Archive for the ‘arrow-of-death-part-1’ Tag

Arrow of Death Part 1 (1981)   3 comments

From Mobygames.

Previous Brian Howarth games: The Golden Baton, The Time Machine.

This is, as far as I can find from records, the last of the Mysterious Adventures to have a unique TRS-80 version. Just as a reminder (or if you haven’t read my prior entries) the original TRS-80 versions were rather more verbose than the later versions, which were re-written (and later, freshly-designed) to run using the Scott Adams database system. This led to some scenarios where it was easier to solve a puzzle on one version of the game than the other; I simultaneously ran the BBC Micro and TRS-80 versions and hopped back and forth when I was stuck.

I’ll do relatively the same here, but with more emphasis on the minimal version, for two reasons:

1.) Since Part 2 (coming in 1982) will be the ultra-minimal style, I’d rather have my Part 1 gameplay be somewhat comparable.

2.) Due to the recent passing of Sir Clive Sinclair, in his honor I wanted to play this game using the ZX Spectrum version of the game.

By playing on the ZX Spectrum I also can show graphics, but since I have yet to show ZX Spectrum graphics on this blog and not everyone has yet experienced the joys, I need to explain: they look strange for a technical reason. Here, for example, is the title screen for one of the best of the ZX Spectrum games:

This screen does a good job hiding the tech problem, but if you look at the “S” you may notice there is a portion where the white “bleeds over” into the yellow.

Zoomed in. I’ve circled the relevant spot.

This is because, on any given 8 by 8 tile on the ZX Spectrum, only two colors are allowed. So you could have white on black or yellow on black but not white, black, and yellow all the in the same area. This led to lots of clever and not-so-clever tricks of mitigation, and on some games it is clear the authors just gave up and let the colors go wild.

Screenshot from the academic paper Arcade Colour, Illustration and Attribute Clash 1979 – 89 if you want to read about the effect in more detail.

I give all this intro to avoid confusion. I gather my older European audience is just used to this and are waiting patiently for the main show to start, but I assure you for someone not raised on such graphics it looks like there might be some sort of graphical error. Here is the first screen to Arrow of Death Part 1:

This is why, for example, the black lines to the right have interruption around the white, since there’s a portion that is set to show only yellow and white.

The story picks up from The Golden Baton, where the magical gizmo in the title which brings magical prosperity was returned (by yourself) to the Palace of Ferrenuil. An evil spell descends on the kingdom and the Baton, which had previously “shone with a brilliance far surpassing that of ordinary Gold” has now become “dull and tarnished” and and anyone nearby now feels “an almost tangible feeling of hatred for living, growing things.”

The king’s sorcerer, Zardra, tries to study the baton, but has been missing for three days, and there have been screams and flashes of lightning from the castle.

You return to the palace, with a messenger, and the plot picks up — with an interesting jump hinting at a hidden event — at the Courtyard of the palace, with the messenger dead for some unknown reason:

The “text description” screen and graphics screen are separated where you can switch by hitting ENTER, just like many games at the time. The interface “locks in” to either one or the other in such a way that the way to play with graphics is to “peek into” the graphics window at each step to see the new room, then switch back since there isn’t enough information without the text. Another odd side effect of this is that there is a death graphical screen, but you almost have to pre-setup to see it, by switching to the graphics window, typing a command (on an unseen object, location exit, etc.) and have the death occur. It’s weirdly like playing blindfolded. In Saigon: The Last Days there was sufficient text with the graphics to get what was going on, plus you would see the graphics initially upon entering a room.

Taking the messenger’s amulet, it is only a few steps in to encounter Zadra and the Baton. Trying to interact with the Baton kills you. Talking to ZARDRA quickly results in his name description becoming ZARDRA (dead):

He gasps and says:
Magical Arrow…Destroy ZERDON..!
He Dies!

Despite there not being that extreme a difference in plots, I found this opening more engrossing than The Golden Baton’s — just the minor action at the start makes the difference — which threw out a bunch of undigested lore before the quest for the Foozle. Here, I’m guessing the Arrow is the Foozle, and then in Part 2 we’ll need to shoot it in the right direction.

Despite the Baton being deadly on even trying to LOOK at it, it is otherwise safe to explore the castle, and I racked up a few items both secret and not-secret:

  • a hook in a Kitchen (the room was otherwise empty, I had to LOOK KITCHEN, just LOOK wouldn’t do it)
  • a suit of armour (wearable)
  • a sword hidden in a secret passage (enterable by turning a Coat of Arms multiple times)
  • a pillow hiding a purse with coins (the pillow can be cut open with the sword)

The Kitchen, with the hidden hook. None of the items shown can be referred to.

