Archive for the ‘arrow-of-death-part-2’ Tag

Arrow of Death Part 2 (1982)   9 comments

Despite this being a direct plot continuation of Brian Howarth’s Arrow of Death Part 1 (which featured here last year) this marks a transition point in his work.

From Mobygames.

Specifically, his first three games in his Mysterious Adventures line were originally done for TRS-80 only. All further parts (picking up in 1982) were written using the Scott Adams database format, matched exactly enough that the same interpreter can be used to play Scott Adams and Mysterious Adventure games. Essentially, this meant removing “room descriptions” and relying on room names and items (and later, graphics) to create the environment. While it seems something of a loss the portability was part of what led Mysterious Adventures to be successful in the first place. The TRS-80 never lit the UK market on fire.

As far as how this happened: based on a note in this interview, Howarth had seen an article by Mike Woodroffe of Adventuresoft asking for programmers to port the Scott Adams games over to British computers.

Quoting the interview:

A non-programmer friend of mine was very keen to be part of creating adventures and had come across an editor that could compile/create and interpreter that could digest Scott Adams’ adventure data files. It became clear to us that if I could adapt my code to be able to interpret the Scott Adams data files, we would also be able to use the editor to allow non-programmers to write our own adventure data files, then package them up into my new engine and supply Molimerx with their voracious demand. My code was pretty compatible to the way the Scott’s code worked and only required some massaging to be compatible.

So the adventure series was now expanding nicely, but apart from the TRS80 platform, Molimerx only wanted me to port the code to IBM PC. He had no interest in any of the flood of new machines that were starting to saturate the market in the UK at the time. My new targets for porting the engine were machines such as Atari 400/800, Sinclair Spectrum, BBC Computer, Commodore 64, Oric Atmos (seemed like a new machine appeared in the UK each month). From this, I became so embroiled in porting that forward motion on creating new titles ground to a halt.

Something feels a little off to me here — supposedly Howarth’s attention on the Scott Adams format came from Woodroffe’s article, but the actual block quote seems to imply “a non-programmer friend of mine” had “come across an editor” (I would guess The Adventure System). My best reconciliation of the two stories is that Howarth learned about The Adventure System first, saw the Scott Adams format was well-documented, then saw the Woodroffe article, then used his memory of the documentation to be able to make Scott Adams ports.

Also, what does Howarth means about his code being adaptable? If he’s referring to the first three TRS-80 games in the old format, they are rather different and using the database required a complete ground-up rewrite of not just the game system itself but the games themselves. Scott Adams also said (without being specific) that “my recollection of a few of the items may be a bit different” so I suspect there might be some fudging of the sequence of events (perhaps unintentionally, we’re talking about events in 1982). Gareth Pitchford’s run-down of events comes with receipts but I’m still not confident on how things really happened.

Nevertheless, all we’re really worried about in the end is the game itself; to continue from Part 1 I’m going to stick with the ZX Spectrum.

A weirdly existential opening.

To recap, several games ago we found a golden baton, but in Arrow of Death Part 1 we found the baton to be corrupted by some sort of distant evil named Zerdon. In order to defeat Zerdon we needed to get the parts intended to form the Arrow of Death. We successfully found all the parts before the story cut off but had yet to make the arrow.

I wonder what the people who started with Wordier Part 1 thought when they got to this game.

You start out at the edge of the marsh things left off on last time, next to a plain and a chasm. The area appears to be empty for a shrub which is a “bundle of fluffy leaves”, and trying to DIG at the plain (unprovoked, I just had my tingly Adventurer Sense going) reveals a FLINTSTONE. There’s also a “narrow gorge” with “water at the bottom” yet I think this part may be meant just as scenery.

The chasm (see above) can be JUMPed into although it’s a one way trip. This suggests a linear structure but the game subverts that later; still, for a little while only one or two puzzles are presented at a time.

You land near a rope bridge; if you try to cross it a bird flies overhead and drops an iron helmet (which you can retrieve on a lower ledge). The lower ledge is also next to a crevice with a lamp.

Going past the rope bridge leads to a “straggly weed” you can pick up, and then an “iron grille” with “machinery”, which I have yet to be able to do anything useful.

