Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Cottage: Laying It Out

My progress in The Cottage has been slow and painstaking.  A part of that is because it's not exactly setting my world on fire.  There are many, many things I could be doing that I'd enjoy more than playing this game.  Mostly, though, it's that the puzzles are somewhat obtuse, and there are a number of things going on in the game that I can't quite explain.

After a lengthy session last night where I didn't feel like I was making much progress, I pulled up the source code and had a bit of a look.  Unfortunately for me, the code I found was in Swedish, so I wasn't able to glean a great deal from it.  I found what I was looking for, though: a list of the treasures I need to complete the game.  It's somewhat of a cheat, but I wanted to know roughly how far I had progressed, and what items are important.  There are thirteen treasures in all: a diamond, a silver stick, a smelly cucumber, a jewelled halberd, a skull, an alarm clock, some gold coins, a "trilogy", a contract, a pearl necklace, a laurel wreath, and a faun shoe.  I know where ten of these are already, which is quite heartening.  I'll detail their whereabouts below.

  • The diamond is out in the open in Thorvald's Room, which is not that hard to get to.  Carrying it around presents a problem, though: certain doors and exits from the house become barred when you are carrying it around.  It's still possible to get back outside with the diamond, via some more circuitous routes, or by getting lucky in those rooms that send you to random locations.
  • The smelly cucumber is also in Thorvald's Room, in a hatch in the roof.  You need a ladder to reach it, but that can be found in a cupboard in Osvald's Room, right next door.
  • The jewelled halberd is in the possession of a guard, who is situated in an area beyond the lift's engine room.  I'm yet to find any meaningful way to interact with the guard.
  • The gold coins can be won from a gambling machine that's found in a cave in the wilderness.
  • The shoe is found in a cave south of the gambling machine, where it falls from the foot of a faun who runs by.  The shoe is needed as a stake to operate the gambling machine.  If you lose at the gambling machine, it's easy enough to come back and get another shoe.  But once you win the coins, the shoes stop spawning.  I need to see if I can get the points for the shoe, then get another shoe for the machine.
  • The "trilogy" is actually a copy of Lord of the Rings, and it's found in a maze of twisty passages.

Speaking of things I'd enjoy more than this game...

  • The pearl necklace is in the possession of an old man, who won't surrender it for anything.  He did show some interest in the laurel wreath when I had it in my possession, but giving it to him didn't help.
  • The laurel wreath is found in the Studio, sitting out in the open under a sign that reads "Alea Jacta Est" ("The die is cast").
  • The picture is found in the same maze of passages where I found the trilogy, but it doesn't seem to have an actual location.  Rather, it appears as I move from one location to another.  I'm really not sure how to interact with it at all, because it never appears as an object in a room where I'm standing.
  • The contract is a strange one to get a hold of.  Remember when I mentioned that there's a lengthy, surreal section where you have to participate in a performance of The Muppet Show?  No, it wasn't a fever dream.  You have to navigate your way through the choices, Choose Your Own Adventure style, and if you make the right ones Kermit the Frog will reward you with a contract.  It's frankly bizarre, but also quite a bit of fun.  It might be my favourite thing in the game.  I understand that it was left out of the commercial release for legal reasons, which is a shame.

Maybe the weirdest thing I've encountered in the blog so far.

So as it stands, I can easily get the diamond, the cucumber, the coins, the shoe, the trilogy, the laurel wreath, and the contract.  I need to work out how to get the halberd away from the guard, how to get the necklace away from the old man, how to interact with the picture, and how to get the coins without losing the shoe.  That's a refreshingly short to-do list, and it's somewhat refreshed my enthusiasm for the game.

That said, those are far from the only puzzles I need to solve on my way to winning.  The game has presented me with loads of other mysteries, some of which I've solved and some that remain elusive.  You may have noticed that I love running things down in point form when I'm writing about text adventures, and I'm going to do that again here.  It helps me to get my thoughts together, and figure out exactly what I need to do.

  • In my last post, I noted that there was an area in the forest where it appeared that someone had been recently digging.  Using a spade that I found in the cemetery I dug a hole, only to find that it was empty.  A little later I tried again, and found that it contained some treasures that had been stolen from me by a robber (this game's equivalent of the thief from Zork, or the pirate from Colossal Cave Adventure).  Everything that the robber steals will end up here, which could actually end up helpful in getting things to the surface, as this area's not hard at all to get to.
  • There's a rowing-boat near the beginning area of the game, which can be used to row to every shore of the lake.  Weirdly, at the centre of the lake there's a telephone socket.  When I tried to plug a phone into it, a telephone repairman came along, uninstalled the socket, and gave me a phone directory containing some useful numbers.
  • I'm not sure what the deal is with the phone sockets, though.  Sometimes when I try to use one, the repairman comes along and takes the socket away.  At other times I've been able to plug it in and call some numbers successfully, but none of them have accomplished anything.  You can call a phone repairman and a glazier (both of whom are out), the guard (who just tells you stop distracting him from his guard duty), and a few other rooms that had already been disconnected before I found a socket I could use.  I've also found an extension cable, which will no doubt play into the ultimate solution for this puzzle.
  • There are a number of paths that lead to an area under the jetty where the game begins.  There's a hole down there, but if you remain in that area you'll drown.  I think the solution lies with a deflated ball that I found, but I need a pump of some sort so that I can use it to float.
  • I'd mentioned in my last post that I had found a crowbar behind a window, but breaking the window caught the attention of Osvald, who came along and took the crowbar himself.  The solution to this one was to use the diamond to cut the window.  I haven't found a use for the crowbar yet.
  • In a pitch-dark room, there's a hidden lamp.  The game gives you no indication that it's there, but if you type GET you'll pick it up.  The game then informs you that you can only keep the lamp if you stay put.  Sure enough, if you type STAY PUT you'll eventually - after 30 seconds of actual waiting - be transported to another location.  It doesn't make much logical sense.

Also shown here is me being booted from the room with the animals.

  • There are three rooms that I can't get into: a kitchen where an angry faun tries to kill me, a chess-themed room where a faun steps on my toes, and a room full of animals that is UNDER CONSTRUCTION.  The last one seems like it might be a red herring, but then again it's past a puzzle that involves cutting through a curtain with some scissors.  I'd think a puzzle like that would lead to a useful area, but you never know with a game designed by pre-teens.
  • I still don't know what's with all of the areas where you're just randomly holding a rotten tomato.  It's baffling.
  • There are some ornate gates just past the guard with the halberd, but the keys I found don't open them.
  • There's a safe that I can't open.  Elsewhere there's a sign that says "CORKSCREW HELPS WITH THE SA..", which may or may not be relevant here.
  • The lift is a useful way to get around, but sometimes it crashes and kills me when I try to use it.  I'm not sure what sets this off.  I'm thinking it might be something to do with the number of items in my inventory, or perhaps that the presence of the diamond causes it in the same way that it blocks off the house's exits.  More investigation is required.
  • The Automatic Machine where you deposit treasure can be accessed from outside as well as inside the cottage.  This is good to know, because I got blown up the second time I tried to go there from inside.  The outside access lets you come and go as often as you like.

