Archive for the ‘Interactive Fiction’ Category

World’s Edge (1980)   2 comments

After the last game’s frustrating trip with one of the worst parsers ever, I thought it prudent to return to an author that seems to have his act together on two-word parser control: Greg Hassett.

It really is a relief to have a variety of messages that are explicit about when the game doesn’t know what to do, ex:

>STAB GRASS

I DON’T SEE THAT AROUND ME

>EAT KNIFE

YECH! WOULDN’T DARE!

>KICK

I NEED A DIRECT OBJECT AS WELL.

>KICK STONE

HAR HAR HAR. FIGHTING SOMETHING THAT ISN’T ALIVE. LOOK, I’VE HAD A HARD DAY…

>WAVE SWORD

WHAT IS “SWORD”?

These types of messages are essential to a good flow. When the parser breaks down, text games need to explain what happened as transparently as possible.

You start the game outside with some hooting owls, and find a barn with a letter from NASA:

Yes, the big future world threat is … smog.

Also, to solve our eco-crisis, we are stealing (?) something (2.2 kg of APC-80) sacred to the natives of another planet. This reads as if a pair of authors, one politically left-leaning and one right-leaning, decided to get together to write a book but they just mixed their paragraphs in alternating order without editing.

Near the barn is a silo; once you break in, the silo turns out to be a rocket ship, and you can pull the lever to find yourself on an alien planet.

Upon arrival, you find a very minor swamp maze, the kind common to Greg Hassett which lacks the east-one-way-goes-south-the-other type connection, and just includes a few loops:

As an aside, one of these days I want to come up with a numerical metric that specifies how difficult an adventure-game maze is. Ratio of normal-connections to crazy-connections, maybe.

I haven’t got much farther than that. There’s a “holofame” where I can try out a “credit disc” …

… and a “space amoeba” guarding a “glowstone”.

I heard secondhand the amoeba was the hardest puzzle. I’m not sure if I should be solving a different puzzle first.

I have: a sickle (which I already used to cut some grass), a needle (used to pick a lock), a jetpack (not used yet, but I don’t have fuel), a pointy knife, and a piece of plastic (that blows me up when I try to drop it). I suspect if I can get to the other side of the vent (mentioned in the “tall chamber” room description) I could drop the explosives down there and destroy the amoeba safely, but that would likely require using the jetpak.

As is usual, feel free to speculate in the comments, and if you know the game already, use ROT13.

Posted August 2, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Deathship: and the Parser of Doom   4 comments

Voltgloss (a regular to this blog) was very determined to see this one through (and gave me enough hints to finish as well), although getting to the end required plowing through four (four!) entirely different parser issues.

Last time, I was stuck in the ship’s hold, unable to reach the engine room which contained a ticking time bomb.

I AM IN THE HOLD
I SEE *HEAVY HINGED LOCKED DOOR
*A FAINT TICKING NOISE
*SIGN-ENGINE ROOM AFT
*OPEN DOOR

I had a “crate” I had already used as a step-stool to reach a high mast, but I had been unable to open the crate. I had an axe and had tried various permutations of
>HIT CRATE:

WITH WHAT?
?WITH AXE
NOTHING HAPPENED

The “WITH” has been pretty standard phrasing in two-word parsers up to this point when we’ve needed to provide a follow-up command; it turns out I needed to use just “AXE”. The interesting part, and parser issue #1, was that I had tested that exact thing, but on a second playthrough where I apparently wasn’t holding the axe. Rather than “YOU AREN’T HOLDING THE AXE” the game has “NOTHING HAPPENS” for every single response that doesn’t work. The entry box is entirely free so you could technically try to hit things with a >GOLF CLUB or >20TH CENTURY POSTMODERNISM and get the same response.

Upon opening the crate I found screwdrivers. Since the locked door is described as “hinged” I figured I needed to unscrew it, but I ran into parser issue #2: there is a flashlight that turns on with LIGHT and turns off with UNLIGHT. Because the parser only accepts the first two letters, UNSCREW couldn’t be added as a new verb. Voltgloss found the right technique was GET DOOR, which is one of those marginally-plausible phrasings that’s still unlikely anyone playing naturally would find.

