Archive for the ‘katakombs’ Tag

Katakombs (1982)   13 comments

From Acorn Electron World.

Due to a favorable contract between the company Acorn and the British government, the BBC Micro became the de facto choice for schools in the UK, kind of like the Apple II was in the United States; as one ad proclaimed, it made up 80% of purchases “under the current D.O.I. Primary School Scheme”. This is despite the BBC Micro being a more expensive choice out of various options — £300 for the lower-end initial models, as opposed to (for example) the ZX Spectrum being priced at £125. (The Electron was released after the BBC Micro as a home alternative, but was still priced higher than the ZX Spectrum at £199.)

The important thing is that the Micro had a built in “educational” audience, so some companies dived in on that end of the pool, like the obscure Golem Ltd, which hailed from Bracknell, just a bit west of London.

From “Games of Logic”, where the idea here is to change the order of the letters to be alphabetical by reversing the order of groups of letters (the groups can be any size but they always start from the leftmost letter). Link to play online, if you’re keen.

Nearly all their titles were educational, essentially cranked out in the same 82-84 period as Richard Shepherd Software (who we just saw with Super Spy).

Acorn User, October 1982.

In a Westminster Exhibition Catalog from December 1983 they describe themselves as “a small company of computer experts” where their educational software is “now used in hundreds of schools throughout the country”. They tossed out one adventure game in the mix, no doubt trying to cash in the same craze everyone else was.

I’ll admit at least the cover art is striking on this one. From the Complete BBC Micro Game Archive.

The game must have done relatively well because there are two versions, a “plain scrolling” black and white version from 1982 and one from a year later that adds a little bit of color. I don’t know if they tried to angle this one at the educational market too; this late 1983 ad lists it neutrally as a selection along with “Educational 1”, “Educational 2” (see tape image at the start of this post), and “Fun With Words”.

Newer on the left, older on the right.

As you can probably guess from the “high spirits and low cunning” nicked from Crowther/Woods, this is another treasure hunt, this time with 9 treasures.

It’s curious how many of the treasure hunt adventures I’ve played have the player character not actually make off with the loot, despite this being the norm from Dungeons and Dragons. The only adventure I can remember that did explicit currency conversion was Spelunker from 1979. Crowther/Woods has you store things in a building, but are you taking it away further, or is it meant to be a Cave Museum of sorts? O’Hare’s game The Great Pyramid has you take all the treasures of the pyramid to a room inside the pyramid. Hamil had the treasure collection as a proof-of-worth, and test of your royal blood. In some of the games that don’t make it explicit like Inca Curse I think it’s still clearly implied you’re taking the loot, but it weirdly is only the norm maybe half the time.

I bring this up because — at least according to the instructions on the tape for Katakombs — the treasures here get deposited in a crypt. That does not sound like you’re stealing them. Maybe it’s a bizarre prank?

This game has the very regular start of the Adventure clone with a forest and items strewn about; in this case you can snag “one green bottle”, “some matches”, an “old parafin lamp”, “a sharp sword”, “some tasty food”, “red berries”, and a “white candle”. That’s seven items, but you have an inventory limit of six, so you have to choose one to leave behind to go underground.

And I do mean leave behind, because the way to go underground is to fall in a trap door. I haven’t been able to make it back outdoors yet. I’m not even certain if there is a way.

The wicked Trdlo gets you if you try to wander without a light source.

Underground, lots of items and puzzles present themselves, but few answers. Grabbing the surface level items again (including ones from solving mazes, which I’m skimming over because they’re really plain this time):

salt
lumps of sugar
vial of revolting potion
venetian mirror
stick
dagger inlaid with precious stones
a piece of string
heavy, metal barrel with a stopper at the bottom
ruby
stick
beans

(The potion is interesting — if you drink it you faint, and when you wake up the game says “you find you can SEE”. I don’t know what this means. I haven’t spotted any extra secrets after doing so but I haven’t searched the entire map yet.)

