Archive for the ‘forbidden-city’ Tag

Forbidden City: Rise (and Fall) of the Robots   4 comments

I managed to finish, so as usual previous posts are needed for context, and complete spoilers ahead.

Before I get into the gameplay, a bit of history. Forbidden City happens to be (via an unofficial translation) one of the only text adventures ever published in the USSR, and I’m not sure if the original author (Demas) even knows about it.

Aaron Reed recently wrote about P.R.E.S.T.A.V.B.A., a parody game published in Czech for the ZX Spectrum which includes a copy of Marx’s Kapital in a toilet and an inspiring newspaper editorial that is required to solve a puzzle (“YOU IMMEDIATELY ACQUIRED A TASTE FOR WORK, WHICH IS AN ESSENTIAL HONOR FOR ANY SOCIALIST CITIZEN TO DO.”) Jim Gerrie has translated the game into English so you can go play it yourself. For obvious reasons — the Velvet Revolution was still a year away — the game was distributed slowly and the author Miroslav Fídler intentionally mangled the source code to hide its authorship.

That’s not the case with Město Robotů (Robot City) from 1989, which had sponsorship from the Czech government, and is a direct translation of Forbidden City.

Image from Spectrum Computing. Despite the official nod for the game itself, the cover artist, Kája Saudek, was banned from mainstream media.

The game, programmed by Vít Libovický, was released as part of a contest by Zenitcentrum Beroun, a center for computing run by the state. There were ads on Czechoslovak Television and in the press. It went for sale “early” before it was meant to be playable — a password to unlock the game was given on air on September 21, 1989, but the password turned out to be easy to crack and the contest had to be cancelled, so winners were drawn by lottery instead.

“A science fiction computer game. Produced by Zenitcentrum to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Pionýr Organization of the Socialist Union of Youth.” Screenshots (and the information about the game) from an article in the book Gaming Globally.

As a side note, the contest inspired a second game a year later from students at the Electrotechnical University in Pilsen: …and what about that?! It is set in a time after the Soviet bloc fell. It involved the main character, a journalist, being tasked to write about Brazilian coffee and discovering a conspiracy in the process. Instead of being a parser game it used hypertext (inspired by, of all things, the help system of Turbo Pascal). I have not been able to find a copy of the game or screenshots.

A print advertisement. While the game itself has one friendly robot, as you’ll see, there’s overall much more violence than the picture indicates.

Back to the Forbidden City! And not the 1981 original, but the mid-80s Macintosh port, which — with the exception of a few textual messages — is very close to the TRS-80 version.

I had been stuck on an area that it turned out I had entirely mined out for resources already — my miss was assuming that the dark area that the monorail passed through needed to be skipped and returned to. One of my objects already was capable of being a light source.

TWIST was not on my standard verb list (it is now). I had already tried TURN and ROTATE, neither which work.

In my taxonomy of guess-the-verb

Struggling to Communicate (know to do something, but unable to convey it)
Receiving Bad Information (a verb which could be considered a synonym gives a misleading message)
Hidden (not realizing there was a verb that wasn’t guessed correctly)

this mostly fits under “Hidden”, but I will say (unlike back in Hezarin where I tried to YELL, found the verb lacking, and decided that wasn’t a solution) there was very little intention in my attempting “turn” on the rod. In truth, I visualize twist as a slightly different action (turning the two ends in opposite directions). I suppose the dangling question is: was there any way of me solving this without looking up the answer outright, which I did? A “focus on fiddling with the rod” hint might have done it — I might have even consciously though “what if I twist both ends” — but this still seems like a stumble in a gameplay sense without some extra in-game nudge. The description of the rod from The Staff “Slake” comes to mind, which explicitly says “Its bottom seems worn from tapping against the ground” as both an action and verb signal; maybe the rod could have a similar message about smudges or the like.

Moving on: I found a grotto with a control panel where a yellow button let me open a “dead end” that had tokens and a hostile robot I had to SHOOT with my laser.

