Alkemstone (1981)   14 comments

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

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

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

There were two ways to win:

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

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

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

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

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

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

nobody seems to have picked up the gauntlet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enough preliminaries: what is the game like?

The snakes pass by at random.

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

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

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

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

or looking down (tap D to look down)

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

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

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

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

IMAGES AND SYMBOLS:

NUMERICAL CLUES:

MESSAGES:

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

THE TWO FROM MOBYGAMES I HAVEN’T FOUND YET:

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

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

Posted February 5, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Kaves of Karkhan: Finshed!   3 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another episode of Great Moments in Game Parser History.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted February 4, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Kaves of Karkhan (1981)   10 comments

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

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

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

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

Screenshot of Dragon Fire from Mobygames.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted February 3, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Hezarin: The End   7 comments

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

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

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

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

>OPEN DOOR

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

>S

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

>S

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

>S

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

>E

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

>PULL RING

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

>N

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

>D

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

>GET STAR

Star taken

>S

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

>THROW STAR

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

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

Last I left off right below Anjith’s castle.

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

Climbing up leads to an extended scene of danger.

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

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

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

So far, so good, but…

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

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

>U

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

>JUMP

OK. You jumped. Hope you enjoyed that.

>BREAK WALL

I can’t see any walls here.

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

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

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

>CHIMNEY

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

sigh

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

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

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

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

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

>ANJITH

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

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

>NE

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

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

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

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

>W

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

>N

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

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

Afterwards: more running.

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

>N

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

>BREAK APPARATUS

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

>W

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

>TAMIS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted January 31, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Hezarin: Four Panels   3 comments

I have all four panels now and am ready to traverse into the battle with Anjith (likely a battle of wits, but a battle nonetheless). I wasn’t far from the panels (a side effect of solving in all directions simultaneously) but almost all the treasure in the game is required to enter the finale. Hence, I still needed to do serious work and came close to having to restart from scratch.

The Adda Seal from the British Museum. (Public Domain) This depicts Shamash, god of truth and justice; he also helped Gilgamesh defeat the ogre Humbaba. The Garden of Shamash — the Sumerian version of paradise — makes an appearance in Hezarin.

Let me rewind from last time to right before entering Gilgamesh’s tomb.

You are at a large door with no handle, lock or hinges. In the centre of the door is a perfect rectangle of clean clay.

The key was an object from near the start of the game, a cylinder seal “about three inches long, half an inch in diameter” with “a hole bored through its length”.

>ROLL SEAL

You roll the seal across the clay, making a perfect impression which shines with some mystical light of its own. Then the door disappears silently and a short corridor is revealed.

Again the game shows its penchant for hard-to-find verb uses, although I at least had this one on my list. ROLL is usually used in a different sense, though.

This is the main burial chamber. In the centre of the room is a massive sarcophagus decorated with reliefs of warlike deeds. All around the tomb lie the remains of the servants, guards, ministers and wives of the king, committed by a suicide pact to serving their lord in the afterlife.
North, south and east are low passages leading to other galleries.
A golden helmet is lying close at hand.

I had previously walked by the panel without realizing; I hadn’t opened the sarcophagus in the main burial chamber.

Lying on the chest of the dead king is a small square panel, carved out of jade and fitted with a clasp and chain to make it a pendant!

So, that’s panel #2! (In other words, it was nearly out in the open and I had just passed by it — I did say I wasn’t far.)

It’s possible to leave right here, but this misses out on some treasure, plus I really wanted to see what was in Mashu. The seal is also the key for passing the guardians of the mountain. The problem is the flying on the carpet causes all held objects to get tossed into the void, so only worn items can be brought. Fortunately, there’s a way to wear the seal.

You are holding:
A jamjar of glow worms
A cylinder seal
A leather thong

>TIE SEAL

You thread the seal on the thong and knot it neatly before hanging it around your neck.