Having tore the door down, I finally reached the bomb.

I AM IN ENGINE ROOM
I SEE *BOMB WIRED TO A POST

The ending puzzle is surprising elaborate and would be even a little fun were it not for parser issues #3 and #4. Parser issue #3, in particular, was that I realized a bucket full of water might be a good method of bomb defusing. There was a swimming pool with water on the top deck, but upon filing the bucket “IT’S LEAKING!!!” started appearing. There was still time to take the bucket down to the engine room and DROP WATER (hopefully on the bomb) but this was followed by another IT’S LEAKING message which suggested to me that I was going down entirely the wrong path.

Except … I wasn’t, and the game didn’t bother to make a special message along the lines of SORRY THE BUCKET IS OUT OF WATER. (Again, I needed Voltgloss’s hints to even realize this.)

In the meantime I had found a CUTTER by removing the nails holding down a radio. (Commenter Lisa logically asks what kind of radio would be held down by nails, to which I say: I have no idea. I also don’t know why the radio would be hiding a cutter.) I went to CUT BOMB and found a “wire” appeared in the description, but otherwise no change. Parser issue #4: the bomb is still “wired to a post” yet the bomb is no longer that well wired, because you can pick it up and carry it with you.

The bomb is too bulky to come all the way up the stairs to the water (you’re carrying too much, the game says) but by moving the bomb, I was able to bring it close enough that I could get another bucket of water and reach the bomb fast enough that there was still water left. After DROP WATER another turn passed, and then:

The end puzzle was a neat idea — you couldn’t bring one thing all the way from A to B, or one thing all the way from B to A, but you could meet the two things in the middle halfway. That’s far more sophisticated design than I expected, and it gives me hope that the next Aardvark game (Mars, finished between this one and Trek Adventure) keeps the interesting puzzle ideas and structure but has an improved parser.

ADD: In the comments, scaryreasoner mentions this game was later sold in a “learn how to make an adventure” pamphlet form. I think Mr. Olsen may have been slightly sheepish about selling it as a standalone game.

dshipad

Posted August 1, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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My Top 20 Interactive Fiction, 2019 Edition   5 comments

(For the Victor Gijsbers Interactive Fiction Top 50 shindig.)

Wherein I start by hedging the fact that this probably isn’t really my top 20, but I produced a list as fast as I could and some of the games/texts might even arguably have (gasp) objective flaws but they all still mean something to me.

Also, there are people I am enormous fans of that did not make the list, so a lack of presence does not mean a lack of endorsement.

I have included links to play online wherever I can.

In random order:

Creatures Such As We by Lynnea Glasser (2014) (Game)

A choice-based game where the protaganist gives tours on the moon and contemplates stories, and games, and love, and friendship.

The lights dim before turning off (so as not to be frighteningly sudden) and then it’s there. Nothing but the uninterrupted universe. No sun, no lights, no atmosphere, no reflection from Earth. Just the unending, beautiful eternity. There are audible sighs and gasps. You’re certain you hear someone sniffling back a few tears, but you give them the benefit of not checking whose audio trace it was.

Arthur by Bob Bates (1989) (Game, Manual)

King Arthur’s finest showing in game form.

The local chieftan, King Lot, has declared a curfew, and you know that even a boy such as yourself would be thrown in prison should you be caught by his soldiers. Yet you have come anyway, irresistably drawn by this sword of mystery.

Astronomy Without a Telescope by George Jenner (1995) (Game)

…remember that in the course of psychoanalysing Connie you are asking her to tell you the story.

Uncle Buddy’s Phantom Funhouse by John McDaid (1993) (Game)

Rather than crazy Uncle Buddy leaving behind a house full of puzzles, he has left you a set of HyperCard files and a very mysterious tarot deck.

We are instructed to inform you that you have, at some time, known Mr. Newkirk. Probably as a family acquaintance referred to as “Uncle Buddy.” While you may not remember this, we are instructed to inform you that there may be reasons for this involving “lapses of memory” or other “divergences” of an unspecified nature.

Counterfeit Monkey by Emily Short (2012) (Game)

What if manipulating objects via manipulating their words were possible? — what ramifications would this have for culture, and technology, and history? An astonishing tour de force.