If you’re wondering why I’m just dumping a big list, well, I haven’t gotten use out of nearly any of them (18 items + a 6 item inventory limit + needing to keep a lit candle for a light source eating one slot does not help matters at all). I did manage to get use of the “venetian mirror” (which I think doubles as a treasure) by attacking a medusa while holding it. I was stumped for quite a while with verbs like WAVE and SHOW and HOLD and so forth but none of them work; the mirror gets used automatically when you attack. I get the impression this is one of those games with a fair amount of implicit item use where puzzles don’t get solved with verbs but by making sure you’re carrying the right things, and the large object list and tight inventory limit are there to help enforce that. (If you could carry everything you see, for instance, the medusa would be almost outright a non-puzzle since you’d have the mirror held by default, rather than just a weak one.)

You incidentally know enough to open that ancient door in the screenshot, if you want to take a shot in the comments. Doing so doesn’t unlock much progress, sadly.

I’m not sure if the puzzles are intended to be highly cryptic or I’m just getting overwhelmed by the number of combinations. I will say the number of verbs is quite low; off of my standard verb list I only found

CLIMB, SWIM, READ, OPEN, DRINK, EAT, KILL, GIVE, FILL, LIGHT, TIE, UNTIE, POUR, PUSH, PULL, WEAR.

For puzzles, there’s that dragon from an earlier screenshot; a lever that pulls a wall on top of the poor player’s head; a dark tunnel blocked by a glass wall; an elephant digging in a room for something; a “granite wall” with “20 and 40 foot holes”.

My underground map so far, excluding mazes.

Oh, and then there’s the pleasure garden and chamber of horror, both very odd rooms. The pleasure garden you can just enter; if you do so, you pass out and find yourself in the chamber of horror, and then are forced to flee to a random location.

Room exits aren’t mentioned so have to be tested. I’m starting to detest this “feature” in old adventure games far more than mazes.

So, kind of a “standard” game, but there’s odd bits of humor poking out from beneath the debris that at least carry some interest. If nothing else, the emulator BeebEm is astonishingly good; every single feature I could possibly want it has, without weird fussy crashes and the like, so playing doesn’t feel as much a chore as it could. Some of these old-era games are truly saved by the existence of save states.

I’m going to guess this is a three-post game based on difficulty and size, but we’ll see. In the meantime you’re welcome to make suggestions in the comments about what all the items might be for.

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

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Katakombs: The Not-So-Ultimate Rope   5 comments

Zoom in on the cover art, which I think is meant to depict a specific location in the game. “You are among the ruins with hints of alien arches and weird spires. You can see a sharp sword.”

To continue directly from last time: I mentioned offhand this is one of the games where every exit of every room needs be tested because they aren’t mentioned. As you might guess, this is a recipe for everyone’s “favorite”, missing the existence of a room exit, in this case from the early outdoors section of the game:

Southwest of the camp is the missing connection.

This ended up being an important room: it had a rope. Not only that, a rope with multiple uses! Yes, it is going for what at least used to be the ultimate challenge in interactive fiction coding. For emphasis, allow me to quote Emily Short:

The Ultimate Rope: This is one of those things that has received so much attention that it almost seems pointless to recount the variety of the challenges associated therewith. First of all, a rope has two ends, so you have to remember the state of each (and disambiguate between the player’s references to them, of course.) Then there’s marking what the rope can be tied to; the possibility of cutting the rope in the middle, making multiple ropes of new lengths; the problem of using the rope as a fuse, of tying it to something in one room and then carrying the other end, of tying the ends together, etc., etc., etc. Ultimately I think the very trickiest part of all this is the disambiguation problem, ie, figuring out exactly what the player means when he says >TIE ROPE TO X (which end? Do we untie something that’s already tied, if both ends are in use?) But it’s all pretty grotesque, frankly.

To start with, the rope is used rather traditionally: you tie it to a tree and then can extricate a locked pirate treasure from a cave. Then you can move the same rope over at a well which has a platinum key (which unlocks the aforementioned treasure).

I also discovered while doing my rope shenanigans that the red berries I wasn’t sure about should be eaten. They give you strength, which has at least two side effects; one is to increase your inventory capacity by two, and the other is … we’ll, I’ll get to it, but it isn’t necessarily a useful effect.

