find that you have turned into a frog.

This is useful getting into a small crack and finding a treasure (a fly that you can eat in frog form, but it turns out to be a jeweled treasure rather than a real fly so you spit it out). Making it back to the Fountain Room and typing DRINK WATER is sufficient to change back to human form.

I was happy enough to have figured this out, but I didn’t make the connection between the rod and the poem. The first two lines refer to the froggificaiton of our hero (“the making of the beast”). The second two lines mean the rod has a different effect when waved at the statue.

As you wave the rod the statue shudders and begins to emit a terrifying creaking sound. The surface ripples and begins to shrink in upon itself, as if it were being sucked in by some unseen force. You are unable to turn away and watch, spellbound as the statue grows ever smaller. Finally all that remains is a tiny statuette, a fraction of the size of the original. The statuette is lying on a previously invisible trapdoor.

Any attempt to open the trapdoor was stymied; the game said it was bolted on the other side. So what was the purpose of all this, then? Was this trapdoor only going to come up again much later?

I had previously tested out CUT BRIDGE (with the vorpal sword in hand) because it was described as wobbly, but the right action was to cut the rope while standing on the bridge.

With one slash you cut right through the bridge, and you are forced to hang on for dear life as the bridge plummets towards the far canyon wall. Just as it appears that you are about to bash your brains out at high speed you notice a dark opening in the gorge wall, which fortunately you appear to be heading straight for. As the bridge is brought up short you let go and hurtle into the cave. When you have recovered sufficient compsure to look around you discover….
You are in a secret cave underneath the minotaur’s lair. A large stalactite forms a pillar in the centre of the cave running from floor to ceiling. and other smaller ones grow nearby. To the north is a 60 foot drop down to a narrow ledge, while a winding tunnel leads south. There is a rope bridge hanging outside the cave entrance.
There is a large stone here, made of a strange black substance.

Oho. This led to a treasure (a silver tiara) and allowed me to unbolt the trapdoor and get back up to the Minotaur Den, but I was now trapped. The key was to untie the remains of the rope bridge and re-tie them down farther at the secret cave.

OK. You fasten the bridge to the stalactite.

>D

You shinny deftly down the bridge, jumping the last few feet down to the ground You are on a narrow east-west ledge just above a fast flowing river. The ledge quickly peters out to the west. A rope bridge dangles down from the cave above, ending about 15 feet above your head.

If you try to go west, the ledge ends; if you try to go east, you lose your balance and fall in the river … unless you’ve reduced your inventory as much as possible (basically, a light source and your treasure-holding bag; fortunately the vorpal sword counts as a treasure). This puzzle wasn’t illogical, but there was no textual indication the possessions were causing the imbalance.

The ledge is followed by some steps which lead to an area I’ve seen before, from the other side.

You are on a large landing. Two close set doors decorated with scenes of brave Adventurers fighting huge lions, exit northwest and northeast. The only other exit is down the steps.

Here’s a map of my earlier visit of the same place just as a reminder:

This is from the first underground cavern of the game and shows the north side of the lion and leopard rooms.

Previously the rooms were separate, but looking from the south side they are “close set”, so trying to OPEN DOOR results in a disambiguation prompt.

Which door do you wish to open (left or right) ?

Let’s try typing RIGHT.

?RIGHT

As you open the door a large and ferocious lion leaps out. Against his superior bulk and razor sharp claws you stand no chance…..

No, maybe LEFT?

?LEFT

>As you open the door a large and ferocious leopard leaps out. (Obviously the painter of the murals only knew how to do lions.) Against his superior bulk and razor sharp claws you stand no chance.

I will be revealing the final result after the picture, but you (yes, you, the one reading this right now) might want to stop and think how you’d solve this one; you technically have enough information to solve the puzzle.

The Hero Overpowering a Lion. Picture via Thierry Ollivier at the Musée du Louvre. (Image permission is for non-commercial use only.)

?BOTH

You yank open both doors simultaneously, barricading yourself in the triangle so formed. As you do so two large and ferocious animals leap out, and the noise of their combat reverberates throughout the caves. Obviously they had not eaten for days. Eventually the noise ceases and you feel confident enough to close the doors. The bodies of the big cats lie in pieces around the landing, obviously quite dead.

Just for emphasis, yes, you have to type something entirely different than what the prompt tells you is an option. This is meta at the level of answering the rhetorical question about fighting a dragon in Adventure.

Posted January 24, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Hezarin: The Crowd Are Delirious, the Judges Can’t Believe It   22 comments

If you ask an adventure fan what the worst gameplay situation is in their favorite genre, you might get a reasonable answer like “moon-logic puzzles” or “pixel hunting”. While it’s a rare scenario, for me the absolute worst is “having the correct solution to a puzzle, but the game refuses to recognize it as such causing hours to be wasted”.

I finally narrowed down my troubles with the pits/jumping puzzle (the one with the vial and magic word “WOZX” at the end).

Just as a reminder, this is a long dark east/west corridor where a map (hidden in a broken lantern) indicates the locations of pits, and you need to JUMP at the right positions. I had trouble getting back because one of the pits then moved, making jumping back impossible. I assumed this aspect was a puzzle.

It appears I was caught by the game’s “we really *really* want to make sure you’re using the map” mechanism which broke my runs. I finally dug into the hints and was mystified when there didn’t seem to be anything I didn’t already know, so I made another go from a fresh start and made it through (the pit isn’t supposed to move at all on the way back, if things work properly you can just retrace your steps).

For the aid of any Future Readers who hit this post via search result, here was my process.

1.) I finished the first section of the game all the up to where you go in the hole and get blasted to the next section, and saved my game before going in.

2.) After getting blasted, I made a beeline for the long dark corridor, stopping at the “fork” right before. Then I opened my broken lantern and only then read the map.

3.) I used the map (note the pit locations randomize for each game) to figure out when to go EAST and when to JUMP. After making it to the end (and scooping up the vial you get as a reward) I did the same steps but backwards with WEST and JUMP. (Paranoid addition: if you try this and mess up, don’t reload your game directly; quit out the program first, then go back in and reload. I cannot say for sure whether this helped, but my experience was bad enough I went nuclear.)

4.) Only after making it out of the dark did I save my game again.