Local Call for Death by Robert Lafore (1979) (Game, type RUN “STORY” at the prompt)

Investigate a mystery with a full sentence conversational parser.

It is winter, a few years after the Great War. You are … an American visitor to England and the guest of the famous English detective Sir Colin Drollery. On this particular evening you are dining with him at the exclusive Belladonna Club in London.

Horse Master by Tom McHenry (2013) (Game)

From the author’s website: “Horse Master: The Game of Horse Mastery challenges players to grow, train, and nurture their own horse from birth in the hopes of earning the most coveted tenured position in the world: Horse Master.”

Bad Machine by Dan Shiovitz (1998) (Game)

You are a factory robot who is broken. I’ve never seen anything quite like the writing here, which mixes prose and computer code.

Unit compliance at dangerous level; non-structured actions may result
Internal Dam//mage repair NOT PossIBLE!!!1
Unit shououuuuld report to Fixer immediately for re-training

Un^t Sta&us: B@$ xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxM39_I*~
Re-try: BAk M3_eIN~
Re-try: BAp MAxHIN~
Re-try: BAD MACHINE

Tin Star by Allen Gies (2013) (Game)

An almost ludicrously ambitious Western tale. “Confront outlaws, find romance, challenge Indians, defy the elements and craft an enduring legend as you uncover a conspiracy whose deadly web stretches from San Francisco to New York City.”

T-Zero by Dennis Cunningham (1991) (Game)

What exactly induced this bout of walking? Well, two nights ago, Count Zero handed you your walking papers … However, you were onto something. Exactly what is unclear since the pieces of the puzzle seem to disconnect with sleep. You resolve not to sleep until you’ve recollected and reconnected their jagged edges. You can be just as calculating as the Count. You can even reach beyond the Zero …

Laid Off from the Synesthesia Factory by Katherine Morayati (2015) (Game)

A story about a worker laid off from a factory that generates artificial senses, with some stunning prose.

Beyond Zork by Brian Moriarty (1987) (Game, Manual)

Lovely, solid design from a master.

The horizon is lost in the glare of morning upon the Great Sea. You shield your eyes to sweep the shore below, where a village lies nestled beside a quiet cove. A stunted oak tree shades the inland road.

Photopia by Adam Cadre (1998) (Game)

Still an undisputed classic.

Read you a story? What fun would that be? I’ve got a better idea: let’s tell a story together.

Wonderland by Magnetic Scrolls (1990) (Game)

This is my favorite from Magnetic Scrolls.

You are on the southern bank of a river whose waters flow lazily by with a trickle and a ripple so soothing you could almost go right off to sleep. To the southwest you can just see the beginnings of a winding country lane, whilst eastwards is a pear grove. Emily, your sister, is sitting here reading a book.

Spider and Web by Andrew Plotkin (1998) (Game)

You are a spy being interrogated. You tell the story of how you infiltrated the compound you are in. Things are not what they appear.

“Don’t be absurd,” he says. “You’re no more a sightseer than the Old Tree in Capitol Square; and if you’d had enough sense to walk away from that door, you wouldn’t be here. You don’t and you didn’t and are; we caught you. And you’re going to start by telling me how you got through that door. Do you understand me?”

A Mind Forever Voyaging by Steve Meretzky (1985) (Game, Manual)

You are an AI tasked with deciding via a simulated world if a plan to reform the United States is worth enacting.

Perry Mason: The Case of the Mandarin Murder by Telarium (1985) (Game, Manual)

The People vs. Laura Kapp: did she really kill her husband? Can you convince a jury of her innocence? Can you find the real killer? Includes a full-sentence system designed for making court arguments and objections.

Something about her story interested you. Maybe it was her husband, Victor Kapp, the famous LA restaurateur. Maybe it was the desperate look in her eyes. The handsome cash retainer she handed you couldn’t hurt either.

The Ice-Bound Concordance by Aaron A. Reed and Jacob Garbe (2016) (Game)

“Kristopher Holmquist died an unknown, struggling to write stories in an unheated New York apartment. But years later, his work was discovered, gradually becoming incredibly popular. With millions of fans wondering how his final, unfinished novel would have ended, a clever publisher commissions an artificial intelligence ‘simulacrum’ of Holmquist, called KRIS, to find out.” You interact via webcam by showing pages of a book.

