Archive for the ‘ferret’ Tag

Ferret: central heating for kids   16 comments

Before digging into the new breakthroughs, I’d like to point out a reference from an earlier section of the game mentioned by Roger Durrant I missed the first time around. This is in regards to the nuclear reactor section, where we casually strolled through and picked up a rod to use to unlock the next area. If you hang out too long you get one of the game’s many colorful deaths:

A terrible feeling of nausea radiates through your body.
-> wait
Time passes (yawn).
Oh dear, all the skin has shed from your body, closely followed by your limbs. Anybody fancy Windscale flakes for breakfast?

This is a really specific reference.

When people think of nuclear accidents in the US, usually what gets imagined is Three Mile Island. In the UK, the big incident was the Windscale fire, which happened in 1957.

A fire broke out in a nuclear reactor in northwest England and released radioactivity for several days. The report at the time, the Penney Report, was heavily redacted by the government and not released until 1988.

The obscure reference comes from 1982. There was a famous cereal ad (as much as cereal ads can be famous, in the US the equivalent would be “Mikey likes it” ads for Life cereal) for Ready Brek cereal, which you can watch in its entirety here. It notably has all the children who experience the warmth of Ready Brek to be surround with a strange glow: “Ready Brek: Central Heating for Kids”.

This isn’t even remotely a properly historically vetted source, but I want to quote a reply to the video anyway by “LF1971”:

I auditioned to be in this advert when I went to dancing school. I didn’t get a part in it and was really disappointed at the time. A year later I went to high school and one of the boys in my class turned out to be one of the boys in the advert. He was teased throughout his five years in high school by boys in our class singing the song when they saw him. When I saw how they teased him I was so glad that I didn’t get a part in the advert. Kids can be cruel sometimes.

The fame of the ad led to a parody for the comedy show Not the Nine O’clock News, which you can watch here.

This is the sort of fake ad that shows up on SNL, although Not the Nine O’Clock News ran for a much shorter time span, from 1979 to 1982.

I haven’t studied the UK reaction to the nuclear age as thoroughly as the US one, but I get the impression that there was a greater attempt to shuffle things under the rug, whereas the US almost went wild with hysteria in the other direction. It makes it more viable to approach the possibility of nuclear wipeout with dark humor, as the cereal parody ad or Ferret (“Anybody fancy Windscale flakes for breakfast?”) does.

Last time I left off on Phase 12, where I had found a tablet.

The tablet appears to have been engraved at some time in the past but the ravages of time have caused much distress to the surface of the stone. However, a little of the inscription is still legible.
On one side: 6, 26, 10, 11.
On the reverse side: M, V, X, Z.

This turned out to be essential for solving something in an earlier phase. While the movement of the train is only forward (I even checked with the authors to confirm this) so physical objects can only go forward, information can move backward. (Refer back to my discussion of the lack of a “single plausible continuous narrative” — while this lack was a minor blip back then, it absolutely balloons here into a feature.)

However, I wasn’t quite hit with enlightenment right away, and spent my time dutifully mapping phase 12. There was really only one more section, an absolutely giant rectangle of rooms 4 wide, with a locked door right below:

Each room had a colorful descriptor, much like near the lake in the previous phase. The far west room is always the same…

Theodore’s Spike
In a derelict warehouse. Partitioned area. Lit through semi-transparent skylights. On one wall a set of disco lights, rainbow button and rotary switch.
No way west.

…and the other three rooms on that column all were similar, except only having a switch.

Turning the switch rotates through colors of the rainbow.

-> turn switch;turn switch;turn switch;turn switch
The room is suffused by a glow of Red
The room is suffused by a glow of Orange
The room is suffused by a glow of Yellow
The room is suffused by a glow of Green
-> turn switch;turn switch;turn switch
The room is suffused by a glow of Blue
The room is suffused by a glow of Indigo
The room is suffused by a glow of Violet

Pushing the rainbow button causes a display of four lights:

The lights are showing: Unlit Unlit Unlit Unlit

Sometimes the lights are “black” or “white”. All this refers back to a phenomenon which was more of a 1970s thing, but I get to show another strange (real!) ad:

Mastermind is a game where you put pegs of various colors in an attempt to guess an opponent’s code; they put black pegs for correct-color-correct-position and white pegs for correct-color-wrong-position. (There are earlier precedent games, like Bulls and Cows, but Mastermind made the general category famous.) I realized after noodling with the setup enough times I was dealing with a Mastermind game.

Not a terribly hard one because you can save/restore your game, and the puzzle doesn’t change — I have the answer here if you’re working through Ferret and don’t want to bother. The end result is unlocking the locked door which has a book with some curious ASCII art.

I was then mostly done with phase 12, although there’s a deadly “voluptuous cyborg” wandering around that can kill you (and according to the authors, can be dealt with; I don’t know if that means we can optionally remove the random element, or if it is necessary to kill the cyborg to get access to some item).

The cyborg has been staring at you long enough to aim without risk of failure. You are consummately torched by a stream of high-energy particles that separate your electrons, protons and neutrons. Anyone for unmixed grill?

I then moved on yet again to phase 13, which consists mostly of a giant dark map. It uses the trick the game has done before where going in the wrong direction from a “regular” path teleports the player. After much distress I finally came up with an algorithm involving:

a.) dropping an item

b.) saving my game

c.) testing leaving the room, coming back, and using TAKE ALL, in all cardinal directions plus up and down, restoring the game after each test

d.) looking at the scrollback and figuring out in which cases was I able to leave and come back to the exact same place as before

For example, here I’ve tried an item in the dark, but trying to go back and forth leads to a different room, so I must have been teleported randomly instead.

You are in the dark.
-> ne
You are in the dark.
-> sw
You are in the dark.
-> get all
There is nothing here that you can take!

I’m taking a little leap assuming there are no “turns” where going E one way actually connects to S on another room, but I spent enough time I believe the above is the overall pattern. Still a monster to map and I’m not done yet.

Extremely slow to make; each room added represents maybe 4-5 minutes of careful checking to make sure everything is right.

The random-jumping thing ended up landing me with two new items, a life jacket and a “puce transparency”. I unfortunately didn’t have a chance to inspect the latter because I was busy racing through steps (a) through (d) from earlier. I need to find out where the objects actually are anyway since I’m “playing ahead”, but the transparency in particular might hold some useful info for a prior phase so I’ve still got finding it as a top priority.

Eventually I started to get very tired of mapping, and checked back in comments to see if anyone had made progress elsewhere. Damian Murphy had made a short comment pointing out that the phase 10 “number area map” was completely symmetrical.

This rung a bell of a possibility that occurred to me briefly but I hadn’t pursued much: could the grid be not a cryptogram but a crypto-crossword? That is, it has various letters that form a proper crossword, just they are encoded. Crosswords tend to have, as a general rule, absolute symmetry on their grids.

Additionally, I had not yet tried this clue on the phase 10 grid:

On one side: 6, 26, 10, 11.
On the reverse side: M, V, X, Z.

Using those starting letters, I had a ??M??V in the first row, which did not lend itself to many possibilities, although the name ASIMOV worked. V?X down could be VEX. This gave me enough letters to start cracking.

What made this tricky was that it wasn’t just “common words” but author names; I got near to a complete fill and had to go to bed, and woke up to find K had ran with the ball most of the rest of the way, making a very nifty Google Sheet to allow easy substitution. It also showed the substitutions in phase 9, which I’ll get to in a second.

A couple swaps and substitutions later and I realized if I put in a F for 7 I would get a very nice pattern indeed on the Phase 9 grid. It uses the same code as the Phase 10 one! It seems the point of the phase 10 code was to give decipherments that can be used on Phase 9.

These are spelled-out reading from top to down, left to right (some of them backwards, and some of the code numbers “spaces” which don’t get used). There happened to be, in phase 10, a room I didn’t describe enough in detail last time:

Staffroom
This room appears to have be used by the station staff during their rest periods. There are some basic facilities including a worktop with an opening for a sink and a broken tap. Under the opening for the sink is a cupboard. Above the worktop the ceiling is angled at 45 degrees as if the room is built under a sloping roof. There is a wooden door to the west. Set in one wall is a sheet of opaque plexiglass under which is a wide slot. To one side of the plexiglass is a vandalised keypad.
Exits: —W ——– —
There is a translucent fruit bowl here
-> examine keypad
The keypad has been partially destroyed leaving only 5 nipples in the shape of a cross:

 
                O
            O   O   O
                O

The deciphered code is TWO / XIS / EIGHT / OWT / FOUR / EVIF TWO and if you look at a regular keypad and only the “cross”, the available numbers, are 2, 4, 5, 6, and 8. Voila!

-> press 2
Click.
-> press 6
Click.
-> press 8
Click.
-> press 2
Click.
-> press 4
Click.
-> press 5
Click.
-> press 2
Click.
There is a whirring of machinery followed by a clunk.

The previously empty slot now has a tan block…

The wide slot contains:
a tan block
-> get block
Taken.

…and that seems like a good spot to stop for now! Others have made some progress since but we’re still stuck on many things. For my part I’m going to trudge back to the dark maze and finally get the monstrosity finished before fiddling around with effects of setting the theater on fire.

Posted December 1, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Ferret: You Have Failed to Register With the Department for an Excessive Period   39 comments

I can’t say I really made “progress”, but I did map out Phases 10 through 12, which is dense enough to make an update. (Prior posts here. My most recent post is particularly necessary for understanding this one.)

Friedman, W. F. 1934. General solution of the ADFGVX cipher system. Technical paper of the Signal Intelligence Section, War Plans and Training Division.

Phase 9 (incomplete): the struggle is real

So the “incomplete” portion deserves some discussion: it is impossible, with this particular setup, to know when the current phase is complete. This makes a major break with the rest of the game; previously it wasn’t always clear which direction you were going, but at least if you broke through in the right way you got definite Progress by the phase number increasing.

With this phase … who knows when I’ll be done? (Other than the authors, of course.) There’s the automaton I still haven’t been able to do anything useful, and it certainly seems elaborate/significant enough to be important, but other than having it either a.) follow me around or b.) take the portable power generator and wander a little on its own I haven’t seen any other actions. At least, it doesn’t hop on the train, so that does limit it to phase 9, making it more likely to be used within phase 9 itself rather than later.

There’s also the mystery of the weird numbers on the floors, which might be genuinely nothing…

…but there’s an overarching theme of cryptography, and these particular numbers go from 1 to 26, so seem to match with the letters A through Z. Naïve crypto-solving hasn’t cracked anything (an auto-solver got me “a cargo these debris of a platos fide” as one out of many implausible choices), and I can’t think of a more clever tactic that will work.

SASGZ
TLWCQ
CXCIG
DQTPS
JMSLT
QPDXC

It _could_ be read as something other than left-to-right, but there’s an enormous number of possibilities to try. Going top-to-bottom starting from the left there’s equally weird choices like “sert blindly ash restorm and closer”.

I should mention, for the sake of completeness, other than just the Call 911 sign I mentioned last time, a placard:

Jenny Taylor Promotions
In association with the Rigid Digit Troupe
are delighted to announce a new collection
Juicy Lucy and the Suppurating Slits
with Hardlong Pipe and the Plumbers will play
The Come and Get It Adlib Concert
for one night only
Do not miss this once in a lifetime show
31st October 1985
An aural orgasm – The Voice of the Streets
Promoting Agents: Throbbing Vain Acts

Which is interesting both for the innuendo (this has been surprisingly innuendo-free for a mainframe/microcomputer game) and also the date, which suggests when the plaza was abandoned. If the bombs dropped 50 years ago, and the current year is 2083, what happened here to have a concert advertised from 1985?

I also spent an inordinate amount of time trying to escape from the sewer since last time.

Straightforwardly, there’s a blocked passage to the south, a blocked passage to the north, and all my attempts at poking and prodding to find secret exits (like the fridge from Phase 8) have been for naught.

