A Brief Update   1 comment

I know I have people awaiting both a.) the next post in my All the Adventure series and b.) the reviews and pseudonym reveals from imaginary games jam (authors are still welcome to reveal themselves at any time, though).

I must apologize: have been working two jobs from the time since my last post and my mental energy has been spent of late. I will be down to one job after May 20th at which point normal posting can resume.

Posted May 13, 2016 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

Philosopher’s Quest: How to persist on difficult problems   13 comments


One of my issues from my last post was an albatross that stays tied to one’s neck. Apparently what’s needed to divest it is a story:

> e
Wheeeeeeeee…. Ooof!

As you slide, one of your possessions tumbles away from you. You can hear it falling into the distance.

As you drop into the room, you catch sight of a burly workman carrying three “Caution” signs over his shoulder. “I say,” you begin, “I’ve got this frightfully interesting story about an albatross. You simply must hear it!” So saying, you pour forth your tale. The workman is fascinated and thoughtfully suggests you switch your lamp off while you continue. This you do, and the two of you sit in the darkness for a while. After a while you come to the end of your story. The workman, visibly moved, shakes you by the hand as you relight your lamp, and then moves off carrying his warning signs. The load around your neck feels much lighter.

I admittedly only was down there because I thought the item-falling-away effect from sliding just might apply to the albatross, but I’ll take random luck as a win here.

I’m still persisting, though, and I’ve been thinking hard about persistence when there is no apparent progress. This is an issue that applies to my professional life as well as my hobbyist life.

The main trick, I think, is to make explicit: even when nothing is resolved, eliminating possibilities is still progress.

By that I mean while attempts X, Y, and Z may have failed, in the process we have learned that X, Y, and Z don’t work to solve a particular puzzle. Normally this doesn’t provide any user feedback, unless the user makes that feedback visible.

The Tower of Babel puzzle is on the high end of frustration. Here is my record of trying to solve it.


> n
You’re at the tower of Babel – a most imposing construction that seems to stretch up to the very heavens. Hundreds of people are milling around looking very friendly but confused. The atmosphere is most bewildering; it becomes difficult to understand yourself think after a while. A road leads north and south from here.

> climb tower
Before you can do anything the atmosphere of confusion seems to take control of your senses. You find you can no longer understand the language you are speaking.
You’re at the tower of Babel.

At this point the “>” parser disappears and nothing seems to help.

A man in a white coat shows professional curiosity as you make your utterance.
You’re at the tower of Babel.
A nearby trade-unionist, straight from the shop floor, bellows ‘Kadima hapoel!’ in your ear.
You’re at the tower of Babel.
A young woman is amused by your remark. ‘Rotse lishtot mashehu?’ she asks, pointing towards a hot drinks machine.
You’re at the tower of Babel.
Some children burst into laughter and start copying your accent.
You’re at the tower of Babel.
On hearing your words a passer-by offers you some wurst and asks, ‘Ooluy ata raev?’
You’re at the tower of Babel.
You attract the attention of a passing group of troubadours. ‘Shir itanu!’ one exclaims at which they all start singing (in an assorted collection of keys, of course.)

The only other hint seems to be in a different room.

> d
You are in a smooth corridor hacked out of the living granite (whatever that means… I mean, whoever heard of living granite anyway? Oh, sorry…). There is a hole up, and round passages lead east and west. There are some words hacked out of the living (ahem), which read “WORDS IN TOWERS HAVE OTHER POWERS”.

There’s a few angles to work this problem.

I. Say the right magic word(s)

Other problems in this game have been solved by a single word like THINK or STEINBECK, so perhaps that’s the trick.






pray (verb not even recognized)

any of the riddle answers

all of the riddle answers in the order encountered

II. Prepare immunity to confusion beforehand

bring gas mask

temporary deafness or blindness somehow?

III. Prepare a “time bomb” to startle out of confusion

Bringing the exploding case to the Tower
The case will eventually explode and kill the player, but it doesn’t help with escaping the Tower.

Lighting a match, having it burn out while at the Tower.
It hurts the player’s finger in another scene but here the match just burns to ash.

bring the shaggy dog

IV. Decipher the statements being made

It’s faintly possible the phrases the characters are saying are not gibberish, but coded language, and deciphering that language will allow escape.

Kadima hapoel! -> trade-unionist
Rotse lishtot mashehu? -> pointing to hot drinks machine
Ooluy ata raev? -> offered wurst
Shir itanu! -> right before singing

Checking every possible rot1-25 rotation

Attempting to say any of the words

Attempting to say any of the words backwards

Supposing a 1-1 cryptogram

. . .