Shades of Grey by Mark Baker, Steve Bauman, Belisana, Mike Laskey, Judith Pintar, Cindy Yans, and Hercules (1992) (Game)

An adventure across a wide variety of environments where, in a roundabout way, you decide the future of Haiti.

Sub Rosa by Joey Jones and Melvin Rangasamy (2015) (Game)

An almost unbelievably original setting involving a world where secrets are currency.

To name a secret is to destroy it and Confessor Destine is a man made of secrets. It has taken seventeen careful years but soon he will be undone.

Posted July 30, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

Deathship (1980)   20 comments

Or, including the subtitle, DEATHSHIP, AN ADVENTURE TYPE GAME.

“It’s a cruise ship — but it ain’t the Love Boat and survival is far from certain.” COMPUTE! magazine, November/December 1980. The ad has a space between “Death” and “ship” here but this wasn’t an era for title consistency.

When learning techniques of a creative art, the typical method is to look a works generally agreed to be good (“masterpieces”, perhaps) and work out what techniques made them high quality in the first place.

An alternate, less common method is to look at bad things — awful even — and extract negative lessons. Antitechniques, if you will.

Deathship by Rodger Olsen is the first of six games from 1980 published by Aardvark, originally for the Ohio Scientific Computer. We’ve already seen one of the games, Trek Adventure.

The Ohio Scientific had a standard loadout of 8K of memory at a time most computers were working with 16K. This is important in that any programs had to be twice as stringent about tight code. (For reference, most home computer games for All the Adventures have used at least 16K. The tiny ADV.CAVES was 8K. The smallest we’ve seen has been Haunted House which used a two-sided tape with 4K on each side.)

With Trek Adventure, this had visible effects (including a parser that only took the first two letters of each word), but the game managed to cover for any tech issues well enough I only noticed the 8K issue halfway through the game.

This is not the case with Deathship; the parser is so pared down it’s one of the most infuriating I’ve ever experienced.

Here’s the main problem: when a parser command is successful, there is no prompt stating so, nor any other indication as to what the game did. When I typed GET MESSAGE the game did, in fact, pick up the message, but the blank response led me to think GET didn’t work so I tried TAKE instead.

This carries on to any action that causes change in the world. Open a cabinet, and there might be something inside, but the game isn’t going to tell you! In these cases I couldn’t even find a way to get the room description again; I had to leave the room and come back.

I AM IN A LIFE BOAT
I SEE
*EMERGENCY LOCKER
OBVIOUS EXITS ARE
NORTH

TELL ME WHAT TO DO
? OPEN LOCKER

TELL ME WHAT TO DO
? GO NORTH
I AM IN AFT DECK
I SEE
*LIFEBOAT *SWIMMING POOL
OBVIOUS EXITS ARE
NORTH
UP

TELL ME WHAT TO DO
? GO LIFEBOAT
I AM IN A LIFE BOAT
I SEE
*FLASHLIGHT *OPEN LOCKER
OBVIOUS EXITS ARE
NORTH

This is already a colossal headache, but most actions that don’t work give a blank prompt as well. Unrecognized verb? Blank prompt. Tried to take an item that wasn’t in the room? Blank prompt.

Okay. Breathe. Let’s summarize the plot. After GET MESSAGE / READ MESSAGE done in the proper order at the start:

ABANDONING SHIP-NO CHANCE OF FINDING BOMB BY 9:00

This is essentially a repeat of the Trek Adventure plot; you’re left on an abandoned ship headed for disaster and have to fix the problem. If you want to make sense of it, imagine you were taking a nap somewhere and didn’t notice the entire crew going off-board, and the action starts right when you’ve wandered into the radio room trying to work out what’s going on.

First, you can go north to the bow and climb down the anchor chain; this lets you slip in a porthole to the bilge and hold. In the hold is a crate that you can take back to the bow and use to get high enough to reach the mast, and a rope.

You can then tie the rope to the midship deck railing to climb to the captain’s cabin, and get a key which unlocks the brig and reveals an axe.