-> d
Whaooah! You appear to have stood on some very slippery slime causing your rear end to impinge upon a significant downward slope that deposits you most ungracefully in a very unpleasant place.
Sewer
The walls here are curved as in a tunnel and their covering is not pleasant but the stench is far, far worse. The disgusting passage is blocked to the south. Overhead is a very dark opening in the tunnel roof.

I do want to mention the “diving suit” I found in the sewers (but have not got a use out of yet, I’ll get to a bit in a later phase where it could show up) is next to a “mouldering paper” pasted to the wall which is puzzling in itself.

I need to explain this before I expire. My life’s research has led me here. Sadly, I think my mind has been failing over the most recent years, things not having the clarity they used to possess. For what it is worth, and I hope it is worth something, otherwise my life has been for nought, my findings are as follows. Please pass on to Prof. Anderson of the Anthropology Department of Springfield University if you can.

“Every story of lore had three protagonists, they say. Let’s call them A, B and C. These lovely three were not related but they were from the same family, which means they are related, if you see what I mean. The first degree of freedom is the order of significance, which, in this case only, is reverse alphabetic order with a small, but significant, amount of moistness. Now, each of A, B and C can represent an individual digit, number, equation or some combination of some or all of the parts. Suffice to say the permutations are nearly endless, but in this case, think of some bears with a propensity to sugary conserves. The second degree of freedom is magnitude, for which an analogy with the late 20th century telephone will suffice coupled with the standard innuendo. The third degree of freedom is position within the arithmetic equation (or it is not how big it is, but what you do with it, to use televisual allegory). In this case we need to look to X and Y. If X is larger than Y then B is below the line, whereas if you are playing bridge it would be definitely above the line, if not straddling it. If Y is larger or equal in magnitude to Y then all are above the line with a straightforward multiplier effect. Not forgetting, of course, the geographical offset.”

I think this is trying to clue in specific values of A, B, and C, that gets used somehow. The “Now, each of A, B and C can represent an individual digit, number, equation or some combination of some or all of the parts. Suffice to say the permutations are nearly endless, but in this case, think of some bears with a propensity to sugary conserves.” is particularly suggestive.

Sewer Alcove
The walls here are curved as in a tunnel and their covering is not pleasant but the stench is far, far worse. The alcove appears to continue to the west.
Exits: —W ——– —
There is a putrid rucksack here
There is a slimy fleece here
There is a sandwich pail here
There is a cake tin here
There is a rusty key here
There is an oblong of parchment here

The other items found in the sewer are shown above. The cryptic parchment that I can at least give a little more info on:

As Tablesaw noted in a Mastadon post, the first letters of the phrases are ADFGVX, and there’s a code called ADFGVX developed in WW1. The 6 by 6 table is an integral part of the code, and the only other thing needed is a key word; FRET might suffice, but even if it is not that and we don’t have it, it should be possible to brute force crack a cipher encoded with this parchment.

The problem? Any encodings naturally use the letters A, D, F, G, V, and X only. I haven’t seen anything like that. So this is likely information for later or I’m missing something. I’ve resorted to random actions like taking a javelin (found in the middle of the numbered areas) and throwing it at one of the blocked passages.

Sewer
The walls here are curved as in a tunnel and their covering is not pleasant but the stench is far, far worse. The disgusting passage is blocked to the north.
Exits: -S– ——– —
-> throw javelin at passage
Thrown.

What’s really awkward it is faintly possible (only because this is Ferret) that going down to the sewers is purely a way of getting information, and there is no way out. However, as I already hinted at, there’s a tempting place for the diving suit later, so I’m 98% still certain there’s a way to escape.

Phase 10: An even bigger number grid

I eventually decided I had enough with 9, figuring useful info could be found later. It is of course possible the various codes and riddles can’t be solved without later information. Eagerly I stepped forward:

Ticket Office
You are in what was probably a ticket office, though it is now hard to tell as the room appears to have suffered from a number of nearby explosions. There is a wooden door displaying a carved inscription to the east.
Exits: NSE- ——– —
-> s
Open Area
You are in a vast open area. Inlaid into the design of the floor surface is the number 22.
Exits: NSE- ——– —

Only to find more numbers! This time nine by nine. (I tried my best to fiddle with zoom and fonts to make the numbers visible. Yes, I could just make it small and make you click to enlarge, but based on my blog stats almost nobody does that.)

The marked spots are “Open Area” spaces with no number at all. This suggests … spaces, maybe? Is there a historical cryptogram that matches this setup? If you assume “open area” means “space” and “double open area” means period, the code is

vaqfcz t uxfi xbx nbceuxjgqsq. uvfcnmauxx qyxcapqnnu. urqstxuocbxnbx xnex k hvoocn.

which also stumps the auto-solver I was using. The other grid is English-like enough in distribution I’m willing to believe it just needs reading in the right direction, but this one just doesn’t work:

ksurij w mary ada editmanzulu. mkriegsmaa uvaisqueem. moulwambidaeda aeta c pkbbie.
yuivoq b save aga ngocsazmiri. syvonkusaa iwaoufinns. shirbastoganga anca d lytton.
uracol i escp sys nyodeskjava. eucongress absorzanne. emavisetoysnys snds w hutton.
unoped c sapy aja rjetsaxbowo. superinsaa ogaenzorrs. showcaslejarja arta m fuller.

The only items hidden around are a rubber charging mat and a damaged communicator, with an interesting result if you put them together.

The communicator emits three short beeps followed by: “Area Scan commenced. Scan Completed. One humanoid detected in vicinity. Continuing. Automatic Personnel Identification Procedure initiated. APIP completed. Continuing. Agent identified, Darkins, B. O. Message Retrieval Service activated. Standby…. Latched. Continuing. This is your automated message service. You have one new message as follows: Darkins, you have failed to register with The Department for an excessive period. According to standard protocol you must text the first 8 characters of your Security Pass Number to 80085 immediately, whereupon you will be notified regarding your court hearing. Failure to comply will result in immediate termination. This message has been deleted automatically”.

This is fascinating from a story sense and I’m still trying to chew on it. As far as has been revealed so far, our main character was put in stasis for medical reasons “embalmed due to unknown viral infection”. Is that not entirely true? Was there something else to it; are we a secret agent of sorts where something went wrong? Have there been other clues in prior Phases to the nature of The Department?

Various people have noodled with this to no avail. If you go back to the telephone way back in phase 7 and try to dial 80085 it gives a “constant beeping noise” (what it gives if you dial an invalid number). I think the communicator is meant to be a separate communications device from all others.

Over to the west side of Phase 10 there was a theater.

Green Room
A large area apparantly designed for people to gather or possible wait. On the north wall is a copper pipe rising from the floor. The pipe has been severed about half way up the wall and is emitted a soft whistling sound. Above the pipe is the dirty shadow of a water heater that has apparantly been removed. There is an unmistakeable smell of methane. There is a steel door to the east and a staircase leading down. Near the staircase is a brass switch.

Turning the switch has explosive results.

There is a not inconsiderable explosion as the ancient workings of the brass switch generate a miniscule arc of electricity which, combined with the methane gas, causes a conflaguration that knocks you bodily down the stairs.
Rehearsal Room
You are in a large circular area with a low roof. There is a stairway leading up from the room. In the middle of the space is a podium mounted upon which are four pads. The pads are designed in the shapes square, triangular, oval and round.
Exits: -S– ——– U-
-> s
Dressing Room
You are in a large room with a low roof. Around the walls are broken mirrors and smashed lights. Under the lights is a long bench, in front of which is a bench seat.
Exits: N-E- ——– —
There is a sealed pvc vessel here
There is a zinc key here

You end up getting locked downstairs from a small fire caused by the switch. I haven’t gotten past this.

I was stuck long enough I decided to ride the train again.

Phase 11: The Lake

The pattern is broken up a little bit here. You’ve got locations with colorful titles (I gave “Chasm of a Thousand Cuts” last time; I also like the location called “Fist of Gloating”). None of the titles really indicate anything for the rooms they are at in particular.

The “Asylum from Emnity” is a little different. It has explosives.

Asylum from Enmity
A dank crepuscular room made from reinforced concrete as if to survive a blast overhead. There is some form of opening in the ceiling apparantly to permit the ingress of light and ventilation. Against one wall is a safe surmounted by a resin slab.
Exits: —W ——– —
The resin slab contains:
a mobile phone
some Semtex explosive
-> examine slab
The solid resin slab is rectangular and semi-transparent. It appears to contain a number of structures, principally a lump of Semtex explosive, embedded into which is a mobile phone comparable to many a Hollywood big time stylie bomb.
-> get slab
Do you know what happens to old explosives?
They become unstable to the point where any kind of disturbance can cause them to blow – literally. Your fussings appear to have provoked that senario. The bluebottles are swarming.

I assume the explosive can be set off early by dialing the right number. But what, and how? (Is it seriously using the phone all the way back in phase 7? I don’t think so, given the way the game is coded — personal state and objects carried have moved between phases, but nothing like a long term state change. Ferret can’t be underestimated, though.) Maybe this is where the cryptic A, B, C message comes into play? Why would that be referring to this explosive, though? Why would someone set this up in the first place?

On the north side there’s a lake:

Lakeside
The path reverts to rock as it runs back to the southeast. There are steep rockfaces on both sides of the path leading you into a beautiful lake.
Exits: —- –NWSE– —
There is an oak hogshead here
-> push off hogshead
It’s a bit of struggle given the weight of the hogshead, the roughness of the terrain and the unwieldy size of the barrel but eventually success is achieved. The hogshead is bobbing gently in the lake water.
-> nw
Lake
You are paddling in a beautiful lake. In the middle of the lake is an island.
To the southeast is a sandy path.

There’s two other approaches (one by a pier, one by a bell) but I otherwise haven’t gotten anything to happen. Can’t cause the barrel to move by any actions I’ve tried, but it might just be guess the verb/phrase. Diving suit would be nice to have, though!

There was even less to noodle with here, so it was an easy choice to jump to phase 12, which goes back to having an atrociously large multi-room setup where the names might be clues. But I think I’ve reported in enough for now, except I want to mention this clip from a cave in phase 12:

Retreat to Dessiccation
The cave is dark and foreboding, very gloomy and grey, most suffocating in its cloying damp atmosphere.
Exits: —W ——– —
There is a stone tablet here
-> read tablet
The tablet appears to have been engraved at some time in the past but the ravages of time have caused much distress to the surface of the stone. However, a little of the inscription is still legible.
On one side: 6, 26, 10, 11.
On the reverse side: M, V, X, Z.

Is this a clue for _previous_ phases? I haven’t tried it yet, but maybe this works to decipher four letters on phase 9, and that’s enough to decipher the rest, and then you’re supposed to make a spiral or something like that?

Posted November 28, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Ferret: Chasm of a Thousand Cuts   27 comments

I’m honestly still flabbergasted. (Backlog of posts on Ferret here.)

Computerworld Mar 13, 1978.

The game certainly tries to give a strong sense of Things Are Different once entering Phase 9; in addition to the odd message from last time

Arise Ignorants, for you have been summoned by the Master of Knowledge. Your labours will no longer be in vain, for you will have a common goal. The secrets of past technologies will now be unlocked and will allow you to utilise the mysterious powers discovered by your forefathers prior to the big heat.

there is a new “mode” unlocked.

Entering Phase 9 (Navigation) activates Master Mode. Certain existing and new verbs will start to work once in Master Mode.

I haven’t talked about modes before, so let me backtrack a bit. When hitting the 300 point threshold the game enters “Expert” mode, which removes some randomization and makes it so the timecard puzzle (the one where you had to set your real computer clock timer) no longer needs solving. The general intent is to allow easier walkthrough creation and experimentation (one player, K, isn’t even bothering with save games, and is using a transcript that the game plays through instead).