So that's a pretty comprehensive rundown of where I am in The Cottage.  I said that laying it out like this helps me figure out what I need to do, and I'm really going to need that help here.  The source code I found is in Swedish, and I can't find any walkthroughs.  I'm on my own.  The game itself provides a HELP feature, though, and I've used it a few times.  It helped me with cutting the glass window, and finding the lamp in the dark.  Normally this would feel like cheating to me, but I'm fine with it when it's a function that's built into the game.  And it doesn't give hints for every puzzle, so for most of the game I'll be on my own.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Cottage: Nine Floors, Zero Clues

After mostly exploring the wilderness in my last post, I've moved onto the interior of the titular cottage.  This gave me a taste of this game's idiosyncratic method of navigation: it uses compass directions when you're outside, and the commands LEFT, RIGHT, FORWARD and BACK to move around inside.

To be honest, this wasn't as irritating as I had thought it would be.  The big sticking point I had was whether the directions would be fixed or relative to your own position.  What I mean is, if I enter an area will FORWARD and BACK always take me to the same place, or will it change depending on which entrance I came through?  Thankfully, the directions are fixed.  It doesn't make much sense, and it doesn't really justify not using compass directions, but it does make mapping easier than it would have been otherwise.  Relative directions could work in a game where the geography is well-defined, but The Cottage is definitely not that game.

I had a moment of panic early on when I stumbled into a lift, and saw that the cottage has 9 levels.  This gave me some horrible flashbacks to the sprawling size of Acheton, but I don't think that this game is all that big.  The geography twists and turns a lot, though, and it's almost impossible to know what floor you're supposed to be on.  There are loads of paths between levels aside from the lift, and a combination of terse language and general weirdness can make it rather difficult to navigate.  I feel like I've mapped most of the cottage interior (about 50 areas), although there is definite room for expansion.  I've found the lift entrances for levels 1, 2, 4, 8 and 9, so there are obviously floors I haven't been to yet.

Some places and points of interest within the cottage are as follows:

  • One room had a curtain, which I was "too weak to move".  Setting aside all discussions of my actual strength, I was able to get through by solving a few puzzles.  In one room I found some keys, which I used to open a case in another room, which gave me a sledgehammer which I used to break a glass box in yet another room to get some scissors.  With those scissors I cut through the curtain, and behind it I found a room full of animals.
  • I wasn't able to enjoy that Animal Room for long though, because I was transported to a random location.  There's a lot of that in this game.  One minute you're happily exploring, the next you're just somewhere else, and it can get very annoying.  This is part of the "general weirdness" I was talking about above, and it's not always apparent why it's happening.
  • When you die, the game gives you the option of being resurrected.  If you choose YES, you find yourself at the bottom of a grave with a priest looking down at you, all depicted in ASCII art.

  • In one room I found a phone that was ringing.  Upon answering it, I was asked for my name, and then congratulated for finding a phone.  There are phone sockets throughout the house, so I'll have to try plugging it in at various points.

  • There's an old man in a dark room, who refuses to let go of his pearl necklace and water bottle.  I tried to kill him, but he noticed the vicious gleam in my eye and ran away.  Elsewhere I found a smelly cucumber, and I'm going to try giving it him, because I'm pretty sure that's the sort of thing an old man would want.
  • The lift has an engine room.  At first it was empty, but later on I followed a lift repairman inside and saw an open hatch in the ground.  This led to a "vestibule", where a guard with a bejewelled halberd was stationed.  I subsequently got lost and couldn't find my way back here, so I'm not sure what the guard does, if anything.
  • In one room is a dark window, which I broke to find a crowbar inside.  Unfortunately, the noise attracted a fellow named Thorvald, who took the crowbar as payment for the window.  I've met Thorvald in a number of places, and it seems that he might be a sort of antagonist for the whole game.  I've been in his bedroom, as well as that of a fellow named Osvald, who I met in the kitchen.
  • One room has an "automatic machine", which asks you to deposit items in exchange for points.  I suspect that this is where you place the game's various treasures.  It asks specifically for a "picture", so it might be that I need to deposit the treasures in a specific order.  The second time I went there I was killed by a bomb, so it seems you only get one crack at it.
  • There's Staff Kitchen, in which I encountered Osvald as well as a very angry faun who tried to kill me with a knife.  Afterwards the floor collapsed, dumping me elsewhere.  It's another one of those "transported to a random location" bits I mentioned above.

And no,  have no idea what "quarking a fraktyl" means.

  • Speaking of fauns, there's a room I can't enter because one of them keeps stepping on my feet.  Maybe I need better shoes?
  • I found a room that was labelled Big Turning Labyrinth, and promptly got the heck out of there.  I hate old-school adventure game labyrinths, so I'm leaving this until last.
  • In a similar vein, there's a bit where a boiler explodes and opens a hole into a large cavern.  It had the makings of another maze/labyrinth, so I've ignored that as well.  I hate mazes, you guys.
  • This may have been a fever dream, but at some point I stumbled into a lengthy performance of the Muppet Show.  I can't remember where it was, and I didn't get a screen-cap.  It was very late at night, so I can't be sure that it actually happened.  It was very weird.

So far I'm not really feeling this game.  It has a lot of stuff going on, but none of it really seems to fit together, and the wacky geography is frustrating.  I'll keep up with mapping, and hopefully will have explored the whole game before my next post, but let's just say that it's not doing a great job at pulling me away from Breath of the Wild.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Game 22: Stuga aka The Cottage (1978)

A while ago, it was Ultima VII that kept me from blogging.  More recently, it's been The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which is an incredible game, and probably the best in the series since at least 1998.  It's very hard to dig into text adventures from the 1970s when I have the vastness of Hyrule to explore (and boy, is it vast), but here I am with my first non-English game: Stuga, otherwise known as The Cottage.

The cover of the 1986 commercial release version

The Cottage (as I'll refer to it from now on) was created in Sweden by two brothers (Viggo and Kimmo Eriksson) and their friend (Olle Johansson).  They were, respectively, 10, 12 and 14 years old, which puts them in a similar category to Greg Hassett, whose games have been haunting this blog for a while now.  All of their parents were on staff at the Stockholm Computer Central for Research and Higher Education, which gave them access to the Oden mainframe, and also exposed them to the Woods/Crowther version of Colossal Cave Adventure.  In summer of 1977 they started crafting The Cottage, and the first playable version of it was released in 1978.  It was made commercially available - retitled as Stugan - in 1986, but I gather that that version had some changes from the original.  Much later, around 2009, the game was translated to English, and that's the version I'll be playing (using Winfrotz).

No hints yet on who or what VIOL might be.

The Cottage begins with the hero standing on a jetty, with people water-skiing in the lake behind and a house in the distance ahead.  The goal seems to be to get a high score by collecting valuables (i.e. the same goal as pretty much every other adventure game of 1975-1978).  Your score starts at 50, and can be increased to a maximum of 307.  I haven't done much experimentation with the parser yet, but it all seems to be pretty basic stuff.  The main thing it does that I haven't seen elsewhere is change up the way you move depending on whether you're inside the mansion or in the wilderness.  When you're outside, the game uses the standard compass directions (N, S, NE, SW, etc.), but when you're inside it switches to directional commands (Forward, Left, Right, Back).  I haven't done much exploration inside yet, so I can't say exactly how irritating this is, but I'm going to hazard a guess and say "very".

Given the potential irritation of this change, I've stuck to the wilderness and pretty much explored that completely.  Most of it is forest areas surrounding a lake, with a fence around the perimeter to create a boundary.  So far the rooms and there exits all line up and make sense really well, and the game has been quite simple to map.  I fully expect that this will be right out the window once I get inside the cottage.

The game has already presented some basic obstacles and mysteries.  There's a rowing boat that I haven't tried yet, and a locked gate for which I've yet to find the key.  In one place there's a hole in the perimeter fence you can crawl through, which leads to an area where someone has been digging.  I haven't probed any of these mysteries too hard yet, as I'm in exploration mode.  I like to map as much as possible before I start getting stuck into solving things.