My guess, based on my inventory (which includes a sword from the last game, as well as the pieces of the Arrow) was that I’m supposed to use the leaves and weed somehow to make a fire that connects with the grille? No verb I’ve thrown at the items gets recognized, neither MAKE FIRE nor MAKE SPARK work, so I may just be barking up the wrong tree.

(It took me later in my playthrough before I tried it, but I might as well spoil now what the weed is really useful for is eating; it increases your strength, rather like in Katakombs.)

Going back to the rope bridge, the room is described as having “ropes holding the bridge up”. You can cut the ropes and die. I originally thought perhaps this was a trap or gag, and if this was Acheton that’d be the case, but it doesn’t quite fit in with the Howarth style: once he switches from minimalist to ultra-minimalist, everything is important.

I didn’t find out until much later that if you’re not holding the fluffy shrub, this maneuver kills you; the shrub acts like a pillow.

It turns out this lands the player in a hub of sorts, although it isn’t obvious at first. Here’s the map as it looks on the first pass:

There is a locked door that blocks one route and a “heavy door” that blocks another. Otherwise, there’s a dead guard that can be searched for a uniform, a “wheel” that can be turned (next to a guard; you should disguise yourself with the uniform first)…

…and a “heavy kite” by a platform and the place where the dead guard with the uniform was.

If you wear the iron helmet from the bird you can safely JUMP while holding the kite and float down to the start of the game.

So that means the structure is (so far):

Area 1 -> Area 2 -> Area 3 -> Loop back to Area 1

It took me a little while to realize that the wheel turning is what makes the loop useful. By turning the wheel, you shut off a source of water in a gorge, leaving only mud that can be jumped into.

Searching the mud yields a lever that can be pulled, yielding a passage to a new area I haven’t fully reckoned with yet. There’s a dungeon with a prisoner locked behind a grating:

A “grotesque animal” at a “guard room”:

There’s no guard mentioned in the room, so it is strange the illustration shows a guard rather than the grotesque creature.

A “starving mule” at an “underground stable”:

Feeding the mule some of the strength weed doesn’t work.

And a “temple” with a “tapestry”:

There’s a button hiding behind the tapestry. Pressing it reveals an altar. Looking at the altar reveals a candle. Lighting the candle summons a “column of flame”. Once the column of flame is summoned you can PRAY, and the game claims “Something happened!”

What that something is, I don’t know; this is as far as I’ve gotten. I will say this has been more enjoyable that Part 1, not so much in the puzzles, but in the map. In addition to all the things found in the new area, there’s a bolted door. The bolted door leads back to the wheel/kite area!

Area 1 -> Area 2 -> Area 3 -> Loop back to Area 1 -> Area 4 with Area 3

To be clear with a map:

Red = 1, Orange = 2, Yellow = 3, Green = 4. Green connects back up with Yellow.

This kind of unexpected map interconnection I’ve found to be one of the most satisfying element of adventure games (or really, any games). It does make things slightly more complicated on the linearity front; when you know a particular obstacle will never again be seen, that restricts what objects might be helpful to that obstacle quite seriously, whereas if an obstacle can be returned to much later, it potentially opens up any object in the game. This is the type of tradeoff I’m willing to make for the feeling of a world with more depth than it has at first appearances.

The most curious thing is that the part that I had to skip while still baffled — the mysterious grille with machinery — is the only part I can’t return to. While you can go from Area 1 back to Area 2 by jumping down again, the bridge is destroyed so there’s no way to get across to where the grille is. The fortunate thing is that this isn’t Hezarin; the move count is low enough it won’t be hard to repeat everything, if that turns out to be necessary because of some clever trick missed earlier.

For once, I’m not “stuck”, just “stopped”, but historically I’ve hit a wall with Howarth before, so we’ll see how far this goes.

My verb list, for reference. Orange are verbs recognized by the game. It’s a fairly generous spread; the “cut rope while holding it” maneuver I figured out much more quickly from knowing that HOLD was a possible verb.

Posted September 29, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

Tagged with

Arrow of Death Part 2: The Fire-Walker   8 comments

(Continued directly from my last post.)

I managed to resolve the column of fire summoned at the tapestry above, but before getting to that, I made the Arrow of Death.