Having the lists not only provides the feeling of momentum, but also prevents an issue I’ve had before: getting stuck on a puzzle because I thought I tried a particular action, but I hadn’t (or at least not in a certain exact way).

Additionally it’s possible the setup requires an item I haven’t seen yet — so it isn’t good for me to linger absolutely — but it means that if I leave and come back I have a better memory of what already has been attempted.

Posted March 4, 2016 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Philosopher’s Quest: Preparing for battle   12 comments

I finally had a session of Philosopher’s Quest where I got nothing accomplished whatsoever.

Such events lead to the downward spiral of hints and eventual clinging to a walkthrough. So I’m going to put my best effort and compiling my ideas and making a plan.

From the manual of the 1987 version of Philosopher's Quest.

From the manual of the 1987 version of Philosopher’s Quest.

I’m going to list puzzles and places I’m stuck on, although in an abbreviated style; check my prior posts for my details.

Bees: Trying to swim in the ocean results in a swarm of the bees forcing a dive in the ocean. This is ok with the aqualung but I suspect it might be possible to also get by the bees.
Dropped bucket: The giant bucket used in the plank puzzle blocks the way to an entrance I need to get into to deliver a shaggy dog.
Danger room: While I can pass through all the riddle rooms, I haven’t got anything to happen as a result.
Dog cave (& kennel): One room involves a cave where a dog obviously was staying, and another involves a kennel. I haven’t been able to use either.
Albatross: At one point you get an albatross on your neck. It seems like it maybe is a treasure, except it is impossible to get off.
Whale escape: I still get dissolved by acid here.
Tower of Babel: This location leads to my character being confused and not able to go anywhere or say anything.
Brown paint: There’s a room that dumps brown paint on you that flakes off. I haven’t found any effect.
Stars: There are three rooms with painted stars, but responses to magic words or waving items are so random I suspect these might be red herrings.

While it’s possible there’s item reuse (the keys have been used twice already), here are the items I haven’t used yet:

Explosive case: This case will blow up all the items in a room but I haven’t made it useful yet.
Driftwood: I can set it on fire but it burns away immediately and doesn’t seem to be of use.

I also have the magic word “BLACH” which hasn’t done anything and I suspect might also be a red herring.

Plan (?):

* I can try blowing up various things with the case. My main suspicion is it was helpful with the plank, and I managed to time it in a way that it went off in the bucket as I was stepping off the plank, but unfortunately the bucket survives intact. I could see it being useful in the whale but it goes off if you attempt to take it underwater (and it’s too large to wrap up in something helpful like oilskin). It blows up at the Tower of Babel but nothing useful seems to happen (and the player dies). Covering it with brown paint does nothing.

* It is vaguely possible completing all the riddle rooms unlocked something elsewhere, and I haven’t checked thoroughly enough to figure it out.

* There’s a hint probably about the Tower of Babel

You are in a smooth corridor hacked out of the living granite (whatever that means… I mean, whoever heard of living granite anyway? Oh, sorry…). There is a hole up, and round passages lead east and west. There are some words hacked out of the living (ahem), which read “WORDS IN TOWERS HAVE OTHER POWERS”.

and I suspect escaping the tower takes a single word or phrase.

* Lighting a match at the right part in the whale results in it coughing. It seems like the best thing would be to force a really big cough, but I am unsure how.

Posted February 29, 2016 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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imaginary games from imaginary universes: the complete set in one download   Leave a comment

What it says on the box; while my last post linked every entry into the gamejam individually, here’s a ZIP file with all of them at once with a few updates.


If you were fast on the trigger downloading, the three that got updated (which you can still grab individually from my last post) were Garbage Collection, Gaia’s Web, and Synchronicity.

I’m going to post author responses next week, so get them in! (Although if you’re late it’s ok — I can add them to the post.)

I will also at the same time reveal the authors of the original reviews (those that said it was ok to reveal, that is) and any pseudonyms of the entries (that, again, said they are ok with revealing) so if you want to reveal early in your own enigmatic way, you can either enact a ritual with an ox skull and post it on Youtube, or talk about it in this new int-fiction thread.

Posted February 26, 2016 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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imaginary games from imaginary universe: public release   4 comments


You will receive a randomized list of five imaginary games created by other participants in the jam. You are to pick one (or more) and make
a sequel
a prequel
a fan fiction
a critical response game
a sidequel
a remake
a demake
a parody
an artifact of some genre category never before seen by humans
or if you are feeling bold and it is even practical, duplicate the game as described.

Reviews that inspired particular games are given next to their download links.