I've solved one puzzle so far, though it barely qualifies as such.  In a cave with numerous entrances (including one behind a waterfall) there's a gambling machine, with a sign reading "PULL THE LEVER IF YOU HAVE A FAUN SHOE TO STAKE".  In a room directly to the south a faun runs through, leaving its shoe behind.  Sure enough, if you pull the machine's lever with the shoe in your possession, you're rewarded with some gold coins.  It's hardly Acheton-level stuff, but it's a start.

Fear my genius.

There are a number of ways to get inside the titular cottage.  I've gone in through the front door, climbed down a well, and crawled through holes in the side of the house.  There's a bathing hut in which the floor collapses when you enter, leaving you in "Thorvald's Room".  I do like a game that rewards exploration, but I have to say that the transition from wilderness to interior can sometimes be a little jarring.  I'm chalking it up to language/culture differences for the moment, and I'll try not to let it bother me too much.

There's one other thing in the game that makes little sense to me, but may possibly be better understood by Swedish players.  In a couple of areas, instead of a room description I've gotten a message saying "You have a half-rotten tomato in your hand but it vanishes".  Following that, I've found myself somewhere inside the cottage, usually in a boiler room.  It's weird and nonsensical, but in a way that jars me out of the game.  If there's anyone who knows what this might be a reference to, I'd love to hear it.

As you may have guessed, Googling "rotten tomato" is of no help.

So far, The Cottage seems to be another in a long line of whimsical fantasy adventure games (it seems to be the thing to do in 1978).  It's very sparse in its descriptions, which is a double-edged sword.  It makes the game less immersive, but it also makes it easier to figure out what's important in each room.  By the time I get to my next post I'll have explored inside the cottage, and I'm hoping that the inconsistent movement inputs don't ruin the experience for me.  Regardless, I expect there'll be enough oddities in the game to keep me amused.  You know, provided I don't just play another 100 hours of Breath of the Wild instead...

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

King Tut's Tomb: Complete Victory!

OCD strikes again!

As you can see from the image above, I managed to get the full score of 207 points in King Tut's Tomb.  I owe it all to Adamant, who has been doing a wonderful job of dissecting the code of this game in the comments section of my previous post.

As I had surmised, you lose points if you take too many moves.  I had also suspected that the number of matches you finish with influences the score, but it's more insidious than that.  To get all of the points, you need to complete the game using just a single match.  Given that the torch goes out roughly every 32 moves it seems that this is impossible, but there are some quirks in the code that can be exploited.  Simply put, the torch only goes out on move 32 if you have just entered a room (or used the LOOK command).  If you do anything else on move 32 (or any multiple of 32), the torch stays lit.  By counting my moves carefully, I was able to achieve the screen you see above and satisfy my inner completist.

Obviously this is the sort of thing that can only be done with careful dissection of the code, or an extreme amount of luck.  You'd need even more luck than it seems, though, because get this: whenever you light the torch it uses a random number of matches between 1 and 4.  I spent more time lighting the torch at the start of the game, checking how many matches had been used, and reloading than I did actually playing.  There's also the mummy, who you can't defeat by burning if you want the full score; you just have to rest your hopes on the 50/50 chance that he'll slip on a banana peel rather than kill you.  So yeah, the chances of getting this score without knowledge of the code are practically zero, but with Adamant's help I was able to do it.  Thanks!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Game 21: King Tut's Tomb (1978): Victory.

Apologies for the lengthy delay, but Ultima VII is real good, you guys.  So good that when I finished it I launched immediately into Ultima Underworld II, and Serpent Isle following that.  What can I say, I got that Ultima bug, and it caused me to neglect whichever of the virtues covers "diligent blogging".  Sacrifice maybe?  Honor?  Whichever it is, I hath verily lost an eighth, and I'm back to make amends.  (And if you don't know what I'm talking about, well, stick with the blog, and all will be revealed in the years to come.  Or better yet, just go play Ultima IV right now.)

This title screen depicts a brilliantly accurate scene of our hero exploring the tomb without his torch.

Today's game is the next effort from boy genius Greg Hassett, King Tut's Tomb.  Having created a game based on Jules Verne, and another tackling the haunted house genre, Hassett's next effort draws from stories based on Egyptology and the legend of the mummy's curse.  All of these genres are perhaps overdone by today's standards, but all three are firsts in the text adventure field in 1978, which has to count for something.

This game was developed for the TRS-80, and that's the platform I'm emulating it on, but there's a caveat to that which I ought to mention.  Every copy of this game that I could find for the TRS-80 has problems with the code: in particular, there's a certain point that, once you've progressed past it, doesn't allow you to return to the entrance of the tomb. At first I had thought this to be a clever puzzle, but it seems not. Every walkthrough and all the ports of the game that I tried - not to mention the source code that's available in this book - suggest that returning to the entrance should be no trouble at all.  I'm not sure where the problem originated.  Was it in the game's initial release?  Did someone writing the code to put up on the internet type it in wrong?  I have no idea, but I feel safe in declaring that it was definitely an error.  With that in mind, I fixed the code to match the published version, which changes some of the map connections.  I also took it upon myself to fix a minor bug when encountering the mummy, and to fix some spelling errors, because I'm like that.  So I'm playing a slightly tweaked version of the game than what's available on the web, but one that can actually be beaten. As usual, if anyone wants this code they should shoot me an e-mail.

The opening area of the game.

As with Hassett's other games, this is a simple text adventure. It has a two word VERB NOUN parser, which only recognises the first three letters of each word.  I have mixed feelings about this level of simplicity.  It can be limiting, but it's also nice to know that I won't have to deal with any particularly complex puzzles. Your character has an inventory limit of eight items.  Much to my surprise it recognises the command DROP EVERYTHING (more commonly seen in games as DROP ALL), allowing you to dump all of your inventory at once. It's a nice aid for inventory management (and move conservation) that I would never have expected to see in such a simple, early game.  It doesn't recognise GET EVERYTHING, however.

Speaking of simple and early, this game is another treasure hunt. You play as an unnamed explorer/adventurer/who-knows-what, raiding a pyramid to find various treasures, I guess for their monetary value. There's no explanation, and I really don't require any.  Collecting shiny things is just what text adventure protagonists do, and what they use them for once the game is done is best left to the realm of imagination.

There are thirteen treasures to collect, and finding them isn't difficult in any way. It's simply a matter of exploring every room in the pyramid and carting them back to the entrance.  There are a couple of small mazes to navigate (like, three or four areas each), and a gate to unlock, none of which is challenging.  The main puzzles/logistical problems to overcome, what few there are, are detailed below. 

Light: A late 70s adventure game where you need to carry a light source? How unusual!  I kid, of course.  Every adventure game I've played, except for the two developed for Wander, has had a light source of some kind.  In King Tut's Tomb you carry a torch and some matches.  The torch will go out periodically, and if you move around in the dark you'll eventually fall and break your neck.  You need to relight the torch with a match.  I never ran out of matches in the game, but a look at the source code tells me that there's a limit of 25.  They're also used to get around another obstacle, as detailed below, and the number you have left at the end influences your overall score.

