Mystery Fun House: Finished!   1 comment

The cover of the Japanese version, via Giant Bomb.

I was very close to the end.

Let’s get the yucky part out of the way first: I was stuck with my last post on what was essentially a guess-the-verb issue, although I think an error in visualization might be more accurate. I mentioned being able to partially open a grate that was still stuck by one bolt. I visualized the grate as being set inside a hole such that any kind of movement would have to be up (PULL GRATE) or down (PUSH GRATE) neither which worked; HIT GRATE also wasn’t very helpful.

Apparently, there was some room to the side: SLIDE GRATE was what worked. Argh!

In any case, entering the hole led to a new area:

At this point, I knew immediately what to do: I have been toting around an explosive device the entire game, and now was its time to shine.

Oops! In my last post I wrote “main problem is it attracts guards, is it possible to muffle the sound?” which was slightly prescient. The solution here was exceedingly simple: close the door leading to the outside before setting off the explosion.

Through the blasted gate is one of my favorite puzzles of any adventure game:

I’m not going to even spoil it here, but instead give two hints. 1.) It uses something that you might normally not think of as a valid puzzle-solving item; recontextualizing assumptions is necessary and 2.) my previous posts about Mystery Fun House contain enough information to figure the puzzle out. Feel free to leave your guesses in the comments.

After the clay pigeon room came the secret lab…

…followed by victory!

Mystery Fun House has pretty solid design compared to other Scott Adams games, although I don’t think it quite reaches the heights of Voodoo Castle or innovation of The Count. Really, the main demerit is my >SLIDE GRATE issue; I was genuinely stuck for a long time and wasted a great deal of effort trying to make progress. It’s strange, in that I’m guessing a lot of players visualized the situation correctly and tried SLIDE GRATE right away, making this an issue that doesn’t even register. Adventure games in a way have a higher hurdle to jump than other genres. Minor glitches in strategy game AI or shooter sprite design can be passed over, but if progress is stuck in an adventure the experience plummets, even (perhaps especially) if it turns out the problem is minor.

I also have mixed feelings about the two locked doors I mentioned in my last post that turned out to be red herrings. One of the doors (the one behind the mirror) you presumably see the other side of in the secret lab, so there’s a nice bit of continuity. On the other hand, I did waste quite a bit of time trying to hack or explode my way through. I’ll consider this aspect a tie. (Disclaimer: I genuinely enjoyed the red herrings in Planetfall and felt like they added enormously to the world-as-world feeling where not every aspect has to be conveniently oriented towards solving a puzzle. However, I know some people dislike red herrings of any sort.)

This really seems to be the first adventure game comedy. It even nails participatory comedy, which is especially difficult in adventure format. Anyone can add a silly item description to a game, which is like telling a joke. Having the player attempt to buy a ticket with a “five dollar bill” that turns out to be a grocery bill makes the player part of the joke.

Oh, and that final puzzle’s solution is also somewhat comedic, but in a sensible way. I guess that’s hint #3.

(Additional bonus reading: Emily Short discusses participatory comedy in the Ryan Veeder game The Statue Got Me High.)

Posted May 24, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Mystery Fun House: Stuck   1 comment

Image via Giant Bomb. “Before exploring the Mystery Fun House, you must figure out how to get inside. Once inside, you’ll see all the typical Fun House sights, concealing a valuable prize.”


This isn’t the first post I’ve given this title, nor the first where I’m going to do some pre-planning before my next game session. Let me catch up some events, though:

One of the puzzles I hadn’t solved yet since my last play session involved a merry-go-round; attempting to get on resulted in this:

WHAT SHALL I DO? go merry
HUH? Why do you want me to MARRY?
Calliope is so LOUD I can’t hear clearly!

Apparently, the calliope is too loud for the computer parser to hear.

Turning off a valve in an unrelated part of the fun house turned down the music. I was then able to climb the merry-go-round to the top, where I found a wrench and a flashlight.

The wrench let me take one (and only one) of the two bolts off the grating outside. Here I am now very stuck.

. . .

I really am fascinating by the moment of stuckness in adventures; it seems to be both the primary source of joy in puzzle games (once a difficult puzzle is cracked) but also the most common reason people give up on them or avoid the genre in general. Theoretical question: If we wanted to design a game with moderate or high difficulty, is there a good way to mitigate the pain of being stuck for all users?

Whatever the answer is, Scott Adams games tend not to have it. By necessity of stuffing into the memory of a TRS-80, the responsiveness is fairly low to commands that aren’t part of the correct solution. Consequently, there’s very little help or encouragement when things are wrong.

Also, the stuckness is quite often not from missing the appropriate way to put together puzzle pieces, but misunderstanding the nature of the environment. A fairly good example is the part in Strange Odyssey where I wasn’t aware I could >ENTER JUNGLE because the jungle was given in the room description rather than as an object, unlike every other enterable location in the game.