This was obnoxious to the point I can declare it likely the lowest point of the entirety of Hezarin (even though I’m only 1/4 of the way in!) Fortunately, the gameplay got a lot more enjoyable after that, so let’s pretend none of that happened and pick up from there.

Look, let’s be distracted by this weird title screen! Via the RISC OS version. Alex’s name is spelled Ship in the manual and Shipp on this screen.

Now, when I say much more enjoyable I do still mean an old-school mindset is required. Structurally, this game is open world with one-way gates. That’s both helpful and stressful.

A “structural map” of the game. It’s quite possible there are more connections I haven’t found yet, but functionally, the one-way trips currently make it so I can’t use a item in a later area in a previous one. Even if it turns out a loop is possible (I’m fairly certain returning to the opening is needed, because there’s a whole castle I skipped where I think Arijith is) it puts some restrictions on what can be used to solve a particular puzzle.

Most of the puzzles in the “first underground region” are entirely solvable before moving on (this is helpful), but it is quite possible to softlock the game by missing some item or clue (this is stressful). It’s quite easy, for example, to miss wiffinweed (an object in the first outdoor area), which is definitely required for the second outdoor area (I will discuss why a little later).

After finally getting the vial, I might have been stuck again were it not for a comment by solar penguin who observed that the secret word next to the vial (WOZX) spells something upside down (XZOM).

The vial starts to glow faintly, then as if it had won some unseen combat against the laws of nature it suddenly bursts forth with a brilliant light, temporarly dazzling you.

The vial counts as a light source, but it also has a special property that triggers in another area; if you go down in the elevator by the Fountain area, you find a sort-of-maze where dragons roam (“Dragon underground” on the structural map).

Your vial is glowing with a green light!

You are in a large chamber whose walls glow bright ping. Passages lead north, south, northeast, southeast, and southwest.

>NE

Your vial is glowing a sober shade of grey!

You are in a large chamber whose walls glow bright green. Passages lead north, south, northeast, southeast, northwest and southwest.

This involves a set of color-coded rooms; the vial glows the color of the room you’re supposed to go in. If you go in the wrong room a dragon melts you. At the end of the rooms is a rainbow room.

You are in a large chamber whose walls pulsate with multicoloured spots.
Passages lead northwest and southwest.
There is a huge firestone here, pulsating with inner life!
There is a suit of asbestos clothing lying in a crumpled heap on the floor.

Once you get the asbestos clothing you can take on a dragon.

As you enter the cavern you notice a large dragon napping in the centre of the chamber.
The dragon opens a beady eye and snarls “How am I meant to get any beauty sleep with all these Adventurers traipsing around?!”
There then ensues a long and epic battle. The dragon almost manages to burn through your asbestos suit when once again your trusty vorpal blade comes good, and the duel culminates with the beheading of the beast.

The elevator that went down to dragons goes up to some “shifting halls”, random rooms with random exits…

This is the hall of achievement. Inscribed on vast wooden plaques surrounding the room are the names of all the former successful Adventurers. You read for some time, but do not recognise any of the names.

>w

This is the hall of perseverance. All who find this room receive due reward. A small clerk hurries in and hands you a package before hurrying out again.

…a “bear” who I can’t even get a reaction from…

You are in a large bare room with exits northwest, south and east. The eastern exit has ‘ENTRANCE TO THE SHIFTING HALLS’ written above.
There is a large bear here.

>s

The bear seems amiable enough, though you are unable to force a way past him.

…a “Morlock” who kills me…

You are in a darkened room piled high with rusting machinery. The only exit lies to the west.
A coral ornament is lying on the ground!
A shadowy figure flits to and fro between the junk, always keeping well out of reach.

>get ornament

As you move towards the Morlock, it pounces and slits your throat.

…and an Inn with other adventurers, which makes this game 10 times livelier than Acheton, Philosopher’s Quest, and Quondam combined.

You are in the Adventurers’ Bar. The place is a hive of activity, filled almost to capacity with hordes of thirsty Adventurers. Scantily clad serving wenches shuttle back and forth with huge steins of frothing ale, and the room is a hubbub of laughter and merriment. Everybody is far too busy drinking to take any notice of you.
A lone, haggard Adventurer strides in from the moor and says: “Shrik yabba wa remmin da dabas! Heks takking Gremlins yekka do pontwers! Yo skibble-weed da polins kerwirligurls.” I think he is trying to tell you something, but the point goes over your head, and eventually he lopes off to the bar.

There’s also a Vault nearby where you can deposit items, which is curious since I already have the bag which counts for getting points from treasures. I suspect (only 60/40 though) if you deposit enough treasure in the vault you get some special item.

The Inn has a door leading outside.

Exploring just a little leads to some Hezarin Gremlins surrounding you and stealing (some of) your stuff. This is where I needed the “wiffinweed” I promised I would get back to. You might note from the comment at the Inn (if you mumble a bit and say the adventurer’s words out loud) that gremlins dislike wiffinweed. Holding it was everything needed to solve the puzzle.

The ground around you boils with frenzied activity, and hundreds of tiny holes appear. Out streams a veritable horde of Hezarin Gremlins, intent on doing as much mischief as they can! They crowd around you then suddenly one shrieks “EEK! He’s got wiffinweed! He’s got wiffinweed” and they zoom off into the distance at high speed. One of them is in such a state that he leaves all his belongings behind.

From here I found three significant branches:

1.) The Evil Moors of Hezarin.

You are wandering in a bleak and extensive area of moorland. The hillsides are a mixture of thick purple heather and sparse gorse bushes which scratch you at any opportunity. A chill wind howls eerily around the tors and vales and a demoralising drizzle hangs in the air.

If you walk in far enough you see some pillars laid in a curious manner.

You’re in the centre of an ancient circle of huge monoliths, the focal point of which is an arrangement of three stones in the middle of the ring. The three stones consist of two pillars and a flat irregular slab set between them and lying on one of its long edges. The two pillars are oriented along a northeast-southwest axis.

(The orientation of the pillars is randomized, so I’m sure that’s some sort of hint.) Unfortunately, hanging out in the moors eventually brings death via either evil wolf or banshee. I don’t know if it’s due to too much time elapsing, me not having the right magic item, me not taking the right geographic movements, or a combination of all three.

While struggling up a particularly steep hillside you stumble across the grisly remains of some poor unfortunates. Even as you ask yourself the question “What did this?”, a howling Banshee confronts you, first scaring you out of your wits and then sucking out your soul.