The Mummy: Occasionally a mummy shows up to menace you as you explore, because it's an Egyptian-themed game and a mummy is obligatory.  He'll try to kill you, and there's a 50/50 chance that he succeeds.  On the times that he fails, there's a message about him slipping on a conveniently placed banana peel that is equal parts amusing and baffling.  (It can happen anywhere, so does that mean every location has a banana peel?  Who left them all there anyway?  Or does it spontaneously generate when the mummy appears?)  The mummy is easy to defeat, though, as the most obvious means of killing him is given to you at the beginning of the game.  All you need to do is BURN MUMMY while carrying the matches.  (The original code didn't display the message saying that the mummy was destroyed, although the mummy still vanished.  I tweaked this so that it works.)

Maybe the goobers eat bananas?  Or maybe I'm giving this game far too much thought?

The Goober: There's another monster that randomly shows up to try to kill you: a "goober".  These things are immortal and indestructible, and will follow you around and throw knives at you until they eventually hit and kill you.  One way to get rid of them is to head back to the pyramid's entrance: for whatever reason, they won't follow you outside, and when you re-enter they will be gone.  The other way to scare them away is to show them a snake.
  There's a snake in a pit quite deep into the pyramid.  At first the snake won't let you get near it, but if you feed it (with food that you find right at the start of the game) the snake calms down and you can carry it in your inventory.  The problem with that is that it eventually gets annoyed again, and will bite you.  The poison kills you eventually, but there's some wine you can drink that acts as an antidote.  As soon as you drink it, though, the snake slithers away and is gone.
  The goobers will flee at the sight of the snake, but to be honest the rigmarole involved with carrying the snake around is more annoying than the goobers themselves.  Eventually I stopped bothering to carry the snake, because it was barely worth it.  Instead I just retraced my steps back to the entrance, or lured the goober to the snake pit if I was too deep within the pyramid.  They flee from the snake regardless of whether it's in your possession.
  The goobers are really the only deterrent to finishing the game, and their random appearance can make or break any attempt.  They keep appearing even after you scare one away with the snake, so there's no way to get rid of them permanently.  In some games I would encounter three or four, and in others I wouldn't see any at all.  It's luck of the draw, and generally I just hoped to get a game where none would appear rather than bothering with the snake.  Starting over is probably less hassle than going through the process of carrying the snake for thirty or forty moves.

I got Goobered.

As you can see in the image above, the game offers reincarnation in much the same manner as Adventure and Zork.  If you take the offer, you'll find yourself back at the entrance with your torch and matches, and the rest of your inventory scattered throughout the pyramid.  It doesn't give you any benefits above just restarting that I can see.

It's not clear who it is that reincarnates you, other than "the game", but it does tie into the one clever thing that King Tut does.  When you're reincarnated, said mysterious benefactor does so with  the aid of some orange smoke that's stored inside a sarcophagus.  One of the treasure in the game is a sarcophagus, and if you open it, you get a face-full of orange smoke and a forcible reincarnation, complete with transportation to the entrance and the scattering of your inventory.  It's annoying, but I'm already on record as saying that I have an appreciation for a good adventure game trolling.  So to this I say, well-played Mr. Hassett.  Ya got me.

 There are some other items in the game besides the treasures.  Some are red herrings, like a worthless glass medallion, or the Steve Martin poster that references his novelty hit King Tut.  (As a side note, I'm certain that I remember a time when Steve Martin was funny, but it sure wasn't that song.)  There's the cup of wine for curing snakebite, as mentioned above.  The only other useful non-treasure item is the Book of the Dead, which contains instructions for defeating the mummy and the goober.

Once you've retrieved all of the treasures and brought them back to the entrance, your score will be 175 out of 175.  The game gives you a possible 32 bonus points, though, for a grand total of 207.  I'm not certain what factors influence these bonus points exactly, but the highest score I could manage was 203.  Looking at the source code, I can see that you lose points if you take more than 310 turns.  The number of matches you have left is also a factor.  Other than that I can't figure it out, but I'm happy enough to leave it with a score of 203, which is still enough to gain the top rank of Grand Master.

Goddamn those 4 points!!!

 Now, on to the Final Rating.

Story & Setting: There's no story to speak of, and although the pyramid setting is novel for the time, the descriptions are (necessitated by hardware limitations) too bare to evoke much of anything.  Rating: 1 out of 7.

Characters & Monsters:  There are the goobers, the mummy, and a snake.  Two of those are obstacles, and one is an inventory item.  It would be tempting to give this a score of 0, but I'm trying to avoid having to do that.  Rating: 1 out of 7.

Aesthetics:  It's a text adventure in grey and black, with the most minimal descriptions possible.  This is as bare-bones as games get, and it can't escape a minimum score.  Rating: 1 out of 7.

Mechanics: The parser is adequate, but very simplistic.  I was tempted to bump it up due to the recognition of DROP EVERYTHING, but in the end I decided it wasn't enough.  Rating: 3 out of 7.

Challenge:  What challenge?  The game barely has any puzzles at all.  The mummy is a trivial nuisance.  The goobers are irritating, but eventually you'll get a game where they don't appear.  Other than that there's a locked gate.  That's it.  Sometimes an easy game is welcome, but there ought to be some challenge, and King Tut's Tomb doesn't present one at all.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Innovation: It's yet another treasure hunt, with only the Egyptian theme to differentiate it from what has gone before.  I'm not sure it merits an extra point, but I'm going to give it one just because it's such an early game in the genre.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Fun: King Tut's Tomb is such a slight experience that I struggle to see what enjoyment anyone could get out of it, outside of someone in 1978 playing an adventure game for the very first time.  I won't give it the minimum score, because I'm reserving that for games that elicit genuine hatred from me.  This game didn't elicit anything except a resigned shrug of the shoulders.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Bonus Point: No bonus point.  I won't play this game again.  What would be the point?

The scores above total 12, which doubled gives a Final Rating of 24.  This makes it the lowest rated game of the blog so far, although it's only 2 points below Hassett's other games, House of Seven Gables and Journey to the Centre of the Earth.  Gables is probably the best of his games that I've played so far, and given that I'm not 100% sure of the chronology I probably played it out of order.  It's a more complete game than King Tut, that's for certain.

NEXT: It's back to the Wander system, for the evocatively named Library.  It's all the excitement of my day job, in game form!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Acheton: Victory!

When last I left you, I had found 49 treasures and was preparing to gather them and see how close I might be to wrapping Acheton up.  I had some minor fears about how difficult it might be to get all of the treasures before my lamp ran out, but I didn't think it would be that hard.  Boy, was I wrong about that.

The timer in Acheton is tight, and there is absolutely zero time for messing around.  Yes, there's a way to recharge the lamp, but as far as I can tell you can only use it once - to get there you need to pass by a "toll hole" that requires you to drop a treasure inside.  You can get by once safely without sacrificing a treasure, but on the second try you'll be crushed to death.  So while the Timeless Cavern might be able to recharge the lamp multiple times, I don't know for sure because I could never get back there.

There's also the problem of juggling your inventory.  You can carry a maximum of eight items, and there are sections that provide you with far more treasures than you can carry at one time.  So there are places that need to be visited more than once, and that adds to the difficulty.

So I charted a rough outline of what order to do things, but try as I might I just couldn't collect all of the treasures before my lamp expired.  Even turning my lamp off at every opportunity (in rooms with another light source) didn't help.  Besides, one of the areas with too many treasures to carry was the one beyond the "toll hole".  Either there was some way to pass it multiple times that I was missing, or some other way to get my items back to the main area.