Some authors are still working on responses, so I’m going to give time before I start putting up those and discussing the forthcoming book. (Further details at the original gamejam post.) In the meantime, enjoy!

by GuoBruce
Poster 1
Poster 2


Plasma light has aided storytelling for millenia but Shadowcast seeks to reverse that relationship.

by Alex Butterfield

FIRE NEXT TIME (Seachange). The weird thing about it is that it’s a game about dragon-riding where you don’t get a dragon until about a third of the way in, and don’t get to ride it until the final scenes. The protagonist, a fourteen-year-old kid from somewhere in the Appalachians, finds herself in possession of a dragon egg stolen from the Confederates: a well-managed dragon is about as powerful as an ironclad warship, so everybody wants their hands on it, and most of the game is about eluding capture and making it to Union lines in a region of very dappled loyalties.

The dragon battles are appropriately chaotic adrenaline fun once you get to them, the richly detailed setting provides plenty of interest for the otherwise mediocre run-and-sneak sections, and the soundtrack is the best of the year (even if much of it is about a century too modern). But the best part of is – well, it’s been thoroughly spoiled by this point, so there’s no harm in spoiling it again: you start out by crafting your character, picking out clothes and hairstyles and jawlines, doing the usual thing of crafting someone awesome. And then the game breaks the bargain and applies that appearance to your best friend, Callie/Cal from the next farm over. You’re Midge, whether you like it or not. Midge is gangly, slouches a little, has unmanageable hair, and is not doing a great job of passing off the black part of her ancestry as Cherokee. Your first feeling about her is a reflex shit, this isn’t what I asked for, which is pretty much what Midge feels about herself. Whenever Cal shows up in the story again, it prompts this involuntary twinge of… something, I don’t know if envy is the right word. I found this element a lot more convincing than the girl-and-her-pony relationship with Smoke, which totally soft-pedals everything else we know about dragons in this world.

A Game Played by Galaxies
by James Wood

There is no way to describe the vast and complex feelings of two galaxies as they fall into one another, each ripping the other apart and being ripped apart by the other. To us it may seem like an act of violence or sex; from the perspective of the galaxies, however, it is more accurately described as a game–a game played over millennia, the ultimate end of which is one’s destruction and recreation as a new being entirely. The rules of this game, defined as they are by vast timescales, immense forces, and impossible distances, are beyond our understanding, but in images of these colliding galaxies we can perhaps game some sense of the joy and virtuosity, even humor, with which galaxies play these games–reaching towards one another, siphoning off in spirals, peeling off long cotton-like threads of one another’s arms; old stars collapsing, new stars flaming into existence, two black holes–hungry mouths–straining towards one another in the dark, orbits set into motion and disrupted, continual flux, continual play, a game with billions of pieces and two impossible ancient players, who know that playing this game will be the last thing they ever do.

The Interrogation
by Sharang Biswas (with Soundscape by Rebecca Drapkin)
Soundscape to go with the game

The Prosecution

Based on the name alone, I was kind of hoping for a game where you play an ace prosecutor — why do defense attorneys always get the cool stories? — but in this case you’re the one being prosecuted. The police haul you in for questioning about a robbery, there’s a text entry prompt, and well, go for it!

This is one of the best attempts I’ve seen at handling really free-form textual input. The trick, of course, is that it’s carefully constrained — if you get too far off topic the interrogator will pull you back on course, and for the most part you’re just answering their questions. But it accepts a lot more than just “yes” and “no” answers; experimentation is definitely rewarded!

The courtroom format (assuming the case gets to court) makes for an interesting twist on the notion of choice. The main outcome is whether you’re convicted or not; but do you “win” by escaping conviction? Or by figuring out what actually happened? Or by casting the blame on someone else — or by *protecting* someone else?

The actual story is pretty good too. There’s a *lot* of stuff going on, and it’ll take you a while to unpick it all, but nothing stretched the limits of my credibility too far (except for possibly the arrangement with the puppies — you’ll know it if you find it). One thing I especially like is that all the characters have a well-written inner life, and they’re all working away to forward their own agenda, both during the robbery and even during the trial itself.

Despite the complexity, the difficulty curve isn’t too great. Some secrets are very hard to uncover, but most of the obvious endings can be achieved without too much trouble. I only hit one ending that seems to require knowledge from multiple playthroughs (I can’t figure out how Oscar can determine where both Sarah *and* Raul were at the crucial moment… but I could be missing something.)

If I have one complaint, it’s that the PC might just be a little *too* three-dimensional! It’s nice to have a PC who’s not a cardboard cutout, but you only need one or two quirks to make an interesting character; Oscar has enough quirks to, I don’t know, keep an entire army of psychiatrists in work. The case would work just fine if he were dialed back a bit.