The interesting (and fairly unique) thing about Expert mode is that it applies to new games. That is, once reaching Expert mode, you can restart to have the new behavior happen. So progress on the game holistically affects even restarts of the entire world-universe.

Master mode is more mysterious:

You are currently in Master Mode, which entitles you to certain privileges.

At this level you are expected to be able to find or postulate what the new privileges might be, given your experience with the game. For example, “Wouldn’t it be great if…”.

I’m still not quite sure what the new verbs are, but any restarts now put the game in Master mode, so I do wonder if there are some different scenes possible with new meta-skills (?).

This wasn’t the flabbergasting part; what I mentioned with the modes was already spelled out in the documentation so I knew it was coming. Let me save it a bit longer and tell you about my exploration of Phase 9:

You disembark from the train to find a “Richmond Station” sign and some graffiti.

Yo, ya kno’ that Graham geezer and his massive number. Well, like, X is the spot an’ it’s the last free digits, dig it?

Graham’s Number is a colossally humungous number famous for being “the largest number ever used in a proof”. I don’t if that’s still true, but even quantities like “the number of atoms in the universe” are minute comparisons, and it isn’t coherent to talk about something like “how many zeros it has” — you have to think in terms of something called “up-arrow notation” which isn’t worth a sidetrack into. The last digits are

03222348723967018485186439059104575627262464195387

Is this “the last free digits”, though? Is that supposed to be “three digits”?

You may have noticed numbers on the map; that’s because connected to the train station is a five by six grid where each location has a number.

Open Area
You are in a large open area. Inlaid into the design of the floor surface is
the number 1.
-> e
Open Area
You are in a large open area. Inlaid into the design of the floor surface is the number 19.
-> e
Open Area
You are in a large open area. Inlaid into the design of the floor surface is the number 7. Attached to the north wall is a tall wardrobe.

I’m currently a long way from deciphering what the numbers mean, but given the 5-by-6 layout they might connect to a parchment found later which I’ll just give the clip of now (6-by-6, alas, but still suggestive):

I’m happy to take speculation from anyone on this one, even people not playing the game.

Moving back to the large area, it isn’t just numbers; for example, the wardrobe I showed off contains an automaton.

Nearby is a “portable generator” with a knob, and if you turn the knob while at the automaton you can get it to follow you around. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a way to give it any other commands. You can drop the generator and watch the automaton scoop it up and wander on its own, but that doesn’t seem to be useful either.

Poster on a random position of the grid.

There’s also a “large statue” which seems to be immobile, and a garden off in the southeast corner that has a locked gate.

Small Kitchen Garden
You are in a walled area that was probably used to grow fruit and vegetables in past times but all evidence of gardening has long disappeared. To the west is a building. There is a gate set in the south wall.
-> open gate
It’s locked.

Incidentally, I did try to get the automaton to break the gate open for me, but to no avail. There’s a key elsewhere I’ll show in a second, but I haven’t been able to bring the key to the gate. Let’s go there now:

This is the east part of the phase 9 map, with a pyramid you can enter to find a sewer.

Pyramid
You are standing in front of an enormous pyramid. Despite its incredible size it is completely featurlesss apart from a strange flap arrangement set into the side of the pyramid in front of you.
-> push flap
The rather strangely designed flap appears to pivot about a linear horizontal axis near the top of the flap. This behaviour causes you to lean forward and discover, like many, many before you, the force known as gravity. You tumble heels over head into the void. The brunt of the subsequent significant impact is taken by your head so no serious damage results from your incautious act.
Bowl of Gyration
The floor here is formed into the shape of a bowl which is suffused by a dim light from the pyramid-shaped roof. There are strange patterns on the floor giving the optical illusion of ever-circulating paths. In the middle of the floor is a dark tunnel leading downwards.
-> d
Whaooah! You appear to have stood on some very slippery slime causing your rear end to impinge upon a significant downward slope that deposits you most ungracefully in a very unpleasant place.
Sewer
The walls here are curved as in a tunnel and their covering is not pleasant but the stench is far, far worse. The disgusting passage is blocked to the south. Overhead is a very dark opening in the tunnel roof.

Unfortunately, this is a one-way trip and I haven’t found an exit. Also, the sewer is timed: after enough turns, you die from the smell. There’s a diving suit nearby that is no help (you’d the wearing the suit would protect you, but no — also, no verbs I’ve tested work on it). Even more curious is a “putrid rucksack”;

-> open rucksack
Opening the putrid rucksack reveals:
a slimy fleece
a sandwich pail
a cake tin
a rusty key
an oblong of parchment

The parchment you’ve already seen with the 5 by 6 grid. The cake tin has a cake that you can break open to find a ticker tape:

-> break cake
The sponge crumbles to dust revealing a strip of ticker tape.
-> read tape
CMRD SMLNSK + PRCD STNDRD DRPFF PNT + NJY CHCLT BR + DSRPT CPTLST PGDG PWR SPPLY + NRCH TH LDRS T FR TH PPL + STOP

You can see Damian Murphy’s translation here, and no, I don’t know if there’s anything useful here, but it is quite possible some of what we’re meant to gather here is information for later.

This would seem to be a dead end, except: you can get back on the train and keep going! Here we get to the mind-blowing part. We haven’t just unlocked Phase 9, we have unlocked Phases 9 through 16 inclusive, and we can access all of them right away.

Phase 10 (Foundation) has a “translucent fruit bowl”…

Staffroom
This room appears to have be used by the station staff during their rest periods. There are some basic facilities including a worktop with an opening for a sink and a broken tap. Under the opening for the sink is a cupboard. Above the worktop the ceiling is angled at 45 degrees as if the room is built under a sloping roof. There is a wooden door to the west. Set in one wall is a sheet of opaque plexiglass under which is a wide slot. To one side of the plexiglass is a vandalised keypad.
There is a translucent fruit bowl here

…and a series of “open areas” just like Phase 9, also with numbers on the floors. Are the puzzles connected?

Way back at the Cathedral we needed to use a piece of information from The Future to affect the past. Is this the case here? Do we have to visit all the different phases to solve earlier ones, even though the train doesn’t turn around, and gather information that will help?

Phase 11 (Compression) contains a weird progression of locations with colorful names.

-> w
Chasm of Dreams
The path runs through a ravine from east to west. There are steep rockfaces on both sides of the path.
-> w
Gorge of Pyrocleese
The path runs through a ravine from east to west. There are steep rockfaces on both sides of the path with another similar path running off to the northwest.
-> nw
Chasm of a Thousand Cuts
The path runs through a ravine from southeast to northwest. There are steep rockfaces on both sides of the path.
-> nw
Silo of Screams
The path runs through a ravine from southeast to northwest. There are steep rockfaces on both sides of the path. To the northwest the path changes to sand.

Phase 12 (Delinearisation) has you greeted by a cyborg.

Ticket Office
You are in what was probably a ticket office, though it is now hard to tell as the room appears to have completely looted.
There is a voluptuous cyborg here
The cyborg has noticed your existence, but considers it quite trivial.

Phase 13 (Concatenation) involves ominous and dark craters.

Phase 14 (Fascination) has a floor you can bust through…

Entrance Hall
A large spacious area without seats and benches probably provided for the convenience of the passengers using the railway.
The flooring seems a little strange and has a hollow feel to it.
-> jump
Boingey, boingey, boinge! This is jolly wizzer fun. Uh oh, the floor appears to be suffering from your bouncing affections. Lordy, you seem to have hit the resonant frequency of a section the floor timbers which becomes dislodged and clatters to the floor of the room below. As you were jumping on the floorboards at the time you are rudely deposited in the room below with a resounding thump on your little botty.
Basement
You are in a small dimly-lit area with a steep ramp providing a route upwards.

…and cryptic voices giving numerical riddles.

The ethereal voice is somewhat indistinct and appears to be repeating: “The average hydrogen atom, number of neutrons it has?”
-> s
Old Nick
A pleasant airy space with a high ceiling. Hanging from the centre of the ceiling is a microphone. The flooring seems a little strange and has a hollow feel to it. You can just discern what appears to be a soft voice whispering around the room.
Exits: N— ——– —
-> listen
The ethereal voice is somewhat indistinct and appears to be repeating: “Normally represented, the square root of what, the letter i by?”

Phase 15 (Imagination) has a dark subway.

Phase 16 (Liberation) is immediately blocked by a ticket office.

Ticket Office
You are in what was probably a ticket office, though it is now hard to tell as the room appears to have suffered from a number of nearby explosions. The north end of the room appears to consist of an automatic barrier, to the right of which is a turnstile and a slot. Unfortunately all of the guidance instructions appear to have been obliterated at some time in the past.

And Phase 17 … well, that’s the end of the line. You can’t reach Phase 17 on the train. There was a bug (now fixed?) that allowed this to happen, with tempting glimpse of the future. For now, there’s quite a few angles to prod at while solving puzzles, but as Phase 16 illustrates, we may still need objects from earlier phases in later ones, and eventually the sequence will be consecutive. But even if information from the future isn’t strictly necessary, knowing if particular items will get used can help work out what needs to happen in previous phases.

Is the rest of the game one big quantum state, where the garden of forking paths is both branching and linear at the same time?

Posted November 22, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

Tagged with

Ferret: Ozone and Burning   16 comments

Phase 8 complete, with the power of Science. (Prior posts on Ferret here.)

Early core memory, using donut-shaped magnets on a grid. [Source, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.]

The first thing I was stuck on turned out to be based on a general adventuring error; I made this list of items…

a photographic flashgun
a piece of fur
a beautiful ruby rod (which also flashes if you flash the flashgun)
a picnic box
a block of ice (which doesn’t melt if in the box, somehow)
a security casket with a plastic card locked inside
a perspex rod
a dirty reticule (with “a piece of linen” inside)

…but left something out, namely, a fridge that the block of ice was in.

Ice Cream Parlour
You are in a rundown ice cream parlour. The majority of the contents of the parlour have been removed, leaving a solitary refridgerator standing in the middle of the room. There is a doorway to the west.
Exits: —W ——– —

So, I spent some serious time trying to use items on each other, but didn’t bother to try mucking about with the fridge itself, which is embedded in the room description itself and is “large” so I assumed I couldn’t manipulate it other than opening it. However, it easily succumbs to a use of the TEST command (which if you remember, drops a megaton of verbs on the object it applies to all at once) which ferrets out the fact that PUSHing is useful.

-> push fridge
The fabric of the refrigerator squeals in complaint as it grinds slowly to one side on some unseen and ancient castors. After a short distance the castors give in to the decaying effects of time and disintegrate under the weight of the refrigerator. You appear to have revealed a narrow stairway leading down into a dark and rancid-smelling room.

This leads down to some “catacombs” which are mostly uninteresting other than containing an iron ring…

The iron ring is of small dimensions and not in the slightest bit dissimilar to the sort of iron ring found in the memory of early twentieth century computers.

…and having an exit which leads to the western area of the map. This means that, despite travel between the western portion and eastern portion of the map being one-way it becomes possible to go in a loop through the catacombs.

Bringing all the items to the gizmos on the west side yielded immediate results. There was a dome with a static electricity warning; I knew rubbing the perplex rod on the fur made static electricity; I put the two together.

-> rub rod with fur
There is a crackle of static electricity as you rub the fur up and down the Perspex rod (Freud would also be interested in your behaviour).
-> touch dome with rod
As the Perspex rod nears the glass surface of the dome a fat spark of static electricity is discharged. Suddenly the interior of the dome is filled with many-coloured streamers of electronic discharge (I think you’ve started something here – where will it lead?).

This activated the strange letter tiles that looked like a sliding puzzle, and in fact are. These tiles are at the Nursery…

w y h
t k a e
f u o r
p n i s

…which match a four by four block of rooms nearby.

