Archive for the ‘ulysses-and-the-golden-fleece’ Tag

Ulysses and the Golden Fleece (1981)   5 comments

Let’s get the title out of the way first: if you’re like me, you looked at it and felt slightly unsettled. Isn’t it supposed to be Jason and the Argonauts here? Allow Bob Davis (who collaborated on this one with Ken Williams) to explain:

VI [Videogaming Illustrated]: One last question. Why did you slip the Ulysses character into the story of Jason?

BD [Bob Davis]: I bastardized it because Columbia Pictures had made a movie about the subject, and I wanted to avoid potential copyright problems. Reality has to intercede somewhere!

He means the 1963 movie Jason and the Argonauts.

OK, fine, we’ll deal with a swap.

The interview clip above and this picture came from Videogaming Illustrated, Issue 3, December 1982. This looks more like Conan the Barbarian to me.

Amidst 1981, On-Line Systems (later Sierra) was busy at work on Roberta Williams’s Time Zone; in order to keep their Hi-Res Adventure series going, they released Cranston Manor in 1981, followed by Ulysses and the Golden Fleece.

VI: How did you become interested in computers?

BD: I’m actually a virgin — or rather, a rookie. I’ve only been at this a year. Before that, I sold chickens, and before that I was a professional musician. Not too glorious. Now I’m on staff at On-Line, where my job is programming, helping to come up with new games.

You start in a town-castle-forest area.

Head south and west and you reach a castle and are stopped by a guard.

If you leave without talking to the guard, you’ve softlocked the game, because the castle “no longer accepts visitors for the day”. Whoops. TALK GUARD lets you in to see the king.

The king tells you have “a legendary fleece of gold, far off to the north” and offers bags of gold and silver and a ship.

ASIDE: The Jason mythology has him as heir of the throne of Iolcus, but it gets taken by his half-uncle Pelias; Pelias sends Jason on what ought to be a suicide mission to get the Golden Fleece in order to get him out of the way. The king of this game gives the quest almost apathetically.

Here’s the forest:

There are two points of interest. A voice warns you about King Neptune, which is the only juicy plot-related tidbit so far.

There’s also a chest with a lock that looks “unfamiliar” but we can tote it along with us.

The city has a store with a nasty trick.

I mentioned getting a bag of silver from the king. The sign mentions you can pick seven items, but there are eight listed. So you have to pick the one item out of eight to leave out. I guessed the wood because it seems likely there might be a tree we could chop, but I have no idea for the moment.

The gold, incidentally, is used to recruit a crew…

HIRE CREW works while holding the bag of gold. It mentions that several men rush forward and “you think one of them is Hercules.” Is he incognito, pretending to be someone else? Is the eyepatch fake for a disguise?

…who you can then lead to a ship at the king’s private dock.

Here I was horribly stuck. Getting on the deck of the ship I could LOOK SHIP


but couldn’t launch. Verbs like EMBARK and LAUNCH don’t work.

I finally hit upon GO OCEAN

but that sufficiently exhausted me I decided here was a good break point.

One last bit before I close out: south of the tavern where you can hire the crew you can run across a thief who steals your chest (which I still haven’t unlocked). The thief dumps the chest out in the forest so you can get it back, but it hasn’t changed any (I thought maybe the thief would unlock it for you and leave behind a “useless” item which was useful in an adventuring sense, but no dice). I’m still not sure what the whole point of the sequence is.

Posted November 4, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Ulysses and the Golden Fleece: The Open Ocean   Leave a comment

Remember, logic will not always work because the gods are not always logical.

— From the manual for Ulysses and the Golden Fleece

Just a bit of progress, but I got to the Island of Storms. After GO OCEAN I came across a legion of nearly-indistinguishable rooms.

In some places I was “LOST” and some I was “WANDERING” but essentially the only way to map things out was testing second-order exits (that is, checking exits coming from a unfamiliar room to see if they lead somewhere familiar).

I did have a condor run into the mast…

…and had a bag of gems drop into the ship.

