Archive for the ‘will-o-the-wisp’ Tag

Will ‘O the Wisp (1980)   2 comments

Will ‘O the Wisp appears to be Mark Capella’s only adventure game. It was released as a type-in for Nibble magazine, August 1980.

There’s also a Commodore PET version from the same year. The Commodore version mentions what the room exits are in each location while the Apple one does not. Given some of the room descriptions imply the player should be hunting for exits, I assume the Commodore version was written second, but given the added feature was put in by the author himself I’m happy to roll along with the easier version (you can also play the PET version online).

The opening defines the main character as male, which is actually unusual for 1980 — Aldeberan III did it, but you were playing a particular character from fiction. Here, you are a “country boy” engaged to be married to “Brunhilde”. You could “stay home and watch TV but then you’d never get lost in the forest and find high adventure and learn to become a man and what the meaning of life is.”

There is no “quest” at all given; you’re just hanging at your shack, and you have the option to go into the forest. Sometimes you’ll see a will o’ the wisp.

You have multiple opportunities to go back to the shack and I suppose quit the game outright, although the game itself goes meta in the instructions and notes “I’m sure you’ll go along with the obvious and get yourself lost.” A good number of the room descriptions describe the mental state of the player avatar as opposed to giving any actual scenery.

Eventually, the map settles into an “all directions possible, only one is correct, the wrong ones send you backwards” pattern.

The twist is that a will ‘o the wisp always shows you the correct way; that is, this is meant to be maze-as-narrative as opposed to maze-as-obstacle-to-map. This continues until:

A BLUE WILL ‘O THE WISP BECKONS FROM INSIDE THE CAVE

YOU’RE IN FRONT OF A LARGE CAVE ENTRANCE WHAT APPEARS TO BE A HUGE POT OF GOLD IS SITTING IN THE CAVE. YOU’LL BE RICH! YOU CAN GET YOUR MOTHER HER OPERATION! YOU CAN BUY SHOES FOR YOUR SISTER! BOY ARE YOU LUCKY!!!

Fantasy adventure games have always had a tinge of the anti-heroic.

In a typical CRPG, you might have a warrior who is especially good at lopping off heads, a wizard who can toss fireballs, a thief who can break through locks, and so on. The character(s) will usually have the right equipment to use their skills and if they are lacking anything, a few sessions battling low-level enemies and a trip to the local town will usually fill the gaps.

In an adventure, the protagonist typically has absolutely no resources other than what is lying around, is not particularly good at any action, and often needs to defeat enemies via improvisation, setting monsters against each other, or running away.

At their most competent, the stereotypical adventurer is a crafty trickster character; at their least, they are a bumbler who gets by on luck, passing through dangerous situations by having just the right items to squeak by.

I’m guessing you can predict already which end of the spectrum the protagonist of Will ‘O the Wisp falls on.

?ENTER CAVE

*** BANG *** !!! AS YOU ENTER HERE, THE GOLD DISAPPEARS IN A FLASH, AND A HUGE SET OF STEEL BARS DROPS INTO PLACE LOCKING YOU INTO THE CAVES.

A BLUE WILL ‘O THE WISP DANCES OUTSIDE THE CAVE’S ENTRANCE

YOU ARE IN THE CAVE. THE EXIT IS BARRED BY HUGE STEEL BARS AND TRY AS YOU LIKE YOU CANNOT GET THEM OPEN. NOW YOU’LL MISS YOUR WEDDING AND BRUNHILDE IS GOING TO CRY VERY LOUDLY WHEN SHE FINDS OUT.

I really like that the game didn’t just start here; the player had to navigate a map the size of some entire other games before reaching this point.

Upon entering the caves, there’s three large open areas.

In the center is the “cave complex” map, which includes a classical maze and is all-round a pain to map. There’s one lovely death gag that results from you listening to the narrator:

In the southeast corner is a “castle” map, with the

ALL POWERFUL ALL KNOWING ALL KIND ALL DRUNK MAGICIAN RALPH. HE ALONE HAS THE POWER TO GET YOU HOME TO SWEET BRUNHILDE.