It turned out to be the latter, and the answer was something that I had needed to look up in a walkthrough earlier in the game.  There are stars painted on various walls throughout the caves, and if you turn off the lamp and say the magic word ZOOGE, anything that's on the floor will be transported to the room just outside the treasure vault.  There are (I think) four of these in the game: one past the toll hole, one in the wizard's house, one in the desert canyon, and one near the central slab room.  Once I figured this out, I was eventually able to gather all 49 treasures and head for the vault.

Before I get into that, though, there were a couple of other things I discovered about the game.  The first is that the treasures in the mine maze aren't always in the same location.  There are seven in all, and every time I played they were scattered around the maze in different places.  It's a small thing, but I don't think there's been this kind of randomisation in an earlier text adventure.

The second thing I discovered is that I'd mixed things up a bit when writing about the pirates on the island in a previous post.  I had said that you need to hide at the top of a palm tree, wait for the pirates to land and visit a cave before they leave the island, then dig in the cave to find some doubloons.  Somehow I got that wrong.  You actually need to dig before the pirates arrive, which is kind of an ass-backwards puzzle to my mind.  I'm not completely opposed to puzzles that require you to fail before you can figure out the solution, but they aren't the best way to do things.

Okay, so back to the vault.  It's somewhat irritating that the treasures are transported to the room outside the vault, and not into the vault directly.  When you're trying to beat a timer, having to go back and forth carrying things from one room to the next is really not welcome.  Even aside from that, it's just an annoyance.  I eventually made it with my lamp still functional, and got the following exciting count-down.  (I guess it's actually a count-up.)

That bit about the safe being cluttered up is what happens when you leave a non-treasure in the vault.

It was success, of a sort.  I hadn't found all of the treasures, but what I had found was enough to grant me access to the endgame.  Of course, the first time I tried this I didn't have the item that I needed to re-open the vault door.  With the way back blocked by a stone slab, there was nothing to do but restore and try to figure out what I was missing.  I didn't take too long to hit on the solution: the magic rod was one of the only items in the game that I hadn't yet found a use for.

So, a wave of the wand re-opened the vault, and I was able to proceed to the final stages.  Before doing that, though, I wanted to find all of the treasures.  And with no other clues to go on, I cracked open the old walk-through and looked up the locations for all of them.  There's a total of 55 treasures in the game, so I had only missed six.  I'll list them and how to find them below.

The Silk: Remember the ultra-deadly snake maze I mentioned in my last post?  The one that took me hundreds of attempts to safely navigate?  I was afraid of this, but there was a treasure in one of the more inaccessible parts of the maze that had previously been covered by a huge boa constrictor.  The way to get it was simply to explore the maze without being killed by snakes, but that's a lot harder than it sounds.  With a walk-through, not hard at all, but it would have taken me hours  of painstaking trial-and-error without it.

The Diamond: There's a room not far from the Timeless Cavern that has some writing on the wall.  For whatever reason, I don't think I ever read that writing, but it says OFF MOAN WAIT EXAKCIP.  Saying these words causes an uncut diamond to appear in the abandoned mine aaaaall the way back on surface near the beginning of the game.  I guess you might figure out where to look from EXAKCIP (pickaxe backwards), but it seems unlikely, and there are no other clues pointing towards it, or even an acknowledgment that saying the words has any effect.
  An uncut diamond isn't quite good enough to get you the full points, though.  To turn it into a beautiful cut diamond, you need to CUT DIAMOND using a pair of scissors.

The Rhodium Sculpture: You might think that cutting the diamond would be enough, but nope.  If you CUT DIAMOND a second time, the scissors get hot and melt.  When they have cooled, the scissors are transformed into a rhodium sculpture.  It's another obscure puzzle with no hints towards its solution, but I probably would have figured it out just based on the principle of "what would happen if I tried this again".

Perhaps a mention that the scissors are made of rhodium might have been a good clue.

The Silver Sovereigns: Also near the game's beginning, there was a locked grate that was something of a callback to Colossal Cave Adventure.  If you try to enter, you slip and die in freezing water.  I had written this off as a joke, but there's actually a treasure here.  First you need to wave the magic rod, which causes the water to boil away.  Then you can safely go down and claim some silver sovereigns before emerging back in the forest through a different tunnel (which of course can't be found from the outside).

The Agate Ring: In the frozen tunnels there's a dead end with a floor of thick ice that I had noted earlier and then completely forgotten about.  You can melt the ice with some salt (which is apparently real science?) and in the room beneath there's an agate ring.

The Ankh: This one is apropos to my current gaming circumstances, because I'm trying to complete Ultima VII: The Black Gate (and enjoying the heck out of it).  But that's not really relevant to this post.  Remember the "toll hole"?  There's a chunk of quartz that I had thought was a treasure, but I hadn't noticed that it didn't have the telltale exclamation point that would mark it as such.  If you drop the quartz into the hole, an ankh flies back out at you.
You can't get past safely after this, so the Timeless Cavern is still inaccessible.

So I now had all of the treasures, and I was feeling less negative about how difficult some of them were to obtain.  You don't need all of the treasures to progress to the endgame: a minimum of 45 is enough.  It's a tough game to beat, but at least it's a little bit lenient when it comes to this final hurdle.

And now, the end-game.  After placing the treasures in the vault, and re-opening it with the magic rod, you'll find that it now leads to a different place: a corridor that steadily becomes steeper.  There's a sign that warns you to drop all of your items, and if you don't you'll be incinerated.  Obviously none of the items are required for the end-game - not even the lamp, as the whole place is lit - so it's perfectly fine to drop everything and continue down the slope.

This leads to a series of three rooms.  One room contains a small obsidian disc, another contains a medium-sized flint disc, and the last contains two discs of larger size stacked on top of each other.  Yes, it's a "Tower of Hanoi" puzzle, where the goal is to shuffle the stones around in such a way that you pile them up with the largest at the bottom progressing to the smallest at the top.  You can't put a larger disc on top of a smaller disc without blowing the whole place up.  It's very easy, and I had a mixture of relief and disappointment upon encountering it.  Disappointment, because I expected the ending of this terribly difficult game to be a bit more challenging, and relief, because I just wanted the thing to be over with.  Anyway, moving the largest stone reveals a hole underneath, and dropping through it takes you to the very final area of the game.

A gladiatorial pit, surrounded by a cheering crowd!  Now this I really enjoyed.  You're presented with eleven weapons: a mace, an axe, a canister of gas, a spear, a broadsword, a silver cane, a dagger, a stake, a mace, a barrel of gunpowder, and a crucifix.  One by one you have to defeat ten different enemies: a minotaur, an orc, a scorpion, a vampire, a wolf, a knight on horseback, a cyclops, a serpent, a spectre, and a dragon.  There's no scope for trying anything clever here, you just have to pick whichever weapon you think will work best, and you only get one shot with each weapon.  The order that these enemies appear is random, with the only constant being that the dragon always appears last.

I love that the crowd is composed of former adventurers.

The goal is obviously to find the best weapon for each foe and progress through them until you defeat the dragon, but there are some enemies that can be killed by multiple weapons, and some that are only vulnerable to a single weapon.  For example, if you're thinking mythologically you might use the stake to kill the cyclops.  If the vampire appears after that, you'll then be forced to kill him with the crucifix.  This will leave you helpless against the spectre, however, who is only vulnerable to that weapon.  The first time I got to the dragon I had already used the gunpowder to kill the minotaur, so I lost at the final hurdle.  It's a process of trial and error, but you're pretty much guaranteed to win eventually, which I did after maybe twenty tries.

After long hours of gruelling puzzle-solving, the gladiator arena does seem to come out of nowhere, and present a challenge that feels a little disconnected from the rest of the game.  Personally, I found it to be a refreshing change, and the various combat results were written amusingly enough that I spent an hour with a checklist trying to get them all.