Past this point there was a continuous stream of robots appearing. They could appear at any moment and there was no restriction as to how many times a robot would appear in a row, and while they only sometimes (randomly) kill the player, I had to essentially stop to SHOOT ROBOT every time one appeared. This was both intense and annoying. Certainly in a plot sense it made the whole thing more dynamic (and more like the game’s original cover) but there were moments were stopping to shoot was fatal and there’s a limit to laser shots (90) so what was originally slow exploration turned into a mad race (and given the puzzles end up being “decipher what these mystery buttons do” genre, there was an unfortunate clash).

With the tokens in hand, I was able to take the monorail to the third stop, scarf up all the items, and then a fourth and final stop, which had a box with two buttons and a nuclear reactor with a red key.

The reactor makes you irradiated but there’s a nearby decontamination room with a button that cures you; the timing is very tight so you can’t make any stops on the way (that includes shooting a laser at a killer robot if they’re following).

Having raided the fourth station, I took my newfound red key, took it back to the dark station, and after INSERT RED and TURN RED on a control panel the lights for the underground stayed on (which is good, because the light source doesn’t have much juice). I incidentally did not get the TURN on my own and it is the only part of the game where this is required, even on other key locations.

With the power on I was able to use one of those beam-activated doors I had been encountering to enter an underground building.

The building featured a “teleportation station” between floors…

This uses the magnetic card I had been toting around. Also, if you take the green radiation stone in the lead container you get fried, so you have to leave it behind.

…an unmoving robot in a storage room, a robot assembly room, and a security outpost.

The “cartridge” from the robot assembly could be put into the unmoving robot to make a new robot buddy that would follow me around. In the security outpost I found a vent by LOOKing and was able to unscrew it with a screwdriver found on one of the other floors (if you stay too long or have a hostile robot chasing you, the robots at the security station notice and kill you). Through the vent I found a place where I could insert my green key I had been toting around for a while and use it to disable the robots continuously chasing me. Whew!

(This sounded short and smooth, but it took many attempts with lots of false attempts and deaths from the random hostile robots that kept appearing.)

I’m not going to detail every event that happens (and lever that gets pushed, and beam of light that turns out to be fatal rather than helpful, …) but I eventually found a place I could use the “overload” feature of my laser (since I didn’t need it to zap hostile robots anymore)…

…and a control room where Helpful Robot Buddy hit some buttons, although I wasn’t clear what they did…

…and I eventually wound up at a spaceship.

Just in case you forgot, we had crash landed before, so our goal is to get off the planet. It wasn’t clear until this moment.

There’s some very awkward confusion about what buttons to push where — the endgame really is all about deciphering the effect of buttons — and I eventually realized the “small box” that came from near the irradiated plant with two buttons worked here. To get the spaceship moving it needed power, which turned out to be in the form of the radiation-laden stone from the lead container I had to leave behind while teleporting around. (After consulting some more hints I realized there was a room I could leave it in and a lever I could pull to make sure it was accessible from a different floor. This turned out not to be hard, necessarily, but I was getting lost in a swarm of buttons by then.)

However, the green stone is still radioactive and will still kill you after exposure! This was a nice bit of parallelism in the previous puzzle where I thought, perhaps, there was some sort of decontamination process. However, it turns out your robot buddy is still around, and you can get it to take the stone out and put it in the power for you. You still can’t be standing around, but if you go back to the “launch control station” you can operate the robot there.

In principle I was ok with the late-game puzzles; in practice, I kept dying from things exploding or getting sucked into space or just getting confused from various other wrong-button-press actions.

Still, like with all the Demas games, there were lots of strong ideas, and the weird-alien-techno-planet atmosphere came off well. If I had to rank the games, this is the best one — if nothing else, holding to a consistent set of ideas in a way that felt like puzzle actions and plot were the same, as opposed to puzzles being a way to view more plot. I honestly wish he had kept writing — this was a small burst of creativity from when he was very young, and this will be the last game we see of his.