There’s also a what I don’t think is supposed to be a puzzle as much as an obnoxious softlock.


Most importantly, there’s a storm that kills when you try to enter.

So that’s reasonably colorful, but I kept wandering for long enough — and finding what *might* be new locations, but not being sure because I couldn’t drop any items — I figured there had to be a gimmick.

I broke down and looked up a hint. I was very close. There was a guard on the docks:

I had tried to GIVE COIN and the game asks ARE YOU ATTEMPTING TO BRIBE A GUARD? and then repeats the room description.

I had read this as a rhetorical question, but this is the game prompting you to say YES, whereupon the guard gives you a map.

Look, Crowther/Woods Adventure had a similar rhetorical question, but it was asking you to do something improbable and cool, and didn’t obfuscate the interface by repeating the room description after the question was asked. I seriously did not have an inkling I was even being prompted. The Adventure puzzle also had the rhetorical question on a clear and direct obstacle where there was no way past. This was on a side obscurity; the guard isn’t even mentioned in the room description!

The map has directions to go from the storm to the island.

I’m feeling like Bob Davis had played Wizard and the Princess and tried to copy the “biome journey” but wanted to make the whole thing meaner. We’ve got the 7-out-of-8 item choice from the store (I suspect I won’t know which item is the right one to leave out until much later in the game), the not-talking-to-guard softlock, and the seagull softlock. Wizard and the Princess had softlocks but they felt… nicer? Like the peddler who only sold you one object, and the place it got used was *immediately* after. Taking the same idea to its extreme, there’s no reason structurally why the gap between choosing item and using it can’t be very long, but in terms of fun and kindness to the player, there’s a clear limit.

The ocean maze felt like the desert from Wizard and the Princess except there was no difference between the pictures whatsoever. (Mind you, I squinted hard just to check.)

And while I’m stopping here, once arriving on the island there’s ANOTHER maze, in a jungle. Look, On-Line Systems, the desert was the BAD part of the game — you had to print a card with a hint just for that puzzle in later editions of the game, remember? Grr.

Posted November 5, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Ulysses and the Golden Fleece: The Island of Storms   6 comments

Two puzzles down, five billion to go. Or something like that. Maybe more like five billion rooms.

From Mobygames.

I landed at the Island of Storms to find a jungle. Let me linger on the map a moment:

There really seems to be an effort in featuring the map (here and in other parts of the game) as being “graphics” locations where the text is unimportant. In a modern 3D-environment world, it’s not implausible to have scenery for scenery’s sake. To modern eyes, the graphics just aren’t that great, so the effect is more drudgery. The jungle only serves two purposes: to have a “bridle” in one location…

…and some magic dust in another. The tree’s hole in the picture indicates you can LOOK HOLE (I admit my willingness to check this came directly from the same puzzle appearing in Wizard and the Princess).

Time Zone (allegedly, as I haven’t played it yet) goes ridiculously far in having large maps with only one or two important rooms, so this is likely a preview of 1982. I should note King’s Quest 1 through 4 have something of the same style, but a lot more density to “interesting” aspects of the scenery, and the presence of a third-person avatar adds a weight to locations that are merely there to look good.

North of the jungle is a cave.

Lots of the rooms are “fluff”. I found a spring where I could fill my empty bottle with water — I haven’t managed to use it yet — and a giant wall of fire.

Interestingly enough, while I can’t POUR WATER anywhere else, I can at the wall of fire, but the game still tells me NOTHING HAPPENS and going inside just fries my player character.

Out of the giant lump of items from the store back at the starting town, I had noticed I could TIE STRAPS (leather straps) and further specify WITH ROPE. The resulting item was not well described, but I reached a fjord I couldn’t pass, so I gave THROW STRAPS a try:

This is a one-way journey, since the straps break when you cross.

The cave gets even more boring here…

But there is a dragon. I was able to THROW DUST and scare it off.

I finally encountered a GREAT CANYON. I suspect I might summon some flying critter and use the bridle on it, but I haven’t had any luck with summoning a griffin or Pegasus or whatnot (the game’s cover at the top of this post might be a hint).