2.) The Wild Wood.

If you are not carrying a torch, the trees to the southwest will let you in the Wild Wood.

You are in the wild wood: a dark and mysterious forest seemingly with a will all of its own. Branches pluck at your clothing and scratch your face, and the roots appear to grab at your feet trying to trip you up. Although you never see them move, the trees appear to shift position constantly, so that it is impossible ever to retrace your exact steps.

You can CLIMB TREE and SNIFF (not SMELL, only SNIFF [*]) to get oriented and eventually find some witches.

You are on the edge of a small clearing. In the centre is a large cauldron smelling of various nasty and unpleasant ingredients. AA group of witches are squabbling round the cooking fire:
“It was your turn to bring the maggots!”
“I brought them last week! Anyway we can do without the maggots! What about the dead rats?”
“They’re not decayed enough. We’ll have to use spinach instead. Pass me the dragon’s head.”
“I haven’t got a dragon’s head!
“Could have fooled me dearie, hee, hee, hee!”
“Fishcakes! It won’t work properly without a dragon’s head. We’ll just have to use lots of spinach.”

You may recall from my dragon escapades I did manage to behead a dragon, and the witches were willing to trade the dragon head for teleportation “somewhere which could be in your interests” which turned out to be a small extra underground area.

A boulder blocks passage to the west, taking the “topaz bracelet” to the east results in a slab blocking the way out, and leaving deposits the player back in the Inn area. I haven’t tried talking to the witches and getting teleportation again, so it may be a one-trip-only deal.

3.) River Surfing

I am so astonished I figured this one out on my own. There’s a river that you can go in for exactly one turn before a wave wipes you out.

Some way up the river you may see what you think is a wave starting to form…but is it?

While doing an unrelated part of the game the thought popped up “what if I could surf the wave?” I noticed the “plank” in my inventory. Previously I had visualized it as rather small and thin (it came from a treehouse) but if it was a little larger than my visualization it would work as a surfboard (failure to visualize as the author intended has been long one of my nemeses).

However, going out with the plank and typing SURF kills you.

Good idea: badly executed. Too bad.
Oh dear, you seem to have terminated your existence.

I had to rely on outside knowledge a little; what does surfing look like? Well, sometimes you KNEEL on the board.

OK.
Yes, it is! Rearing up its great green bulk and bearing down on you like the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

>WAIT

OK.
Now you’ve virtually overshadowed by this, arguably the best breaker of the millennium. What about it?

>SURF

You hold the plank out in front of you and throw yourself flat out on it.
Perfect timing! The wave curls and breaks around you, and before long you’re out there standing up, sitting down, hanging ten and doing handstands… the crowd are delirious, the judges can’t believe it, who is this man? Now he’s sure to win the Hezarin Surf Festival. Even the Death-Defying Dwarf who’s been practising all year for this event at his home camp near Poohsticks bridge must be out of it now.. but wait.. Oh no! This can’t be true.. Yes, he’s gone – WIPE OUT.. We can only hope that he’s washed up somewhere safe….

Holy hijinks that worked. Doing all this lands the player (sans all inventory except anything being worn) in a new area, with a temple.

You are standing before a huge building which flares white in the brilliant sunlight. When you look closer, you realise that its walls, stairs, columns, turrets, steeply pointed domes and finely carved flying buttresses are covered entirely in highly polished ivory.

Within the temple you can randomly run across a.) acolytes wearing white robes b.) an acolyte wearing a red robe and c.) two guardians. There’s also a way to wander around the back and grab a white robe as a disguise.

If you have the white robe on you can sneak by a.) and b.) Later you can get a red robe and sneak by a.) and c.) There is some randomness here in who you meet and I think the gameplay really is meant to have a little luck thrown in, but eventually, I managed to get a ceremonial dagger and close to an inner sanctum.

You are in the antechamber to the main sanctum. Identical doors are opposite each other in the east and west walls, and in the north and south ends of the room are stone water troughs set into the floor.

>E

As you pass through the doorway the ground apparently starts to burn beneath your feet, and as you cry out in agony two Guardians appear and despatch you instantly.

I’m not sure how to get past the “fire floor”, but since I don’t have any method for escaping the temple area yet, there likely is a way.

[*] How did I know to SNIFF? The parser is unique in that rather than “it only understand the first three letters of a word” (common in 1980s games) or “it only understand the first six letters” (an Infocom standard) it will interpret a word correctly as long as the initial letters map to a unique part of the game’s vocabulary. In my comments, Voltgloss discovered “Z” alone led to the game asking about zirconium. Early in my gameplay I went through every two-letter combination from “AA” to “ZZ” (I was kind of stuck, ok?) and managed to ferret out some odd nouns and verbs in the process, including SNIFF and KNEEL. Not SURF, alas; I just had to summon thinking of that one from the void.

Posted January 22, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Hezarin: Seen Only Once by Gilgamesh, Who Saw All Things   8 comments

THE SCORPION-MEN OF THE MOUNTAINS OF MÂSHU. Source. Stopped on his quest to find immortality, Gilgamesh must first plead his case to the scorpion-men that guard the mountain, then pass through in darkness for twelve days.

Last I left off on sort of a riddle.

As you take the torch it suddenly flares bright green, and you see a face solidify
in the flame. The face turns to look at you, and pronounces in a solemn chant:
THE WAY TO LIGHT
IS THROUGH THE DARK
THE WAY THROUGH DARK
COMES FROM THE DARK
THAT WHICH IS NOW DARK
WAS NOT ALWAYS SO
The face then turns away from you, and as it fades so the colour of the flame returns to normal.

I’ve only half-resolved it. Immediately after this room is the Fountain Room that the SKCITSHOOP magic word leads to, and any items that fall in the river also land here. This means you can go to the main Poohsticks bridge and toss most of your inventory, and then find it again upon reaching the Fountain Room.

To the southeast of the Fountain Room, there’s a small bag. It seems to be the “destination room” for any treasures; you can FILL BAG and the only thing that will go in are treasures, and your score goes up once they’re placed in the bag. I’m still unclear if finding them is optional.