(Unless I expand the project past adventures to action education games. Not happening, though.)

Art by Craig Sadler, including all the nice Macintosh screens you’ve been seeing.

Posted August 12, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Forbidden City: Stuck   5 comments

Disk for the Macintosh port of Forbidden City, via Mobygames.

Yes, it’s yet another “I didn’t make much progress, but I’m going to try writing anyway” post (a tradition going back to Zork, Philosopher’s Quest and Gargoyle’s Castle). There’s both a walkthrough and hints, but I’ve been resistant because:

a.) I finally got the Futuria file extracted so I can play on a regular Mac emulator (I learned about exciting details like the difference between Apple’s Macintosh File System and Hierarchical File System, experienced the world’s most unhelpful error messages, and finally resolved my issues when I switched to PCE which happened to have the right utilities built in). The amount of effort I put in to get the game to play normally makes me hesitant to just speed through.

…okay, maybe that’s it. A variation on the sunk cost fallacy. The graphics are appealing and the parser doesn’t seem nightmarish (although given the previous game made some awful parser choices, I shouldn’t rely on surface appearances). I suppose I shouldn’t have to excuse patience, which is a … virtue? … but it means a slower blogging schedule.

As usual, I made a full verb list:

Nothing too remarkable to observe but I need to remember USE is in play as sort of a dread wild card (when the game throws in the towel in trying to figure out how to parse an action, USE is the go-to). I also need to keep SMELL in mind, and what’s INVOKE doing there? I think I’ve had that on a grand total of one previous game, the kind of verb like SCRAPE I only leave on the list due to stubbornness. It could be some different verb, but the parser is taking the first four letters, so it has to start INVO. (>INVOICE DRUNK PERSON FOR THE DAMAGES MADE TO THE BAR)

I am stuck with a monorail I can’t move because a voice asks for a coin; I’ve used one to pass through two stops (the second one was underground and dark) but the monorail won’t move any farther without another.

I suppose a reason b.) for being resistant to hints is that the map I’m stuck on is so small. It is possible I missed something earlier, but even including the dark area at the second monorail stop (where I already tried stumbling around, grabbing items off the ground I couldn’t see, etc.) I’m thoroughly scoured everything before this point.

My items available are

Beaker (full of oil): I already used to lubricate a lever in the monorail so it would move, but the beaker can be emptied and filled with another fluid (assuming one comes up).

Green key: Nothing locked yet.

Canister (made of lead) containing a glowing green stone: Radioactive! You die after holding the unshielded stone for enough turns but there isn’t a need I’ve found so far to ditch the container. It is possible the stone is intended as a light source (for the underground area) but I haven’t been able to move the monorail back to it.

Strange Device: Normally glows green, but as noted in the screenshot above, it glows red when radiation is near.

Chemicals: They explode when you MIX them. I haven’t been able to get any other result.

Plastic Rod: “Deadly fumes fill the air” when you BREAK it.

Plastic Card: “Seems to be magnetic.” I’ve tried using it to rescue the coin used earlier to move the monorail to be able to move it again, no luck with any verbs.

Laser Pistol: “There’s a small knob on it and 90 charges.” The knob sets it to overload and explode (you have enough time to drop and run away). You can shoot one of the robots at the construction site but then they all attack and kill you.

I’m still suspicious of the magnetic card, even though I’ve technically run through the entire verb list I’ve made. However, I’m also thinking there might be only one coin; the one I found is described as a “Small Token” as opposed to using some sort of color and COIN works as a synonym; for other items where there are multiples, the parser asks you explicitly to refer to the item by color (that includes, for example, the green key, even though there are no other keys nearby).

If the coin is irretrievable, that leaves either hacking the monorail with some other method, or even just moving on (perhaps at the construction site with the robots). I sincerely doubt the monorail is meant to be ignored now, though, as the “dark area” includes a two-room map; but maybe there’s a loop back to that area?