Matrix
You are in a rather strange room that appears to have rather thick walls. There is an opening in each of the ordinal walls, however the east exit is blocked by a wall that appears to run around the outside of the room. There is a large lever set in the middle of the floor.

To get it to work, your inventory needs to be empty (otherwise you can’t “ride” the tile on the air cushion as it tries to move positions).

-> pull lever
There is a whirring of fans followed by a slight lurch as the floor appears to lift slightly. The room wobbles briefly on its blanket of air, then subsides to its original position. The lever springs back to its original position.

When working properly:

There is a whirring of fans followed by a slight lurch as the floor appears to lift slightly. Incredibly the room starts to move on a blanket of air. After some not inconsiderable movement the whirring noise subsides followed by the floor of the room. The lever springs back to its original position.

This is, to those unfamiliar, a Fifteen Puzzle from the 19th century where the goal is to shift a set of mixed-up tiles from “1” to “15” into order. Some configurations are unsolvable.

The puzzle-maker Sam Loyd (who helped popularize the puzzle but didn’t invent it) famously made a contest where he swapped the positions of 14 and 15 and gave a cash prize for solving the puzzle. The money was safe: this was an unsolvable situation.

For this puzzle, the tiles need to slide into the positions WHY TAKE FOUR PINS. I initially thought this would do the trick where a letter gets repeated and they have to swap positions (otherwise the puzzle is unsolvable), but this particular puzzle mercifully has no repeat letters, so it was just a matter of solving the puzzle the standard way.

Starting at the first row, third column:

pull lever;w;w;pull lever;w;s;pull lever
s;e;pull lever;e;n;pull lever;n;w;pull lever
w;s;pull lever;s;s;pull lever;s;e;pull lever
e;s;pull lever;s;e;pull lever;e;n;pull lever
n;n;pull lever;n;w;pull lever;w;w;pull lever
w;s;pull lever;s;e;pull lever;e;n;pull lever
n;n;pull lever;n;e;pull lever;e;s;pull lever
s;s;pull lever;s;s;pull lever;s;w;pull lever
w;w;pull lever;w;n;pull lever;n;n;pull lever
n;n;pull lever;n;e;pull lever;e;e;pull lever

This yields:

You hear a distant bang, followed by a rumbling noise.

Heading back to the nursery, there is a new exit, but it is quickly blocked off by a locked door:

Security Corridor
You are in a narrow corridor with a door to the north.
Exits: —W ——– —

I also took a peek in at the tiles (that are placed behind a window so you can’t touch them) to see if anything changed, and the tiles had been replaced by a compass. There’s something useful you can do with the compass, but I’ll get back to this. For now, I needed to go back to that strange brass platform with the confusing description:

Scullery
You are in a very small room. Fixed to the east wall is a cupboard. Directly opposite the cupboard is a cavity in the wall.
Exits: NS– ——– —
The cupboard contains:
a brass platform
-> examine platform
The small brass platform is square and fixed to the base of the cupboard with its rear edge parallel to the back of the cupboard. The platform has a shallow hemispherical groove running from its back to its front, parallel to the side of the platform.

(That should be half a cylinder, not half a sphere.)

The idea here is to drop the ruby rod into the groove; using the photography flash will shoot off a laser.

-> push button
The flashgun emits a blinding flash of light.
The ruby rod, residing in a partial waveguide, emits an intense flash of focused light. There is a mixed aroma of ozone and burning.

Then, you can stick an item in the “cavity in the wall” directly across from the laser. For most items it will fry them outright. In fact, it fries every single thing you can possibly put inside, except for the block of ice.

The ice melts slightly, the liberated water evaporating off into the atmosphere.

Some long contemplation and some time fiddling later, I realized you could put more than one item in the cavity, so having the steam going can help protect a second item. What the second item can be is the “security casket” with a card inside.

The flashgun emits a blinding flash of light.
The ruby rod, residing in a partial waveguide, emits an intense flash of focused light. There is a mixed aroma of ozone and burning.
The laser beam slices into the top of the casket liberating a small cloud of acrid smoke mingled with steam given off by the hissing ice. The smoke and steam disperse into the atmosphere.
The ice melts slightly, the liberated water evaporating off into the atmosphere.

If the symbols involve some cryptic message, I haven’t figured it out yet. Perhaps it will be important in a later phase.

The card then can be taken over back to the town side where there is a bank.

Bank
You are in a what appears to have been a bank. Set against the east wall is an automatic teller machine, which consists of a screen with a slot located alongside one edge of the screen. There is a doorway to the west.
Exits: —W ——– —

Putting the card into the slot gets an “Autoteller” message including the message “security access granted” and immediately upon asking “Please enter your Personal ID Number” the whole system gets fried. There is no way to enter an ID number. Instead, the security access is what’s useful here. This means the door back at the Nursery (that solving the tile puzzle gave access to) is now unlocked.

Oriental Room
You are in a small room shaped like an oriental temple. There is but one exit to the south.
Exits: -S– ——– —
There is a pinchbeck case here

The pinchbeck case (which cannot even be picked up) seems to be entirely a red herring. You need to go back to the compass at the Nursery. Let me also repeat the description of the iron ring:

The iron ring is of small dimensions and not in the slightest bit dissimilar to the sort of iron ring found in the memory of early twentieth century computers.

This required a bit of research: this is referring to the magnetic memory system of MIT Whirlwind and other computers of that time period (see a picture at the top of this post). The important part, of course, is that the iron ring is magnetic. The syntax here is non-obvious, and I only worked it out quickly because it showed up previously in the game:

-> wave ring over glass
The needle swings to and fro.

This turns out to change the secure area just slightly — there’s a corridor that used to turn east that now turns west. Taking the passage now leads to:

Siamese Room
You are in a small room shaped like a Siam temple. There is but one exit to the south.
Exits: -S– ——– —
There is a slender black cylinder here
-> get cylinder
Taken.
-> examine cylinder
The slender black cylinder fits nicely into the palm of the hand. At one end of the cylinder is a rubber pad, the other end of the cylinder appears to be transparent.

Now, this is a useful item, and in fact is the only thing needed now to get to the end of the phase. However, the syntax is quite cryptic, and it took Voltgloss (who somehow has a knack for these things) to work out the sequence, done at “Waterloo Station” in the town which has a locked door:

Pavement
You are standing on a length of pavement which runs parallel to a building on the east and a street on the west. There is an armoured door in the wall of the building. Above the doorway is a sign. The pavement is walled-off to the north.
Exits: -S-W ——SW —
-> n
You cannot be serious.
-> e
You cannot be serious.
-> point cylinder at door
Done.
-> press pad
There is a muted click from within the body of the door.
-> open door
Opened.
-> e
Station
You are in a small room which appears to be a station as there is a railway platform visible through an opening in the wall to the south. Any hint of automatic ticketing equipment has been removed to leave only dirty and stained walls. There is an armoured door to the west.
Exits: -S-W ——– —

There is a relatively easy-to-operate-train to the south (release handbrake; turn knob) which takes the player to a sanctuary.

Sanctuary
This room is rather poorly lit but you can discern a large bench running along the north wall. The bench appears to have once had some sort of function except that all of the instrumentation has long been destroyed to leave only four pinholes in the centre of the panel. The pinholes are annotated from left to right as Left, LM, RM and Right.

Remember those orange, white, black, and brown pins, the ones I concluded might never get used again, and where there was a message (build up from two parts starting in phase 2) which I thought was useless? I was wrong.

Even though the game has held a short-story structure which even resets the player’s inventory at intervals, the pins have always been small enough to be carried. They get used here.

-> put white in right
Done.
-> put black in left
Done.
-> put orange in rm
Done.
-> put brown in lm
Done.
There is a dull clink from behind the bench followed by a short pause. A holographic message appears before you. It reads:

Greetings, Master of Knowledge

You have activated the Central Knowledge Broadcast Facility.
The final message from this device will be issued by Neural Transmitter.

The hologram disappears and the neural transmitter activates. You “hear” the
following message:

Arise Ignorants, for you have been summoned by the Master of Knowledge. Your labours will no longer be in vain, for you will have a common goal. The secrets of past technologies will now be unlocked and will allow you to utilise the mysterious powers discovered by your forefathers prior to the big heat. In addition, you may now have the key to all knowledge, the answer to all of life, which is :

43

(The Hitch Hikers’ Guide was nearly right).
Your quest will be to find the question.

That’s enough journey for now; things get wild in Phase 9. And supposedly after is the endgame, but it looks like it gets all the way to Phase 17 (!?) meaning the “endgame” of this might be very, very, long. We’ll discuss it more in depth next time.

Posted November 20, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

Tagged with

Ferret: A Burial at Sea, But Not for Valour   48 comments

(Prior posts on Ferret here.)

The ending verges nearer: phase 8 of 9 (with an endgame attached). This post continues directly from my last one.

A moderately aggressive Data General Eclipse ad, from Computerworld. Sep 24, 1979.

Last time I was stuck on a number of issues but, as is typical for Ferret, the key was to ignore most of them. I did have guess correctly that defeating the drongoid was the future; that is, while it pushes back hard against direct violence, the fact it “toys” with items that you hand over means that you can give it something booby-trapped to get by.

-> give indigo pin to drongoid
The drongoid extends one of its many limbs and grabs the object with amazing speed. After toying with the item for a short time, it discards it with disgust.
-> hit drongoid with rod
You must understand that the drongoid is a highly developed killing machine, with an armoury of deadly tactics at its disposal. The strategy employed to remove a minor irritation (i.e. you) is both swift and deadly. A punch with the force of a flying sledgehammer is delivered to your solar-plexus, both winding you and causing acute muscle failure in your heart.
You are in urgent need of an organ donor.

In order to accomplish this, I needed to visit one more location.

I had previously used a subway to explore two new stops, and picked up a number of items, but the way it was configured was:

STOP (the weird POINT rooms with the bronze bullet)
no stop
STOP (the main office building)
STOP (the long corridor with the anti-gravity and the letter)

That is, there was one position (“no stop”) where the doors wouldn’t open. This represents an extra location. There’s a “long plank” from the main office building that you can drop in the train which then wedges the main doors open. I admit to thinking along these lines but using a “long carbon rod” instead and trying all different varieties of WEDGE as a verb; since none of my attempts were understood, I figured I was barking up the wrong tree and veered off. Based on Voltgloss’s hint I tried the plank instead, and still had to struggle a bit:

-> put plank in doors
You can’t put anything in them.
-> wedge plank
I don’t know the word ‘wedge’
-> insert plank in doors
You can’t put anything in them.
-> drop plank
Dropped.

Even though you just see “dropped” as a message, the plank is now wedged, and if you step outside:

There is a plank wedged between the partially open train doors.

The mystery stop contains a gun to go with the bullet:

Dark Tunnel
You are in a very poorly lit tunnel which runs in an east-west direction. At the easterly end of the tunnel is a subway train with its doors held open by a plank.
Exits: –EW ——– —
-> e
End of Dark Tunnel
You are at the end of a very poorly lit tunnel.
Exits: —W ——– —
There is a crude hand-gun here

You might think you just need to load the bullet in and go shoot the drongoid, but walking around with the gun loaded is deadly:

The gun has portrayed its origins and displayed its maker’s poor workmanship by temperamentally exploding in your hands. The bullet has entered your left foot and completely annihilated your brain (what there was of it).
You’ve just made Clint Eastwood’s day.

Of course, that means waiting until you get back to the drongoid, and then handing over the gun is deadly, but to the mutant rather than yourself.

The drongoid extends one of its many limbs and grabs the object with amazing speed. After toying with the item for a short time, it discards it with disgust.
Unfortunately, at least for the drongoid, the gun explodes as it hits the floor and ejects the bullet at a rather high velocity. After a single ricochet the bullet effects an entry, via an eye, into the drongoid’s body (if the term is applicable in this instance). Any road up, the drongoid appears to be quite dead.