Dreamland Revised
by EpicNightmare
Cover art

Dreamland (Wonderland’s Alice)
This is some new VR/AR thing I looked at last month. The gimmick is it’s a game that you play in your dreams. I found the concept intriguing, so I hooked up the ol’ REM Enhancer and downloaded the game’s app to it. At first, I couldn’t tell if the game was working (REME and other dreamtechs can be pretty buggy), but a few days in, I started having the trippiest dreams. A woman, dressed all in white with no eyes, asks me if I have visited the “Quartzian Palace”. Far off in the distance, I see a castle that glows in many colors, but the way there always seems to be blocked by a chasm. Over many nights I struggled to find a way there, sometimes through bizarre dangers, often through places of great and strange beauty, until one night, I finally managed to find a way into the palace…
Aaaand it turns out the ending is some serious “Don’t forget to drink your Ovaltine!” bullshit. Like, seriously. Watch it on Youtube if you don’t believe me. It’s such a shame, because the game was so cool up to that, but I honestly cannot recommend this game in good conscience thanks to that ending.
I deleted the app off my REME the next day. I’m still getting ads in my sleep. Goddammit.

Darkest Words: Soldado
by Doug Egan

Darkest Words
You may remember last year’s FireSheet which was essentially just an actual spreadsheet program, but obtuse and cryptic enough that using it even for the simplest purpose required massive amounts of decoding (and most likely heavy reference to the wiki).
Darkest Words takes the “normal application, but obfuscated in a way that allows gamelike interaction” idea and turns into a language training game. However, the language in question is unreal, bizarre, and at times has been noted to change based on if it was night or day. A crowd of obsessives have at least detangled the basic grammar, but a great many mysteries remain, even in the interface itself.

Our Bleak-Ass Writing Competition at the Ragged Verge of Spacetime
by Laura Michet

Spelunking the Soul

Perhaps it’s conceited to review the fruits of one’s own efforts, but given the other 3 humans still in existence are the authors, I am the only one left who can review it. My name is Bernardo Contrarius, and full disclosure I commissioned the writing of this interactive fiction.

It was all made possible by the creation of the first functioning time machine in 2066. In my youthful enthusiasm, I used the device to fulfil a lifelong dream. I plucked Jules Verne, Lewis Carroll and Edgar Allen Poe from the heights of their respective careers and brought them together to collaborate on a single, definitive work of interactive fiction.

Unfortunately, in the process, I irreversibly destroyed the timeline leading to our now being trapped in the void, living in a milesquare field of gradually fraying reality.

But it was all worth it.

The result was Spelunking the Soul, the greatest work of interactive fiction ever written. Carroll’s unbridled whimsy and Verne’s scientific inquiry are tied together by Poe’s wonderfully macabre insights. The result is an epic work that spans the breadth of imagination and the depth of the human condition. The final choice is a moral and existential catch22 that leaves me torn to this day and will doubtless continue to gnaw at me until our little patch of universe collapses into nothing.

I give it 10/10. It’s sublime I just wish there were more people around to appreciate it!

by Jessica Hammer

Darling, Yes (Bromeliad)
A neural novel featuring achingly beautiful people having heartfelt conversations about synaesthesia and sharing long-lashed glances – so far, so Bromeliad. What raises Darling, Yes head and shoulders over its predecessors … well, suffice to say that a revelation about the way the protagonist’s mind works changes everything. It throws all your previous interactions into disarray and makes you wonder and doubt the entirety of Bromeliad’s back catalogue. We found ourselves dwelling on it for days afterwards.
We’re not going to spoil it with more details so to sum up: look, just play it, all right? The only hint we’ll give you is: try accepting Rodrigo’s offer of violets after the second afternoon tea. What ensues is heartwrenching and amazing and gorgeous and there are so many moments like this at every turn. Seriously, what are you doing reading this? Play it already.

Garbage Collection
by Matt Weiner

Garbage Explorer

It sounds like a joke. In fact, it started out as one — specifically, as an image macro on various game dev boards, expressing disdain for the popular “explorer” genre by showing where it would wind up as people run out of new things to make explorers about. There’s also an implicit element of critique of explorer fans there, effectively saying “You didn’t really care about steam engines when you bought Steam Engine Explorer, did you? You just wanted another explorer game. So it doesn’t matter what the subject matter is. And that means you’d even play an explorer of a mouldering garbage heap.”