I mentioned a “grotesque creature” at a “guard room” (with no guards). Experimenting around I tried to just KILL CREATURE and somehow got a key out of the process. This is one spot where I think difficulty visualizing what the author really meant hurt things; I didn’t know if it was a giant creature or a small creature, one that was strong or weak. I really don’t know what happened at all or where the key even came from.

This is a common downside with the Scott Adams database system.

Moving on, I took the key up to a previously locked door in the kite/dead guard area (another loop over previously found terrain). This led to a storeroom with cheese and bread. I then took the bread over to the starving mule and made a friend.

The mule was now following me. Since I was on a hot streak I went to visit the prisoner trapped behind a grating, and it immediately occurred to me the rope might be helpful.

I was then able to get the mule to move and yank the grating off, letting me visit the prisoner, who turned out to be a helpful person indeed. He’s mentioned in Arrow of Death Part 1, so I’m first going to give the old Part 1 screenshot, then a new one:

I needed the strength weed again to wake the fletcher up. This was a pretty satisfying object re-use since the first time was to just get stronger turning a wheel, whereas here it is help someone in much worse shape, yet both cases “getting stronger” is appropriate.

One nice side effect is that turned three inventory objects representing the Arrow into one Magical Arrow object.

I was now out of things to do, so I went back to the tapestry and contemplated the column of fire. I realized I was visualizing it wrong: I was thinking of it something small, like the candle. If it was instead something large, I could try entering it, and since the tapestry hints at fire-walking:

Voila! This leads to a new outdoor area and (I think) puts the game back on a linearity path. Oh well.

Near where you exit is a hut with a pipe and tobacco, and in the other direction there is a lake with a boat.

Getting on the boat and picking up some oars, I tried ROW BOAT and got swallowed up by a whale. A whale on a lake. Sure?

The tobacco and pipe presented an immediate solution, so I filled the pipe and tried to SMOKE it twice, causing me to get spit up onto the shore.

This is yet another area in the linear journey, where you can snag a dynamite with a fuse, a large rock, and a mysterious small smooth stone from a cairn.

There’s a shovel, too, which is how you are able to dig up the dynamite. The earlier flintstone was dug up by hand, but the ground is too hard in this area to dig without a shovel.

After significant experimentation I realized I could RUB the stone to cause a beggar to appear (the one from the last game?) I then did GIVE STONE and the beggar handed me off a magic bow, which is handy since I didn’t want to be stabbing the bad guy with an arrow by hand.

And here I am stuck. Back at the shore there’s an “animated skeleton” near a trail which tries to block if you GO TRAIL. Trying to KILL or SMASH or the like doen’t work. Dropping the dynamite there, lighting the fuse, and running away doesn’t work — or at least it causes the dynamite to explode, but nothing to happen to the skeleton. I worry I’ve missed an item somewhere but I feel like I’ve searched the prior areas fairly thoroughly. (That “machinery” I was worried about last time I believe was just a hint as to the effect of the wheel — it was intended to move the large stone to dam up the river, allowing me to go into the mud.)

You’re welcome to take guesses as to what to do next in the comments, but if you know the answer (from playing previously) please hold off for now. This game has been relatively fair and I’d love to be able to beat it otherwise hint-free (not counting any clever reader theories in the comments).

Posted September 30, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

Tagged with

Arrow of Death Part 2: A Cloud of Evil Smoke   4 comments

I have completed the game, and my prior posts are needed for this one to make sense.

From World of Spectrum. As nifty as Murder at Awesome Hall sounds it is just a clone of the board game Clue.

I didn’t have too much farther to go; my stuckness could partly be traced to a deceptive parser message. But it’s more interesting to approach how I got out of trouble first.

There was, to recap, an animated skeleton guarding a trail. The skeleton didn’t actively attack but wouldn’t let me by, and my attempts to KILL were null and void.

My verb list again.

Adventure games can sometimes be the inverse of RPGs. In RPGs, the the player typically attains more and more objects and capabilities which make it easier to get out of trouble (this is why part 2 of a roguelike is often easier than part 1). With adventures, the player often attains a large object list which eventually gets narrowed down to a shorter one, making puzzles easier to solve; less objects to test as solutions to puzzles. There are enough murderously hard endgames this is not a hard and fast rule, but even grand-champion-hardest-of-all-time Quondam followed this pattern.