Going in a “wrong direction” leads to the player character falling and breaking their neck.

I’ve already shown a screenshot of what happens when you try to shoot a robot; if you try to blow them up by setting the laser pistol to explode nothing happens (you can’t throw the pistol at them like with the cube). They’re said to be building a nuclear reactor so possibly the stone will help “make friends” with them — although my efforts towards this so far have been for naught. Still, my intuition tells me the stone is just intended as a light source (meaning the timing of getting sick and dying leads to a timer for how long you can stay in the dark area).

I’m happy to take suggestions if you haven’t played before, but please no outright hints from anyone who has checked the solution (for now).

Posted August 6, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Forbidden City (1981)   3 comments

Here is the finale to William Demas’s very busy 1981 (see: Timequest, The Golden Voyage, Forbidden Planet), just squeaking in at the end.

From the January 1982 edition of 80 Micro. I’m considering the magazine lag time to be one month, and copyright on the game itself lists 1981.

Just like its predecessor, this one talks in its TRS-80 original incarnation, and the talking is absolutely terrible.

(If the audio player doesn’t show above, click here to listen. The sounds are “Welcome to Forbidden City”, “Password Please”, and “OK”. I cut off there, because the gameplay is followed by “OK” about 10 more times.)

Additionally, it also had a conversion to Macintosh several years later, under the name Futuria. I’ve having some emulation troubles with both the TRS-80 and Mac versions (can’t save my game in the former, can only play an online emulated version of the latter because Diskcopy on my virtual Mac doesn’t want to recognize the file) so I’m muddling my way through with both versions the best I can.

The action continues directly from the previous game, as (after crash landing on a planet) we arrive at a mysterious city. I assume the object is to find some sort of space vehicle and escape (although who knows, maybe we can become God of the Robots and settle down).

After some minor opening shenanigans involving a codeword to open the front door (“The Password is: 3 15 19 13 9 3”) and a long tunnel, you arrive in a city where the doors will kill you.

The map is pretty tight here; there’s just a few buildings, one guarded by a robot, and a monorail. The robot is unfortunately of the same type of enemy NPC in the previous game that attacks when a random roll hits, which means it can attack and kill you on sight (since you need to get by the robot once before taking it down, this means you can have “unwinnable” randomness).

Just past the robot is a cube with a red button that explodes on a timer.

I was stumped for a bit on the electrocuting doors until I tried “FEEL BEAM” with the beam of light just outside — this caused the door to open.

The steps are FEEL BEAM, ENTER DOOR. Don’t try to enter the door without using the beam first or you’ll die. This seems unnecessarily hazardous, but there might be some later backstory that explains why the doors are trying to kill you.

I managed to collect a BEAKER, CHEMICALS (that explode if you try to mix them)…

…a PLASTIC ROD (that lets out deadly gas if you break it), a STRANGE DEVICE (“It’s glowing / light / green”), a COIN, and some OIL from the exploded robot (into the beaker). I was able to use the coin in the monorail and the oil on a lever inside to get it to move. It eventually slowed down and stopped in a tunnel that was entirely dark.

I tried valiantly to get a light to come on, but failed; however, I missed the fact that the lever could be moved another time to get the monorail to another destination, this time outside of the tunnel.

Nearby the new monorail stop are a green key, a magnetic card, and a laser pistol just lying around, and some robots that appear to be building a nuclear reactor…

…but since the monorail asks for a coin to move it again, I’m stuck here. I do have some strong suspicions about what to try next but this felt like a good place to stop. I will say, despite the frustrating amounts of death (I’ve forgotten to open doors and subsequently died three times now) the design has been relatively smooth (I especially liked the obviousness of “just move the monorail past the dark place” which still took me a few beats to get), and the map is constrained enough I haven’t feel the despair of sprawl I sometimes do on these games.

Posted August 1, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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