Archive for the ‘demons-forge’ Tag

Demon’s Forge: Finished!   6 comments

At the end, this game raised all sorts of questions about what it means to study digital history.

MS-DOS cover, via Mobygames.

I had left off last time … I mean two times ago … with a killer rabbit.

Unfortunately, the method of getting by was a bit absurd. The vial I used for anti-poison could be refilled at the well (I had discovered that myself, at least) but what I did not find is that GIVE WATER is the right command to get past. (The parser also does its one of only two times using a secondary prompt. “TO WHAT?” to which you need to reply RABBIT.)

I mean, meat-eaters need to drink too, but I’m still baffled as to the general intent here on the puzzle. The puzzle was doubly frustrating in that on one of my runs the rabbit didn’t let me get *any* commands in and I had to restart; after restarting and apparently nothing changing, I got enough moves in to GIVE WATER. This might have been bad luck (some sort of RNG triggering the rabbit to attack that I wasn’t able to reset) or there may have been something genuinely different that incited the rabbit to immediately attack rather than wait (that is, the parallel universe problem, except I still don’t know what the difference between the two games was, then).

After the mess that was the rabbit puzzle I scooped up the wand and was able to use it to burn through another door via USE WAND. (Not WAVE, the game doesn’t understand that.)

Fortunately, I was able to use my blanket and SMOTHER FIRE, which is the only time in the game I came up with an unusual verb and it worked first try. From inside I grabbed an axe that I used to get by a “maze” via SMASH MIRRORS.

I originally tried mapping it by dropping objects and so forth, but I realized pretty quickly I was being sent in random directions so I knew the maze had a “gimmick.”

This led me up to the area with the library and the long useless hall I talked about in my last post.

Since last time, I found a carrot in a garden, after struggling with a guess-the-noun puzzle (you have to dig GROUND or DIRT specifically).

However, the real interesting action happens in a “room of staves”…

…and an “intersection of the elements”. Each direction in the elemental area goes to a room seemingly dedicated to a classical element (a hopper in a mine, a torch on a wall, a well with water, and a glass room with a bottle).

The statue blocks your way, and the business with the staves needs to be worked out. After taking the first stave from the statue room, it turns into a shovel. I realized (after some genuinely edifying thought) that the four staves and the elemental area are connected, and I needed to somehow fulfill the shovel’s destiny in the room with the hopper.

Dropping the shovel? No luck. Trying to DIG there? Also no luck (the game seemingly doesn’t understand the word). Typing commands like HIT MYSELF WITH SHOVEL and SERIOUSLY WHAT into the parser, definitely no luck, but maybe some psychic gratification.

Again I had to run to hints; I found out I missed a room. Unlike my old nemesis Whoops I Didn’t Try North Here Even Though It’s Literally in the Room Description, I’d say this case is most definitely not my fault.

Do you see RUNGS on the wall there? I most certainly do not. At least CLIMB WALL works even if someone doesn’t grab the particular noun “rungs”, but notice there isn’t even a hole in the ceiling to climb into. (This graphic got a new render in later versions of Demon’s Forge, but I’ll be getting to those versions at the end of this post.)

So, climbing up goes to a den with a pendant and boots. The boots cause you to float near the ceiling, and LOOK PENDANT indicates it says DIG WHERE X’S AREN’T. (It only does this if you’re holding the pendant, though!)

Going back to the statue room, I realized the ceiling was X-free, so WEAR BOOTS plus DIG CEILING gave me some dirt. I then toted the dirt over to the hopper, did FILL HOPPER, and finally got results: YOU FILL THE HOPPER WITH THE DIRT AND IT ROLLS OFF. This teleported me back to the stave room where I found the second staff was glowing.

The second staff had a message MY DEATH IS YOUR LIFE so I went and burned it at the torch. The staff poofed away and I went back to the statue room again. Second element down, two more to go.

The third staff need a drop in the well, giving me a message


and following the advice of the poem, before I touched the fourth staff I went down to get the bottle and filled it with AIR. (If you don’t do that, taking the fourth staff kills you.)

The statue asked me to drop the fourth staff again and then I could proceed. The last section of the game is much tighter and less red-herring prone.

The section starts with a dropoff where you need to toss a pillow first, otherwise you die from the fall.

The most outrageous puzzle — the one I remembered from many years back — is right over a bridge.

If you are carrying any inventory past 1 item and try to cross the bridge, you die. The problem is the other side has a silver, gold, and platinum sphere, and you need all three. How do you take them back without dying? The bridge won’t let you make multiple trips, and just trying to throw them from one bridge to the other ends up not working.