With this game, I was stuck a while at the top of the previously mentioned merry-go-round; there was a hint about a piece of hemp falling on my head, but that didn’t quite equate to what I needed to do: LOOK CEILING, upon which I would find a rope. I might be wrong, but this might be the first time in a Scott Adams game you can refer to the ceiling at all as an object! One would normally expect the game to not recognize its existence. (Yet I solved the puzzle; to be fair, it was a pretty strong hint.)

. . .

Still, I want to continue with a principle I established in playing Philosopher’s Quest, that even when nothing is resolved, eliminating possibilities is still progress. The adventure-game system (or in my real life job, the math problem) isn’t necessarily going to give you any feedback that lets you feel some movement and accomplishment. In such cases I try to create the feedback myself.

For example, as I mentioned in my last post, there are some spectacles that let you see a secret door in a mirror. After I found the secret door I never used the spectacles again, but one possible solving attempt is to take the spectacles to every accessible room, just in case they find something else. I did a half-hearted attempt at this while I was in the midst of playing, but I got tired quickly. Knowing and documenting what’s been checked with the spectacles makes the experience at least a little satisfying.

Known puzzles that need solving

Other bolt on grating in parking lot

Locked door at pit

Locked door above merry-go-round

Things to try

Use the spectacles on everything to find more secret doors

Try to blow things up with the gum from the shoe – main problem is it attracts guards, is it possible to muffle the sound? Would be useful if it worked on the grating, but the gum doesn’t stick, is there a way around this?

Try to track down where the mermaid goes if you open the drain – is this just a gag or is it useful?

Is the skeleton useful?

There’s a red knob that makes a hallway get occasional strong blasts of air rather than light blasts of air – try dropping items there and see if anything useful happens?

Posted May 24, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Mystery Fun House: A Series of Comedic Events   2 comments

I mentioned in my last post I got halfway through the game without being aware I was some sort of super spy trying to retrieve a blueprint.

Part of the reason why is the events that follow have very little in common with a spy story. It’s really more of a comedy.

You start out needing a ticket to get in the fun house. It costs a dollar. In the parking lot, you find a “five dollar bill” but, upon attempting to use it to buy a ticket, this happens:

There’s a dollar coin stuck in a grate you need to get to buy the ticket instead.

This is followed by a mirror

a maze (thankfully brief)

and a room with a skeleton and three knobs. (Pulling them takes you to three different destinations.)

There’s a “rolling barrel room” that won’t let you leave unless you CRAWL out

a non-working fortune teller

and a tank with a mermaid.

Also, you can send the mermaid down the drain.

The closest there is to a spy-genre event is a pair of spectacles

that can be used to find a secret room back at the mirror. It feels more like Inspector Gadget than James Bond to me, though.

I’m really curious what the thought process with the design here was; did they first want to design a spy game, then picked the setting, then realized the setting was more of a comedy so made it that way? Or did Scott Adams (supposedly with assistance from Alexis Adams on this one) decide they wanted to try a comedy and realized it might not make sense to the average player without a frame story? Was there a genuine desire to make a spy/comedy hybrid? Or was it all just thrown together at random and this is what things ended up at?

Posted May 21, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Mystery Fun House (1979)   1 comment

I needed a lightener after my last game. Fortunately, the next Scott Adams in my list is one I’ve beaten before.

I first encountered this game browsing a list of Scott Adams games, trying each one in sequence. Since all I knew was the name, with no context, I didn’t even know what genre I was supposed to be in. I only found out about the plot until halfway through the game:

The letter is hidden in the shoe; you remove the heel to find it.

Scott Adams has had done interesting things with implied plot in both Secret Mission and The Count. This circumstance isn’t exactly the same, but it certainly falls in the same ballpark of handling the necessary minimalism of the TRS-80 by giving the PC knowledge that the player doesn’t have. If a player doesn’t look at their inventory closely enough, they might miss the instructions hidden in the shoe (even though the player character “James” likely put them there in the first place!)

In any case, this should (hopefully) go quickly. I remember most of this game, and it contains one of my favorite adventure game puzzles of all time.

Posted May 15, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Adventure 500: Finished!   Leave a comment

I found all the treasures, and deposited them in the wellhouse as is ancient tradition. I’m short by 3 points, but I’m ok with that; I’m not sure if the points actually exist.

You moved 353 times.
You gave me 477 commands.
Your score was 497 out OF 500.

You have reached master adventure, class C.
You need 3 more points for the next rank.
not completely exploring the park.

First, I wanted to (maybe) backtrack on a statement I made about the “crazy maze”. If you recall from last time it was a maze with an overwhelming number of rooms which I said also had a situation where leaving one exit would randomly go to a different room than normal.