The same thing can happen with verbs. Specialty verbs in particular often are invoked only once; for example, while we could FLY with a kite, the kite becomes a “broken kite” and it becomes extremely unlikely FLY gets invoked again.

Here is the list of verbs with every verb crossed out I used at least once:

Some are obviously still potentially useful, like GO and SEARCH, and some I’ve already used more than once, like DIG. The thing to focus on is that there’s liable to be a use for all the verbs at some point in the game (at least in an old-school one).

It is possible in this era to have “placeholder verbs” which do nothing anywhere and are intended to give a more pleasing response than “I don’t understand”; HELP: “There is no help for you in this game.” More modern games have quite a few of these, like the famous “Violence isn’t the answer to this one” response to ATTACK. It can be helpful and satisfying to get this kind of response; the ability to even pretend to do some common act makes the world’s mimesis a little shoddier. With very old games having tight memory requirements, though, they often didn’t have space to waste on placeholder verbs.

SMASH, however, felt all the world like a placeholder verb. It gives the response “Vandal!” which really gets across the message “smashing things isn’t part of the game”. However, glancing at the special verb list, and glancing at the verbs that haven’t been crossed out, SMASH is a really tempting verb to try on the skeleton. I could swear I had already tried it without success (in fact I probably did, more on that in a second) but then I found, voila:

As I said, I thought I had tried it before, so I reloaded an old saved game and tested SMASH again only to find the “Vandal!” message come up. Not only does this come across as a “placeholder” it suggests the skeleton is part of that.

After some testing I realized the difference the second time is I was carrying a LARGE ROCK I didn’t have before. What the parser really should have done is say something like “I don’t have anything that will help with that”. Even the standard “Sorry” would have conveyed a similar spirit.

(The game in general is pretty bad about objects held being used without letting the player know they were used. the fluffy shrub from two posts ago being a good example. Once I picked up a CLOAK and wore it for the rest of the game — it otherwise wasn’t too useful to have. I assume it had an effect somewhere but I still don’t know where!)

Anyway, to circle back: if you’re ever stuck in an old-school adventure, especially near the endgame, try not just to list the verbs but the verbs that haven’t been used yet.

The rest of the game was straightforward. I found a MOUND on the trail that the shovel was able to dig out and get a hole. Inside the hole I found a passage blocked by a large boulder, and it was dynamite’s time to shine.

This leads to some stairs and an “Impenetrable” veil.

Just past the veil is an organ with some sheet music, and playing the music removes the veil. (I’d complain about the puzzle being too easy, but it was still a satisfying act.)

And then there is XERDON.

Just to be clear, he hasn’t seen you yet in the image above: if he sees you, you die. For example, if you try to get out your bow and arrow and use them in the same room XERDON is in.

Fortunately, it takes only a few more steps to go around a back route and find an “arrow slit” where XERDON is visible.

One SHOOT XERDON and it is all over.

This marks the first Howarth game I’ve managed to beat without hints. I don’t think this is due to my increased skillset as much as slightly more reasonable puzzles; despite the presence of quite a bit of magic there isn’t anything where the game asks you to do something completely arbitrary. I think the only exception might be the “smooth stone” where rubbing it summons a beggar, but the smoothness is meant to be a hint, and I did come across RUB quite naturally and quickly so the hint apparently worked.

Despite the presence of a light source with a timer, the author resisted temptation in making the timer run out quickly; I did forget to turn it off for a while and got low on oil, but the entire last part of the game needs no light so it didn’t matter anyway.

While it is possible for one of these games to be too simplistic to be fun, the winning key seems to be to allow for dense systems (like the interconnected navigation) but lean intuitive on the actual resolution to problems. Really (other than the parser issue from this post) I mainly had issues with visualizing; how big is a column of fire? Is a locked grate placed such that tying rope and having a mule pull on it even make sense? Is a “grotesque creature” with no other description something I could reasonably take down with a sword? I had to assume all the possibilities and run through each one.

Howarth stayed on a steady clip; we’ve got two more games for 1982 alone. But for now, we’re going to swerve back to Japan; we recently saw their first adventure game, but their first graphical adventure game ended up being much more important. And then, we’re going to approach one of the most mysterious games I’ve ever written about for this blog, one with a 1982 date yet where it only has been able to be completed as of two months ago.

Posted October 3, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

Tagged with