The Coat of Arms, which can be turned to open a secret passage. The graphic is entirely static.

There’s a beggar outside the castle, where if you give the coins you get a Glass Orb and a Note.

When all seems lost.. WAIT!

I’m stuck fairly shortly after that.

I can make my way to a “ledge” and climb up, although the armour is too heavy to go up. There’s a cave up top (findable via rubbing the Glass Orb) but entering it is death:

Serpent eats me!

I suspect either a.) there’s some way to shuttle the armour up, in which case it might protect against serpent-eating or b.) some sort of serpent-repellent or c.) a light source I’m missing. There’s also the ever-classic-for-me d.) I missed a room exit but the game is very tight so I doubt I made a mistake, but it wouldn’t be the first time.

If I get stuck for much longer I’ll break out the TRS-80 version for comparison purposes. If nothing else sometimes approaching in a fresh context can help my brain unlock new puzzle-solving ideas, kind of like how if I’m editing a text it helps to switch devices to prevent my eyes from skipping over typos.

Posted September 24, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Arrow of Death Part 1: The Edge of an Awesome Precipice   11 comments

(Continued directly from my last post.)

The VIC-20 Digital Leisure version of Arrow of Death Part 1, which was cut by the author into 8K, half the size of the original. Howarth was “persuaded somewhat against his will” into doing the arrangement and “felt he was cheating the people who were buying the games”. (Source.) Source from Gareth Pitchford, picture via @AgentReyes2 on Twitter.

A bit of progress over last time. I carefully re-re-re-checked each room and found that in the opening courtyard in the game if I did LOOK COURTYARD I would find a rope. This happened in the Kitchen as well (with a hook) but rather frustratingly, the actual syntax doesn’t even work elsewhere: LOOK THRONE in the Throne Room gives an error-type message, the same as LOOK VAULT in the Vault. It came off as a pointless bit of bad UI — someone could easily have “trained” themselves that the syntax didn’t work at all before finding any items — moreso than a well-hidden secret.

I was able to use the rope with the hook and attach them together, put the hook in at the top of the ledge, climb down to the armor, tie the armor up, and then drag it up by pulling the rope back at the top of the ledge.

This let me go into the dark cave (shown above, even before it gets revealed in the game) with armor on, and able to survive walking into darkness. After some thought, I retrieved the orb that showed the cave and rubbed it again while inside the darkness, and it lit up showing a serpent. Multiple whacks of my sword were sufficient to take the serpent down, and I was able to retrieve an arrowhead after the fight. I assume this is a piece of the titular Arrow.

Nearby the cave location in the TRS-80 version is this precipice. It doesn’t serve any puzzle-solving purpose so I can understand why it was cut from the more minimal remake, but I still liked the cinema of it.

I thought I’d have opened up more areas by solving what I did, but I was at a dead end. Another combing through all the rooms, and this time, while in the forest and frustrated…

…I decided to try out the hint that the beggar had earlier (“when all seems lost, WAIT”). I assumed previously this clue meant WAIT was intended to be tried out in some location that felt like a dead-end (like the Cave which had the serpent) but apparently it was really intended for the forest. Using WAIT teleported me to a new location, where there was a riverbank and a barge with a ferryman. The Ferryman held his hand out — and the amulet I found off the Messenger had a picture of a barge — so I GAVE AMULET which was sufficient to get passage.

This led me to a new area with a ruined forest, a chained slave in a clearing (who can’t talk to or interactive with via any verbs I’ve tested, an apparent dead end at a rock wall, some toadstools, a large boulder (I’m not strong enough to carry it), a “cookhouse” for some giants, and a giant building.

If you try to enter the giant building you “trip” and give yourself away to giants living within.

The “cookhouse” has a cauldron with broth. You can take the toadstools and POISON CAULDRON (not any verb referring the toadstools themselves, which would be the usual thing) leave, and then somehow in the interim between leaving the cookhouse and going to the main giant building the giants have quaffed the poison so you can safely walk in.

This leads to an upper level with a log and a log flume. Any attempts to drop the log on the flume and ride it or otherwise get it moving have been denied by the parser.