I’m a little unsure about the latter point now, given I found out I was done in by a different trick altogether. Since I was out of objects, the way I was mapping was to save, try a particular exit which led to an indisguishable room, then try all the exits in *that* room to figure out which ones worked. I assumed if, say, the northeast exit led to room I had left a bottle in, that would be the *only* room where leaving northeast goes to a room with a bottle. I was entirely wrong about this. There are at least 3 rooms which in fact intentionally seem oriented to foul up this particular trick. I had to add rooms with names like (1B) to my map to account for the fact I was in a “fake” room 1.

The maze with passages that are all different appears in the game too, changed from the Crowther/Woods version:

To be honest, I was not fond of the original, and this one seemed eminently more workable. I avoided the same mistake I made with original Adventure and made sure I dropped objects in the rooms to help me map, even though the room names could be used for mapping (“little twisty maze of passages”, “maze of little twisting passages”, etc.) Rather than a vending machine, the end of the maze has the pirate’s treasure. (The pirate can appear to steal your treasure just like original Adventure, but he’s a lot rarer in this game.)

I got caught by an entirely evil and new different trick. You see, after you get the chest, if you just backtrack in a normal way, when heading north from the exit room (“little maze of twisty passages”) it will not leave the maze as it normally does. The game switches the passage off to prevent escape. I’m still not 100% sure the logic behind it, but I did eventually find a slightly irregular route back to the little maze of twisty passages where going north did allow for escape.

I would not have needed to be so complete about either mapping job except for a unique scoring feature: the game gives you 1 point for every room you visit. So while I found the crazy maze’s treasures within about 10 minutes of entering, if I wanted the points for the maze I had to map out and create a route that passed through every room. For posterity, so nobody else need suffer in the future:

Crazy Maze walkthrough:

From starting room: D. U. D. W.
GET DIAMOND
SE
GET CUP
NE
GET NECKLACE
E. SE.
GET CUBE
W. NW. D. NE. NW.
E. U. W. U. NE. SE.
GET RUG
SE. W. U. NE. SE. SW. S. NW. E. NE.
U. D. U. W. NW. SW. SW. E.
SW. N. D. D. U. W.
(OUT OF MAZE!)

All Different Maze Walkthrough:

From starting room: D. S. W. S. S. W. E. S. E.
N. SW. D. S. SE. W.
GET CHEST
E. NE. NW. D. E. U. N.
(out!)

There were a few puzzles other than mazes! For example:

  • There’s a clam with a pearl in it, just like the original. There’s even a trident sitting nearby, but the trident is no help in opening it. The correct way to open the clam is drop the clam by water; when touching the water, the clam reacts and opens, exposing the pearl.
  • You find a hammer, nails, and wood at one point. There is one spot where you can >BUILD BRIDGE and another where you can >BUILD LADDER. Despite the unusual verb, this was fairly well hinted and not hard to figure out. The main issue was logistical, because the wood is quite heavy and it’s hard to carry the necessary construction items as the same time as other things.
  • One of the few aspects to remain entirely unchanged from original Adventure is the Ming Vase, which requires that you drop a pillow first before dropping it in the wellhouse.
  • The lantern is not electric; it requires oil and matches. There are various oil pools across the map, but once your lantern starts running out of light you have to plan your route to get to an oil pool in time. Additionally, there’s a limited number of matches to light the lantern, so even though the lantern is refillable there’s still a “time limit”. One of the extra implications is you can’t turn the lantern off during outside trips to save turns, because lighting the lantern again after dousing it costs a match!
  • There’s a fissure that requires crossing; in the original, you could just wave the rod with a star on one end and a bridge would appear. Here, the same thing occurs, but you have to >THROW ROD for some reason. Waving the rod instead has a random chance of creating a lightning flash and showing the contents of the room (as long as the room is dark).

(Click the image to get the full underground map, excluding mazes.)

In any case, while the game allows for maximum points (or at least close to it) it’s clear this game was an aborted work in progress; there’s an “in construction” room…

> POUR BOTTLE
The oil frees the door and it swings open.
> S
Colossal Cavern is under construction in this area. Please return to this location at a later date for interesting Adventures.

…and a “bear”, “wolf”, “chain”, and “troll” which appear in the source but are nowhere in the game. Because of this and the fact I cross-checked every room in the source code, I have fair confidence (let’s say 65%) that I have in fact visited every possible room, and 497 is the max score.

To be honest, even if those 3 points exist, I’m fine leaving them on the table. This one has exhausted me.

Posted May 11, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Adventure 500: RNG   4 comments

RNG, aka “random number generation.” Picture by Jeremiah Andrick, CC BY 2.0.