I was able to MAKE FIRE as long as I had the wood and flint from back at the store. You may remember I passed on the wood the first time around; to test this theory I had to restart the entire game and pick another item to leave off my shopping list (I went with the LANTERN for now — really no idea). Unfortunately the fire doesn’t attract anyone’s attention, so I’m stuck here (and at the earlier wall of fire, which may not even be really a puzzle).

Posted November 9, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Ulysses and the Golden Fleece: A Level 2 Adventurer   20 comments

I powered through to the end.

From Mobygames.

I’ve been trying to wrap my head around what went wrong with this game. Described in a general way, the plot seems interesting:

1.) gather a crew and make it to the Island of Storms

2.) find a potion from the Island for use against Neptune, and go deeper to reckon with a dragon and then Pluto, god of the underworld

3.) meet and defeat Neptune

4.) have a close encounter with the Sirens

5.) find the island of the Fleece, embark with your crew in tow

6.) chase off the Harpies with magic

7.) use an enchanted sword to defeat skeletons

8.) trick the Cyclops and take out his eye

9.) free Pegasus, liberate the Fleece, and fly to victory

I get the sense Bob Davis sketched out these scenes in a macro-sense, then tried to implement them, thinking in terms of what parser commands would cause what actions, but never coming down to the level of what a player (with no foreknowledge of what should work) will actually be doing.

The Sierra parser of this era has always been weak, but the puzzles for Hi-Res Adventures #0 through #3 have all needed relatively simple actions; I finished #0 through #2 without any hints at all. The ambition of enacting the scenes above pushed the parser past its limits, and despite some nice ideas in a holistic sense, it made for the worst experience I’ve had with any Sierra game. (I’ve only played about half, though, so don’t ask me how it holds up against Codename: ICEMAN.)

The most hideous issue I sort of worked my way around, but in a way I can’t imagine a normal player handling:

This is my “standard verb check” sheet. There are some wildly nonstandard verbs but I’m too lazy to take them off, and while I have them roughly ordered from common to less-common it’s not exact. Early on in Ulysses and the Golden Fleece I did my usual method of trying to test all the verbs out, but ran into difficulty because the game was coy about if a verb was even possible. I eventually realized the pattern, but it took a while (EAT is recognized, PULL is unrecognized):





“I don’t understand that” means the game did understand that, just it was an action that didn’t work. From an author perspective, it seems totally fine, but from a player perspective, it’s easy to interpret the response as the verb being unavailable. Even when I was aware of this issue I got fooled a couple times. You also need to be aware of slight differences in response, ex:



The second prompt only happens with the wax, so is a clue that the wax needs to be USEd somehow.

I’d like to continue from last time, but I need to rectify a mistake first. Not, as I thought it would be, a mistake in skipping the lantern from the store (that turns out to be right!) but in handling the dragon with the wrong item. I threw some magic dust to scare it away, but that dust is needed later; you need to bribe the dragon with gems instead.

Again, a similar situation happened in Wizard and the Princess; it really seems intended to duplicate the same flavor. With the dragon defeated the correct way, it was time to handle the great canyon.

I looked this one up. I might have gotten it had I not been fooled by the image of the giant condor which I picked up in the ocean.

A reminder: big but not enormous.

The condor is supposed to have (I guess?) a LOT of feathers. So you can PLUCK FEATHERS and then USE WAX followed by AND FEATHERS to obtain WINGS.

With our Icarus cosplay we can FLY to the next area. There’s some reins hiding under a rock, and more dangerously, the god Pluto.

He turns you into stone after a few turns, unless you happened to keep that magic dust from the dragon; THROW DUST is all that’s needed to drive him away.

Then you need to pass through the wall of flames from last time, but through the back side (which is slightly less flame-y, but still dangerous).

I tried various permutations of using the water from the spring I gathered earlier, but no dice. The wine is the key here: you can POUR WINE followed by ON ME to sufficiently drench yourself to survive the fire … somehow … by magic?