So to summarize, I’m stuck on:

a.) the log/flume part, which may just need the right verb to get the two to do anything together

b.) the chained slave part, which may just need the right verb to interact (I don’t otherwise have a key or something helpful in breaking a chain)

c.) a heavy boulder, which I might assume I need to enlist a giant for except I knocked them out already (was that a mistake?)

d.) and a dead-end rock wall which I again have found no luck with

At least progress is progress, but it is frustrating knowing what might be stopping is getting the right phrasing (POISON as a verb took me a while, for sure).

Posted September 27, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Arrow of Death Part 1: Finished!   5 comments

(Reading my prior posts on this game is necessary for this one to make sense.)

I didn’t have much left to go before finishing. Really, with the exception of the rather strange last puzzle, everything was a matter of figuring out the parser.

First off, only 5 minutes after I made my last post, I realized that while holding the log I could GO FLUME and the ride would begin. I assumed you sat down the log and got on it, which seems reasonable, but I guess not. This leads shortly to a beach with a cliff, which you can climb to find a mighty eagle.

With the sighting of Feathers I realized this was the second “ingredient” in my Arrow of Death; I had the arrowhead already, and with feathers I just needed the shaft. However, I was completely and totally unable to interact with either the eagle or the feathers other than — rather unhelpfully — I could kill the eagle with my sword, causing it to disappear.

Frustrated, I went back to the other part I had verb trouble with — the chained slave — and once again found immediate success. I tried FREE SLAVE which instructed me to CUT his CHAINS, so I suppose it’s a really firm sword I’ve been toting around.

Once you free the slave he will follow you. Heading up to the boulder that had me stumped, trying to MOVE BOULDER told me that I received some help, and it opened up a cave.

That’s all that was in the cave. Nothing magic or even new information — I already knew I needed feathers! I spent a long time trying to SEARCH CAVE and the like but even the noun CAVE wasn’t recognized.

Bouncing around futily trying to examine things for the nth time, I went back to the eagle and tried another crack at extract feathers. Here I was saved by my “verb list” procedure I had gone through earlier…

…and I realized, off of my “rare” verbs in the far right column, that PLUCK worked. (I first added it back when playing Vial of Doom and later used it in Ulysses and the Golden Fleece. It has shown up in no other games so far.) PLUCK FEATHERS not only put feathers in my inventory but got the Eagle to fly me to a new area.

And then … I’d like to describe some fabulous adventures here, but it seems like the author ran out of space, or gave up? There’s a brook you pass by…

…there’s a hut with a dead dwarf that has a silver medallion…

…a lot of random grassy locations with nothing…

…and a Cellar with a MASTER FLETCHER. I assumed that after collecting the shaft for the arrow I would be returning here.

Finally, past a marsh, I encountered a willow, and immense parser frustration.

The Guardians of the Willow are the final obstacle for the game, but I have no idea what they even look like! They prevent the action CUT WILLOW without any details. All I know is I was able to take the silver medallion I just got a few minutes before, and throw it; they chased the medallion, distracted.

Chase Medallion!

Then I was able to CUT WILLOW and get the last piece of the Arrow, and the game ended, informing me to continue the story in Part 2. Not even a scene returning to the Fletcher and assembling the arrow, booooo.

You can now make the Arrow

I think the one thing this game emphasized for me is just how solid the original Scott Adams games are. Now, I had legions of complaints, of course, but I never felt like I was in a scenario where an item was in the room description that couldn’t be referred to, or where I circled for an hour finding the right verb rather than using any kind of logical reasoning. (They had their own, unique problems, mind you, but just not in implementation.) I do strongly get this was possibly Brian Howarth doing the ports from his original TRS-80 games in haste, really wanting to get back to writing new games.

At least the slightly askew ZX Spectrum graphics grew on me. They’re not traditionally pretty, but they’re trying their best. As an aside, I tried out the Z-machine z6 conversion using Frotz, and it lets you see the room description and room graphic on the same page as you play; it made the static nature of the graphics seem a touch more sensible, as I never had a situation where I would read text and then switch to graphics to see a scene that did not resemble the text much; having them both delivered at the same time made the issue feel less irritating.

An example. There’s supposed to be a chained slave here, but I’m honestly not sure what I’m looking at.

I confess this just wasn’t as strong as The Time Machine, and at least Golden Baton had a memorable ending. I’ll just save overall judgment until part 2, I suppose, but that will have to wait until sometime in 1982; I’ll keep with the ZX Spectrum for when I get back to the worlds of Howarth, and his first game that was written solely for the Scott Adams database system.

Posted September 28, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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