Archive for the ‘zodiac’ Tag

Zodiac (1982)   12 comments

I gave the historical background for this one already in my last post on Death Satellite. Keep in mind that game was first advertised in Your Computer in June, and this game was first advertised in September. While several months is not absurd for writing a 1982-era adventure game, the fast turnaround does mean this one might be more a cash-grab than the last.

Your goal is to “solve the problem of the Astrological Adventure” which is terribly vague, but I have a guess it just means you have to make it to whatever room is designated as The End. (CASA Adventure Archive claims something about six treasures, but I think that’s about an entirely different game also called Zodiac.)

The start, as shown above, made me think it was an Arctic Adventure lost-in-the-wild type situation, but in addition to ice-related antics the theme falls into having a sequence of rooms (with ones in between) named after the Zodiac. This leads nearly to abstraction-as-environment, with places like

THE HOUSE OF GEMINI
THE TWINS ARE HIDING SOMETHING

which I suppose you get to visualize any way you like. In a way, this is simply embracing the purity of the crossword in the crossword-vs-narrative battle. Adventure game entirely as challenge.

And wurf, it is unfortunate it has challenge, because there is no walkthrough, hint sheet, etc. I made a decent stab, as you’ll see, but I eventually got stuck. One thing that helped a bit to start was being able to find a chink in the parser. When the game says

I DON’T UNDERSTAND

it means the words being used aren’t in the game’s vocabulary (both verb and noun). If either verb or noun is recognized, the game says

YOU CAN’T

unless the action goes through. This fouled up my usual verb-testing strategy at first, where I’d go through each potential verb, like PUSH, PULL, etc. and apply them to a random object in the game. Here, if you type PULL TORCH, the game gives a YOU CAN’T even though PULL isn’t even a recognized word. The right way to test verbs is to simply type them with no object at all.

As shown, software-artifact-as-puzzlebox as opposed to any kind of narrative.

This yielded me a list of:

CUT, DIG, READ, DRINK, EAT, KILL, LIGHT, RUB, UNLOCK, WAVE, WEAR

Things were smooth up to what is the first puzzle (*), at Taurus. I had gathered an ICE PICK, a RED FISH, a KNIFE, a TORCH, and an URN (which I left behind because of a four-item inventory limit and the fact the urn smashes if you drop it).

At least I had company; a 1983 review published in Home Computing Weekly #24 writes:

One of the most difficult is how to get past the bull in the House of Taurus – a problem which I wrestled with for a long time, along with a friend who has the same program.

I should have looked at the text here more carefully, this had a hint! I was heavily stuck here and thought, perhaps, I’d have to just throw in the towel already and make a post, but I decided to pop the program open in a text editor to see if I could glean anything (machine code, not BASIC, so not 100% readable unfortunately).

There wasn’t much plaintext (I guess they did some encryption for contest purposes) but I found more verbs:

GIVE, MELT, WRESTLE, LEAVE

I’m slightly sheepish I didn’t have GIVE on my list on verbs to check, but come to think of it, that’s not been a common word for the two-word parser (lots of DROP standing in for GIVE).

Seeing WRESTLE made me remember when I had to wrestle an octopus in Haunt. (The reviewer wrestled with the problem a long time, ha.)

Unfortunately there wasn’t too much more to go past that. I found a magic ring stuck in ice where MELT ICE worked, as per the newly-found verbs, and I met the Gemini twins I tagged earlier and gave them a fish; they traded me a key.

More a matter of “try all the verbs” than “thinking”.

There was a slightly classical maze hiding an axe…

The start room is a “trap” of sorts that gathers two of the one-way exits from the maze room right before the axe, trying to deny hitting the solution randomly. This is quite typical; what’s unusual is making the exit room also a “trap” (on the bottom, three of the exits leave the maze) so it is easier to accidentally bypass the axe and leave. The priority for many of these mazes was to avoid solves just by meandering in random directions. Even Don Woods with Adventure made a test diagram to make sure “simple repetitive actions” would not allow getting through his maze too early.

…but other than that all I had left to fiddle with was a sleeping dragon.

I may end up having to call the game quits here, unfortunately; I’ll still give it a few more swings given I’m already past the “break open the actual code to look for clues” point.

I will say I can RUB the magic ring I found in the ice (the game tells me NOTHING HAPPENS in all circumstances) and any verb/object combo I’ve thrown at the dragon has been met with I CAN’T. I also haven’t been able to get anywhere with DIG in any room. Surely there’s a break somewhere?

(*) Almost the first puzzle. Entering the House of Aries requires going up the glacier, and I didn’t know until about my 5th iteration that the ice pick was required; otherwise I was holding it so it got used automatically without the game telling me. Solving a puzzle by default, essentially. This has the interesting side effect that since the maze has an exit that loops you to the start of the game, if you’ve dropped the ice pick in the interim (say, using it to map a room in the maze) your game gets softlocked since you can’t go back up the glacier to return to the maze.