This lets you get by up to the balcony, where as predicted, there is a helicopter Ferricopter waiting.

Helipad
You are standing on top of a building which has a stairway leading downwards. The roof is surrounded by high walls. Standing on the middle of the roof is a helicopter. Looping over the east wall is a ladder.
Exits: –E- ——– UD
-> in
In the Helicopter
You are seated in the helicopter which appears to be of a rather simple design, possibly intended for training use only. The only obvious controls consist of a control stick, atop which, is a yellow button. The upper section of the control stick is grooved to facilitate a good purchase of the stick. Mounted in front of you are some indicators and a slot.
The speed indicator displays 0
The height indicator displays 100
The helicopter is pointing east.
The helicopter is standing on the helipad.

The slot takes the “license” hidden in the long tunnel from last time, and pushing the button causes the helicopter to take off. That’s the easy part.

The helicopter motor grumbles into life, and once the rotors have reached operational speed, the helicopter rises to hover ten feet above the helipad.

However, things become much trickier from there; this might be the worst case of guess-the-verb in the game. It was only manageable because the authors posted a verb list which included two of the commands in question getting “error” style messages.

-> twist stick clockwise
The helicopter motor rises in pitch.
-> push stick forward
The helicopter nose drops and height is lost. Constant speed is maintained.
-> twist stick counterclockwise
The helicopter motor lowers in pitch.

These exact phrasings are required; you have to specify a direction for push stick. Twisting the stick clockwise cranks up the speed, and twisting it counterclockwise brings the speed back down. As long as the helicopter is moving you can “push stick right” or “push stick left” which will rotate the direction of the helicopter by 45 degrees (for example, from E to NE).

I realized the game essentially sets you in the middle of a giant ocean and you need to find the right spot, akin to the desert with the pyramid. (I’m not sure how this accounts for the previous phases being connected all the way back to the desert by land, but I’m willing to take the simplification.)

Before starting the hunt, I needed to make sure I understood the helicopter, and came up with a circular route that let me land back where I started:

This works: when you crank from speed 1 to speed 2, the helicopter goes from moving 1-space-per-turn to moving 2-spaces-per-turn. Everything otherwise behaves as if you are on a giant coordinate grid. Here’s the commands for this particular joyride:

push button; twist stick clockwise; twist stick clockwise
push stick left; twist stick counterclockwise; push stick left;
push stick left; push stick left; push stick forward
push stick left;look;look;push stick left
look;twist stick counterclockwise;push button

You do need to cut out speed right before hovering over the pad, rather than while you are right above it, otherwise your helicopter goes too far and the landing is ignominious.

The helicopter motor reduces speed until it eventually cuts out. Meanwhile you descend gently to achieve a graceful touch-down on the water. As you’ve probably guessed, the helicopter is not a boat and is consequently not the most seaworthy of vehicles. As the helicopter sinks to the bottom of the sea you chastise yourself for your rank stupidity.
You’ve awarded yourself a burial at sea, but not for valour.

(The game still describes you as “over land” in the helicopter if you are only one position off, but you land in the ocean anyway.)

The helicopter also eventually runs out of fuel. Before fully exploring in earnest, I also experimented with the various helicopter speeds to see how far it would go. If you just leave the speed at the lowest (moving 1 space a turn) you can move a maximum of 59 spaces; cranking to 2, you can move at 76. A summary of speeds 1 to 6 is below:

1: 59 distance
2: 76 distance
3: 81 distance
4: 88 distance
5: 80 distance
6: 78 distance

This means the max speed that is definitely useful is 4, although I used 2 to go exploring, as you can see things from 2 spaces away and I didn’t want to risk missing something.

The speed indicator displays 1
The height indicator displays 110
The helicopter is pointing north.
The helicopter is flying over dry land.
Off in the distance you can see a building with a flat roof.

Instead of tediously trying all the possibilities like I did with the Desert, I wrote a program in C. This feels almost encouraged by the game, which has quite a few tools for recording and playing back turns and allows quick turnaround on testing even very long sequences. I did fortunately have one clue to work with:

While the map mentioned is missing and probably doesn’t exist in the game, the “north” and “east” being the source of errors suggests that we are traveling some distance to the north and some to the east. So I set my program to fly due east for a while, then turn northeast, then keep flying until the plane crashed. Repeat with the “for a while” being varying in length.

I finally discovered by brute force that I just needed to go northeast a little (3 squares) and going due east would arrive at a new helipad. I have the full sequence in comments here in case anyone needs it, but here let me just give the result:

Helipad
You are standing on the roof of a high building which is surrounded by high walls. Standing on the middle of the roof is a helicopter. There is a hole in the roof.

Going down leads to phase 8 (Conversion).

Yeee-har! You fall a short distance and land with a splash on what appears to be a water bed. After being tossed up and down for a while you roll onto the floor and erect yourself.
Bachelor Pad
You are in a square room which has a hole in the ceiling. Beneath the hole is a bed with a mattress apparently filled with fluid. There is a stairway leading down to the west.

Phase 8 has been fun to explore and poke around in, but it’s the sort of thing that’s difficult to narrate because I haven’t accomplished anything yet.

I’ve divided it into three sections, I’ll take each one in order.

The southwest corner is a little irregular to start; the Landing/Gallery/Bachelor Pad area is closed off.

Gallery
This is a narrow room which is open to the east. Running along the eastern edge of the room at about waist height is a railing. Your position commands a view of another room below, but there is no obvious way to get down to it.
Exits: N— ——– —

If you head north (slightly into the “northwest” zone I have marked pink, which I’ll talk about in a second) you’ll reach the Nursery, where there is a “rectangular box” which moves the floor around.

As you walk underneath the rectangular box it glows red and emits a cute little beep sound. The noise of masonry moving over a floor follows the beep. The noise appeared to come from the northwest.
Nursery
This is a small room with a sheet of armoured glass set in one wall.
Exits: -S– ——– —

This movement has caused the entire southwest portion to open up, but closed off the northwest portion. Repeating the movement causes the areas to switch back again. Assuming we’re not talking about a red herring, it may be necessary to have something trigger from a distance when a particular map portion is sealed off.

This area is otherwise just looking like a normal house, except for a strange brass platform in the scullery…

Scullery
You are in a very small room. Fixed to the east wall is a cupboard. Directly opposite the cupboard is a cavity in the wall.
Exits: NS– ——– —
-> look in cavity
It’s empty.
-> open cupboard
Opened.
-> look in cupboard
Peering inside you can see:
a brass platform
-> look at platform
The small brass platform is square and fixed to the base of the cupboard with its rear edge parallel to the back of the cupboard. The platform has a shallow hemispherical groove running from its back to its front, parallel to the side of the platform.

…and a Production Room warning about Potential Shock Hazard.

Production Room
You are in a completely circular room which apparantly has an exit to the east. Rising out of the centre of the floor is the top hemisphere of an enormous glass dome which leaves only the barest amount of free floor space.
There is a sign on one of the walls.
Exits: –E- ——– —
-> read sign
The sign reads:

WARNING !

Potential Shock Hazard

Proceed with extreme caution when
unit operating. Static shock risk

I have not gotten anything to happen out of either. Also of note is a Lobby with a toy robot and toy truck.

Lobby
This is a small square room. There is a steel door opposite the exit to the
west.
Exits: —W ——– —
There is a toy truck here
There is a toy robot here

You can POINT TRUCK IN DIRECTION and push a green button on top to cause it to automatically drive in one direction, stopping when it can no longer travel.

The robot, on the other hand, while having an orange button, does absolutely nothing. (As this is Ferret, that might be genuinely true and not an indication we need to find the right place for the robot. But yes, we might need to find the right place for the robot.)

Trying to leave the lobby (OPEN STEEL DOOR; E) causes the door to shut fast and locks the player into the eastern portion of the map (which I have marked in green). We’ll get to that shortly, but first:

Let me return to the Nursery: if you repeat entering, you open up a passage to the west and get the full map shown above. Also, there’s a plate glass you can look through, and see a curious pattern:

-> look through glass
Through the sheet of armoured glass you can see what appears to be a very
old-fashioned child’s toy.
-> look at toy
The toy appears to be comprised of a number of lettered tiles.
-> look at tiles

        w y h
        t k a e
        f u o r
        p n i s

The pattern of the tiles seems to mimic the “matrix” on the map. Each matrix room has a lever, except for the northeast corner (which doesn’t have a tile in the grid above).

Matrix
You are in a rather strange room that appears to have rather thick walls.
There is an opening in each of the ordinal walls, however the east exit is
blocked by a wall that appears to run around the outside of the room. There is
a large lever set in the middle of the floor.
Exits: NS-W ——– —
-> n
Matrix
You are in a strange room that does not appear to have rather thick walls.
There are no openings in each of the ordinal walls, however there are at least
two exits not blocked by anything that runs around the outside of the room.
There is no large lever set in the middle of the floor.
Exits: -S-W ——– —

Pulling a lever does absolutely nothing. It seems (unless they are very cheeky red herrings, and yes, Ferret would go that far) they are missing power. My guess would be the whole “Production Room” setup with the danger sign is relevant, and some items in the east part of the map would help, but because the steel door closes things off, neither I (nor anyone else playing in the comments) have yet to figure out how to get back to the SW/NW map portions after entering the eastern portion. Let’s look at that area last:

This is generally simpler than the rest, as this is just a city street with a number of shops (although it should be pointed out the southwest has a fence which if made past would put the player back in the SW “house” part of the game).

Rather than naming each shop, let me give the items that you can find in them:

a photographic flashgun
a piece of fur
a beautiful ruby rod (which also flashes if you flash the flashgun)
a picnic box
a block of ice (which doesn’t melt if in the box, somehow)
a security casket with a plastic card locked inside
a perspex rod
a dirty reticule (with “a piece of linen” inside)

The rod and fur can also interact…

There is a crackle of static electricity as you rub the fur up and down the Perspex rod (Freud would also be interested in your behaviour).

…but I otherwise haven’t gotten anything useful to happen, although I suspect some kind of Science is ahead. The only other places of note are a slot at the bank (I assume you would use the plastic card on it) and a locked shop just marked “Waterloo Station”. I would guess the Station lets us board an above-ground train and make our way to Phase 9.

Sorry, that’s quite an info-dump! Hoping to get something useful to happen with all the Stuff lying around next time. I do have one more one-shot post coming but when we approach closer to the end-game I’m going to stick with Ferret until the end. I’m just hoping the endgame isn’t as long and grueling as Warp.

Posted November 16, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

Tagged with

Ferret: Having Misled You So   57 comments

(Prior Ferret posts here.)

In the offices of the building I left off at last time there is a “shining silver disc”. This is an audio disc, which you can place in a “drawer” in one of the offices:

-> push red
The shallow drawer slides out from the wall.
-> put disc in drawer
Done.
-> push green
The shallow drawer slides back into the wall.
There a brief squeaky noise from within the wall, followed by the emission of a
metallic sounding voice of outstanding quality and clarity.
-> listen
You can hear a metallic voice constantly repeating:
Greetings from Ferrivan Incorporated. We are delighted to be able to introduce you, the discerning Business user, to the world of advanced aeronautical transportation. In a world of ever shortening communication links and travel times, Ferrivan Incorporated are proud to announce the Ferricopter, the latest addition to our line of vehicles for the Business person.
Based on the traditional, and now obsolete, helicopter of the twentieth century, the Ferricopter is a highly automated, safety-conscious, vehicle for the modern Business user and up-market commuter. The Ferricopter has used the latest computer-aided techniques to overcome the requirement for any advanced flying licenses, in order that you may experience the joy and incredible convenience of self-drive airborne conveyance.
We most strongly recommend that you, or your company, invest in this extremely cost-effective method of transportation. Fly-drive a Ferricopter today and experience for yourself the true Business economy of the latest developments in high-tech conveyance.
The Ferricopter – your passport to true Business economy in today’s cost-conscious transport arena.
This message has been brought to you by Ferrivan Incorporated, the Business transport managers friend.