But the thing is, the anonymous author of Garbage Explorer decided to take the idea seriously, and the result is possibly the purest expression of the explorer genre there is. Like all genres, it’s loosely defined, but if there’s one thing that separates explorers from mere sims is the degree of implementation of unnecessary detail. An airplane sim will give you the experience of flying an airplane, but an airplane explorer will let you take it apart. A sim will simulate damage states to individual subsystems to the extent that they affect how the thing functions; an explorer will implement individual stripped screws for no other reason than that this is what the fans want. Well, with a garbage heap, there’s no functionality to get in the way of the explorer experience. There’s nothing but hundreds of individual pieces of garbage and insanely detailed damage states. Everything has individual smells and stains, which can be altered via contact with other pieces of garbage. Everything squishes convincingly under pressure, both alone and in piles. It’s a quite impressive feat of engineering for a solo work.

It’s also quite gross. Mostly it takes a childish, great-green-gobs-of-greasy-grimy-gopher-guts delight in its grossness, but every once in a while I got a description that made me regret the action that provoked it. In a perverse way, this adds to its fascination. When trying something new and unlikely, I don’t just think “I wonder whether this is implemented?”, but also “I wonder how far it will go this time?”

Gaia’s Web
by Nigel Jayne

S.hip of Theseus

I was so pleased to see VM Straka’s Ship of Theseus adapted as a game; he’s a criminally underrated writer. S.hip of Theseus is one of the most interesting experiments I’ve seen since the House of Leaves ARG disaster, so naturally I was excited to see what the developers did. The manner of adaptation feels like an homage to its source material: the game blends traditional IF tools with new technology as you piece together the multinational conspiracy at its heart. Most notably, the game tracks your progress via drone surveillance, which is used to trigger later levels and make information assimilation more difficult. (Flooding my department was a nice touch of verisimilitude for which I applaud the anonymous designer.)

Where S.hip of Theseus shines is the incorporation of multiplayer format; in Act 2 you’re paired with another player, and so the narrative shifts. Clues are possible to destroy, depending on how careful a reader you are – or your partner is. (There’s been a lot of complaining about the procedurally-generated pairing lists, but the developers quite rightly pointed out that it’s possible to rig a simple last-in-first-out stack to ensure two friends or lovers are paired together. Though I can’t imagine why you’d want to – being responsible for a loved one’s implication in a major government conspiracy? If you get the [REDACTED] ending, you won’t even find out for a good 5-7 years if they can forgive you.)

Unreal City

by Joey Jones

“Unreal City”

As you wander the streets, every bar you walk into has a different procedurally generated social ecosystem, and in any given one you can level up from shunned stranger to grudgingly accepted regular to… well, it depends on what there is to do there. The vibe is Fallen London meets No Man’s Sky, but where Fallen London lets you live a flaneur’s power fantasy, here you’re going to be trying to carve out a niche or two for yourself somewhere. Some reviewers have complained that it promises a vast social universe, but establishing credibility in a new place is so tedious that they wind up frequenting the same place. But isn’t that how we live our lives?

Oh, and it’s an afterlife sim where your decisions mold your character in a way that eventually manifests itself on your physical body–think Alasdair Gray’s Lanark. The “spying for the heavenly authorities” plot took long enough to get off the ground that I never bothered.

by Christopher Brent

You have one day to explore a giant randomized text overworld with NPCs and treasure dungeons, which goes far beyond what you can reach in a day. The NPCs aren’t the point; they have the depth of the background figures in Knytt Underground that wander around and stare at the sky sometimes. The randomized treasure dungeons aren’t the point either; after the third time I used a key in a lock to lower the water level in a canal, I could reverse engineer the version of ConceptNet the author-s were using to generate them. The point is to use your single day to explore what interests you, whether that means getting as high as you can for the best view, examining one bit of landscape as much as you can, or even staring at the sky with the NPCs. I found it strangely moving when the Tutorial Fairy returns at the end to ask what you liked best about your day, though I knew my answer would make no difference. (UPDATE: Apparently your answers get recycled into NPC dialogue for other players. I like that less.)