The structure makes this all feel dynamic; on the map, the “hallway” gets passed through multiple times through this process. The first time involves just finding two locked doors, although you can peek in the north door to find out what’s there. The second time, the player enters from the south (which lets you leave the previously-locked door open). On the third pass, the player enters from the north (leaving that door open as well).

The finale is then at the hold with a heavy locked and hinged door. And … I wish I could describe the rest, but here I’m very stuck, and the parser isn’t doing itself any favors, and there’s always the strong possibility of a bug. I know from browsing the source code that the bomb is in the engine room just past the heavy door, but the style of BASIC is very hard to read.

I’m happy to invoke my “give every game a strong effort” rule and skip the ending. If someone wants to take a crack (and I’m very understanding if you don’t) there is a C64 version online. Otherwise, I’m moving on to safer territory.

Also, let me take a moment to beg to all authors on all games anywhere for the love of all that is holy please make your interface feedback transparent. If the user succeeds in doing something, make it clear the result; if they failed, make it clear why they failed. (I could follow this up by threatening to visit them personally and make them play Deathship should they violate this rule, but nobody deserves that.)

Posted July 29, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Lost Ship Adventure: Finished   7 comments

Last time, I was stuck not being able to mark a map. While I knew the EXAMINE command worked, for some reason I had neglected to EXAMINE FEATHER which yielded “it’s a pen!” and the object changed.

Once I had the pen, I was able to >MARK MAP; then I could >SET SAIL to an island visible from the Crow’s Nest. (It’s unclear why you *had* to mark the map in order to move the ship.)

Upon arriving, a manatee climbed on board. I went down to the water and — using the fishing net from the cargo hold — I was able to catch some fish. I gave the fish to the manatee, who dropped a gold key.

Walking to the island, I found a jungle maze (GO NORTH, GO EAST, GO NORTH gets you through if you’re playing). Past the jungle was a cave with a dead pirate and a chest. The chest opened with the gold key and I found some gems.

I carted the gold key, chest of gems, and the two treasures from last time (jeweled dagger and bag of gold) back to the original beach. I was then able to STORE each one in turn (I don’t know why it worked now but not before, I’m guessing it was just a bug).

There was no announcement I was done finding treasures. SCORE just gives the number. I just had to guess I was done, at which point I found out upon QUITting that I found all four of them.

A promising start was essentially utterly wasted. It’s been a while since I’ve been outright disappointed in a game.

I realize this is maybe just in contrast with the extreme difficulty of Deathmaze 5000, but I even found Nellan is Thirsty to be a better experience than Lost Ship Adventure, and that one was written explicitly for children. This was marketed like a regular game!

In a theoretical sense, the most interesting part was how long I was stuck. I devoted quite a lot of time to re-copying the opening map, checking verbs, pondering the item list, etc. I had simply missed to >EXAMINE FEATHER when I had examined nearly everything else. I’m not sure the feather was even intended as a “puzzle”; perhaps it intended more as a piece of theatricality.

This is an experience that can happen even in “good” games, where you miss clicking on one particular door or miss an item interaction for no particular reason and get stuck for hours on useless actions. On a moderate-to-difficult game, it can make later puzzles simpler (having objects and their interactions memorized) but in this case after finding the pen I wrapped the entire thing up in less than 10 minutes.

Those reading this: do you have any stories of a similar experience?

POSTSCRIPT: I realized a day after posting this there was an aspect to the game I hadn’t seen before. Note how while the room description pops up all at once, the objects “scroll in” on the display.

shipscroll

The scrolling text effect can happen on old machines and especially when playing a game on a printer (like Zork on a mainframe sometimes was done) but this is the first time I’ve seen an adventure with the delay intentionally added.

I normally associate this effect now with visual novels, but it’s interesting the author went through the not-insignificant effort of putting it here.

Posted July 24, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Lost Ship Adventure (1980)   7 comments

From 80 Microcomputing, December 1980.

Charles Forsythe joins the ranks of Greg Hassett, Joel Mick, and the authors of Stuga as a teenager publishing software (15 at the time of this game). After playing the Scott Adams games, his biography mentions that:

He was excited about adventure, but like all youngsters, was unable to buy the programs he needed to satisfy his new interest. So he began writing them.