I admit to liking this puzzle; there’s enough in the description of the object to hint at this use (the hole inside doesn’t get used in rolling, so it has to come up later) although as usual, the parser tilts the problem to the unfair (TIE THONG doesn’t work, you have to TIE SEAL; I could see the failure of the former lead a player away from trying the latter).

Once you have the seal, the guardians let you pass…

You walk towards the Scorpion-men, and they stare unflinchingly at you, until after some moments one of the Scorpion-men points at you and asks:
“Who are you, stranger, that wishes to enter the Way of Darkness?”
?Gilgamesh

“Pass, Gilgamesh, Bearer of the Seal of Life; pass into the Way of Darkness and the wonders beyond.”
Mist swirls around the rocks and cave entrance, enveloping all and making it impossible to see even a few yards. When the mist clears, the Scorpion-men are nowhere to be seen, and you are free to enter the cave.
You are at the head of the gully.

>E

You are at the entrance to the Way of Darkness: ahead the path runs into impenetrable gloom.

>E

You are treading the Way of Darkness, far below Mashu.

…straight into a maze. I was fully prepared in my conclusion to write my admiration of Hezarin subverting the maze paradigm, by including the obligatory mazes yet having none of them be the kind you mapped or even dropped items in. Alas, this maze is traditional. You have to map this one out by dropping an item in each room, and trying to TAKE ALL (or just TAKE) after you change locations to see where you end up; if there’s no item in that location, it’s a new room. There’s also more rooms than items that can be taken to the mountain (remember, no carried objects) so a relay system is required where earlier objects must be moved to later rooms, and I started marking my map with names like “Boots 2” and “Boots 3”.

Or, if you don’t like mapping, you can just follow these directions:

w.s.down.

This is the first stop, a “little orange walled chamber” with an “ancient fragment of parchment”.

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

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

I have yet to use either of these words. I don’t know if they’re useful in the endgame, or if I solved a puzzle elsewhere in a different way.

up.n.s.n.s.e.w.down

This is the second stop, an “orange walled corridor”. Heading north leads by some fungi which give off choking spores; if you aren’t wearing a yashmak (a concealing veil) from elsewhere, you will die.

However, with the yashmak wrapped tightly around nose and mouth, you escape their terrible effect and live to penetrate the inner chamber.

The inner chamber has a treasure (“a finely wrought and very valuable brooch”).

up.n.w.n.d.

The end of the maze leads to the Garden of Shamash.

You are standing at a junction of paths in the Garden of Shamash. All around grow jewel-baring shrubs of various species. The sun beats mercilessly down upon this inhospitable allotment, and even the hardiest varieties yearn for some respite. The paths lead east, west, north and south.

Not a typical lush paradise, but one suffering and dried-out, and where jewels grow from the ground.

It has a couple very random puzzles, including a bit with gnomes by a pond where you have to grab a “fishing gnome” and then FISH to grab an item in the pond. It also has a treasure which has one of the worst verb finesses in the game.

The path ends here in a patch of lush red Rubies.

>get rubies

You can’t take the beautiful rubies.

>pick rubies

You pluck some fine ripe jewels from the easily yielding bushes.

From my taxonomy in my last post this counts as Receiving Bad Information, but not by accident; requiring PICK strikes me as an intentional guess-the-verb puzzle.

Eventually, you can get past a magic sword via a magic word…

As you utter this forgotten relic of a long dead language all time itself slows down. You watch entranced as the sword moves less and less until, now barely quivering, it raises itself up and without further warning explodes radially in a searing flash of light.

…then climb atop a rainbow.

You are about half way up the rainbow with the Garden of Shamash now a tiny patchwork far below you. The sun is noticeably warmer and each bit of climbing seems to take more out of you.

>U

The rainbow begins to flatten out a little but progress is still tiring and the sun is uncomfortably hot. Looking down just makes you dizzy, so you can only fix your eyes on the rainbow and try to concentrate on the job at hand.

>U

You’re almost at the top of the rainbow, and a good thing too. You are breathing at least twice the normal rate, and your clothes are soaked through with perspiration.