There’s quite a bit that happened since I last posted, but I wanted to focus on one part in particular. This is an actual transcript of play:

> throw axe
The axe bounces harmlessly off the dragon.
> get axe
OK.
> throw axe
The axe bounces harmlessly off the dragon.
> get axe
OK.
> throw axe
The axe bounces harmlessly off the dragon.
> get axe
OK.
> throw axe
The axe bounces harmlessly off the dragon.
> get axe
OK.
The dragon singes your hair WITH his breath.
> throw axe
The axe bounces harmlessly off the dragon.
The dragon singes your hair WITH his breath.
> get axe
OK.
> throw axe
The axe bounces harmlessly off the dragon.
> get axe
OK.
> throw axe
The axe bounces harmlessly off the dragon.
>

One might be forgiven for not realizing there is a one-third chance of this happening:

> throw axe
You’ve killed the dragon.
It contracts into wrinkles and disappears.

The author seemed to think if they include a random number generator which triggers one-third of the time, then players will maybe have one or two misses before they have a hit. Unfortunately, that’s not how random number generation works, and it’s quite possible by dumb luck to have a situation where it would be nearly impossible for the player to surmise they were doing the correct action. (The probability for the 7 misses in a row shown in the transcript is two-thirds to the seventh power, or approximately 5.85%.)

This issue happens in a different way in A Fine Day for Reaping (2007) and Nevermore (2000). Both cases include texts that appear in random order, the idea being equivalent to leafing through a book and happening upon important information. If one expects random chance to act intuitively, most of the needed text should be found in short order, but in actual practice, some players will just keep missing a certain text by luck (it happened to me with both games).

This is on top of the uncertain feeling any randomness is occurring at all. With an adventure game, the general expectation is for an action to work if it is the right one, and a clear signal is needed if something random is awry. With our recent Spelunker play (and the Eamon games I blogged about) it was very obvious we had a D&D combat type system with random outcomes, broadcasting the information to the player that with a “miss” all one needed to do was try again.

I think the thief combat in Zork is somewhat between the extremes. There’s enough variety in the thief’s messages that I personally realized random chance might lead me to defeat him, but I would like to ask, in general: was there anyone who got stuck by the thief because they assumed there was a puzzle-method of winning, rather than just lucking out in raw combat?

Posted April 30, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Adventure 500: Mazes of Cruelty   2 comments

The world had not only failed to learn the right lessons, it seemed to have internalized the wrong ones.

— From “Inside Every Utopia Is a Dystopia” by John Crowley

The quote above, which is about the more serious issue of social design, also captures for me the history of art.

Something fabulous and novel is made, other artists duplicate the ideas, and then there are copies of those copies. Generally, artists aren’t copying everything, just what they think made the original fabulous and novel in the first place. This isn’t necessarily a bad approach to art, but sadly, sometimes it’s the wrong things that get copied.

Do adventure games need a maze? Nearly everyone from the era seemed to think so. They just needed to do them “better” than Crowther and Woods Adventure somehow.

Adventure 500 takes the maze concept and runs it off a cliff. I’ve never quite seen anything like this.

First, the twisty maze of passages, which is the first maze encountered in the game (the other one can’t be reached without an item in this maze):

This certainly doesn’t look too bad, but there are two tricks, one common, one nasty.

The common trick is that when entering the maze from the outside, you start in what I call a “all-or-nothing” structure. All exits are possible, but any exit except for the correct one will lead you to the space marked “start from NE forest entry”. I’ve seen this sort of structure lots of times, presumably because it makes it very hard to just guess your way through the maze and luck into the correct 4-move sequence (WEST, EAST, SOUTH, UP).

The nasty trick occurs in original Adventure (Crowther, even before Woods) in that when outdoors there is a link that will randomly take you to a different forest area than you usually go to. However, the extra area is totally optional and the intent seemed to be to add an aura of mystery.

Adventure 500 puts this same trick in the maze:

Going down in a particular place will *usually* loop you to the same place, except for something like a 20% chance where it takes you to the room with the planks of wood instead. The planks of wood are absolutely necessary for beating the game. I found this by sheer luck (I had already mapped the loop, but went down by accident).

On top of the evil above, there’s this:

You are about to enter an area of Colossal Cavern for which you must carefully prepare. Do not proceed unless you are ready.
> e
You’re in a crazy maze of weird passages.

First I was unsure as to the gimmick; I dropped a bunch of items to start mapping by dropping them in the rooms, as normal. I ran out of items, blundered my way to the exit, and grabbed some more items.

So far, so normal. But then, the new set of items ran out, and there were yet more rooms.

And more rooms.

And more rooms.

This is only part of the map. I started running out of space on the paper and scrawling everywhere. I’m not done — there are more rooms I haven’t mapped. I’m guessing the total is around 35 rooms or so.

Surely the author wouldn’t be so cruel as to pull the same-passage-goes-two-ways trick? Yes, he would. Not only that, it appears the random chance of a particular passage going to an “alternate exit” is rolled upon entering a room, which means saving one’s game and testing out an exit repeatedly will not help.

Posted April 25, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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