At least it wasn’t repeating for 50 years?

CIO Magazine, July 1989.

My major breakthrough had been unlocking a computer, with a long list of commands.

Select, Activate, Direction, Open, Close, Display, Status, Help, Autostatus, Autodisplay

This is, curiously, much simpler than many of the button-based mechanisms from the game; there’s no mystery in working out what red and green do and how orange is a special button that works to activate something entirely different than the red and green buttons.

-> type status
Typed.
The screen displays:
Unit Status:
Unit 3 Brake Fault.
Unit selected = 1.
Unit Direction: Reverse.
-> type display
Typed.
The screen displays:
Local Circuit:

       O__
          \
           \
       O____\___+______O

The Os represent subway cars, 1 is in the upper left, 2 the lower left, and 3 the lower right. You can switch between them by typing Select, then cause them to move by typing Activate. Direction can switch from forward to reverse, Open/Close can mess with their doors. There are a number of wrong sequences where you can get the cars into an amusing jam, but the right move is to start with Unit 3 which (due to the brake fault, I suppose) jumps the track, which is what we want.

       O__
          \
           \
       O___*\___+______

Then Unit 1 can be moved forward and will arrive at the Subway Station below the building (marked + on the map above), where it can be boarded. (Make sure you Open the doors as well!)

Subway Station
You are standing on a long subway platform. There is a subway train standing on the railway tracks to the west of the room.
The train doors are open.

The subway has a keyhole (where a silver key you find elsewhere works, you need to TURN it after inserting the key) as well as red, orange, and green buttons and a lever. Yes, we are back to mystical button presses, and I’m not actually totally sure what’s going on with the sequence, I just kept hitting buttons until something useful happened. The upshot is there are two accessible subway stations from here

-> pull lever
The train moves off and starts to gather speed before the brakes are applied automatically by the train’s control circuitry. The train grinds to a halt and the lever springs back to its original position.
-> push green
Click.
There is a brief rumbling noise from somewhere behind you, followed by the sound of a short emission of compressed air.
-> s
In a Train
You are aboard a gutted subway train. All of the normal fittings and fixtures appear to have been removed.
The train doors are open.

The first is short and mysterious. There’s a series of five rooms with letters on the floor spelling POINT, then two “triangle” rooms which cap either end. I’d almost suspect it was another riddle. The only useful (?) thing I’ve found is a bronze bullet (and no gun).

The other station is long and mysterious. It is one long corridor I have broken up in the map below into four chunks.

The four marked rooms have a broken exit, where going “north” jumps to the slanted room on the other side of the corridor.

Starting with the stuff I’m stuck on first, there’s a glass wall…

Subway Corridor
You are in a long corridor.
Exits: –EW ——– —
The north wall of the room is made from armoured glass.
-> look through glass
You can vaguely discern a room through the thick armoured glass.

…and a locked door (and while I have unused gold key, the key doesn’t work).

Subway Corridor
You are in a long corridor with a door in the north wall.
Exits: –EW ——– —
-> unlock door with gold key
“Shan’t” returned Algy, teasingly.

Possibly representing a puzzle and possibly representing Ferret just being its usual confusing self, there’s a whole series of seven rooms with “tilted” rooms on either side.

Slanting Room
You are in a rectangular room. The floor slants from west to east.
Exits: N— ——– —
-> n
Slanting Room
You are in a rectangular room. The floor slants from east to west.
Exits: -S– ——– —

(This is the “geography bug” from the map — going north from the first slanting room should go to the corridor, but it instead jumps a step.)

At the very end of the corridor is an “orbital environment” with a “pretty envelope” containing a letter.

I have yet to find the map being referenced, but I have to stop to say I love the moment of humanity here. For the most part, any textual expression we’ve seen in the game has been written in corporate language, not by humans for humans; this is the first evidence in the game of such a thing existing.

I’ve wrangled one actual puzzle in the corridor. Close to the subway station there’s a “waiting room”.

Waiting Room
You are in a small room. Set in the wall near the exit is a circular pressure
pad. There is something stuck to the ceiling.
Exits: -S– ——– —

Doing PRESS PAD (not PUSH!) causes anti-gravity to activate and for you to fly to the ceiling, where there is aviator passcard.

Floating back down is a problem (especially for those struggling with the parser) but there’s a “long rod” from back in the office building; PRESS PAD WITH ROD does the trick of making a landing.

-> press pad with rod
You are suddenly overcome by a most weird sensation. You momentarily feel totally disoriented.
Waiting Room

You can hop between subway stations, so there might be some jockeying between the three places (office building, POINT corridor, long corridor). Just to be complete on what I’m stuck with, there’s also the drongoid at the office building I mentioned last time.

-> look at drongoid
The drongoid is truly a most awesome creature. It has the build of a brick shithouse, is coloured a disgusting shade of putrid green, has two heads and eight beady little eyes. Most probably the product of some horrible radioactive mutation the creature oozes slime and smegma over its molten skin. Of its many limbs some appear to have been derived from traditional arms and legs, but their uses are apparently interchangeable as it occasionally shifts its weight from one combination of appendages to another. As the saying goes, ‘I would steer well clear of that one’.
-> kick drongoid
You must understand that the drongoid is a highly developed killing machine, with an armoury of deadly tactics at its disposal. The strategy employed to remove a minor irritation (i.e. you) is both swift and deadly. A punch with the force of a flying sledgehammer is delivered to your solar-plexus, both winding you and causing acute muscle failure in your heart.
You are in urgent need of an organ donor.

You can give the drongoid items that it “toys with for a short time” before discarding, so it is possible you could hand something that it would be distracted by (or is weaponized to blow up) but no luck so far. I’d put 50%+ odds on the drongoid being a red herring (like so much of Ferret) except that all the Ferricopter material suggests our next destination is on the roof.

(Next post will be another one-shot, but I’ll keep doing Ferret updates in the comments here if there’s anything to update.)

Posted November 10, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

Tagged with

Ferret: There Will Come Soft Rains   30 comments

The subtitle of this post comes from one of the most famous of Ray Bradbury’s short stories. It first appeared in Collier’s in 1950, later being printed in his collection The Martian Chronicles.

From art by Douglas Chaffee.

The Earth has been destroyed in nuclear war, but a small house in California still keeps working.

“Today is August 4, 2026,” said a second voice from the kitchen ceiling, “in the city of Allendale, California.” It repeated the date three times for memory’s sake. “Today is Mr. Featherstone’s birthday. Today is the anniversary of Tilita’s marriage. Insurance is payable, as are the water, gas, and light bills.”

There are, essentially, no characters, except the house itself: pure setting as story. Despite its unusual structure, it unfolds a story through the ghost presence of the people it implies.

The entire west face of the house was black, save for five places. Here the silhouette in paint of a man mowing a lawn. Here, as in a photograph, a woman bent to pick flowers. Still farther over, their images burned on wood in one titanic instant, a small boy, hands flung into the air; higher up, the image of a thrown ball, and opposite him a girl, hands raised to catch a ball which never came down.

Apocalypse is uniquely suited for adventure purposes; people are hard to code, and scrounging up materials (and improvising based on whatever is at happens) both makes sense naturally for the genre and makes for an organic combination of plot and action. Even setting itself, like the Bradbury tale, can tell a tragic story.

Despite Ferret being, at its essence, a random “biome journey”, every time there is a sort of human presence it has felt much stronger and more poignant than it might otherwise. Zork itself was set in a post-apocalypse of sorts (of an Empire, rather than an entire world), but the fantastical crumbling aspects gave the appearance of abandonment more than death, a ghost town rather than a nuclear memorial.

My latest progress in Ferret mostly went through a series of buildings with clear function that have been abandoned; there is something of the same poignance, even though the prose isn’t attempting for Bradbury-level artistry. For example, there’s a telephone you can find at one point where a phone number (given way back at the cathedral) works to get a recorded message:

You can hear a thin metallic voice constantly repeating:

Greetings from Ferrivan Incorporated. A Business that aims to please. Thank you for dialling our automatic reception centre, a service specially designed for you, the discerning personal or fleet Business operator of vehicular transportation. In our continual quest to provide the ultimate in mobile conveyance, we will occasionally upgrade our product line and consequently the automobile you desire may be replaced by a new, improved model. Please accept our heart-felt apologies if this causes you the smallest inconvenience. Ferrivan Incorporated, a Business that aims to please, can provide you with the following range of superb, modern, clean, up to the minute, high-tech and desirable vehicles:

The Ferricart: a sleek modern saloon of outstanding economy
The Ferrichariot: a sporty conveyance of incredible performance
The Ferridrone: an automatic carrier for the Business user
The Ferricomfort: supreme comfort for the chauffeur class
The Ferriwheel: a low maintenance carrier for the Business section
The Ferrivator: an all-purpose electrical small-load carrier
The Ferrifour: all-wheel drive transportation for any terrain

See your nearest dealer for the full detail scan of all these robust, reliable and raunchy horizontal-mode ground-carriages.
Remember, Ferrivan Incorporated, a Business that aims to please, wants you to have the ultimate conveyance, so make the right decision, go for the company that rates you as numero uno, contact your Ferrivan dealer now! All Ferrivan dealers are listed on your personal terminal, under Vehicular Conveyances.

According to the game’s “info” command the bombs dropped 50 years ago, so this recording extolling the virtue of Ferrivan Incorporated has been playing on repeat for 50 years. The fact it is corporate gobbledygook, rather than an automated house trying to nurture a dead family, adds a bit of Zork-style satire to the circumstance.

From 1950, Government Printing Office, Washington.

Picking up from last time, I was stuck on a “White Room”; there was a series of colored rooms with riddle-inscriptions, but this room had no such inscription.

White Room
You are in a room where the walls, floor and ceiling have been carved from beautiful white rock.
There is a brown pin here
-> read inscription
I can’t see anything like that around here.
-> hint
Go down on it.

I theorized that the lack of inscription meant this wasn’t a regular riddle, but indicating some holistic action meant to be done across all the rainbow rooms. This was entirely a wrong theory.

This is just another regular riddle, even without the inscription. Where I got really befuddled was the use of the HINT command. Prior riddle rooms had fairly explicit hints given by the riddles (so much so that the puzzles were essentially given away) but they augmented the existing inscription. Here, there was no inscription to be augmenting. Additionally, the hint is essentially required to solve this riddle. While the game has been willing to stretch meta-aspects before (remember when I had to change my computer’s timer?) but the inconsistency with hint treatment really led me astray here.

“Go down on it” is just a clue to SAY DESCEND.

-> e
As you pass out of the room there is a tremendous rumbling under the floor beneath you as some great and ancient force comes to life. The whole room begins to shake showering you in sand and dust. Just as the rumbling begins to subside, the whole of the west wall starts to rise gradually, and the rumbling continues afresh. The wall slowly slides up until it comes to rest with a jolt, its top now level with the surrounding wall. The sand and dust are blown out of the room by a slight draught. It is now quiet.
Distribution Matrix
You are in a room that forms the southwestern corner of a vast open area.
There are four stopcocks here, marked N, S, E and W.
Exits: N-E- NE—— —

This is a large 6 by 5 area, thankfully not in any form a maze.

All the rooms of the large area have stopcocks; there’s also a long pole and a canoe (with a hook) sitting around. The canoe is too big to carry but you can take the ever useful wire and attach it to drag the canoe around. More on that in a second.

The plaque above is nestled in the northwest corner; there’s also a window showing a view of a pipeline.

Through the carefully constructed window you can see a beautiful seascape. Below you is a sheer cliff with a lovely golden beach at its base.
Unfortunately the idyllic scene is marred by a huge pipeline that emanates from the bottom of the cliff, runs over the beach and out into the sea.