This sounds familiar. When I was very young if I wanted a new adventure I had to write it. The first adventure game I remember playing was a type-in from a library book.

I’ve been relatively glib whenever we’ve hit a treasure hunt (gather all the treasures, put them in central location X) but I decided to chart all the games I’ve played so far for All the Adventures to track the evolution of plot styles:

“Rescue” has a primary motivator of someone or something being extracted, “Investigation” is about figuring things out and putting pieces together, “Escape” is motivated by getting the player out of danger, and “Enemy” is a plot about an opposing force that must be defeated.

These categories are quite rough and some games I just had to make a ballpark decision, but you can at least get a fair idea of how well-copied the treasure hunt concept from Crowther and Woods Adventure was in this era. In 1978 it made up essentially every game, but by 1980 (assuming the ratio continues when I play the rest of the year) only about half of the adventure games were treasure hunts.

WHILE DIVING FOR TREASURE IN THE CARRIBEAN, YOU COME ACROSS A LONG LOST PIRATE SHIP, ADRIFT FOR YEARS.

For this game, the idea of lost ship salvage is one of the most appropriate uses of a treasure hunt, since it matches the experience of real-life salvage (if not the lawyer fees).

Noteworthy: the steak is rotten so does *not* work on the dog, who has apparently been resourceful enough to live alone on an abandoned ship for several years.

This game opens badly, with a serious parser issue:

>CUT CORAL
DON’T BE SO DESTRUCTIVE!
>BREAK CORAL
WITH WHAT, I.E. “WITH FEATHER”
>WITH DAGGER
YOU’VE UNCOVERED SOMETHING

I’ve got enough grizzled experience I can neatly plow through this kind of problem (“hmm, I better test a couple verbs, even though the first one implies not to do the action, because that’s a default message”) but I can see someone booting up the game and stopping right there.

Besides the section above I haven’t been able to make much early progress. I have access to

  • The main deck as shown above, where I can’t reach the black flag. I can attempt to SET SAIL but the game says I haven’t set a course.
  • The crow’s nest, where there are some gull eggs (and I get knocked into the sea if I try to get them).
  • The map room of the ship, where SET COURSE is recognized but the game says I have nothing to mark the map with. (Trying to STAB MAP to be all pirate-style just gets the “DON’T BE SO DESTRUCTIVE!” message.)
  • A nearby beach where a sign says I can STORE treasures there. I have stored 0 treasures so far.
  • A cargo hold with a rusty machine, some decaying bags, a working fishing net (although no fish around) and a bag of gold. I tried to take the bag of gold to the beach to STORE it but the game says I don’t know what’s inside (??). I suspect a genuine bug at work.

Despite the early stuckness, I’ve got some goodwill left because I like the environment. The main character wears a diving suit and can walk around underwater. The abandoned ship feels mysterious but not mystical (yet), and while I don’t think the layout is “authentic” the author also didn’t feel obliged to pack in an unrealistic amount of space. I can read a simple description like

THE WINDOWS LOOK OUT ONTO AN ENDLESS OCEAN. THE SEA BREEZE COMES THROUGH THEM.

and take a few breaths of another world; sometimes, that’s all I’m needing out of an adventure game.

Posted July 22, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Deathmaze 5000: Finale (Grendles módor / ides áglaécwíf / yrmþe gemunde)   4 comments

Bonus nerd cred for anyone who figures out the title of this post before I explain it.

Every item in the game has been in a box. I assume this is to make them feasible to draw in the 3D environment.

Even if you drop an item that you’ve been holding, a box suddenly forms around it.

For the first part of the game, I would >OPEN BOX and >TAKE WHATEVER each time I wanted an object (even if I knew what it was) but once I realized the game let you skip the box part and jump straight to taking the item, I started thinking of the boxes more as abstractions than as real things.

Later, when absent-minded, I wanted to >TAKE RING, but conflated the two old commands and typed >TAKE BOX instead. Which led to a box in my inventory.