A bit east of where the bag is there’s a long stretch of dark smoke-filled rooms — 13 rooms worth. This is what the WAY TO LIGHT/IS THROUGH THE DARK refers to. Additionally, THAT WHICH IS NOW DARK/WAS NOT ALWAYS SO seems to refer to the broken lantern; I had already discovered if you open it there’s a map.

So there’s two pits in the dark hall; if you just try to keep plunging ahead you’ll eventually fall, but if you stop at the right points and JUMP you will leap over the pits instead. At the end there is a Brimstone Cavern.

You are in a long tunnel filled with choking black smoke. It is impossible even to see your hand in front of your face.

>E

You are in a small subterranean cavern, whose only exit is to the west. A large pit filled with bubbling magma casts and eerie red glow over the surroundings, providing sufficient light for you to make out a small word etched at your feet.
There is a small vial here, with decorative (but unreadable) runes etched over the entire surface. The vial is filled with clear water, which shimmers and sparkles in the light.

>READ WORD
The word says ‘WOZX’.

Getting back is a problem, though — the pits seem to move so that there are two in a row at the far west end. This makes them impossible to jump over. I’m guessing the way out is entirely different than the way in (and no, WOZX doesn’t work).

I should add I discovered a very nasty bit of meta-game business (before entering the dark hall the first time) involving the save-game feature. If you save nearby there’s a sound of the earth being swallowed up, and the pits move, potentially in such a way it is impossible to jump through them. Again, this is before getting through the first time via jumping; it’s almost comically evil for a game that lets you undo other mistakes.

I was severely stuck enough I went back to previous puzzles. In particular, with the crystals and orcs section…

You creep past the monster, and reach for the crystal, but as you touch it, it emits a bell-like chime, waking the orc. You whirl around just in time to counter its wild leap for your throat, and the orc impales himself on your sword, the blade sinking deep into his soft underbelly. Sword, monster and chain vanish with a loud crack.

…I had killed three out of four orcs, but the last one refused to let me sneak in. The cabinet where I originally got the vorpal sword had another item, even though it looked like it had nothing.

>GET ALL
Invisbility cloak taken

Wrr. I admit only being on the alert to this from seeing a reference in the big list of potential hints in the manual to invisibility. (There’s a list of questions with numbers, and you can type HELP (number) to look up a particular hint. I have yet to use them other than this indirect hint I just mentioned.)

This invisibility cloak is enough to defeat the last orc (who tears away the cloak in the process, so you can’t use it elsewhere). From the four orcs I got four crystals that merged into a crystal key. I was then able to unlock the box I’d been toting around (remember it was the first thing I found underground) and was confronted by some serious plot:

>UNLOCK BOX

You take hold of the crystal key and turn it once. There is a quiet click and the box begins to hum gently. As you turn the key again there is a loud “CRACK” and brilliant shafts of light flash and fade. When your eyes and ears recover, you realise that you are listening to some unearthly voice telling of great feats of bravery from a forgotten past.
“…….and so the casket was lost, and the panels spread around the globe. Your task now, as the opener of the cask, is to find the four panels of light and restore the cask which by its power will aid you in your final struggle with the Darkness which controls the world.
You must journey to lands beyond the ken of living folk. To Mashu, the mountain of the setting of the sun, seen only once by Gilgamesh, who saw all things. You must journey to places far: from wild wood to evil moor, from chilling marsh to unseen sanctum. Fare well, be strong, let not your heart quail. For with the working of your deeds will your quest succeed or fail. With this the voice fades and dies, and you are left in silence, the box open in your trembling hands.

,,,

From here I got stuck again until I realized in a room to the west of the Fountain with some grey doors…

You are in a small square room with a polished floor. A pair of featureless grey doors, with no visible handles or keyholes, are set back into the western wall, and are closed firmly together. There is a word written in coloured lights above the doors. The only other exit is to the east.

>READ WORD

The word is “G 1 2 3”

…that while efforts to OPEN DOOR and the like are rejected, I could just GO ELEVATOR.

The doors slide open revealing a darkened room. You step gingerly through. You are in the lift.
There is a bottle of vintage wine nearby!

I haven’t mapped the other levels, but I’m guessing there’s a lot more open now for me to work on, in addition to a lot more ways to die.

You are in a large chamber whose walls glow bright pink. Passages lead north, south, northeast, southeast, and southwest.
A large dragon is napping in the centre of the chamber.
The dragon opens a beady eye and snarls “How am I meant to get any beauty sleep with all these Adventurers traipsing around?!”
He then incinerates you with a short burst of flame, but if it’s any consolation he had to count 8,000,036 sheep before he managed to fall asleep again!

Posted January 18, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Hezarin: Such Earthly Considerations Seem Worthless Trifles   6 comments

I always try my best to cajole my game-playing sessions into a narrative form, but vast puzzle-fests like this can be … maybe not anti-narrative, exactly, but they pull in some sideways-diagonal direction which makes my job harder. The story is painted by lore and place as much as the events that happen.

About 30 yards ahead the river disappears over a magnificent waterfall, at least 1000 feet high, which is illuminated by powerful arclamps high out of reach. A fine mist hangs in the air, quickly soaking your outer garments, but the sheer impressiveness of the falls makes such earthly considerations seem worthless trifles, and you venture right to the edge of the falls.

ONE THING I NEGLECTED TO MENTION LAST TIME

I discussed a marsh where HOLD TWIG gave a pointer to the right directions (“The twig twitches sporadically, and comes to rest pointing in a southerly direction.”); what I didn’t mention was this was cojoined with a bad parser issue. When HOLD TWIG is used anywhere else, the game acts in a very different way:

>HOLD TWIG
You’re already holding the small forked twig.

This is extremely deceptive parser practice; essentially the verb means an entirely different thing (and behaves the same as TAKE) when it is not being used as a puzzle. Even though both uses are “fair” in a grammatical way, there’s no reason for a player to think the verb will suddenly mean something different just because they’re in another location.

Something similar happens with CLIMB while in the hall of torches.

The tunnel levels out here for a while, and the going is a bit easier.
>CLIMB

The tunnels continue dead straight for several miles, and you are forced to rest every now and then.

This is interpreting CLIMB the same as UP in the location. However, there’s a different use of CLIMB, where you can CLIMB WALL:

Your Adventurer’s training stands you in good stead here, and you are able to make full use of the plentiful hand and toe holds available to you. You are perched several feet below the lowest of the torches. Above you the wall becomes smooth and featureless, and you are unable to progress further.