The goal here is to open stopcocks, forming a path from the northwest corner to the northeast corner. There are no doubt multiple ways of doing so. Once at the southeast corner you can push a button leading to a “courtyard” and a “slipway” which will (if you’ve let the water flow”) be a “canal awash with a torrent of water.” Then you can tie the wire to a stake, push the canoe off into the water, and untie the wire (goodbye, helpful wire!) to go on a brief rapids ride:

-> untie wire
As the canoe is unleashed from its restraint it is caught by the raging
torrent of water and forced out into the canal.
In a Canoe
You are in a canoe charging down a canal on a torrent of swirling water. The
air seems deceptively cooler here.

[…several turns later…]

As you surge onward down the canal the banks narrow to a width where the pole wedges itself between the banks. As you were holding it at the time you are physically lifted out of the canoe which charges off down the canal.
The flow of the canal reduces to a mere trickle and then to nothing.
Swinging on a Pole
You are swinging on a pole above a dry area of canal bed. It’s very cold here.
Exits: —- ——– -D

The whole sequence was pleasantly simple to figure out compared to some of the previous brain-busters; I figured out the stopcock-turning sequence on essentially the first try and while it took me a bit of fiddling to get the canoe to work (I originally didn’t tie it to the stake; if you do that it bobbles in the water, but it seems like you should still be able to move?) the whole sequence felt suitably dramatic.

Also, this is yet another “item reset” as you can’t carry heavy items in the canoe (so the weird titanium orb and so forth from the rainbow corridor are yet more red herrings). You are once again reduced to just the colored pins, which will finally see some use.

Swinging on a Pole
You are swinging on a pole above a dry area of canal bed. It’s very cold here.
Exits: —- ——– -D
-> d
Canal Bed
You are standing on a dry area of the canal bed. The canal bed continues to the north and south and looks very muddy. There is a stairway leading up cut into the west bank. High above your head a long pole is wedged between the banks of the canal. It is very cold here.
Exits: NS-W ——– U-
-> w
Tundra
You are in an area cut from frozen rock. The rock walls to the north, east and west rise out of sight above you. Cut into the east wall is a stairway leading down onto a dry canal bed. The rock to the south slopes away out of sight and appears to be made of ice. It is bloody freezing here.
Exits: -SE- ——– -D

Straight from a desert to a tundra. Just a few more steps takes you to a warmer place; a “glacial channel” with a steel door and a “minute hole in a chromium disc set in the rock next to the door”. The orange pin goes in (and pops out) unlocking the door.

Facing Passage
You are in a narrow passage cut into solid rock. The room is lit by a strange irridescent glow from the rock walls and ceiling. To the north is a steel door, to the south is a square arch set in the rock. There is a sign on the east wall and a digital clock on the west wall. It is quite warm here.
Exits: -S– ——– —
-> examine clock
The clock appears to be broken, but is showing a time of five past one.

The clock is not intended as a tragic piece of set-building, but rather a hint for the mechanism that is to come. A few rooms away is a “control centre” (which you can enter via white pin) which is a little hard to process.

Control Centre
You are in a brightly lit, partially derelict control centre set in solid rock. Most of the apparatus has been destroyed, however some still appears viable. There are three buttons, coloured red, orange and green; two switches, coloured blue and yellow; two knobs, one green, the other red; one lever and two digital gauges, one orange, the other blue. There is a steel door to the east.

It took me a while to get comfy, and a good hour was spent just with me pushing buttons in various combinations and taking notes on if things changed, but:

a.) the green and red knobs do nothing; there’s some dark rooms which they might presumably light up but the mechanism is no longer working

b.) the lever lets you press the “orange button” which activates a pad I’ll show off in a moment

c.) the red and green buttons connect to the orange and blue gauges and run through the numbers 1 through 9 (or sometimes 10) and 1 through 20

d.) the blue switch gives off a mechanism grinding sound, and the yellow one does as well (as long as the number settings haven’t changed since you’ve set off the blue switch)

-> turn blue switch
You hear the distant sounds of hydraulic machinery moving into action, followed by a brief grinding noise, and finally a reverberating clunk.

If you play around with different gauge settings and using the blue switch quite a lot, you can die in an amusing way.

Click.
You hear the distant sounds of hydraulic machinery moving into action, followed
by a brief grinding noise, and finally a reverberating clunk.
There is a tremendous rise in temperature, accompanied by a deafening bang and a huge emission of gases. Modern-day research scientists use the term ‘explosion’ for such an event.
You’ve been Chernobbled.
Phase 6 (Radiation)
Mode: Expert
You have scored 525 (out of 1670) points in 1929 moves.
Rooms visited: 301. Rank achieved: Mega-galactic Genius.

Oops! At least this makes clear where you are. If you press the red button four times, setting the gauges to 5 and 1 respectively (5 past 1) you get something useful — a passage opens up that was previously closed.

End Passage
You are in a narrow passage cut into solid rock. There is a narrow exit to the south. The room is lit by a strange irridescent glow from the rock walls and ceiling. It is warm here.
Exits: NS– ——– —
-> s
Nuclear Core
You are in a very warm room.
Exits: N— ——– —
There is a hand-held receiver here

The receiver has a touch screen which is normally blank unless you’ve activated the orange button, as I’ve mentioned before. It gives a map.

|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|- -|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|
O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O
|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|
O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O
|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|
O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O
|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|
O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O
|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|
O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O
|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|
O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O
|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|
O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O
|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|
O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O
|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|
O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O   O
|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|-O-|

The gap at the top is the room you’ve just opened. You opened the passage designated (5, 1). You can press the green button to increment the second number; what happens is like this:

Each of the green numbers (changed by pushing the green button) indicates a different exit; you can switch the mechanism to the particular exit and then open it with the blue switch (but remember you can’t open too many or the whole thing explodes!) You can incidentally go “off the grid” and find a dark room, but there’s nothing I found any of the dark rooms, so I’m guessing they’re a red herring. The touchpad map fortunately updates whenever you make a change so it is easy to work out what’s going on (once you know to start checking the touchpad!)

The red button (and corresponding number) match with what column you’re at. I dutifully mapped the entire thing out just in case, finding a violet pin (absolutely useless) and a lead box with a uranium rod. The rod is useful; there’s another one of those “locked doors with a small holes” nearby, except none of the pins (including the recently-found violet one) work. No, you have to use the uranium rod, which pops the exit open to Phase 7 (Inversion).

Decontamination Chamber
You are in a small antisceptic room. The room is devoid of any fixtures or fittings other than a ladder fixed to one wall. A few feet above the top of the ladder is a hole in the ceiling. There is an overpowering smell of disinfectant.
Exits: —W ——– U-
-> diagnose
You are feeling a bit off colour.

I’m a little worried about the diagnosis, but I did go back and try optimizing steps and so forth; you lose some health in the desert (even if you go at maximum speed and ignore the skeleton) and you lose some health in the radiation area (again, even at max speed).

At the top of the ladder is the telephone with the odd repeating message. Going a bit farther finds an office building asking for a security code, which you can helpfully extract from information quite a ways back in the game, phase 2 to be exact:

Having everything catalogued on a blog can be helpful sometimes!

Voila:

Catwalk
You are on a high, fenced catwalk. At the eastern end of the catwalk is a building with a door. Set in the wall next to the door is an intercom, which has a orange button on it.
Exits: —W ——– —
-> push button
Click.
The button illuminates. A metallic voice emanates from the intercom and says
‘Photoscan completed. State your ID’. The light in the button goes out.
-> say 8371235483183271
‘8371235483183271’
There is a muted click from behind the door.

The inside of the building has a “derelict landing” which goes a long way both up and down; the way up is blocked by a creature I haven’t dealt with yet.

-> look at drongoid
The drongoid is truly a most awesome creature. It has the build of a brick shithouse, is coloured a disgusting shade of putrid green, has two heads and eight beady little eyes. Most probably the product of some horrible radioactive mutation the creature oozes slime and smegma over its molten skin. Of its many limbs some appear to have been derived from traditional arms and legs, but their uses are apparently interchangeable as it occasionally shifts its weight from one combination of appendages to another. As the saying goes, ‘I would steer well clear of that one’.

I’ve still not fully explored everything — going all the way down hits a subway system — but I do want to mention one more item in the office building, a security computer. It asks for a password.

With no other clues as to the password, I checked with HINT and found it was a word I’d heard an awful lot. Thinking back to that repeating message, I typed BUSINESS.

> type business
Typed.
A tinny voice is emitted from the terminal, it says:
“Invoking security scan. Please answer the following questions.”
The screen is displaying:
Type in the notional square root of -1.

Then what follows is a very long trivia quiz/riddle sequence. Some questions are easy…

Shakespearian play set in Scotland, the name of the play being regarded as unlucky in theatrical circles.

…and some questions are ridiculous.

8200, obtained by writing a C program which checked every numerical value from 1 to 9999. The variable f isn’t even defined, so I’m a little baffled here.

For anyone playing along and struggling, I’ve got a full list of solutions in ROT13 here for the entire sequence. The end result is the ability to enter text commands on the terminal, which I think have something to do with the subway system underground.

-> type help
Typed.
The screen displays:
The permitted commands are:
Select
Activate
Direction
Open
Close
Display
Status
Help
Autostatus
Autodisplay
-> type status
Typed.
The screen displays:
Unit Status:
Unit 3 Brake Fault.
Unit selected = 1.
Unit Direction: Reverse.
-> type display
Typed.
The screen displays:
Local Circuit:

       O__
          \
           \
       O____\___+______O

I’ll puzzle this out a bit more next time.

I do want to make one final observation that while those colored pins we’ve been toting around finally were useful, two of them were not, and the split-in-two card additionally seems to be a complete bust. Ferret really tries hard to set up its red herrings far beyond any other game I’ve ever played.

You could have missed the second half of this card back at the horrid maze and it wouldn’t have mattered.

Posted November 8, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Ferret: Taste the Rainbow   29 comments

(Prior posts on Ferret here.)

As I sadly predicted, the riddles went along pretty fast and the puzzle right after caused progress to again come to a halt.

Data General Eclipse circa 1979, via science70.

So to not leave you in suspense from last time:

The inscription appears to be a mixture of ancient and modern English:

Round (3nm + 3f + 4c + 2y) m

I had previously sussed out “y” might be “yards” and “nm” might be “nautical miles” and that this was a simple length calculation (where you round the number to the closest integer at the end) but I was having trouble with “f” and “c”, which turned out to be “furlongs” and “chains” specifically.

This comes out to be 6242 meters, so the password is “6242”.

-> say 6242
‘6242’
There is a tremendous rumbling under the floor beneath you as some great and ancient force comes to life. The whole room begins to shake showering you in sand and dust. Just as the rumbling begins to subside, the whole of the east wall starts to descend gradually, and the rumbling continues afresh. The wall slowly slips down until it comes to rest with a jolt, its top now level with the surrounding floor. The sand and dust are blown out of the room by a slight draught. It is now quiet.
-> e
Blue Room
You are in a room where the walls, floor and ceiling have been carved from beautiful blue rock.
Exits: —W ——– —
There is a strange inscription on the east wall.
There is a platinum sphere here

The next riddle asks to convert

101010010010001000101 100000 100111010101011001101100001010001011010010
100000 10011111000110 100000 101010010010001000101 100000
10000101000101100000110100111010100

from binary to text (“THE NUMBER OF THE BEAST”), followed by another riddle that asks you to convert

54 48 45 4E 41 4D 45 4F 46 54 48 45 47 41 4D 45

from hexadecimal to text (“FERRET”). The next riddle was a little less of a breeze:

This inscription appears to be a bit of a period piece and looks like this:

5  8 86
   7
15   64

I did manage to realize “period piece” was referring to the periodic table, and the 5 and 86 are referring to Boron (Bo) and Radon (Rn) respectively and their positions on the table, and 7 probably meant Nitrogen (N). But the 15 and 64 don’t lead to anything sensible; the trick here is to not convert the last portion, so the whole text reads as “BORN N 1564”, which leads to the answer SHAKESPEARE.