Note that POUR WINE anywhere else says I DON’T UNDERSTAND THAT. So solving required knowing a.) that pour would behave differently in that exact spot and b.) that the command wouldn’t outright pour on the ground — like POUR BOTTLE does from the other side of the fire — but instead would prompt for a target, allowing you to pour the wine on yourself.

I was able to escape back to the boat, having my bridle, rein, and bottle of spring water in tow. I knew from the whispered message back on the mainland that the potion would somehow help with Poseidon, who arises while trying to travel north from the island:


Nope, you just POUR BOTTLE, and then it prompts where, so you have to specify it should go in the ocean.


Despite the off-kilter graphics, this moment could have been epic, but pouring a bottle from far away being the thing that defeats a god just came off as goofy.

The manual hints it helps to know mythology. It helped with the Icarus bit (kind of) and it’s supposed to help here. Trying to evade the island — which you can do by just following the directions above — is bad. You want to pass by, but you need to tie yourself to the mast, and have your crew put wax (you have some left over) in their ears.

Sounds great described that way, but first, you have to get closer (otherwise the commands don’t work), and then:











Look: sometimes a two-word parser just isn’t up to the task. For a part where I knew exactly what to do (well, not HOLD WAX, but whatever) this was inordinately hard.

When hearing the sirens, you get an obtuse hint:


That was giving you a magic word. SUPPELTUEL is useful later.

On to the next (and last) island! There’s a cryptic message on a tree…

and nearby a cage.

It wouldn’t be as simple as just saying SVENEESAS, of course. You’re supposed to anagram for some reason: SEVENSEAS. (I mean, yes, I see how one actually spells something and the other doesn’t, but I’m not seeing the in-universe motivation for the garbling of the message on the tree.) Saying this causes a peal of thunder and scares the Harpies away. You can then free the man who gives you a magic mallet.

Nearby is the famous cyclops cave.

Just like in the story, you can give him some wine. Unlike in the story, he then asks what is used to make more. You have to respond GRAPES and the cyclops takes off to find some, sealing the cave behind him. While he’s out he leaves a TRUNK behind, and you can SHARPEN TRUNK with the sword in your inventory. When he gets back you can then USE TRUNK followed by IN EYE.

(Again, notice: from an author perspective, this seems like pretty good action, but the leaps of verb choice required are enormous.)

Your crew is hungry, but the cave has some sheep; you can MAKE FIRE, KILL SHEEP, and COOK SHEEP to get some tasty grub and their quest can continue, even though they don’t help you at all except for the boat part, which already is over.

Elsewhere on the island you run across some skeletons.

So this combines the chest we haven’t been able to unlock from the start, and the word ECEELF found in a note in a bottle. Now, and only now, saying ECEELF causes the chest to unlock. We can then look in and find an enchanted sword, to use to fight the skeleton.

But why do this two disparate things work together, and why do they *only* work in this particular location?

North of the skeletons is a blank cliff wall where SUPPELTUEL comes into use (no particular reason, that’s just where the word works). This opens the way to find Pegasus and the Fleece.

Fortunately, the last part of this game is straightforward, assuming you picked everything up: GIVE REINS, GIVE BRIDLE, USE HAMMER (which breaks the chain). You can then fly Pegasus up to grab the fleece, and then fly again to go all the way home and completely abandon the crew who I assume are just hanging out waiting for you without knowing what’s going on.

Phew. I feel like this game might have worked better in the point-and-click era, where we could combine objects without worrying about bizarre syntax stretches or just how to convey “hey I want the crew to have some wax in their ears”. I do gather there might be snippets of this style arise in the mammoth Time Zone, but we’ll have to wait until 1982 before reaching what is likely either the apex or the nadir of Sierra’s early work.

I’d like to emphasize a transparent parser would have made the game enormously better, even with the intentional softlocks (like the object choice right at the start!) There were just too many circumstances where I was either misled by the text, or where I knew what I wanted to do but couldn’t work out the convoluted custom method the game wanted me to do it.

Posted November 10, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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