Posted December 30, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Zodiac: Not Bottomless   4 comments

Due to a hint in the advertising copy (?!) I was able to trudge up to seeing 11 out of 12 Zodiac rooms. I’m fairly thoroughly stuck past, but at least I’ll give everything I know if anyone wants to take a shot at finishing this. Having read my prior post is essentially for understanding this one.

As unearthed by Strident:

You’re on a frozen glacier. The Ice giant attacks you. You survive. A giant dragon confronts your path. The knife will kill it. Can you find it? What’s inside the Houses of the Zodiac – Aries and Virgo are but two. Can you find the magic potion, will you ever reach the House of Immortality – the only safe place, or is it?

Maybe they had too many questions about the dragon? Nevertheless, that’s where I was stuck last time, and I had in fact tried at one point KILL DRAGON / WITH KNIFE (that second one is after prompting “what with?”), found it not to be understood, and decided to move on. The right syntax was to use type KNIFE alone (without the word “WITH”, as done in Scott Adams and other two-word parsers).

As this was a marginally improbable solve, I wandered by the right thing to do without knowing I was close. That combined with the fact the dragon eventually wakes up (causing you to have to start over — no save game feature) is what made me stuck. Knowing it had to be the dagger led me to think about the syntax a little more.

The axe which I had retrieved from a maze last time I then used to swiftly dispatch an ice giant.

The body here disappearing game me a hint, as the dragon’s body did not disappear. That led me to suspect I was able to do something else with the dragon, so I went back to the dragon room and tried CUT DRAGON:

Past this I reached a “hungry lion”, and given I just came up with dragon steaks, I knew what to do.

The geography still being slightly ice-themed but also random, past the lion there was a ramshackle hut with a “floor covered in snow”; I was able to DIG down to get a room covered in “loose earth”. Adjacent there was a “silver box” which let me go back and TAKE EARTH.

Notice the earth is not given as an item. I knew to do this from my eyeballing the text dump of the game’s file. This is special-case coded and I haven’t found anywhere else in the game where an item is “hidden in the description” as opposed to being on its own line.

Immediately after the earth came the most ignominious death in the game.

The magic ring I had got from melting ice here finally came in handy; I was able to RUB RING right before entering the walrus room, which turned me invisible long enough to get by. The dragon, no need for a ring, you just stab it; the walrus, be afraid. Bilbo clearly had his priorities wrong.

The map has the obstacles — and the zodiac rooms — laid out in a quite linear way structurally, even though the directions twist and turn. Also, you only have two turns to escape the walrus, so the first time through while invisible I died because I tried “north” and then “east”, neither direction which worked. Remember, room exits are generally not described!

The next room, Libra, appropriate had some scales, which I was able to BALANCE to unlock a secret door. (Again, I can’t take solving credit, the command was in front of me in the text dump of the game’s file.) Then I used the key that I got back at the Gemini twins to acquire a spellbook to go with a wand. I waved the wand and it opened another secret door, to a room with a potion.

The potion teleports you to an “ice fortress” with a CRYSTAL BALL.

This is where I’m stuck. There’s a guard blocking one direction, the zodiac room in the screenshot above, and a “bottomless pit” which isn’t actually bottomless.

Might just be a trap.

KILL doesn’t work on either the guard or the centaur, nothing I’ve tried to GIVE has helped, and I can’t operate the crystal ball with everything I’ve tried (wand waving, rubbing, etc.). The only other item I’ve got no use out of is an EMPTY URN which breaks if you try to drop it anywhere. What makes this really hard to test is not only the lack of a save feature but the potion-transport moment of the game: it goes one-way. So any objects not being carried are left behind, and there’s a four-slot inventory limit (really three-slot since the torch must be carried in one slot; a ring can be worn, but that’s the only leeway). Testing any new theory requires restarting from the beginning and entering all the commands of the game so far.

An option might be using save states, but Atomulator doesn’t have them, and I haven’t got MAME Acorn to work. However, if you’re really keen on taking a shot, the Atom Software Archive is here (for Atomulator, unzip the file into the MMC directory, then hit shift-F12 on booting to get to a select-a-game menu).

Posted January 2, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Zodiac: Elementary Gifts   5 comments

I was deeply already in research on the TI-99/4A computer, thinking I had left Zodiac behind for now, but of course, one of my hardy commenters (Voltgloss) decided to take up the gauntlet I left behind and figure out the rest. As usual for my victory posts, the rest of them are needed for context.

Pretty sure this is actually a tape for “Adventure I”, Death Satellite (as opposed to “Adventure II”), but given it is torn off right at the number it is hard to know for sure. Via Every Game Going.