>U

At last! You have reached the top of the rainbow. The ground is no longer visible – and even if it were your head swims too much with oxygen deficiency, heat exposure and vertigo to be able to focus at all. I’d get off this thing, fast, if I were you.

Notice how in a parser game this nonetheless achieves strict linearity, and manages dramatic build through repeated action (the sort of trick more associated with a modern Twine game). Also notice that the game can’t resist another hard-to-find verb, although I’d call this one fair:

>SLIDE

Your addled mind struggling to control unresponsive limbs you gingerly straddle the rainbow and begin to slide, first slowly, then with growing momentum. You black out for a minute or so, but come to just as the rainbow curls up its foot and softly cushions your descent. When the rainbow shimmers and fades, you are left breathless but unharmed, flat out on the ground.

(Looks like they forgot a comma, but still lovely.)

Don’t forget to DIG where you land!

You dig frantically at the foot of the rainbow, and – surprise! surprise! – you unearth a little crock of gold.

Let’s take a breather with this rainbow picture taken in Mongolia. (Public Domain)

Panel #3 was hiding in the ivory temple (map below). Just as a reminder, it had people in white robes and red gowns and a room I could not enter.

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 admit to being sort of an idiot here; I was visualizing the water troughs as not containing water but just being the empty troughs. Gah. Keeping in mind this is a sacred place, I removed my boots and did WASH FEET, then put them back on again to find:

This is the main shrine, although it doesn’t seem to be much of a shrine really. More a big stone flagged hall, burnished by centuries of the most humiliating prostration imaginable. To the east is a low, narrow doorway.

>E

You step reverently through the doorway into the shrine beyond
This is the sanctum sanctorum for the main temple cult. A huge marble altar slab takes up the eastern end of the shrine, and the walls are painted with scenes of clean shaven, peace-loving monks doing over Millwall fans.
Unfortunately, you are separated from the altar by a fairly wide pit which is full of various pretty mean looking snakes.
A great salver is lying close at hand!

I was then able to JUMP and find the third panel

You leap bravely into the pit crushing a number of the snakes underfoot. You then waste no time in crossing the pit and climbing out the other side.
You are standing on the eastern side of the snake pit, beside the huge altar.
The ivory panel is here.

and use a magical word I learned back in Gilgamesh’s Tomb to escape.

>RIGGINS

There is a quivering in your feet; you look down to see that your boots seem to be having an epileptic fit, and then you are off, powerless to resist – seven leagues per step (at least), straight through walls and other obstacles with one unstoppable kick, bound, bound, bound.

So, three panels, where’s the fourth? Right at the center of the game, the inn.

You are standing outside the Adventurers’ Arms.

>UP

You are perched at the top of the inn sign. The sign is of wood, and naturally enough depicts a brave Adventurer fighting a huge lion. From here you can see for several miles in every direction. To the north lie the moors, broken only by a small quarry to the northeast. To the south stretches an immense wild-looking wood. Eastwards, you can see a fast moving river.

>GET ALL
To your delight the bottom corner of the sign slides off, and you discover that it is in fact the long lost wooden panel of the ancients

If you try to take the panel early you can’t (“I don’t think the innkeeper will take too kindly to you taking his sign unless you really need it.”). And to be clear, no, I did not figure this out on my own. Nor did I figure out on my own the next part: I have the box and four panels needed to beat Anjith; now what?

First off, you need to know the right verb (of course). Even though FIX is recognized by the game (and I long had it on my possible verb list!) the correct verb is MEND, which is never a word I use for anything.

Try as you may, you cannot get the panels to stick to the side of the box.

The score is important. The score is out of 1100, and if you hit 950, you get a significant hint in the RATING command (!!).

You are now a Master Adventurer (Class 87b). This qualifies you for free drinks at the Adventurers’ Bar and first refusal at passing dragons.

This is the signal to start drinking. You can go to the Inn beforehand and BUY DRINKS but it loses you score

OK. That cost you 2 points.
The nearest serving wench brings you your favorite tipple, which you drink unsociably alone.