The image is a bit mangled, this is another thing fixed on later editions.

I’m not going to spoil it here, because I’m curious if anyone can come up with the answer. Feel free to guess in the comments. Remember, there’s three spheres that need to be carried over a collapsing bridge. I will say I don’t think the physics technically make any sense, but at least the puzzle is memorable.

Moving on, I ran into a sign that was too far away to see.

I, fortunately, had kept a carrot from the garden in the previous section, and due to the long-standing mythology about carrots doing magical things for eyesight, I was able to read the sign.




I immediately knew the last line meant I needed to throw the spheres I had already obtained in some order, but I still had yet to find the demon — I was being stymied by a locked door.

I needed hints again, and found out I was stung by a parser issue with long-reaching effects. You see, I knew from attempting and failing a few times that CLOSE just gave me an error message (for example, at the chest of the start of the game, I could OPEN but not CLOSE it). So I assumed CLOSE was off the verb list. Not so. It just happens to only work in one place.

In this place, and this place only, you can CLOSE DOOR, which reveals a new room!

The room had the key I sought after, so I was able to break into the demon’s room.

Following the poem, I threw SILVER, GOLD, and PLATINUM spheres in that order (“SLIGHT TO BOLD”) and was victorious!



This is followed by “credits”.

I know Mike Cranford did art, I don’t know if they all did, or if some of the people listed are playtesters or had some other role. It’s interesting Brian Fargo isn’t here even though his name is on the cover.

Demon’s Forge (1981) has an enormous number of parser issues. There are likely some I’m forgetting, but

  • There’s a costume early you need to LOOK to search, and an assassin later you need to SEARCH. When the wrong word is used it isn’t an error, just nothing remarkable is found.
  • CLOSE doesn’t work earlier in the game, and gives an error message that makes it seem like the word is not recognized, except it is essential for a puzzle near the end.
  • There’s some hunt-the-noun going on, like with DIG GROUND in the garden (DIG being another verb that throws off error messages) and the rungs in the guard room.
  • The wand seems to react only to the command USE.
  • There’s a part (the bridge) where you need to drop off all your inventory but you have to drop each item individually.
  • There’s a red gem you have to refer to as RED even though there is only one gem in the game.

Here’s the thing: in the later (1987) DOS edition, nearly all the problems above are resolved. DROP ALL and even DROP EVERYTHING are understood. CLOSE works like it is supposed to. EXAMINE and LOOK are mapped as synonyms (alas, not SEARCH, although if you try to EXAMINE the assassin, it says his pocket “looks full”, so at least there’s an indicator you need a different verb).

The red herrings also had some alleviation in the DOS port. One room full of empty boxes (and wasted time on my part) was cut entirely; the closet is still around but the game just asks “what are you doing in the closet?” rather than keeping mum; the old man at the end of a passage suggests you read some books rather than coming back later (more clearly a joke, given the nature of the library, which skips trekking back and forth the enormous corridor to see if the man says anything different later).

While the points individually may seem small, they added up to wasted time; the sort of thing that seems small on the author end but enormous on the player end. I would say a fair third of the game (for me) was eaten up by strange parser oddities. Even when the parser was acting correctly, I didn’t trust it enough to know if a particular action was the wrong one (the shovel and ore hopper come to mind — I tried many, many actions while there, and I wasn’t able to interpret the parser’s discouragement as letting me know I was on the wrong track).

So: would it have been better if I had played the later version? I haven’t always been picky — I played Zork II in a later edition, for instance, because I knew Jimmy Maher had already tried the first edition, and the same goes for Adventureland. There are some definite upsides to seeing the first version; when Data Driven Gamer tried out Sokoban he insisted on the very first edition for FM-7 computers, and discovered in the process how half the levels required “digging” out rooms in a way no later edition kept.

On the other hand, I’m not here just to document history, but to document the act and psychology of playing games and solving puzzles, and explore how to improve puzzle-solving from the user end and not just the author end. If I only wanted to know what Fargo and his D&D playing friends were up to in 1981, the version I played was fine; if I wanted to experiment with optimal puzzle-solving, the later (and more fair) version would have been a better setting. On top of that, from what I gather the later version was more widespread than earlier ones; if I’m trying to document what other players might have thought of a particular game, an obscure edition none of them saw is likely not the best test.