The Final Labyrinth of King Minos
by Ariadno

The Last Rites of Doctor Wu
by MaximumOD

While this isn’t the first fan game I’ve been fortunate enough to receive over the years, I must say this little text game from princexmum was deviously designed to hit all my buttons. (princexmum, if you’re actually a secret telepath, thanks for using your powers for good and also please stop reading my mind now :P)
So you remember the sarcastic Kejia doctor in BLAMELESS STEEL who repairs Garrison’s chassis at the end of Chapter 6? The one who literally never shows up again? She was another unfortunate victim of “make it up as I go along”-itis, along with aetherite (oh, yeah, that…) and the Jade Society (so secret that they forgot their own existence!). But never fear — princexmum is here to rescue us with IRONBLOODED, a hilarious, action-packed short game that shines a light on some of the good doctor’s own adventures. The writing is *fantastic*, full of sardonic wit and surprising turns of phrase, and the puzzles — though actually quite complicated on a mechanical level, with lots of fiddly moving parts that could have been very frustrating — are so well clued that I never really got stuck.
A note: When I excitedly linked IRONBLOODED to Rue (who joined me wayyyy after Chapter 6 and is not to be held responsible for my youthful writerly indiscretions), they asked me whether the plot was similar to anything I’d originally had in mind for Dr. Ka. Honestly? I hadn’t much of *anything* specific in mind for Dr. Ka at the time — and I would certainly be pleased if IRONBLOODED became solid fanon.

Sub Way
by B. Pearlstein

Sub Way (Sam Guss)

Heads up: this is not an entry-level augury. Guss has provided the setting details and code necessary to get the game started, but you’ll need to provide your own sheep and duck. All told, the start-up costs for this title ran me over $400, in addition to the game itself. Of course, Sub Way also requires a certain familiarity with standard oracular procedure– die-casting, leaf-reading, livers, cards, and dream-interpretation all make an appearance. Anyone with at least a high-school-level of forecasting skill should be able to get to the end of the game.

Because, let’s be honest: Sub Way isn’t doing anything exciting with the form. The actual augury gameplay is pretty routine, and if you’re looking for some really tricky and thrilling predictions to execute, you’ll be disappointed. As a mood piece, though, this is sublime. Guss eschews a “realistic” fictional future in favor of a highly-stylized one where everything seems to exist barely outside the realm of the possible– a really weird feeling to have in a genuine augury. Everything’s a little too dark, a little too apocalyptic. Prussia doesn’t exist. People use buttonless cellphones. New York has below-ground tramlines. Divining such a profoundly false future feels really, really odd. I’d love to know more about how Guss pulled it off.

If you’re looking for a chance to play, Guss will be releasing a patch that updates the game for next month’s lunar calendar. Though the forecasts are a little boring, the story is great, and anyone with the luxury of eight free nights in March (and some extra budget for livestock) should give it a shot.

by Cat Manning

The Manhattan Alternative (1996)

“Defusing World War III” has been a strong core gaming genre since 1982’s grim time-travel thriller “Skyshine”, but The Manhattan Alternative was the first to introduce first-person full-motion video to the well-worn formula. You play Captain Mark Rogers of the US Time Marines, tasked to save humanity by (of course) stopping 1945’s Trinity experiment. But the formula shifts once you get to the Gadget: a freak thunderstorm catches you in the detonation, and you are flung into the Quantum Shell: an infinity of parallel universes, in each of which a different disaster threatens Earth. (By ‘infinity’ we actually only counted five, but, well, there’s plenty of room for sequels.)

The ensuing mystery will have you pursued by rogue Time Marines, a beautiful Russian agent, and an inexplicably radioactive roadrunner bird, each with several hours of recorded dialogue (the roadrunner is entirely subtitled); but the heart of the game is assembling map fragments to the next energy slot in the Quantum Shell and solving that world’s disaster.

We were particularly amused by the ‘hellhole capitalism’ world where pills for exotic diseases cost $1000 a dose, as given the winds of utopian socialism that swept Cortezia in the 1980s, it’s such an ancient, outlandish scenario. But I suppose even unlikely ways for the world to die are still worth protecting against.

Two stars, unfortunately: the video is endearing, but doesn’t actually play very well on today’s hardware, and the core gameplay won’t engage you much. But the sequels (Manhattan Transverse and Manhattan Synchronicity) are the ones on which this series’ reputation truly rests.


Posted February 23, 2016 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Philosopher’s Quest: Riddles   21 comments

There’s a messy “danger room” segment which involves either using DASH, CRAWL, JUMP or SKIP to avoid deathtraps in a rotating room while answering riddles.

> dash north
What a strange mode of locomotion!
You decide to enter the room by running fast. Your movement activates an air pressure sensor somewhere. Five spears shoot out of the wall at random intervals, at various
heights. Fortunately, your speed is fast enough to let you dodge them, to your relief.
You are standing in the middle of the Danger room. Everywhere you look, there are peculiar contrivances set into the walls and ceiling, and suspicious-looking panels in the floor. Indeed, it was one of these which nearly killed you just then. The whole place is obviously booby-trapped to the ultimate, and not a place to stay long in.
> dash east
You decide to leave the room by running fast. Your movement activates an air pressure sensor somewhere. Five spears shoot out of the wall at random intervals, at various heights. Fortunately, your speed is fast enough to let you dodge them, to your relief. You are standing in a square stone room to the east of the Danger room. Passages exit west and north. Above the north passage there is a dimly illuminated sign which reads:
Crooked as a rainbow, slick as a plate,
Ten thousand horses can’t pull it straight.