Once you hit the magic 950 it does not lose score, but still isn’t very helpful.

Let me do another “can you solve it” pause, because I’m really, really curious if anyone can come up with the solution to this. You can have something useful happen here; what’s the right action, and how would you phrase it for the parser?

Just to give you time to think about it, here is my final treasure list:

small glass vial, obsidian bar, carved ceremonial mace, copper axe, jeweled ceremonial dagger, valuable feathers, great salver, crock of gold, rug, brooch, rare black orchid, ripe rubies, anklet, golden helmet, eight-pointed star, scarab, odd stone tablet, quartz, first issue of 2000AD, rare fossil, chunky bracelet, silk sash, Acheton database, tiny perfume, coral ornament, vorpal blade, silver tiara, imitation fly, pearl necklace, peridot, statuette of a minotaur, firestone, crown, sceptre, vintage wine, royal lavulite, rare manuscripts, harp, large emerald, garnets, alabaster vase, crystal key, wiffinweed

The treasures that I know I missed entirely (via the walkthrough) are

  • A tiepin out in the open right past the two doors puzzle; I just went through only one room and didn’t check the other (and I had found the treasure on a prior run, so I was really just being sloppy)
  • A spangle, which you could get in the dragon area right after applying the vorpal sword; this one’s tricky and very easy to miss

The treasures from my list that were hard to find were

  • The rubies and pot of gold from the garden that I already discussed
  • The royal lavulite which is on top of the elevator (the Fountain Room area lets you access floor 1 and 2, so you can put the elevator at level 1 and try to enter at level 2)
  • The anklet which is hiding in a pot in Gilgamesh’s tomb (you have to BREAK it)
  • Finally, the wiffinweed, which I had lying around but doesn’t look like a treasure at all; I was at 947 (3 measly points away!) and tried every item I had, pushing my count just over the mark to 956

Ok, enough stalling: you’re in the tavern and can buy unlimited drinks, what do you do?

For spoiler space, an Assyrian banquet from Nineveh. (Mary Harrsch, CC BY-SA 4.0.)

You have to buy drinks for everyone, that is, BUY ROUND. This incidentally “works” even when you have less than 950 points, but it dings you and gives a random (but not plot-critical) hint…

OK. That cost you 10 points.
Suddenly the bar becomes a much friendlier place, and many well-weathered Adventurers raise their glasses to you. One particularly unsteady old salt engages you in an interesting if slightly slurred monologue, in which he tells of his job as a lift mechanic, and how he lost a rather valuable jewel one day.

…and your score needs to be larger than 950 to get this message, which triggers the endgame process.

Suddenly the bar becomes a much friendlier place, and many well-weathered Adventurers raise their glasses to you. One particularly unsteady old salt engages you in an interesting if slightly slurred monologue, in which he tells you all about the amazing restorative effect that the full moon has. He attempts to demonstrate with a small jig on top of the table, but luckily you are able to dissuade him with another drink.

After this, if you go outside and WAIT, the sun sets. (It is unclear why time does not pass until these very specific game conditions are met; it’s sort of a evil-dark-side variation on the standard technique of stalling time until the player solves a puzzle.)

Then you can fix the box.

>MEND BOX

Bathed in the light of the moon the panels seem to adhere magically to the side of the box. There is a loud >>CRACK<<, clouds roll over and lightning bolts streak down from the sky. You are almost immediately struck down by one – the box seems instead to absorb the power of the blast. Eventually you black out, and when you come to again you find that…
You are standing on a narrow road which winds its way before you up and around a steep mountain. To the left the cliff rises sheer, to the right it drops away just as steeply. Miles below you to the south you can see a tiny ramshackle village nestling in a patchwork of fields, hemmed in by wild forest, a vast plain, and a deep ravine. You know that now your work lies not down there, but high above in the foreboding castle that dominates the mountain top. The castle which houses the power which it is now your duty to fight…the castle of the sorceror Anjith.
The full moon casts eerie shadows over the land.