Now, despite the berries bumping up inventory capacity, there is still now the problem of too many inventory items before jumping underground (which still seems to be a one-way trip). You need to cart

an old parafin lamp, a platinum key, some matches, a sharp sword, a white candle, one green bottle, some tasty food, a padlocked treasure chest, and a coil of rope

but if you count, that’s nine items, one over the max. You can’t just use the platinum key on the chest and then ditch it, because the key counts as a treasure. This ended up being highly logical but still hard to work out. If you want to take a beat to think about it, stare at the verb list from last time.

CLIMB, SWIM, READ, OPEN, DRINK, EAT, KILL, GIVE, FILL, LIGHT, TIE, UNTIE, POUR, PUSH, PULL, WEAR.

Here’s some educational cover art from Golem to fill space and keep you from seeing the answer right away.

The trick here is to WEAR the rope! This will take it out of your hands and lets you now tote 9 items. In a way, this feels odd an arbitrary — you clearly can’t really juggle what you’ve got even with 8, so it’s more a weight thing — but I still found it gratifying to see some extreme rope coding in use. (Too bad the coding in so much of the rest of the game is sloppy! The parser consists of the binary states of You’re Right and I Didn’t Quite Understand That with nothing in between.)

Having resolved that and jumping underground, I realized while I was tied to the rope, I might be able to put it to another use. There is a “blue room” with a lever where pulling the lever causes a wall to fall on the player’s head, but what if we used the rope instead?

What I like here is that the tie-a-rope-to-yourself trick gives a hint, in a way, for this maneuver. Also, the rope is now neatly disposed of, so I hope it doesn’t get yet another use elsewhere!

Past the fallen wall is the place where treasures of the game get stashed. Oddly, you don’t have a score change from stashing — that is, you get a score by picking a treasure up, and that same score is preserved as long is the treasure is dropped in the crypt — so the only real reason to do so is to clear inventory space for solving other puzzles (also, there are 9 treasures total, meaning it’d be impossible to hold all of them at once anyway).

You are in a dark Crypt
You can see a GOLEM (with a small dent in his forehead)

I am not yet certain what goes in the dent.

I did manage to resolve one other issue: the “beans” I found randomly I decided to try to PLANT, given the beanstalk seems to be the thing all adventure ripoffs must have. PLANT didn’t actually give any kind of prompt, but a null prompt is something different so I assumed it had to work. But how to get water? You might logically note the green bottle being toted around and the two rivers we’ve passed by, but no, FILL BOTTLE (or GET WATER, or any other variant) doesn’t work. The real answer is much stranger:

Water in hand, you can get the beanstalk going and find a hole with a silver axe. This may be the only thing that needs to be done, as if you try growing the beanstalk a bit larger, the result is fatal:

Of course it may be possible to hide from the giant, but I’d also consider it equally likely this scene is just a trap.

Overall, this makes the treasure count 5 (I think? I haven’t rigorously tested for score increases). So I’m more than halfway and will hopefully have a win scene by my next post.

One last scene before I sign out: the berries that make you stronger also let you kill a dragon. But I think that might be wrong:

Doing this makes you completely unable to access the ice wall the dragon was trying to burn down. I’ll test out Roger Durrant’s theory the salt might help and then fiddle with things from there.

Posted September 12, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Katakombs: Finale   5 comments

As is usual, you should read my prior posts about this game first.

From the Museum of Computer Adventure Games.

I realize this is a bad sign, but I want to start with discussing the term “moon logic”.

There are some terms which I think narrow and simplify overly much. One such term that used to be in common use is “guess the verb”, the phenomenon of tangling with difficult parsers; the word isn’t wrong, exactly, but it often got applied to guess-the-noun or guess-the-phrasing or interpret-the-deceptive-parser-message.