A wall isn’t even mentioned in the room description; you just have to suppose it is there. Urrrgh.

After this you can JUMP and get one of the torches. The torch falls to the ground and goes out, but a bright green light briefly appears and the torch lights up again. This resolved my issue last time with a lack of light.

Lighting up the darkness to the south leads to an open area with an east and a west section; let’s start with the east.

ANOTHER THING I NEGLECTED TO MENTION LAST TIME

I mentioned the plot is to defeat Arijith, and grabbing treasures is somehow part still part of the game, but there’s one other paragraph from the intro I was saving for when it became pertinent:

RUMOUR HAS IT that the Ruling Council of Hezarin, an omniscient body that works in mysterious ways, foresaw the rule of the old tyrant and crafted a magic device, in the form of an old panelled box, which could be used to overcome him; but over the passage of time the box has been lost and the secret of its use forgotten. Other sources say that Arijith himself has consigned the box to a secret location deep in the bowels of the earth, and has woven dark spells and set hidden traps so that no ordinary man may chance upon it…

I admit I thought the moment of pertinence would come MUCH later, but the very first thing I found upon exploring the underground with a torch was:

You are in a small, musty room. There is a large vent set into the eastern wall, and a corresponding one facing it.
There is a box here. The box is locked.

I don’t know for certain if it’s the box, but given the two-word parser isn’t great with adjectives, I think it’s likely the Big Fooble is here in the open early. Figuring out how to use it, then, is the great mystery.

While we’re in this part of the caverns, I should also note some “fun” doors leading to grumpy cats:

You are in a small room. To the south is a large door, decorated with scenes of brave Adventurers fighting huge lions. The only other exit is to the northwest.
>S

As you open the door a large and ferocious lion leaps out. Against his superior bulk and razor sharp claws you stand no chance…..

a music room with a “bonger”

As you walk in through the door you are greeted by the hideous clash of long out of tune clarinets, bassoons and a euphonium.
The room is covered with scenes of people playing various instruments, some of them very odd. The only exit is to the south.
Lying on the floor here is an object which I find myself unable to describe as anything other than a ‘bonger’.

and a pipe where I can use the wheel I found in the rubbish heap to turn it on. Turning it on results in the room with the box being filled with black smoke. (I don’t know if this is useful or just a trap for players who didn’t get the box first.)

This activates something on the west side of the starting underground map, so let’s turn over to that:

The “Poohsticks” bridge is over the same river you can jump into from aboveground to get the magic word SKCITSHOOP.

There’s a curious cabinet where FILL CABINET gets an interesting response:

The passage ends here in a small chamber, hewn out of the bedrock. A large display
cabinet has been mounted on the west wall.
The cabinet is empty.
>fill cabinet

Sorry, only members of the Council are allowed to fill the cabinet.

If you leave there’s a BANG sound, and if you come back you find there’s a “vorpal blade” inside. This implies that The Council of Hezarin is helping you from afar.

You can use the vorpal sword to slay some orcs:

The passage comes to a dead end here. Chiselled into the otherwise blank wall at the far end of the passage is a small alcove, which contains a sparkling crystal.
There is a large orc, sleeping fitfully, chained to the wall of the passage below the alcove.
>get crystal

You creep past the monster, and reach for the crystal, but as you touch it, it emits a bell-like chime, waking the orc. You whirl around just in time to counter its wild leap for your throat, and the orc impales himself on your sword, the blade sinking deep into his soft underbelly. Sword, monster and chain vanish with a loud crack.

although there’s four orcs in total, and I haven’t been able to do anything with the last one.

Finally, there’s a small hole. If you go in you get stuck. If you haven’t turned the pipe valve from the eastern part of the caverns yet, the hole fills up with water and you eventually drown. If the pipe has been turned on, the result is different:

You are stuck in the hole. The water is up to your nose. Below, you can feel the pressure slowly building up.

Just as the water reaches your nose the pressure finally because too great. With a loud >>POP<< you shoot out of the hole like a cork out of a champagne bottle, execute a graceful triple somersault and crash heavily into the wall of the cave. When you recover sufficiently you discover that you have sustained only minor bruises after all, though they do not feel so yet.
You are on a small ledge above a large, water-filled cavern. Steam curls from the surface of the water creating intricate patterns. A dark tunnel exits north.
There is a wooden torch mounted on the wall here.

>GET TORCH

As you take the torch it suddenly flares bright green, and you see a face solidify
in the flame. The face turns to look at you, and pronounces in a solemn chant:
THE WAY TO LIGHT
IS THROUGH THE DARK
THE WAY THROUGH DARK
COMES FROM THE DARK
THAT WHICH IS NOW DARK
WAS NOT ALWAYS SO
The face then turns away from you, and as it fades so the colour of the flame returns to normal.

This leads to an entirely new and large section. I haven’t done much mapping further so I’ll save discussing it next time. I have already worked out what the chant is referring to, but I’ll save discussing that for next time too, other than me pointing out the green glow has occurred twice now: once for picking up the torch after it briefly went out, and once for the poem/hint. This suggests to me the torch is another avenue the Council of Hezarin is using to help.

Posted January 16, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Hezarin (1981)   13 comments

In 1978, Adventure and Zork arrived at the Phoenix mainframe at Cambridge University, and a small group of mathematicians made a custom language designed specifically for writing their own text adventures. So far we’ve seen Acheton (1978), Philosopher’s Quest (1979) and Quondam (1980). (While the first two had surviving mainframe source code that received modern direct ports, Quondam only exists as a port for the BBC Micro.) Each successive game tried to outdo the previous in terms of difficulty, culminating in Quondam actively describing items in a deceptive way and having a save-game feature that killed the player.

Hezarin backs up from this pattern a bit, and is outright nicer in places.

>JUMP
Drawing yourself up to your full height, you leap fearlessly out into the ravine, executing a perfect swallow dive, and smashing your head open on the boulders beneath.
Would you like to pretend you hadn’t done that?
?Y

Alright, but be more careful next time!

Yes, that’s a selective feature that lets you UNDO a turn. Mind you, the game is still known as extremely long and difficult (it has a whopping 1100 points possible, not quite as many as Acheton but still up there).