This lands you near the start of the game, but you can only go up.

>W
No. Going down now would be an act of cowardice, and I can’t allow it.

Next time I will make my finale post, where either the parser will murder me or I will emerge triumphant.

Posted January 29, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Hezarin: Darkly out of the Moorland Fog   5 comments

If there’s any theme to this progress report, it’s “following loose threads”, so I’ll be quoting some things I’ve already posted.

 

I found one of the four panels needed for the Box to Defeat the Bad Guy (Anjith, otherwise known as He Whose Name is Easy to Misspell).

When I had gotten past the witches using a dragon head, I had reached a small set of rooms including a boulder that blocked my path:

You are in an east-west passage. The ground is pock marked with pits, several of which are filled with a nasty oily looking substance.
A large boulder blocks the way west.

>hit boulder

Hiyaaaaaaaaa >oof< You smash your bare hands to pieces on the boulder. Shortly later a pack of Hezarin super-gremlins happen to chance along and, seeing you defenceless, (though not entirely 'armless), take great pleasure in finishing you off.

Going by the rule that such an elaborate custom response message likely means the action is right, just the implementation is wrong, I intended to wait until I found some sort of strength-boosting potion, but on an experimental run I played a bit with the “oil” from the room description…

>take oil

You attempt to pick up some oil, but it just drains out of your hands.

…and I left it at that, intending again to return later with a container. I experimented with the glowing-magic-vial to see if I could empty the water out, use it for something else, then come back and re-fill it with water; unfortunately, this caused it to stop working as a light source.

Much later I found this:

>sip oil

You sip a small amount of the oil and suddenly feel quite vigorous.

(You can “drink oil” but your heart bursts from all the vigor. Oops.)

Is this fair? I could see how one could quaff some of the oil without picking it up at all, but still, grump grump. If I were writing the game I’d probably put a little more detail on “it just drains out of your hands”; even “it drains slowly” would help get across you can still do things with the oil.

Dead end.
The selnium panel is here.

I would have expected the hidden place for a panel to be a bit shinier. But still, sound fireworks, game progress!

Several posts back I had mentioned 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’.

Amongst my recent travels I found this room:

You’re in a large chamber filled with stalactites and stalagmites. Its only exit is the northwest. Eight of the stalactites along one wall are unusual in that nature has seen fit to form them in a straight line in ascending order of size. In the centre of the room is a thick limestone column.

I knew immediately this must be the place for the bonger.

>HIT STALALCTITE
With what?

>BONGER
What tune would you like to play on the stalactites? (Please give your answer as a string of notes.)

This is one of those particularly British puzzles that blurs the line between objects and the words for those objects. Take a look at the “hideous clash” line from the music line which involves “Clarinets, Bassoons and a Euphonium.”

Yep, the tune is the initial letters. That message also only appears once, upon entering the music room, so I hope you were taking notes!

>CBE
Even as you hit the first stalactite you realise your mistake but even then it is too late. The stalactites crumble and fall to the ground with a series of purple flashes and loud bangs. When the last stalactite falls, any hope of survival is dashed as most of Hezarin, it seems, crashes down upon you.

It dawned on me then that the message in the music room is randomized and I had seen it differently on another playthrough. However, I did not have any notes from the playthrough I was currently on (it was a restart to get past that darkness/pit puzzle). So, I had to start yet another completely new game from scratch. (Given how familiar Graham Nelson would later be with the Phoenix mainframe and its accompanying text adventures, I could see why he would be able to think up the Bill of Player’s Rights. #2: Not to be given horribly unclear hints. #3: To be able to win without experience of past lives. #4: To be able to win without knowledge of future events. #5: Not to have the game closed off without warning.)

Getting the tune correctly reveals an obsidian bar “decorated with engravings of wild men hunting wild beasts”. I stashed the bar dutifully in my bag and assumed that perhaps the puzzle was optional (it was not, as you’ll see).

Next up: The Evil Moors of Hezarin. I’ve mentioned finding this location before, but allow me to re-quote:

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.