I’ve seen the term “moon logic” applied to nearly every adventure puzzle sin under the sun, as long as a puzzle causes some difficulty. I still think the term is useful, but I tend to narrow down to circumstances were cause and effect seem to be nearly at random; perhaps you understand from the animation why the bubble gum made the goat move, but the connection is one that could almost never have been predicted. There is a disjoint between action and result. Oddly, in text adventures, this shows up less than you might think, just because the requirement of a verb adds specificity to an action; you can’t just USE BUBBLEGUM ON GOAT and have the animation happen, but rather need to specify to (for sake of example) FEED BUBBLEGUM TO GOAT. The puzzle is still perhaps a bad one, but there’s at least a suspicion that something interesting might happen.

For getting by the dragon — which turned out to be the key puzzle that was stopping my progress — I kept trying a number of methods to help the dragon melt an ice wall. Killing the “docile creature” certainly seemed to be out. The correct item to use was off this list:

salt
lumps of sugar
venetian mirror
stick
dagger inlaid with precious stones
a piece of string
heavy, metal barrel with a stopper at the bottom
ruby
stick

The right item was the … lumps of sugar.

While it isn’t the kind of puzzle where the mechanics aren’t even understood after solving it, unless I missed some major mythos regarding dragons, I would say the disjoint clearly falls into moon logic range.

Past the dragon, I was able to get a trumpet; the trumpet let me bust open a glass wall. This was essentially the opposite of the previous puzzle, I knew exactly what the trumpet for the moment I picked it up.

The salt, on the other hand, was a little more fussy. Again, we’re entering moon logic territory, but apparently elephants like salt?

Everything else more or less smoothly fell out, with two exceptions, the first being of a funky parser use. A “heavy, metal barrel with a stopper at the bottom” was meant to be used with PUSH STOPPER.

the stopper disappears inside
and a smell liquid rushes out –
it’s parafin.
You manage to fill up your lamp.

(This is necessary to win: the candle doesn’t quite give you enough turns to do everything.)

The second involved (after the elephant) finding out what to do at a “sacred altar with an eerie statue of the animal-god Vik”. While I appreciated the atmosphere here, and I might have been able to solve the puzzle on my own, my trust had been whittled down by the dragon and the elephant, so I just looked it up. I wouldn’t call this absurd, and I likely would have eventually found it (by trying to sacrifice everything in my inventory) but still, I’ll let you decide the moon logic level:

(Somewhere in all this, the ability to SEE kicked in. I’m not sure where — I had drunk the potion on my saved game I was using and never went back to see if there was a treasure that’d otherwise be invisible had I not drunk the potion.)

The oval from the altar flips back again to the “immediately know what needs to be done” category.

I’m not sure what’s with the score, I supposedly have all the treasures. Because they count equally as points when held in inventory versus just being on the ground in the crypt, you don’t have to drop them.

This wasn’t a terrible game — when you get down to it, maybe only 10% had me truly frustrated — but that’s only because I gave up trying to solve puzzles at a judicious time. There’s a couple moments of interesting atmosphere, like the altar of Vik, but the setting really fails to attain critical mass of feeling like a real location (say, the underground of Zork I) or even just a theater of cruelty (Acheton).

Incidentally, the whole business with the Chamber of Horror seems to have been a red herring, as was the string and the stick. You can light the string and it burns like a fuse, but that does nothing. (And no, the stick doesn’t seem to secretly be a stick of dynamite.) I get the feeling maybe the author forgot something? I’ve never been fully against red herrings (in a game like Planetfall they increase the environmental feel) but here they just seem like lost coding bits more than careful choices.

The most comparable recent game I’ve played is Hamil, and I did enjoy that one quite a bit better. Hamil had an equally random map, but it had more clever puzzles overall (despite a frustrating moment or two) and every piece was important. I guess for a “narrative” game red herrings are fine, but for a “British cryptic” style they become more a distraction to the style; sort of like how things that work in the RPG genre don’t work in the Adventure genre and vice versa, this type of game is nearly a different genre than the more story-driven ones, meaning general advice for good adventure writing may differ.

We’re leaving both the US and UK for our next game, and in fact going to a country we haven’t visited yet, even though it is quite important in the history of videogames overall. Soon!

Posted September 15, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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