Hezarin was originally made in 1981 by Steve Tinney and Alex Ship, but that source code is lost; fortunately, it received ports by Jon Thackray in 1990 to MS-DOS as well as the Acorn Electron.

From the Electron version. Mobygames also claims there are Amstrad CPC and Amstrad PCW versions but I haven’t been able to verify this with any primary source.

Being a port means there are almost certainly some changes, but we’ll just have to cope with what’s available. The MS-DOS version is quite easy to get to (here’s a link to play online) so that’s what I’m using.

Now, a confession: I’ve beaten this game before. However, it was quite a long time ago (15 years or so) and fairly early on I started leaning very heavily on a walkthrough, with the result being I remember almost nothing other than the basic plot (you have to stop a tyrant/wizard/all-around-bad-guy named Arijith) and the fact things start out on a relatively expansive aboveground section. There’s also treasures to collect (appropriately marked with a ! symbol) but I don’t know if they’re required to defeat the game’s nemesis or just optional points.

Here’s the starting map, but I’ll need to describe a little of what’s going on.

Some of the “diagonal” connections (NE/SE/SW/NW) have been omitted because they made the map confusing to read.

If you head off north far enough you end up in a forest:

You are struggling through the undergrowth of a dark forest.
>CLIMB TREE
You are somewhat uncomfortably located near the top of a tree in the forest. Branches keep scratching at you, picking your nose and poking you in the eye. The view is completely curtailed by the dense foliage.

South is a marsh:

As you proceed the mist thickens and the ground underfoot becomes soggy and wet. Strange shapes loom in the mist ahead of you, and you are rather relieved to find that htey are merely the stunted, blackened remains of trees. The mist has now become a real pea-souper, and with some trepidation you turn back and attempt to retrace your steps.
You walk for seemingly hours before realising that you have hopelessly lost your bearings, and you decide that hte best thing to do is to sit it out until the ist rises. After a brief wait the mist suddenly rolls back, and you find…..
You are lost in the marsh.

West is an endless plain:

You are perched on an outcrop of rock in the middle of a weed ridden field. To the north you can see the dark, dark green of the forest canopy, while to the east and south a hotch potch of fields prawls across the countryside. To the west a featureless plain stretches to a horizon which is broken only by a solitary shimmering peak.
>D
You are in a large field out which rises an outcrop of glistening white limestone. To the north lies thick forest, to the west an apparently infintie plain, and to the east a thick hedge.
>W
You are on an infinite and entirely featureless plain. The sun beats down on the parched grass and a heat haze shimmers on the horizon.
>W
You are on a featureless plain.
>W
You are on a featureless plain.

(I quoted a little extra at the start there to note the “solitary shimmery peak” seen from the outcrop — I don’t know if it’s possible to reach or just a red herring.)

Rather than just trying to add every connection I cut the map off in each direction. The forest and swamp, in particular, are “random” mazes. As far as I can tell, the best you can do in the forest is wander, pick up a manhole on the way, and eventually get booted to one of the main rooms. The marsh is normally deadly but I found a “forked twig” where if I did HOLD TWIG I got helpful directions

The twig twitches sporadically, and comes to rest pointing in a southerly direction.

On the way out from the marsh, I found a treasure

There are some garnets here!

so that’s puzzle #1 down, out of ….? (A lot.)

In addition to the manhole and the garnets I’ve found a brass wheel, a plank, a broken lantern (with a map).

I’ve found two ways to get “underground”. In one method, I fall into a river, see a magic word (“SKCITSHOOP”) and then SAY SKCITSHOOP to teleport into a Fountain Room adjacent to multiple rooms that are dark.

WHOOOOOooooooooooooooosh
>POP<
You are in an immense hemispherical chamber with exits in most directions. Dominating the cave is a massive stone fountain from which columns of water jet up almost to the ceiling before spraying back into the ornamental pool beneath. Light filters in from a hole in the roof, and refracts in strange fashions inside the water columns, sending dazzling blobs of colour scampering across the cavern walls. The floor is covered in a springy moss-like substance, which hampers walking, especially as watching the psychedelic kaleidoscope is making you dizzy and nauseous.
>E
It is pitch dark.

In the other method, I go down a passage with magical torches until they cut off appearing.

You are at the top of a long tunnel which dips steeply down to the south, while to the north the passage quickly turns round on itself and is lost to sight. The walls and floor are perfectly smooth, as if the passage has been constructed by melted away the offending bedrock, and it is difficult just to keep your balance.
High up, a row of torches cast a dim flickering light along the tunnel.

(…down a few rooms…)

The line of torches comes to an abrupt end here. To the south the passage widens into a large cavern, while to the north the passage continues up for a short way before leveling out.
>S
It is pitch dark.

Either way, my enemy here is darkness. I don’t have a light source. I’ve tried GET ALL in various dark rooms I’ve poked at (remembering that Philosopher’s Quest put a lamp in a dark room) but no luck. There’s not even a LIGHT OR EXTINGUISH or BURN verb available so I suspect magical shenanigans will be required.

Posted January 14, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Inca Curse (1981)   8 comments

The founders of Artic Computing (Richard Turner and Chris Thornton) made their first adventure game (Adventure A, Planet of Death) themselves.

Richard had a friend (that he “met on a sponsorship programme for Ford”) named Charles Cecil. Adventures B (Inca Curse), C (Ship of Doom), and D (Espionage Island) were all by Charles (and he stayed with Artic essentially until they folded in 1986). Charles later went on to found Revolution Software and produce adventures like Broken Sword, Beneath a Steel Sky, and the forthcoming-for-2020 sequel Beyond a Steel Sky.

(ADD: Gareth in the comments points out an interview which mentions the work process — Charles gave the design on graph paper to Richard who then added his own ideas and implemented the game, so he definitely should be listed as a co-author.)

We’ll get to C and D when we reach 1982, but let’s take a look at Inca Curse.

I went straight for the Spectrum version this time, although the ZX-81 version is slightly less blinky than Planet of Death (the screen flashing only happens when you hit the enter key as opposed to at every single keypress).

IN THIS ADVENTURE YOU FIND YOURSELF IN A SOUTH AMERICAN JUNGLE NEAR AN, AS YET, UNDISTURBED INCA TEMPLE. INSIDE THIS TEMPLE YOU WILL FIND LOTS OF TREASURE, YOUR AIM IS TO GET OUT WITH AS MUCH TREASURE AS YOU CAN. BEWARE, DO NOT LET GREED BE YOUR DOWNFALL.