So the most helpful hint Voltgloss gave was his giving the item list for entering the final section of the game (drinking the potion and entering the ice palace) which included the ring. I had indeed brought the ring (since it is worn it doesn’t take up inventory) but was still trying to rub it and had no luck, but for some reason it hadn’t occurred to me to take it off and try to GIVE it, even though I tried to GIVE all my other items.

Oho! Here I’m guessing most players found out that the door behind the guard is locked, and the key they most likely left behind was in fact still useful, so another reset it is. (I was forewarned — again, I had the item list — so I had the key already.)

A brief aside on the restarts: I think it is safe to say there was strong assumption at the time the final run at the game would be more a choreographed set of moves, rather than a coherent single-run story. This isn’t as alien as you might think; a lot of the time-loop games of current-vogue run on this principle, and from what I’ve heard, the “final run” on Outer Wilds requires a pretty exact run of this sort. The difference is that Outer Wilds has lots of modern conveniences and things to explore and unlock, and Zodiac is on an Atom with miniscule memory space. If it had some of those time-loop affordances it would be better regarded by modern players (not even a regular save game, but one that let you get very specific about where you wanted to jump on a whole timeline, or maybe the major feature of Hadean Lands that I don’t want to spoil for anyone who hasn’t played it).

…ok, we’re back from our theoretical didn’t-know-about-the-key restart.

I like “TREASURE LITTERS THE FLOORS” as a complete room description. “LITTERS” as in so prolific it is akin to trash, and “FLOORS” plural, giving a subtle sense of scale. Minimalism can feel like elegant poetry sometimes and not just awkward.

The gold let me bribe Sagittarius, who then let me take his bow. I’ll just spoil right now, although I didn’t work it out the first time, you can WEAR the bow, which is essential for inventory wrangling.

Then I had the not-bottomless-pit to deal with, and for whatever reason I came across a solution swiftly (I think, again, knowing my item restrictions was the answer; I knew there wasn’t a new spell from the spellbook I had to extract somehow, or weirdness involving plunging the axe into a wall and hanging off of it, or any other manner of strange object interactions.) I had typed HELP earlier and got

THERE IS NO ONE TO HELP YOU HERE

which would suggest, in most games, this is a command to let you know there are no built-in hints. But it suggested to me, especially in the mindset of this game, that there was, in fact, someone who could help elsewhere. Typing HELP while falling into the pit led to a giant hand scooping me up and dropping me into the next room, with a polar bear.

The final section of the game.

The polar bear was easy to fell with the bow, and then it was on to the final zodiac room, Capricorn.

I quickly realized — especially holding onto, still, the box filled with earth — that this meant the four classical elements. A crystal ball from the ice palace could count for air, and the torch I still clung to counted for fire, but what about water? The only item I had never used was a useless empty urn I’d been toting around most of the game which broke whenever I tried to DROP it. Where could I get water?

(This is the kind of brilliant part. You may want to read back over my previous posts before I go on and try to work it out.)

Way back, way way back, near the start, where I melted ice to get at a ring! This had the only water in the game. Unfortunately, DROPping the urn there was still impossible, and my attempt to soften the area via dropping some earth (akin to the pillow in Crowther/Woods Adventure) was no use. Fortunately, Voltgloss had also posted a walkthrough, so I poked inside to find out…

…that LEAVE URN somehow parses to SET URN DOWN GENTLY. Argh! Now, I remember back when first encountering the breakable vase in Crowther/Woods Adventure “if only could convey a way to set the urn down carefully” but blithely went on from there. LEAVE I guess means … you know, I have no idea how it would imply a different kind of drop. Is this some UK terminology thing I’m missing?

With all four elements in hand, I was able to finally stride past the final obstacle into victory.

One of the contemporary reviews of this gives it higher marks than Death Satellite, in the sense that nothing is wasted. I can see the perspective here. If you’re treating the adventure game as a puzzle box, this feels like a complete package, like a crossword without ungainly symmetries. It certainly fails more as a narrative, but that certainly wasn’t the point, and I gather for a fair amount of the UK market, having been weaned on the British form of the crossword and the like, they were more accepting of this sort of structure.

I will add this game has made me nervous about covering any games more “in brief”. At first appearances this game struck me as unremarkable, and here I am on my third post and (combined) roughly at 3000 words. Surely I’ll get some absolutely mundane games in my future though, yes? My next game, as hinted at earlier, will be my first foray into the world of Texas Instruments (and a solo author who cranked a total of six games out in one year) which is marked “beginner”. I intentionally wanted an easy game because the game I have earmarked for the place after is (in addition to being hotly anticipated by my readers) legendary for being both difficult and very, very, very, very, very, long.

Posted January 3, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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