Once the dragon is defeated you're cheered out of the arena, given a laurel wreath, named as a Supreme Grandmaster of Acheton and elected to the Ruling Council.  It's all a little perfunctory, but abrupt endings are pretty much all you're going to get until maybe the mid-1980s.

I think the relevant authorities would not look kindly on my use of a walk-through.

But wait, what's this?  I only finished with a score of 1499?  At this point I had a minor panic, thinking that I might have missed something right near the beginning of the game.  But luck was with me: that Last, Lousy Point (in the tradition of Colossal Cave Adventure and Zork) was to be found in the arena.  You can defeat the knight with the axe, the mace or the gunpowder, but using any of these won't get you the full points (and besides that you need the mace for the minotaur and the gunpowder for the dragon).  The trick is, when presented with a choice of weapons, to type NONE.  Which is funny, and a little bit clever, but also quite cheap and unfair.  It's hard to get worked up over it though when it's just a little something to get the maximum score.

With that, I'm very nearly done with Acheton.  On the whole I found it rather enjoyable, with the caveat that I was able to look up the answers whenever I got stuck.  Without that luxury, I'd still be stymied by it, and may never have completed it before giving up.  Even so, it's undoubtedly one of the best adventure games around for the time.  It's not up to the lofty standards set by Zork, and probably a bit too lengthy for its own good, but it's a worthwhile experience, and I feel as though I'm a far better adventure gamer than I was before I started it.

Before I sign off, here is the updated List of Shame, being all the things I needed to consult a walkthrough for over the course of the game:

  1. Climbing the Ningy before tipping it over.
  2. Drinking the gin to fall safely down the cliff.
  3. Using the mushroom password at the Gate of Isis.
  4. Turning the thread into a rope to get down from the canyon.
  5. Finding the invisible clock.
  6. Using the clock in the maze of mirrors.
  7. Using the amulet to make items visible or invisible.
  8. Using ZOOGE to transport items in rooms with stars.
  9. Painting a star to transport the portrait out of the gallery.
  10. Navigating my way out of the wizard's dungeon.
  11. Finding the silk in the snake maze.
  12. Finding the diamond in the abandoned mine.
  13. Cutting the diamond.
  14. Cutting the diamond again to create the rhodium sculpture.
  15. Using the wand to safely access the area beyond the grate and find the sovereigns.
  16. Using the salt to melt the ice floor and find the agate ring.
  17. Dropping the crystals in the "toll hole" to get the ankh.
  18. Beating the knight with my bare hands.

It's not pretty, but this game is hard y'all.  I feel no shame.

And now, for the Final Rating.

Story and Setting: Yet again it's a treasure hunt, featuring a character with no discernible goal beyond the player's desire to win the game.  On that score, it's about on par with Colossal Cave Adventure.  The caves of Acheton occasionally gesture towards some of the humourous elements of Zork, but while there are some interesting areas none of them quite reach the iconic status of things like the Flood Control Dam.  It also lacks the cohesiveness of Zork, with very few of the game's areas feeling connected in any way.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

NPCs and Monsters:  There aren't really any characters, but there are monsters galore: snakes, a mummy, an idol that comes to life when you pluck out its eye, and the various creatures inside the arena.  None of them are all that interesting, being more obstacles than anything else, but I'm going to mark this category up for the many amusing results to be had in the arena.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Aesthetics: It's a well-written adventure game with a fair amount of wit, but in the end it's still a text adventure, and not exceptional enough for a high score in this category.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Mechanics: The parser is a basic two-word affair, with which I had minimal difficulty.  I think the only place that I found myself getting stuck for the right verb was when trying to light a fire on the island.  Otherwise, it did the job adequately.  Rating: 4 out of 7.

Challenge: This is where I need to point out that this category isn't really about how hard a game is: on that scale, Acheton would rate very high.  What this category really rates is how well-balanced a game is, and a high rating would be for something that maintains a high level of challenge without ever becoming frustrating.  A game that is too hard, or too easy, would rank low.  I was prepared to rank Acheton fairly low here, but I'm reconsidering.  Most of the puzzles play fair, and there's also the fact that you can beat it without finding all of the treasures.  That said, I played it with a walkthrough at hand, so I didn't get the full experience of just how ball-tearingly difficult it could be.  Mostly, I think I'm marking it down for just being too big.  There's probably four really good adventures crammed into this thing, but as it is it's too unwieldy.  Rating: 3 out of 7.

Innovation and Influence: It's one of the very first adventure games to be written outside of America, and still one of the earliest ever made, so both of those have to count for something.  There are some other smaller things as well, like the randomly generated mazes.  I might even consider the sheer vindictiveness of some of the puzzles to be an innovation of a sort.  But overall, it's very beholden to Zork, and never really steps out of its shadow.  Rating: 4 out of 7.

Fun: Acheton was equal parts amusing novelty and mind-numbing frustration.  There's so much to like in it, and so many clever puzzles and fun situations.  But there are also moments where it just feels too hard, and provides little guidance as to what to do next.  And again, there's the size of it.  Had it been half as big, it would get a more impressive score here.  Rating: 3 out of 7.

Perhaps against my better judgment, I'm awarding Acheton the coveted bonus point, as I could definitely see myself coming back to it some day.  Actually, the commercial version is a little different in that the arena weapons are scattered throughout the caves, so I'll probably challenge myself with that on the blog should the time ever come.  The above scores total 21, for a Final Rating of 42.  That's fairly impressive at this stage: as far as adventure games go, that puts it level with Adventureland, with only Colossal Cave Adventure and Zork above it.

Next: It's King Tut's Tomb Adventure, by my boy Greg Hassett!  Whatever his adventures may lack in quality, they make up for it in brevity, and that's really what I need right now.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Acheton: I Get By With A Little Help From My FAQs

Since my last post, I've made all sorts of progress with Acheton.  Some of that progress is legitimate, and some of it...  Well, let's just say that I consulted some walkthroughs.  I'm only human, and even my patience has its limits.  (I'm probably more patient with CRPGs than adventure games, as my posts on Moria and The Game of Dungeons will attest.)  As has become standard, break all of this progress down by area/puzzle.

The Desert:  I've previously expressed some concern about the sheer size of this game.  I was afraid that, despite it already being enormous, there might be a very large amount of it left to explore.  As it turned out, I was needlessly worried.  Yes, it's very large for a text adventure, but the desert was the last major area that I hadn't yet been to, and in the end I found the whole thing reasonably manageable.

As for the desert, I couldn't figure out how to survive it without getting lost and dying of thirst.  After several hours of heading south from the beach with various combinations of items in my possession, I cracked and consulted a walkthrough.  What I discovered was that you don't enter the desert from that direction at all.  Instead, you need to go through the tunnel behind the Ningy, and follow the passage until you reach the top of a cliff.  Jumping down from the cliff results in you breaking your neck, and the parser doesn't understand any attempts I made to climb down.  The solution is to drink some gin before you jump.  This relaxes your body, and allows you to survive the fall.  I can't say that this solution makes much sense to me.  One of the garden gnome's clues points towards it, by saying that a drink can be relaxing, but it was far too obscure for me.  I might have figured it out through trial and error, but I seriously doubt it.

Once again, alcohol solves all the problems.