YOUR ADVENTURE IS COMPLETE WHEN YOU HAVE RETURNED TO THE JUNGLE CLEARING WITH TREASURE.

Yep, we’re back to a Treasure Hunt.

I AM IN A JUNGLE CLEARING
EXITS ARE SOUTH
I CAN ALSO SEE :
A BRANCH

If you try to GET BRANCH the game tells you IT IS HEAVY WITH LOTS OF LEAVES (and you don’t get the branch).

The only other location accessible at the start is some TEMPLE STEPS and a door with a LATCH. If you could bring the branch over you could break the latch.

To get the branch you need to

>CUT LEAVES
OK..

which makes no sense as a verb given the player has no cutting tool! Not only is the player being asked to refer to a “second-level” noun inside the noun, but “GET LEAVES” or “REMOVE LEAVES” don’t work even though they’re more logical verbs for what’s happening.

INTERLUDE

From an interview with Charles Cecil at Gameboomers:

Without doubt the film that profoundly influenced my first games, and many since, is ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’. My first game for the Sinclair ZX-81 was called ‘Adventure B: Inca Curse’. It started off “You are in a jungle clearing” – that was the extent of the description. In my mind that jungle clearing had huge trees towering above you, dappled light shining through the canopy of leaves, the squawks of parrots, the distant roar of a jaguar. But all I wrote was “You are in a jungle clearing”. And years later when I was the head of development at Activision one of the producers came to talk to me, and he was very impressed that I had written ‘Inca Curse’. He told me that he remembered the game so well – how it started off in a jungle clearing, there were huge trees towering above you, the dappled light shining through the canopy of leaves, the squawks of parrots, the distant roar of a jaguar etc. I realised at that moment the power of interactive narrative – and that he had given me much more credit than I was due!

I’ve somewhat had this effect before, where minimalist descriptions nonetheless convey a much deeper world than depicted in the prose, certainly moreso than the equivalent description in a novel…

…but not on this game! When I played this I never got visualizing past the branch. In the quote, not only is the visualization strong but the memory of it includes extra detail not in the original. I’m wondering if this is a “lost effect” from early games that can’t be recaptured in 2020 the same way — Inca Curse could easily be someone’s first or second adventure game, so it probably had some intrinsic magic to players.

END INTERLUDE

The finangling with the branch was an unfortunate way to start the game, but fortunately, the rest of the was (intentionally) fairly easy. The temple is structured into two layers. Here is the top layer:

The most important section is a FIRE ROOM with a FIRE, a LAMP, and a MAGIC RING EMBEDDED IN FLINT. You can SMOTHER FIRE (as long as you have a MAGIC BLANKET) and take the RING and LAMP along. You can then use a CHISEL on the MAGIC RING to de-embed it.

In the “SLAVES WAITING ROOM” you can find a HYROGLIPHIC TRANSLATOR used to read a sign further on:

Incidentally, if you don’t have the translator, you are told

I CANT READ IT….
IT IS WRITTEN IN SPANISH..

Clearly, this wasn’t a well-researched piece, but just to spell things out: a.) the Inca did not have a writing system, although they did have “talking knot” recording devices called “quipu” and b.) it makes no sense for them to be writing things in Spanish and c.) it definitely makes no sense for Spanish to use “hyrogliphics”.

If you ignore the sign and go down, you find you are in a SAND DUNGEON where a PORTHOLE LEADS DOWNWARDS. You can arrive in the exact same location from a SACRED STONE ROOM which has a sign warning of death if you GO WEST unprepared.

The only way back to the top level is if you have a ROPE and type USE ROPE. Otherwise, you’re stuck. (Well, the game did warn you.)

In order to go down to the next level, you need the MAGIC RING from back in the fire room and a BLUE STONE that happens to just be lying around. (There’s also a RED STONE but it appears to be useless. ADD: Lee Parker mentions in the comments there is a particular passage in the lower level not visible unless you’re holding the red stone. There’s no indication you’re “solving a puzzle” as this is happening and I’m guessing a lot of players missed it.) If you don’t have these items and try to go down the game says YOU ARE NOT CARRYING THE CORRECT POSSESSIONS. Otherwise:

In any of the “Maze” rooms a wrong direction will loop back to the same room.

This is essentially just a big maze. All the treasures are here, and there are no puzzles whatsoever (except for the maze itself). There are eight treasures in total, all golden (golden knives, golden brush, gold coins, golden statue … you get the idea).

Winning requires, simply taking at least some treasure to the jungle clearing at the start.

I was doing the typical thing of having a big pile awaiting liberation, so I was startled because the game ends immediately upon reaching the exit. Also, you can carry at most 6 inventory items, but remember there are 8 treasures, you have to leave some of them behind.

The only reason this works structurally is the upper level-lower level format — if there was a treasure or two “in the open” at the start it would be too easy to end the game with “success!” immediately. (This also makes Inca Curse feels a little bit like an “optimizer” game akin to Mystery Mansion, except the treasures essentially all being “in the open” once the lower section is reached makes it almost more a shopping trip than an optimizable puzzle.)

I did have a much more enjoyable time with Inca Curse compared to Planet of Death insofar as I didn’t get stymied by a parser issue every other turn. The author was clearly trying to build more of an environment than a puzzle game. However, this did result in empty sections…

There are no objects here, or descriptions past the room titles.

…which I think may have heated up the imagination of a 1981-era player, but felt to me kind of meaningless.

Still, I don’t think my time was wasted, and if you’d like to try exploring yourself, the ZX Spectrum version is easy to play online. (There’s also a forthcoming Android version made with permission from copyright holder; I’ll post about it when it goes up.)

We’re going to stay in the UK just a bit longer. While the home computer scene was just starting, the mathematicians at Cambridge University were still busy cranking out long and difficult puzzlefests, and in 1981 they produced what is arguably their largest game.

Posted January 13, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Planet of Death: Finished!   15 comments

Planet of Death was the first a very long line of games for Spectrum computers, and consequently provokes enough nostalgia that there’s both an Android remake and an iPhone remake.

Planet of Death was a technical miracle straining against its original hardware.

Planet of Death ambitiously included multiple solutions for at least two of its puzzles.