Each danger room is connected to three riddle rooms. Each riddle has a single-word answer. There’s another mechanism which swaps between four different danger rooms, so in total there are 12 riddles. They were pretty solid as far as riddles go so I thought I’d share the rest. I’ve numbered them for convenience. (They are randomized in the game and do not appear in any particular order.)

Crooked as a rainbow, slick as a plate,
Ten thousand horses can’t pull it straight.

Little Nancy Etticoat,
With a white petticoat,
And a red nose.
The longer she stands,
The shorter she grows.

What is it that every man overlooks?

A rich man has and wants more of,
A fat man has and doesn’t want,
And a poor man wants but can’t get?

Lives in winter,
Dies in summer,
And grows with its root upward.

A skin have I,
More eyes than one,
I can be nice,
When I am done.

What goes with a train,
And comes with a train,
And the train doesn’t need it,
But can’t go without it?

My first is in people but not in crowd,
My second’s in shower but not in cloud,
My third is in apple but not in pie,
My fourth is in purchase but not in buy,
My fifth is in Peter but not in Paul,
My whole is a state desired by all.

What has many keys but no locks?

When first I appear I seem mysterious,
But when I’m explained, I’m nothing serious.

The beginning of eternity,
The end of time and space,
The beginning of every end,
And the end of every place.

A tea-kettle is a tea-kettle,
A tea-kettle has what everything has,
Now what has a tea-kettle?

For the last riddle I needed to get help from team euphoria, with Emily Short eventually coming up with the answer.

Now, as is par for this course for this game, getting through this segment and solving all the riddles (which took a long time due to the danger room choreography) was still not enough to yield results. Each riddle room opens an empty cell:

You are in a bare cell, riddled with passages too small for you to enter. The only exit lies south.

I didn’t find anything in any of the 12 rooms, and leaving with all riddles solved only has the result of the danger room being closed off entirely.

You’re in the bare anteroom. The exit north is barred by a huge, obviously immovable, iron sheet.

The pain just keeps going.

Posted February 23, 2016 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Philosopher’s Quest: Unreasonably Reasonable   2 comments

Against what appears to be all odds I am making progress in Philosopher’s Quest. I am coming across puzzles that are in analytic terms outrageous but I’m managing to solve them anyway.

Let me first mention the unfairest twist. Perhaps you recall the game starts with a shop that you can get three items from. The choices are a piece of sausage, a cushion, a teabag, an aqualung, and a bunch of keys. I determined (via actual use) I needed the aqualung, keys, and teabag (the latter you need to make a cup of tea for a “Victorian woman”).

What I did not anticipate is that if you don’t take the teabag, it appears later anyway. I need to emphasize here: if you do take the teabag, it will not appear in a later room, but if you don’t, then it will. There is absolutely no logical reason this would happen; the intent appears merely to be cruel.

I worked this out because I found a spot (making a safe landing from a cliff) where I realized the cushion would be useful, so I decided to experiment with grabbing the cushion from the shop (I was assuming at this time maybe there would be an alternative to the keys, like a way to pick locks). By random luck I left the teabag behind in the process, and found out about the magical appearing second teabag.

It’s hard to describe the sensation of solving a puzzle like this. It’s not satisfying, exactly, because there was a simultaneous and even greater sense of frustration that the game would do such a trick. Yet, the net result is I wanted to keep playing.

. . .

Then there’s external references:

> sw
You are standing west of the garden of Eden. A dark passage leads off westwards into a cave, while a path exits northeastwards. Above the westwards passage hangs a prim sign which reads “Those uncertain as to the meaning of existence are advised not to proceed further in this direction.”
> on
Your lamp is now on and burning brightly.
> w
As you enter the room doubts begin to grow in your mind. At first you worry about minor things, such as what you had for breakfast, but gradually you find yourself questioning the way you spend your time and wondering about the value of your life. This takes on a frightening new aspect, but after a while you cease to be bothered by it. In fact you cease to be. That which may once have been you does not exist.

You’re stuck here in a philosophical malaise. Take a moment to think of how you’d get out of this.


> think
The powers that be find themselves in a logical cleft stick. Your case is sent to the Descartes appeal court who after a brief consultation rule in your favour.
There is a sudden flash of light during which you see….
You are in the philosopher’s laboratory, where experiments on the meaning of concepts are performed. There is an exit east, and another northwest.

I think therefore I am.