One passage near the bottom of the cliff leads back to the Ningy Room, and another leads into a series of desert canyons.  At the beginning of these canyons is a spring, and navigating your way through is a matter of conserving water before you die of thirst.  There's a cave with a barrel, which you need to fill with water to allow you to explore more of the canyons.  There's also a pool with contaminated water that will kill you, and a cave on a cliff ledge where you'll find a flask of perfume (one of the game's treasures).  At the end-point of the canyons is a desert oasis, where you'll find another treasure (a persian rug) and an entrance into a large pyramid.

The Pyramid:  At first it seems like there's not much in the pyramid: just a single room with a cactus in a pot.  In reality, there's loads of stuff inside, and some of the most dangerous sequences in the entire game.

The pot that the cactus is in has the following words written around the outside: BLEI AMEDI.  The more observant among you might realise that is says "I AM EDIBLE", but I just blundered through by trying random things.  One of those things was EAT CACTUS, and I was rewarded by shrinking down and being crushed by my inventory.  On a second attempt, I dropped all of my gear before shrinking, and when I was small enough saw that there was a crack I could enter.

At this point I remembered the glowing marble, which had previously been too small for me to see the visions swirling inside.  After quickly restoring an old game and returning to the cactus, I ate it with the marble in my possession.  When I shrank down it retained its regular size, and was revealed as a glowing palantir.  (That Tolkien influence was inescapable in gaming for the 70s and most of the 80s.)  All of the visions that the palantir showed me were of the Ruling Council of Acheton eating various types of food.  They weren't helpful now, but later on I put some things together and worked it out.

For the moment, I descended into the crack.  There was a small room, a passage heading east, and another hole in the floor.  I was warned that I wouldn't be able to come back this way if I went down, so I explored the east passage.  What I found was a long tunnel, with various letters written on the south wall.  What I also found was a balrog, which killed me with its fiery whip.  (It's amusing that this is a teeny-tiny balrog, like maybe an inch high.  Or maybe it's normal-sized, and everyone in Lord of the Rings is an inch high?  It's possible.)

This sequence was super-tricky, and required a lot of trial and error.  You need to pay attention to the palantir: sometimes it glows dimly, sometimes brightly, and sometimes very brightly.  When it glows very brightly the balrog is near, so you have to head back west.  When it glows brightly you should wait.  You can go east, but about half the time the balrog will be waiting for you, and heading back west makes the palantir stop glowing for reasons I'm not sure about.  When the palantir glows dimly, you can go east.  Eventually you'll enter a room with a deep pit, and the balrog at the bottom.  There's also a scarab you can claim.  Getting out is tricky, though, because the palantir will extinguish and you'll be left in the dark.  You need the letters on the south wall, which spell out the word LORNIWYQ.  Saying the word teleports you to safety.

Except, it doesn't.  It actually teleports you into the pit with the balrog, who kills you instantly.  The actual word for teleporting to safety in QYWINROL.  As always in Acheton, remember: save often.  That way it doesn't feel so bad when the game slaughters you without mercy.

He's angry because he's so tiny and adorable.

With the balrog tunnel done, it's time head down the passage-of-no-return.  There you'll find the Gate of Isis, a dead end with coral beads (more treasure), and another dead end with a gigantic mushroom.  The mushroom comes into play later, but for the moment I'll describe the deadly hell-hole that lies beyond the Gate of Isis.

It's not so bad at first.  It leads into a temple, where there's a mummy wandering around.  If you stumble into the mummy he'll kill you, but it's not too hard to avoid him because he moves in a very predictable pattern.  There's a north-east passage out of the temple that circles around to where it started, but it also leads to an ancient torque (another treasure).  The mummy circles around this passage constantly, so you need to follow him in and waste no steps, otherwise he'll catch up to you and throttle you to death.

There's also a south passage out of the temple, and this is where the game just gets plain nasty.  The passage leads into a series of rooms, each one containing a different variety of sleeping serpent: a viper, a cobra, a boa constrictor, etc.  There are three treasure in these rooms (a tourmaline bracelet, a carbuncle, a bronze candlestick), but you can only take two of them, because there's a bloody great viper coiled around the candlestick.  You need to wake up the snakes, and this can be done by sacrificing some treasures on the nearby Altar of Ra.  This is a pretty obscure verb to be using in a text adventure, but what else is there to do with an altar?  And after shrinking your inventory is fairly non-existent, so it's not too hard to figure out which items work as a sacrifice.  My main worry was whether I'd get the sacrificed treasures back, but as it turns out, I had more immediate concerns.

Sacrificing a treasure on the altar causes all of the snakes to wake up.  It also causes the walls to start changing colour in a rainbow sequence (ROYGBIV), which is just as well because there's no way I'd have figured out how to escape otherwise.  You need to get back to the temple with the candlestick, but if any of the snakes catch you you'll be killed.  Their movements are in sequence with the wall colours, though, so a bit of trial and error is required to figure out the correct path.  Okay, a lot of trial and error.  A LOT of trial and error.  I was at this for a couple of hours.  I made maps, and charts.  The temptation to look up the solution was strong, but I was determined to get through it on my own.  I did it eventually, with the candlestick in my possession, but it was tough.  In terms of the number of times it killed me, this sequence is probably the single most deadly area of a text adventure that I've ever encountered.  (I'm not just talking about the blog here, either.  I mean every adventure game I've played, ever.)

Why did it have to be snakes?

With that done, all that's left in the pyramid is to find a way to escape.  Remember the mushroom I mentioned earlier?  If you eat a piece of it you'll receive a vision that shows you some letters of the alphabet.  That wasn't so hard to figure out, as the edible cactus already had me in the right frame of mind for chomping down on a fungus.  What took me a little longer to figure out was that the vision changes depending on which direction you approach the cactus from (it's in a large cavern).  There are three different visions, and you need to put them together to form a password.  I've done it a few times now, and got a different password each time.  I'm not sure how random it is, but you can't just learn the word in a previous game and use it again without visiting the mushroom.

So I had the password, but typing it in did nothing.  This was the second point where I caved, and looked up the answer: I needed to say the word while standing in front of the Gate of Isis.  Doing that teleported me all the way back to one of the desert canyons, but I was way up high on a ledge with no way to get back to the ground.  Climbing down resulted in my death, as did jumping.  I didn't have any items except for some treasures: the rest of my inventory was back in the pyramid, having been discarded before I ate the cactus.  I tried some magic words, I tried praying, I tried typing obscenities (hey, it worked in Aldebaran III).  I took a look over all of the inventory items in the game for something that might help me get down, that also wouldn't crush me when I shrunk.  I should have seen the answer then, but it completely slipped by me.

So I looked up the answer again.  I find that the closer I am to finishing a game, or finishing a large section of a game, the more likely I am to consult a walkthrough.  Maybe it's frustration, or simply the desire to get to the end and finish the game, but my patience is notably lessened.  The same goes for mapping as well; if you ever look through my maps for something like Bard's Tale, you'll see a marked dip in thoroughness in the final levels as compared to the opening ones.

The answer was that I needed to bring a piece of thread with me, and keep it on my person while shrinking.  Just like the marble/palantir, it keeps its original size and becomes a rope, and when you're teleported out of the pyramid it stays rope-sized.  With that, it's easy enough to climb back to the ground and head back to the spring at the beginning of the canyons (and from there get back to the Ningy Room).  The only loose end is the treasures that were sacrificed on the Altar of Ra, which can now be found at the foot of a sphinx not far from the spring.  Done, and I only needed to cheat three times to do it.  It won't be the last time, unfortunately.