Further reading: Ahab at Data Driven Gamer also played Demon’s Forge (the 1981 one, of course) and he calls it the worst adventure game he’s ever played. I have played worse, but such are the perils of playing All the Adventures. However, I think it’s fair to say while it still isn’t a good game (there’s still the only-briefly-seen skinny man and the water-drinking rabbit), the 1987 DOS version is much better. If nothing else, it’s interesting in a comparative sense as far as how much a bad parser hurts a game.

(A brief warning: in addition to the 1987 DOS port, there is a 1987 Apple II edition also published by Mastertronic. It seems to be identical to a 1983 Apple II edition published by Boone, but I haven’t studied either. Perhaps a future historian can take a crack; I can tell you that CLOSE doesn’t work on the chest in either version.)

Posted July 17, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Demon’s Forge: 78 Books   Leave a comment

I’m going to pick up with the narrative again on my next post. I wanted to point out an unusual moment later in Demon’s Forge where you come upon a library.

Most adventure games struggle with libraries. They typically either let you read only one book (feels unrealistic) multiple ones chosen at random (generally bad game design) or have some sort of index where you have to look up a particular book to find it. One other option is to simply go ahead and implement a bajillion books, but that’s pretty rare. Even Myst, a game not afraid to infodump from books, had its library previously set ablaze to limit the amount of material.

Demon’s Forge gives a specific and relatively realistic number (78) and if you try to READ BOOK, it gives you a helpful syntax:


On my merry way I did READ 1, READ 2, READ 3, and so forth, told each time THERE WAS NOTHING INTERESTING.

The only change happened at READ 51.


Cheeky! This reflects the game’s generally giving out gobs of red-herring rooms. I can’t confirm yet how many are really red herrings, but there’s already been two labs (one with an empty vat) that have been useless, and while this waterfall room looks like it ought to have something, it’s potentially truly here just for a joke:

Although perhaps you can “become a king” later.

The ratio of useful to useless rooms in the latter part of the game so far has been something like 3 to 20. It’s honestly a bit unusual for this time frame, where computer games have space at a premium. Even the mainframe games of the era, while not conserving space, generally used giant-open area as a structural conceit rather than a joke (see: Haunt, Warp).

There’s additionally a giant corridor composed of many rooms (including the arch above) with an old man at the end who tells you to “come back later”. I peeked at some hints and, apparently, there is no “later”.

Posted July 16, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Demon’s Forge: Omnivores and Carnivores   1 comment

A brief side jaunt into history before starting on the Demon’s Forge proper:

In the book Stay Awhile and Listen, Brian Fargo discussed his early efforts to sell the game. He put one ad in Softalk that cost $2500, 50% of his budget, then would call retailers and tell them he was trying to find a copy of Demon’s Forge and asked if they had it.

They said, “No,” and I said, “Oh, I just saw it in Soft Talk. It looks good. They said, “We’ll look into it.”

Brian would then get an order from the retailer a few minutes later on his other line. Computer guerilla marketing, 1982 style.

He would go on to found Interplay one year later with Jay Patel, Troy Worrell, and Rebecca Heineman (known in those days as Bill Heineman).

(I’d show you the ad, but page 31 which supposedly has it in the Internet Archive scan is missing.)

Last time one of my frustrations was a “skinny man” who ran by but I never saw again. I tried setting out the ration as a “trap” but none of my shenanigans worked, so I broke down and looked it up: you have to FOLLOW MAN the moment you see him, and if you miss doing that you have already lost the game. Once you do that, you can find a previously hidden room:

I was right about the rations, at least: he’ll give you a rod in exchange. This immediately suggested a solution to another problem I had, which was a statue beak grabbing on my hand. One rod application later, and I had a red gem.

If you then GET GEM the game asks you to use RED as the noun instead. I suspect there are multiple gems and the game is trying the hacky way of preventing nameclash.

I then hit some dumb luck. Since I was stuck, I went through my standard list of verbs to see which ones the game understands. As a guinea pig, I used a chest (one that previously held a blanket and pillow) and ran through all the combinations: KICK CHEST, BURN CHEST, FEEL CHEST, etc. This was purely to check for error messages (the message is different when the game doesn’t know the verb at all versus the verb didn’t do anything) and was startled when MOVE CHEST revealed a previously hidden item.

I was able to toss the bag of ashes into the brazier I mentioned last time and summoned a fire elemental named Joe. (If you don’t have the red gem, the fire elemental kills you instead of becomes your friend.)