This room is near an area outside of “Eden” and you need a magic word to teleport and get out (note the game does not explicitly say this, but I’m trying to make the puzzle a little more solvable).

> n
As you move through the garden you blink quite normally and are amazed to find that the garden suddenly moves a considerable distance southwards, leaving you behind. You feel disturbed, as though you have somehow fallen from Grace. You are standing north of the garden of Eden, which is surrounded by three sheer cliffs. Gravel paths lead off to the southeast and southwest, while a dark passage leads north into a cliff-face.
> se
You are standing east of the garden of Eden, from which the smell of a protruding grape-vine makes you strangely wrathful. A dark passage leads off eastwards into a cave, while a path exits northwestwards, past what reminds you of a row of canneries, for some reason. Outside the cave is an ancient drawing, depicting gatherings of men communing with mice.

Take a stab at this one in the comments.

. . .

Of course, no late-70s sadistic game would complete without mazes.

As you slide, one of your possessions tumbles away from you. You can hear it falling into the distance.
You’re in the M.E. passages. There is a slide in from the roof which you can’t reach, and four slides lead down from exits to the north, east, south and west.

The quote above is part of a maze where every step taken causes one of your inventory items to float away to the exit. Unfortunately, other than the opening room there is no easy way to the exit, so mapping via object-dropping is very difficult, and eventually your lamp will disappear meaning you can’t see anything at all.

There is a single treasure hidden in the maze. It took excessive persistence to get there, and I never did find a way to avoid doing the last few turns in the dark. Since traveling in the dark can randomly cause death via falling in a pit, I had to make liberal use of the SAVE/RESTORE cycle to get to the end (for the curious, the route is: N, E, E, N, E, N, get all, N, E, E, E).

There’s also a part underwater where you get swallowed by a whale.


It was never intended that players map this monstrosity. While within the whale items dropped can be randomly carried to other places, and can be randomly transported as well. It took … let’s say “ludicrous” amounts of saving and restoring to figure the map out, and by the end I still had two rooms I had to work out by brute force.

The game’s intended solution is to light a match while inside the whale (which requires wrapping a box of matches in oilskin beforehand so they don’t get wet). The smoke from the match will travel in the opposite direction of the mouth of the whale, so if smoke is blowing west you go east. To work this out I used what I call the Chekov’s gun puzzle solving method; there was an oilskin I knew I could wrap things in to keep dry, but I had nothing to go in it that made sense except the matches. Hence I knew the matches were likely useful. Unfortunately, I figured this out after already mapping the maze.

At the mouth of the whale there’s a gold tooth that when taken will cause the room to fill with digestive fluids that will eventually dissolve you. I haven’t figured out how to get through yet.

. . .

The most elaborate set-piece is the plank. There’s a long plank above a beach that spans for multiple rooms. On the westmost side there is a large bucket in which you can drop in items. In particular if you drop in four heavy items the east side of the plank will tilt up such that you can reach a ledge. Unfortunately, reaching the ledge causes the plank to break. To get down you need to have placed the cushion (that I mentioned earlier) on the beach below the ledge. If you try to drop the cushion while on the ledge it will just blow away on the wind.

Inside the ledge area there is a n/s corridor with a mouse. Going north too far will get you squashed by an elephant. The mouse will scare the elephant, but the mouse it too skittish to be picked up. In order to attract the mouse, you need to bring some cheese. Unfortunately the only cheese available is so stinky you will die if you carry it without a gas mask, and even then you have to drop it every few turns and step away to avoid death by stink. After laboriously making it up the plank, grabbing the mouse, and scaring away the elephant, there’s a dog in a back alcove you need to rescue. If you just bring the dog out, the dog will fall victim to the stinky cheese. Just throwing the cheese off the ledge will not get rid of it far enough. The only solution is the BURY CHEESE in the same room as the elephant, at which point the stink will be reduced to safety.

After saving the dog, you need to return it to its owner which is in a house northwest of the large bucket from earlier. Unfortunately, breaking the plank caused the bucket to fall over and block the way northwest. Here I am stuck and have no way to deliver the dog.

. . .

The last puzzle I just described was built up a little at a time. Solve a portion, die to another portion, repeat. I don’t know why I’m enjoying this, but I really am.

There is one curious attribute that I think might be unique to the era: nearly every single item so far used in a puzzle has been out in the open right away. Solving puzzles tends to reveal rooms with treasures but not items used to solve other puzzles. There’s nothing hidden via an EXAMINE verb (that verb is not even recognized). Everything is laid out like a dare: here’s all the pieces to win the game, but I bet you’ll lose anyway.

Posted February 19, 2016 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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