‘shakespeare’
There is a tremendous rumbling under the floor beneath you as some great and ancient force comes to life. The whole room begins to shake showering you in sand and dust. Just as the rumbling begins to subside, the whole of the east wall starts to descend gradually, and the rumbling continues afresh. The wall slowly slips down until it comes to rest with a jolt, its top now level with the surrounding floor. The sand and dust are blown out of the room by a slight draught. It is now quiet.
-> e
White Room
You are in a room where the walls, floor and ceiling have been carved from beautiful white rock.
Exits: —W ——– —
There is a brown pin here

At last, the final pin! To recap, I’d been finding colored pins since phase 2, and there was a suggestive card that indicated there would be four of them:

The pieces of this card are also spread out over two phases.

With items picked up along the way, my inventory was now:

  an orange pin
  a white pin
  a black pin
  a brown pin
  a length of steel wire
  a curved wooden splint
  a steel bolt
  a plastic sheet
  a titanium orb
  a ferrite ball
  a platinum sphere

Getting to the white room (which has no inscription and no new exits) required reaching a red room, orange room, grey room, tangerine room, blue room, indigo room, and violet room in order. The blue room has a “platinum sphere”, the indigo room has a “ferrite ball”, and the violet room has a “titanium orb”.

This is highly suggestive that the colored pins need to be dropped in the right rainbow rooms (and maybe the metal balls too?) which will cause something to unlock.

Trivial, right? The “gap” in the rainbow seems to be grey, so brown goes there. Maybe opposite of black is white? Where does white and orange go then? That’s only two pins to test, surely it won’t be too hard to test all the possibilities and finish this off and —

— well, no, that didn’t work. Nor did any other combination I tried. The “hint” feature (which previously never worked, and now magically gives hints once the riddles start) just says

Go down on it.

which I’ve only been able to parse as “go down in frequency on the visible spectrum”, that is, from red down to violet. I’m still quite close to just ramming every single possibility into a Python script and letting it do the work.

The big issue here, game-design wise, is similar to one with the desert. With the desert, you have to comb many, many, empty rooms, enough to make most players question if they’re taking the right approach, only to find an important location in a random direction. Here, despite my guesswork “feeling” right, it’s unclear if I’m even heading in the right direction. This is quite similar to my complaints about second-order puzzles, where two “reasonable” puzzle manipulations become much harder to work out when they are required in combination without intermediate feedback.

My next post is going to be another one-shot, but don’t worry, I’m stubbornly hanging on Ferret for now, even if the next portion of the game only falls via brute force.

Posted November 3, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Ferret: Riddles in the Dark   22 comments

(Prior posts on Ferret here.)

This is another one of those “audience participation” posts; even if you’re just reading about Ferret rather than playing along, you might be able to contribute to this one.

To continue from last time, I was lost in a desert. I had surmised, based on being able to drop an item and find it stayed in the room, that there was only one desert room repeated over and over.

-> fire bolt at sand
Twang!
The bolt bounces off, causing no damage.
-> l
Desert
You are in a hot and dry desert. You can see nothing around except sand and
more sand.
There is a steel bolt here
-> ne
Desert
You are in a hot and dry desert. You can see nothing around except sand, and
more sand.
-> l
Desert
You are in a hot and dry desert. You can see nothing around except sand and
more sand.
There is a steel bolt here

This maybe was 80% of what led me astray, but the other 20% was not anticipating the sheer chutzpah of the challenge posed ahead. Even though there is only one “room”, the game keeps track of where the player avatar is and getting further in the game requires finding the right coordinates. Hence the task: map the desert looking for special locations, square by square.

Since you die after 31 steps, there was a lot of systematic save/restore cycle going. I also started heavily using the up-arrow feature (where you can skip back to previous commands) and the ability to use long streams of commands (like e;e;e;e;e;e;e;e;e;e meaning to go east ten times in a row). Once I got a pattern going it wasn’t too bad trying to fill in a grid, and once I expanded to 10 steps in all directions I finally found something (to give credit, Damian Murphy got there first).

Desert
You are in a hot and dry desert. Half buried in the shifting sands you can see the remains of a previous explorer, whose bones have been bleached white by the oppresive sun.
There is a skeleton here

This is official 10 steps east and 6 steps north of the starting room, although you can shortcut NE so it takes less than 16 steps to get there.

Moving the skeleton reveals a tin containing a plastic sheet; assuming this is a useful item, it meant that the skeleton required a visit, so the “range of exploration” became much smaller. I decided to focus on the northeast quadrant relative to the starting point.

Eventually I hit onto the fact if you take 10 more steps east and 6 more steps north you arrive at another new location:

Desert
You are in a hot and dry desert. There are some steps to the northeast which lead down.
You momentarily feel a little faint.
-> ne
Top of Steps
You are standing at the top of a set of steps which have been carved into the ancient sandstone. All around you is desert as far as your eyes can see. You can vaguely see something at the bottom of the steps glinting in the light of overhead sun. Go on, go for it.
Exits: NSEW NENWSESW -D
You momentarily feel a little faint.
-> d
Bottom of Steps
You are at the bottom of some steps carved into the ancient sandstone. Above you, you can see the blinding sun shining down. There is a tarnished bronze plate set into the west wall at an angle of exactly 45 degrees. There is a dark and gloomy exit to the east.
Exits: –E- ——– U-

The “feeling faint” part is from walking out in the desert sun long enough to start dying; fortunately, the messages stop once at the bottom of the steps.

From the east of the steps there is a dark place. The “angle of exactly 45 degrees” signaled quite strongly to me that the sun was meant to be a resource here, and one CLEAN PLATE later the passage was illuminated:

Red Room
You are in a room where the walls, floor and ceiling have been carved from beautiful red rock.
There is a strange inscription on the east wall.

The inscription is the first riddle. I’m going to avoid putting the solution here and let people try in the comments.

251521’1805 141520 07052020091407
16011920 20080919 04151518 2114200912
09 190125 1915

Getting the riddle correct dramatically opens a second room.

There is a tremendous rumbling under the floor beneath you as some great and ancient force comes to life. The whole room begins to shake showering you in sand and dust. Just as the rumbling begins to subside, the whole of the east wall starts to descend gradually, and the rumbling continues afresh. The wall slowly slips down until it comes to rest with a jolt, its top now level with the surrounding floor. The sand and dust are blown out of the room by a slight draught. It is now quiet.

The second room has another riddle; answering that one correctly leads to a third riddle.

+------------------+
| ferret .. bannap |
| ?????? .. xwzcan |
+------------------+

+-------------------------------+
|           I XII XII           |
|         XX VIII I XX          |
| VII XII -- --- XX V ----- --- |
|            IX XIX             |
|          XIV XV XX            |
|        VII XV XII IV          |
+-------------------------------+

It’s the fourth riddle where I (and Damian) are now stuck. I do have some theories but I’m going to hold off on them because I don’t want to pre-dispose people down the wrong path if it turns out my thinking is wrong. I will make further discussion in the comments, though. (For this post, don’t bother with ROT13 — I know some people would rather not fuss about with it, and I’d like anyone who comes by to be welcome to give a stab at the puzzle.)

The inscription appears to be a mixture of ancient and modern English:

Round (3nm + 3f + 4c + 2y) m

Posted October 31, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Ferret: The Wall   21 comments

(Previous posts here.)

It’s odd, given the complexities of before, to get stuck on what amounts to a one-room puzzle, but that’s what is happening here. I made it to a desert…

Desert
You are in a hot and dry desert. You can see nothing around except sand and
more sand.
-> move sand
You should be so lucky, try to move Everest Mohammed.
-> look up
You are nearly blinded by the light.

…and that’s been it. Nothing I’ve tried has resulted in anything useful.

From Computerworld, 15 January 1979.

It could be, of course, there was some sort of inadequate setup in the past, like a missing item or such in phase 1. However, the various “inventory reset” points have kept the phases from passing off too much to each other. While, perhaps, there was some exceedingly abstruse way to keep, say, the sphere from the opening of the game (that when you break it causes you to die of toxic case) and that somehow it will do something useful in a large desert … I register low odds here.

But there’s always the possibility of missing something from phase 4; the teleport doesn’t let you bring heavy objects, but there could be a missing light one, like a special item that can be used to find a route through the desert.

Phase 4 in particular had a “long plank” that was never used and feels suspicious in terms of visiting a new area (which might have the aforementioned light item):

Bedroom
You are in, what apparently was once, a bedroom. However, the east side of the
room has subsided into a deep ravine, leaving only a ledge for you to stand on.
Beyond the ravine you can see the remains of the east side of the bedroom, also
with a ledge.
Exits: –EW ——– -D
There are some interesting objects here:
a shabby mattress
a long plank
an aquamarine tile
-> get plank
You’re not strong enough.

The “you’re not strong enough” I’ve seen before, when my health was merely “ok” (as opposed to “fine”) and my inventory capacity was reduced. Health can fall when you make a big fall or when you drink bad water or you get pummeled by the monk or you spend time in the desert. There’s “mouth-watering food” that restores health…

-> eat food
Hmmm…. That was delicious.

…but there’s only one, and it is too heavy to carry it and the laser cannon at the same time (which is necessary to do even for making it to the jungle section). Unless I’m missing some resource I don’t think this is the problem. I did spend some time back in phase 1 trying to juggle my food forward (the thing that restores health) just in case but it really is set in the game as too heavy.

Another possible past-issue might be closer to the moment of jumping into the teleporter. In order to arrive there, you fill a pool with water, dive in, and then wait a very long time for the pool to run out of water.

Swimming Pool
You are in a room lit by a suffuse glow. The room contains a swimming pool, with a small ledge along the eastern edge.
Exits: —- ——– —
You are wallowing in the water.
The swimming pool contains:
some water
The level of the water in the pool is going down.
-> wait
Time passes (yawn).
The level of the water in the pool is going down.
-> wait
Time passes (yawn).
The level of the water in the pool is going down.
-> wait
Time passes (yawn).
The level of the water in the pool is going down.
-> wait
Time passes (yawn).
The level of the water in the pool is going down.
-> wait
Time passes (yawn).
The level of the water in the pool is going down.

It is possible to put an item in the pool and have it get sucked down to the hidden chamber. I’ve tried leaving wire tied to the splint (formerly a bow) and climbing down the wire somehow to get into the hidden chamber early while it is still watery, but no luck.

-> tie wire to splint
The wire is tied to one end of the splint.
The level of the water in the pool is going down.
-> put splint in pool
Done.
It falls to the floor of the pool, rolls around for a bit on the steeply
inclined floor and then disappears out of sight.
The level of the water in the pool is going down.

A third possibility might that the teleporter setting is just wrong somehow. The score goes up by arriving at the Inner Sanctum, but there isn’t another score increase by entering the teleporter. The touchscreen which shows the Inner Sanctum might present some opportunity here but all my attempts at fiddling with it (and moving it around and rotating the wall) have had no influence on the teleporter destination.

A fourth possibility is that I really do have enough to reckon with the desert already, and I need some … magic verb or action or something? When I first arrived at the cathedral I was stuck for a while before finding I could PUSH (direction) WALL to move around, and pretty much any other command gave nothing useful, so there might still be some special trick I’m missing. My odds are still currently on a missing item from phase 4, though.

(My next post, by the way, will be on a one-shot post on a different adventure — I and possibly you could use a little variety. Definitely not giving up on this one, though!)

ADD: There’s a version 10.01 of Ferret up at the website. It seems to be compatible with prior save game files. The authors also have their own “minimal” version now so you don’t need to bother with mine.

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

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