Interesting! I wondered if there was anywhere I could use that trick. I had been valiantly trying to find a way to take a flute from the fourth floor back up to the second floor, because there was a snake there, and in adventure games circa 1976-198X flutes are effective in charming snakes. However, the ability to TAKE BOX meant I could do things the other way around and take the snake down to the flute.

I was able to drop the box in the upper right corner of floor 4 (at the bottom of a pit), play the flute causing the snake to rise, climb the snake, and grab a sword that was just past.

The inversion of turning a dangerous trap into a tool reminds me of the part in Mystery Fun House where you solve a puzzle with an informational item. Call it unexpected re-purposing, if you like.

Immediately after, I was entirely stuck, and knew I *had* to work out the calculator. Once again, I set a timer for an hour to prevent myself from hitting hints too early, but I honestly would have been fine just diving in; it was a parser issue. The “.2” bit that had been bothering me the whole time was just a hint to press the “two” button.

>PRESS TWO

Given I had been valiantly attempting to find any verb at all that would work the calculator, I don’t think even an extra three hours would have helped.

Activating the calculator teleports the player to level five, where the torch is knocked out by some wind, and a monster approaches.

Not the same monster as before: this time you’re attacked by the monster’s mother.

Doing >RAISE on the RING that has so far been useless brings forth a magical light. I had >RAISE on my verb list this time, but only because I had tried it on the magic staff (I was visualizing the usual “lift and shoot lightning bolts” type maneuver). (It’s a good thing that the staff was of indirect use, because in game terms the magic staff is utterly useless. That long segment I went through trying to get by two attack dogs? Totally unnecessary. I’m normally relaxed about games with a few red herrings, but grrrr.)

The magical light chases away the monster’s mother, but only temporarily.

The fifth-floor maze was a giant lead-up to getting a golden key. All the time, the mother started getting more confident, until she attacked…

… and I defeated her on my first try via >BLOW HORN making a roar that sounded like another monster, then applying the sword. I guess the puzzles don’t all have to be hard and unfair; in a way this was just the culminating reward for solving the snake puzzle.

Upon attaining the golden key comes the final challenge. There is a row of five locks on the rightmost wall.

Each one kills you in a different and creative way.

You unlock the door…
and three men in white coats take you away!

You unlock the door…
and the walls falls on you!

You unlock the door…
and a 20,000 volt shock kills you!

However, the second from the top is particularly theatrical: you don’t die right away, but the screen starts flashing and TICK TICK appears on the top. If you wait a bit longer, the entire maze blows up.

The ticking lock still turns out to be the correct one. After activating the bomb, you can find a previously hidden “sixth lock” to the south of the row of five. It leads to an elevator where you fall into a bed of spikes and die.

Oops!

I admit to grumpiness and frustration and decided to go for a hint right away. I needed to take the crystal ball from the first floor of the game and >THROW BALL. This caused the elevator to “disappear” and a passage to show up leading to the outside. I have no idea why this worked. I imagine if I was patient enough to run through all the various red herring objects I could have solved this on my own, but I doubt I would have got any satisfaction.

The game then throws one more curveball: before you’re allowed to win, the game asks what the name of the monster was.

The game might better have asked: what famous monster also had a mother who attacked after he died?

>GRENDEL

This hints at the “madness” theme Med Systems would hit starting in 1981 with the game Asylum.

If you’re not familiar with Beowulf: a kingdom ruled by King Hrothgar is being attacked by the monster Grendel. The legendary Beowulf slays Grendel in Hrothgar’s mead hall. And then an “avenger” appears:

Grendles módor (Grendel’s mother,)
ides áglaécwíf (lady troll-wife,)
yrmþe gemunde (remembered misery)
sé þe wæteregesan (she who the dreadful water)
wunian scolde (had to inhabit)
From Benjamin Slade’s translation, lines 1258-1260

Grendel’s mother, who lives underwater, wants revenge. (Spoiler: she doesn’t get it.)

I admit, given the last part of the game is clearly not underwater, I was a touch confused. Re-visualizing the last level as, say, ankle-deep makes it suitably close. There’s an intrinsic danger to citing something of greater artistry and power than your own work, but I suppose it’s excusable for the very end of this silly (but innovative) game.

Posted July 19, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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