[…after some walking…]

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.

Usually walking in the wrong way kills you. I suspected based on the setup (and the fact the game didn’t let me refer to any of the objects in the description) that this was a navigational puzzle, that is, that walking the right path would lead somewhere without having to use any extra items.

I just did enough brute-force tests until I found a new area:

Numbed and downcast by the demoralising mist which shrouds everything around you, you have almost given up hope when you see ahead of you a dark figure. Initially your instinct is to stay well back, but somehow sensing that there is no danger you approach to find that……

You are standing beside a solitary dolmen which looms darkly out of the moorland fog.

The right solution seems to be to walk perpendicular to the axis the pillars are at (it’s randomized) but I can’t swear to that; I know at least if the pillars are east-west going NORTH multiple times works.

I was unable to do anything at the dolmen. You can’t refer to the dolmen directly, so any action would have to be a stand-alone one, like PRAY (which is an unrecognized verb). It did lead me down an interesting hour of distracting research (see image below).

A 19th century drawing of Zennor Quoit, a dolmen at the West Penwith moors of Cornwall dated to the Bronze Age. Bones were found inside, although archaeological evidence suggests that when in active use the bones were occasionally changed; hence it was likely not intended as a final resting place but rather a location to commune with the dead.(Source.)

 

Continuing north leads to a barrow.

You are standing outside an ancient barrow which is swathed in mists of the Moors of Hezarin.

>dig

You start scratching at the side of the barrow, finding to your surprise that the earth comes away quite easily. After excavating a fairly large hole your fingers strike something very hard and rough, and when you have cleared around the object you find that it is a large granite slab.

You can refer to the slab, so I underwent a lawnmower process of trying every item I had, in order, until I came across:

>hit slab with bar

You rap the slab sharply with the bar, producing a resounding clanging noise.

>hit slab with bar

At the second time of asking the slab emits a thunderous >>> BOOM <<ne

You’re in the burial chamber of an ancient round barrow. Amid an assortment of broken pots and neolithic miscellanea lies the yellow rotted skeleton of the dead chief, a sorry tribute to man’s ephemerality. In the skeletal fingers of the chief’s left hand is a mace.
There is an extremely rare and perfectly preserved copper axe here!

I suppose the “wild men hunting wild beasts” was supposed to be a hint of sorts, and I can at least understand the game is trying to invoke rituals from the deep past. The atmosphere was haunting enough I was able to give this puzzle a shrug once I solved it.

Taking the mace teleports oneself to safety (and it has a “lanyard” so can be worn). I haven’t worked out what to do with it yet. I would suspect it’s something to do with the temple area past the surfing scene (remember that it causes any non-worn items to be lost) but my dilemma there is getting burned up, not a lack of pummelling devices.

I made one last big revelation via use of in-game hints. I was getting mad at the quarry (a room I haven’t mentioned yet, but is in between the wild wood and the moorland).

You are standing in a horseshoe shaped quarry whose walls somewhat resemble a natural amphitheatre.

It was too prominent to just be scenery, but there’s no items to refer to.

QUICK ASIDE BEFORE GOING ON

One problem with adventure critiques (including, at times, my own) is that variations of bad gameplay are often lumped when they could be separated. “Guess-the-verb” is a prominent example; sometimes you might be certain of an action and it just requires a slight verb adjustment; call this Struggling to Communicate. Past that there might be deceptive messages provided by other verbs; I’ll refer back to the bear in Enchanted Island where typing HIT BEAR leads to the message “I’d rather not. It might hit me back!” but ATTACK BEAR works and drives the bear away. Call this Receiving Bad Information.

Somewhere between the two is the kind of puzzle where a verb that ought to solve a puzzle is unrecognized, but it’s unclear a puzzle is being solved in the first place so the player is in a guess-the-verb situation without even realizing it. Call this type of guess-the-verb Hidden.

END ASIDE

>YELL
I don’t understand what you mean by “yell”.