The fire elemental burned a hole in the double doors I was stuck on, revealing an assassin with a poisoned crossbow. When I attempted to attack I died. Here I needed hints again: I had done SEARCH COSTUME (the one from the start of the game) but not LOOK COSTUME, which revealed a VIAL. The vial turned out to be an anti-poison agent, so I was able to get through.

I was fortunately alert enough to try both LOOK ASSASSIN and SEARCH ASSASSIN; even though LOOK was what found the vial in the costume, SEARCH is the proper verb here (grrr) and that netted me a chime.

The elemental has a second use, of drying up the water in a well (which burns it out; alas, poor Joe).

Ringing the chime opens the door and sends the player into a “trick room”.

Fortunately not hard: you just need to GO LEFT and then GO RIGHT repeatedly until reaching the exit. (The room image above gets repeated once, so I could see someone getting tripped up and going left again, but I was following the instructions literally and kept going right until reaching a room with a sign that said STOP.)

The “carniverous” rabbit is where I’m stuck now. It follows me around and eventually bites me after a few turns. In addition to the wand and hat in the magic room I still have the costume, I’ve filled the formerly anti-poison vial with water, and I additionally have the blanket, red gem, pillow, and chime. The adjacent rooms don’t seem to have anything helpful but I haven’t done much experimentation yet.

(Since I know someone will mention it: I did try getting the rabbit to go into the hat, but haven’t had much luck with any verbs I’ve tried. I freely admit that may still be the solution and I just need to express it properly.)

Posted July 15, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Demon’s Forge (1981)   10 comments

Brawling with the king’s guards is a crime punishable by death. But in considering your prior service as a mercenary in his pay, the king has decided to be lenient. In lieu of death sentence, you have been banished to the dungeon network infamously titled the Demon’s Forge.

You reason that you may as well have been executed. The dungeon has an exit as well as an entrance, but none of the many prisoners sent into it in the past century have left the labyrinth alive. It is little wonder, for they were required to embark without weapons or armor, or even the clothes on their back.

— From the manual

Brian Fargo is a developer still at work today with a long track record of games, including being a designer on Wasteland (1988) and executive producer of Torment: Tides of Numenera (2017). He started his career in high school collaboration with Michael Cranford on a game called Labyrinth of Martagon which “probably sold five copies” but unfortunately seems to have otherwise have vanished (I don’t even know if it is an RPG or adventure according to Andrew Plotkin reporting from a Bard’s Tale postmortem, it was an adventure game). His first game that got “real” distribution came the same year, and was a humble text-adventure-with-graphics for the Apple II.

The cover from the 1981 version.

The cover above I don’t believe has anything to do with the game itself. (Saber Software was Fargo’s creation, so this was still his choice of art.) As the manual’s opening implies, your goal is simply to escape a dungeon; the manual also hints at “a demon of horrible prowess and deadly cunning” named Anarakull who I’m guessing we’ll meet at the end.

I’m going to try taking my time here, because I bought this one back when you could get a new copy! While 1981 was far too early for me, it got republished in the late 80s for DOS by Mastertronic and I snagged that version and played all the way through; I recall needing hints from Kim Schuette’s book but I otherwise don’t remember much except for one (admittedly interesting) puzzle near the end.

I’m playing the original Apple II version which starts you with just “rations”, but I should note the DOS one states you are also carrying your “birthday suit”. I had never heard the term at the time so I spent a while confusedly trying to drop the birthday suit or otherwise interact with it.

I’m stuck fairly early. I found a blanket and pillow, a skinny man running by …

… a statue with a beak with something inside (but trying to reach in gets your hand stuck) …

… and a locked set of doors.

Other than a lab with an empty vat, a brazier, and what appears to be an empty closet. I don’t have access to much, but I’ve only just started playing around.

One last comment on the closet before I close out, though. This is one of those post Hi-Res Adventure games that sometimes describes things in text, and sometimes describes things visually. For example, in the room with the skinny man earlier, the banner is considered an item even though it is only in the picture. Exits are also only given in the visuals; or at least mostly given in the visuals, because it appears the game requires you test some things out randomly. Here’s a brazier …

… but not visible in the brazier picture is an exit to the NORTH, which has the closet.

I assume that’s a “shelf” in the picture but that noun isn’t recognized by the game.

This isn’t nearly as crazy as the map in Goblins, though — everything is rectilinear and only NORTH/SOUTH/EAST/WEST are allowed, not NE/SE/SW/NW. Still, I need to keep up remembering to try random directions as my playing goes forward.

Posted July 14, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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