Alas, that still doesn’t stop Planet of Death being a very bad game, at least in its original incarnation.

Last time, I was stuck trying to get a mirror from a “green man”.

I AM IN A QUIET CAVERN
THERE ARE EXITS WEST,EAST AND SOUTH
I CAN ALSO SEE :
A MIRROR
A SMALL GREEN MAN SLEEPING ON THE MIRROR

I had a failure of visualization here; I was thinking “short” in human terms but it really meant “small enough to just pick up”.

>GET MAN
UGH! HE IS ALL SLIMY

You can then set the man down and get the mirror.

The second issue I had was with a force field.

I AM IN A PASSAGE
THERE IS A FORCE FIELD TO THE SOUTH : BEWARE OF SECURITY
THERE ARE EXITS TO NORTH,EAST AND WEST
I CAN ALSO SEE : A LOUDSPEAKER WITH DANCE MUSIC COMING OUT

I needed a walkthrough. The right action is to be holding the laser gun, and then to…

>SMASH FIELD
IT HAS WEAKENED IT

..not, HIT, SHOOT, BREAK or any other logical alternatives work. Those three verbs are even understood by the game, just not here! Guess-the-verb can be slightly manageable if it’s a matter of “I clearly haven’t communicated my intentions yet, I’ll keep trying” but when the game appears to have understood an action but just ignored it, it makes puzzle-solving almost impossible.

We aren’t done yet!

>S
I CANT GO IN THAT DIRECTION
>GO FIELD
IT HAD NO EFFECT

The right way to get through is to DANCE while holding the MIRROR. If you don’t have the MIRROR you fall over, although this happens if the field has been smashed or not so it’s unclear what function the mirror is having.

>DANCE
I AM IN A LARGE HANGER
THERE IS A LOCKED DOOR TO THE WEST
THERE ARE ALSO EXITS EAST,NORTH AND SOUTH
I CAN ALSO SEE :
A SMALL BUT POWERFULL SPACE SHIP
A SLEEPING SECURITY MAN

This is near the end of the game: the goal is to be able to launch the ship and leave. Unfortunately, entering the ship right away is a trap; the ship can’t launch yet (for unclear reasons) there is no way to leave once entering.

You first need to go west into a “lift control room” with “3 switches” and a sign that says:

5,4 NO DUSTY BIN RULES

Here is an excerpt of my attempt at operating the switches:

It turns out you can just PUSH 1, PUSH 2, and PUSH 3, although they need to be done in the order 3, 2, 1.

If you’re as puzzled as I was what the DUSTY BIN reference has to do with anything, it’s from the old British game show 3-2-1. Dusty Bin is the mascot for the show.

After hitting the switches a lift opens. You can get an engine from another room (where there’s an OUT OF ORDER sign, implying the engine doesn’t work, but I guess it does) and then take it into the ship, and finally launch…

…except make sure you don’t push the MAIN button because the spaceship blows up. The AUX button works:

Let’s go back to those two puzzles with alternate solutions. You might notice nowhere above did I mention the ice block from the maze I was puzzling over in my last post. That’s because it’s an entirely optional way of going down, although one I don’t see how anyone at all would ever find in either the original ZX-81 or Spectrum versions. Here is the relevant room:

I AM IN AN ICE CAVERN
THERE IS AN EXIT TO THE EAST
I CAN ALSO SEE :
A BLOCK OF ICE

Although mentioned nowhere in the text, there also to be an exit DOWN;

>DOWN
HOW?
>WITH ICE
I AM IN A QUIET CAVERN
THERE ARE EXITS WEST,EAST AND SOUTH
I CAN ALSO SEE :
A MIRROR
A SMALL GREEN MAN SLEEPING ON THE MIRROR

(Note this only works if you’re holding the ice block — it can’t just be in the room, even though I think you’re supposed to be “riding” the ice.)

This is the same room you reach if you just go down a pit using a rope, which is not exactly a difficult puzzle. So even though the ice block represents an alternate solution, the method of solution it is used for is so obscure it might as well be a red herring instead.

Additionally, I mentioned occasionally being tossed into a prison.

I AM IN A PRISON CELL
I CAN ALSO SEE :
A LOCKED DOOR
A BARRED WINDOW
TELL ME WHAT TO DO

There are two ways to escape. You can LOOK UP (!?) which let you see the bars are loose, and then you can KICK BARS (by some miracle I came up with this verb on my own). Or if you have a gold coin from doing GO LAKE earlier (something I missed in my playthrough) you can USE COIN and that bribes … an invisible guard, I guess?

This is interesting in a theory-of-game-craft sense. Red herrings can be painful (especially when there’s a puzzle like a maze attached to reach them) so what do you do when you have alternate solutions that rely on different objects? — can alternate solutions only use objects that are easy to reach, or is it possible to make them in a way it doesn’t feel like part of the game is wasted? At the Gaming After 40 writeup, Dale Dobson finished the game without knowing what the ice and gold coin did at all, and had the exact same frustrations a real red herring would provide.

I once tried (and failed) to design a small adventure game where each puzzle had 3 or 4 solutions, but it never occurred to me until now that adding solutions, while making a particular puzzle easier, might make a game holistically more difficult. Objects intended as possible solves to early puzzles might never be applied, but the player wouldn’t know that and might fruitlessly try to use those same objects in later puzzles.

The authors clearly had a sense of what makes an adventure game interesting; alternate solutions are still pretty rare in our chronological sequence, and they at least attempted to stage “scenes” rather than arbitrary obstacles. However, as early trailblazers, it would have been hard to know how to write scenes that come across to the player in a logical way.

Take the central puzzle with the security barrier — it’s reasonable, on its own, to shoot the barrier with a gun; it’s reasonable, on its own, that dance music might prompt the music DANCE; it’s reasonable, on its own, that a MIRROR might mess with a security system somehow, but when all the parts are jammed together without logic or explanation (and the absurd verb SMASH) it makes for a dreadful puzzle. I don’t think it would have been so obviously dreadful on paper, at its inception; being aware of the effect would require realizing what the implementation would be like (and how hard the verbs would be to find).

We’re not leaving Artic Software just yet, because their next game was also released in 1981. The author is different this time; someone famous enough that there’s a good chance you’ll recognize some of his more recent work.

Posted January 9, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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