>SCREAM
I don’t understand what you mean by “scream”.

>SING
I don’t understand what you mean by “sing”.

Nothing to see here, move on? Note that I hadn’t even tried these verbs at the quarry; I already knew they didn’t work from testing verbs earlier.

According to the in-game hints:

>SHOUT
You take a deep breath and bellow out a chrous of “I’m an Adventurer and I’m OK,” which ecoes round the quarry, at first surprisingly quietly but then quickly gathering volume to reach a tremendous crescendo which causes rock and rubble to fall from all directions. When the dust clears, you see that a cave has opened up in the east side of the quarry.

I don’t use a scoring system like a lot of play-through blogs do, but I’m going to make up one right now for this game, start it at zero, then subtract ONE BILLION POINTS, then keep subtracting more numbers until the score leaps off the real number line altogether and enters the Cursed Numbers.

Here is the Cursed Number between six and seven: ṕ̵̪̝͖͕̳̭͔̭̣̪̯̤͔͒̄l̷̡͓̞̫͚̖̟͕̱͓͐͒̈́̀̎̎͂̈́̾͜͝ȩ̴̯̉̉̓́̏̐̏͐͠a̶̯̲͎̠̮̝̤̭̞̅̀̾͝͠s̷͛̅̃̏̇ͅȩ̵̠̯̹̜͖̤̖̳͔͓͉̠̿͗ḿ̸̢̢͓̘̟͈̖̤̦̣̺̩͔̣́̍̂̃͝͝͝a̶̛͈͚̫̐͊̄͋̓͂̃̊̿̎͠k̶̨̰̼̪̳͋̽̀̿͑̀̽̚͘̚͝͝ͅe̶͇͊̐͆̓́͑̈́́̂͊̕͝i̶̢̛̱͇̽̉͌͜t̵̞̀͆ş̶̻͚̥̪̖͔̞̑̆̔̇̉̇ͅţ̷̼̠̝́̈́͒͑̅̆̈͌̍̈͌̒̚̚͝ơ̶̧̤̫̮̟͍̗̗̈̑̂̓͒͐̓̉̒p̶̨͍̮̗̤͓̘̼̝̞͚̙̖̯̣̊̀̊̅́

Banging open the cave led to a new large area. I haven’t even explored thoroughly yet, but I wanted to show off the part with Gilgamesh’s tomb.

This is the antechamber to the Tomb of Gilgamesh. It is piled high with various pots and cauldrons associated with cult and ritual, and even after the millenia which have passed since the last offering was made here for the soul of the dead king, the smell of incense lingers. The only exit is a low tunnel to the east.

At the eastmost point there’s a “carpet”, and of course, in any magic-based adventure game involving a carpet, it can fly.

You are in the eastern alcove of the eastern gallery.
Spread out on the floor is an ancient and magnificently patterned carpet.

But how to use it? Well, this is Gilgamesh’s place, and the game already indicated earlier (in the long plot-dump when I opened the box) I needed to go to Mashu, so

>say mashu
The carpet ripples slightly, then hovers along the ground and slides under your feet. As it does so the east wall of the alcove opens up to reveal a long passage sloping upwards to a patch of light. When the carpet accelerates up this passage and into the open sky, you are thrown off balance and when you sit up you find that you are flying at speed over hill and dale.

The carpet flies to a gully with another cave, but trying to enter leads to one of the most awesome deaths I’ve seen in a videogame (using the old sense of the word).

As you move toward the entrance of the cave, two large figures step out and stand shoulder to shoulder, blocking the way completely. Peering into the gloom it becomes clear that these are no ordinary giants: although they have human faces with pointed beards, their lower bodies merge into the tails of scorpions. They stand silent and uncompromising, their arms calmly folded, and their cold eyes unblinkingly fixed on you.
There is a moment when time seems to stand still, as you gaze unbelivingly into the monsters’ eyes. Then you collapse into a crumpled heap, and die an unknown death.

Posted January 27, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Hezarin: WARE THE MINOTAUR   13 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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