The Ice Floe:  Back in the ice caverns, there's an ice floe that melts about five turns after you first encounter it,  If you step into the centre, you'll smell a number of scents, going clockwise: an onion field, a citrus grove, a barn, the sea, ozone, an orchard, a vineyard and a coffee plantation.  Eight options (one of which led back to the ice passages), but no matter how many times I saved and restored, I never found anything on the ice floe.  As soon as I saw the visions in the palantir, though, I knew it was the solution.  Each time I looked at the palantir I saw a vision of the Ruling Council of Acheton enjoying a banquet, with seven different courses: fish, sorbet, ox, soup, coffee, fruit, and a champagne toast.  All that's required is to take the palantir onto the ice floe, move in the direction that corresponds to the vision that it shows, and you'll find a necklace.

'Ralph Witt' might be a reference to Witt's End from Colossal Cave Adventure.

The Maze of Mirrors: Okay, so this is a puzzle which I completely gave up on solving myself.  In the wizard's house there's a maze of mirrors, and every time I entered it I became hopelessly lost.  Occasionally I would find an osmium hunting horn, but whenever I tried to take it, it was revealed as an optical illusion.

Consulting a walkthrough revealed a number of things that I would never in a million years have figured out.  The first is that there's an invisible clock in an area not far from the maze.  I had heard it chime occasionally as I passed through, but never stopped to investigate. You can take it, but it's not of much use while invisible.

There is a way to make it visible, though, by waving the amulet found in the mines.  I had previously been told a clue that hinted at the amulet having some sort of power, but it wasn't even close to enough for me to figure this out on my own.  Not only does the amulet make the clock visible, but it can make any object you wave it over invisible, and also return it to visibility.  Both of these abilities will become important later on.

So how does this relate to the mirror maze?  Well, you need to take the clock inside in order to find the correct path.  Every time you move the clock displays a time, and you need to move in the compass direction that corresponds to the small hand of the clock.  After a few moves you'll find the osmium horn (not an illusion this time) floating in mid-air.  Getting back out of the maze is done using the same method, by moving in the compass direction opposite the hour hand of the clock.

These puzzles are brutally difficult, and I would also say that they are somewhat unfair.  Perhaps it's just that I'm not as smart as a brain-trust of Cambridge mathematicians, but I really would have appreciated some more clues.  Apparently the commercial release by Topologika in 1987 had a hint file, and if I had any sense I would have played that version.  But no, here I am sticking to my chronological guns, and unable to legitimately beat this game.

I've got the horn!  Er, so to speak.

The Philosopher's Stone: This was a quick one, and miracle of miracles I worked it all out on my lonesome.  In the caves there's a room with a grey stone, and a book with details on how to transform lead into gold.  Every time I tried to read the book it crumbled to dust, but that's okay because it's apparently not important to the solution.  In the mines there's a big lump of lead, which needs to be brought to the room with the book and the stone.  (Maybe it can be done elsewhere, I'm not sure.)  Drop the nugget, pick up the stone, say TRANSMUTE and voila, instant gold nugget.  I do love a short, simple puzzle.

Another puzzle that requires a bit of outside knowledge to solve.

The Rembrandt Portrait: There's an art gallery with a painting in it, but the thing is too large to carry out.  I'd thought I needed to shrink it, but the solution is much more complex than that, and involves the magic word ZOOGE that I had seen scrawled on a wall elsewhere.  It also involves the stars that are painted on the walls in various locations around the caves.  If you use the word in an area where there's a star, any item on the ground will be transported next to the vault (where you need to take all of your treasures to win the game).  For some reason it only works in the dark, which is odd, but at least there's a hint about it written in the vault.  This is how you get the portrait out of the gallery, but there's no star there: you need to paint one yourself using a can of spray-paint.  Needless to say, I didn't work any of this out on my own.

ZOOGE!  It's quite fun to say.

The Wizard's Dungeon: Early in my time with this game I had stumbled into a room in the wizard's house with a bubbling cauldron, and been transported into a dungeon cell.  I never found my way out, and quietly put this on the back-burner.  I was pretty sure that I'd be leaving it until last.

With no other obvious puzzles left for me to solve, it was time to finally go back there.  Once again, I had absolutely no idea what to do.  My only clues were a word the wizard says when he transports you in (NERKU) and a word that an elf pops up and says after a while (UKREN).  Otherwise I was stumped, and once again I resorted to looking up the answer.  Not only am I more likely to do so towards the end of a game, but once I break the seal it's far more tempting to just keep looking.  After all, I've already cheated once, haven't I?

The wizard's dungeon is a maze of sorts, but it's one that you create yourself.  You begin in a cell, and after a number of attempted moves you'll find yourself at a junction of passages.  To escape, you need to recreate the exact sequence of moves that you made while in the cell.  It's another very clever puzzle that I wish had some sort of hint towards the solution in the game.

The maze leads to a library, where you'll find an ancient papyrus scroll.  It can't be read, but it is a treasure so it needs to be collected.  Moving any direction from the library brings you to a hole, and descending is the only way out.

This leads to another maze, a labyrinth of small passages, each with a hole in the ceiling.  It can't be mapped by dropping items, because there's a thick layer of smoke covering the floor, but through a process of moving about and exploring all of the holes I found some coins and a stamp.  I also found a dusty ante-room that led to some stairs flanked by a pair of stone lions.

You might expect that these lions would come to life when you try to descend the stairs, and you'd be right.  If you pass between the lions while carrying any treasure, they batter you to death with their stone paws.  At first I tried to pass them with my lamp turned off, but that's no good.  The trick is one I've mentioned earlier, and it involves the amulet.  You need to make your treasures invisible before you can get past the lions.  This was a really satisfying puzzle to figure out, but that satisfaction was somewhat ruined by the fact that I never would have known about the amulet in the first place without looking it up.

An unsurprising death.

Beyond the lions is the wizard's back door, which is locked.  The obvious solution was to use my keys, but they didn't fit, and I wasn't able to break the door down.  After a while of trying random stuff, I started using some of the magic words I'd found, and eventually hit on the solution: NERKU UKREN (which can be typed as one command, or separately).  Alas, my triumph was short-lived: as soon as I uttered the words the invisible treasures that I was carrying exploded and incinerated me.  You need to make your items invisible to get past the lions, then make them visible again to get past the door.  With that done, you'll be teleported to an area not far from the Slab Chamber.

The List of Shame:  Before I finish this post, here's a list of all the puzzles that I couldn't work out on my own:

  1. Climbing the Ningy before tipping it over.
  2. Drinking the gin to fall safely down the cliff.
  3. Using the mushroom password at the Gate of Isis.
  4. Turning the thread into a rope to get down from the canyon.
  5. Finding the invisible clock.
  6. Using the clock in the maze of mirrors.
  7. Using the amulet to make items visible or invisible.
  8. Using ZOOGE to transport items in rooms with stars.
  9. Painting a star to transport the portrait out of the gallery.
  10. Navigating my way out of the wizard's dungeon.

I'm pretty sure this list will be bigger before I'm done.

Heading for the End-Game?  At this point, there are no other obvious puzzles for me to tackle.  I'm sure there are more that I'm not seeing.  I've located 49 treasures, which doesn't seem a round enough number to be correct.  For the moment, though, I won't be looking for any more treasures.  Now it's time to try to put all of my efforts together into a single run, to see if I can collect all of those treasures before my lamp runs out.  I had wondered if the Timeless Cavern could be used to recharge it more than once, but it's a moot point, because as far as I can tell there's no way to get back there without being killed.  So I need to plan out an efficient path through the game, and hopefully it'll be enough to get me to the end.