Inside the castle, you can find both a magic carpet and a crystal ball. If you take either one before meeting Ralph inside, the result is ignominious for our “hero”:

I’D LIKE TO HELP YOU, BUT THAT IS MY TREASURE THAT YOU HAVE THERE, AND I DISLIKE A CLUMSY THIEF. SO SAY GOODBYE QUICK CAUSE YOU’RE A GONER !!! AND WITH THAT HE KILLS YOU !!!

In other words, this is an adventure game like Crystal Cave with a section where it’s crucial that you don’t pick up stuff. (Not like there’s much to take in the game overall — other than the aforementioned items there’s a bottle, an empty beer can, some bat guano, and a banana peel.)

Assuming you don’t steal Ralph’s treasure before meeting him, he offers to help.

I’LL HELP YOU OUT… BUT FIRST I NEED A FAVOR. THERE IS A CERTAIN WITCH UP NORTH THAT I ONCE ANGERED AND SHE HAS ENCHANTED MY MAGIC STAFF AWAY FROM ME

SHE TURNED IT INTO A BROOMSTICK AND I WANT IT BACK! SO IF YOU CAN STEAL IT FROM HER, I’LL SHOW YOU HOW TO GET OUT OF HERE.DO YOU WANT TO TRY???

(There’s a very Wizard of Oz feel to this request, which will be relevant in a second.)

If you agree to the request you get teleported back to the central cave section. You have to trudge through the maze to reach “EVIL WITCHES LAND”:

YOU ARE AT THE EDGE OF THE EVIL WITCHES LAND. THE EVIL PRUDENCE DOES NOT SEEM TO BE ANYWHERE AROUND. THAT IS GOOD FOR YOU SINCE SHE COULD TURN YOU INTO AN UGLIER TOAD THAN YOU ALREADY ARE.

A SMALL POOL OF WATER COLLECTS HERE
OBVIOUS EXITS: N S E

A bit more trudging and then you finally find a blacksmith with Prudence. The witch doesn’t do any particular action there and I was in fact at first confused — I thought somehow she wasn’t there in person. I finally realized I had to deal with Prudence, that is, solve a puzzle. This is the first and only puzzle in the entire game. You gather the water you see earlier in a bottle, then:

?THROW WATER

OK! WHY NOT?
AUURRRRGGGHHHHH!!! SCREAMS THE WITCH !!! IN HER HASTE, THE WITCH FALLS INTO THE BLAST FURNACE!! HELP !! I’M SMELTING… SMELTINGG… IS THE LAST SHE BREATHS.

She leaves behind a BROOM which you can cart all the way across the map back to Ralph, who is pleased an agrees to send you back.

CHECK YOUR BELONGS LATER HE CACKLES

>POOF!< YOU ARE STANDING UNDER A LARGE BEAUTIFUL SPREADING TREE.

YOUR INVENTORY IS AS FOLLOWS

BOTTLE
BROOM
A GOLD WEDDING RING IS IN YOUR POCKET
FOR YOUR SWEET BRUNHILDE FROM THE GREAT
MAGICIAN RALPH
GUANO
PEEL
CAN

YOUR BELOVED BRUNHILDE IS RUNNING TOWARDS YOU THROUGH THE FIELD IN SLOW MOTION… LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL ONCE AGAIN AND ALL IS WELL. I HOPE YOU'VE ENJOYED YOUR LITTLE EXCURSION.

This was nearly a pure navigation game, like Dante’s Inferno, but I appreciate that there managed to be a sense of narrative even given this restriction. It had the will ‘o the wisp opening, the threatening maze, the straightforward castle (where the only real obstacle is to remember to not steal treasure) the slightly trickier witch area, and then the one and only puzzle; the map was extensive enough this still took several hours to complete.

The slightly-better-defined main character and snarky “narrator voice” also are pretty unusual for 1980. Like Mad Scientist, the author dumped almost all parser interaction, leaving the space for extensive room descriptions that read as if they’re telling a story on their own.

Posted August 24, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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